I've been helping Venture for America the last month assess candidates for the program. I've also been on the flip side recruiting companies to hire these fellows once they've been accepted. Keeping both goals in mind, I'm often asking myself while reviewing applicants, are they going to kick-ass at their job and make the company that hired them want more?
Most of the Fellows have already given strong examples of grit, intelligence, and focus so I'm more partial to the individual's personality and character knowing they have the basic skills to succeed. Minimizing bias, I also try to understand the diversity of culture, role, and structure that Fellows might be placed in.
Now, this is a very similar strategy to Universities. Their alumni base needs to go out, kick-ass at their jobs, and build a reputation so more companies hire from their universities.
So, then, why does VFA work so differently from universities?
VFA's long-term goal is for its alumni to be the employers themselves rather than a cog in the machine. Universities try to funnel as many of their students to join large Fortune 500 companies.
It's an oversimplification of the difference but also telling. It impacts:
- Recruiting: As mentioned with VFA's process, after getting a good sense for grit, it's about looking for leaders. Universities also look for excellence.
- Development: Universities rarely have a concept of "customer service." As a student, you just kind of deal with it. Recent light on sexual harassment issues is an overture to others tucked under the mat. On the other hand, VFA collects quarterly surveys to improve every aspect of their program. It's young and hungry for feedback.
- Exit: Go be a cog vs. a leader
At the basic level, if the expected output is X, then that's probably what the machine's going to be built to do. VFA's development process is around empowering you to solve problems and the theory is that out pops leaders. Let's hope they're on to something.