To hire the best, UX is key

Written by 
Nancy Wright (DCPS)

At DC Public Schools, people matter. And, the experiences they have in navigating the hiring process as both hiring manager and potential employee matter to us as well. This is why we’ve spent the last several years focusing on the systems and user experiences that our candidates and school leaders navigate as part of the hiring process. Not only do we have to think about the experience for thousands of candidates, we also need to be thoughtful about the experiences of 115 school leaders. In this post I’ll share some examples of the work that we’ve done at DC Public Schools (DCPS) to improve the technology-based user experience (UX) for school leaders and candidates.

Focusing on the User Experience (UX) for School Leaders

At DCPS we run a centralized, TeachDC teacher selection process — vetting candidates before they are in a “recommended pool” for school leaders to access. We’ve worked with our research partners for several years to create a selection process that is predictive of performance on IMPACT, our district’s evaluation and feedback system for teachers. In the early 2010s, we were gathering valuable data in the teacher application process, but “these measures [were] only weakly, if at all, associated with the likelihood of being hired” (Jacob, Rockoff, et al.). We were collecting the necessary information and implementing a rigorous selection process that was predictive of success on IMPACT; however, school leaders weren’t always able to use this information to inform hiring decisions.

To help school leaders better engage with our TeachDC recommended pool, we worked on both technical and adaptive solutions. All solutions were focused on improving the UX for school leaders in an effort to support them in making strong hiring decisions.

We overhauled the online portal through which school leaders can view candidate information.

  • We increased the amount of information that we share with school leaders. This includes the notes and scores from phone interviews and teaching samples, access to candidates’ full teaching sample videos, candidates’ essay responses, and a short biography provided by the candidate.
  • We improved and created new features to encourage school leader engagement with the portal. School leaders are able to “save” and “hide” candidates, as well as attach notes to candidates’ profiles. Additionally, school leaders can see which candidates have “liked” their vacancies — indicating interest in positions at their schools. School leaders can also filter candidates by a variety of factors: subject area, grade level preference, interest in part-time positions, interest in a high-need school, if the candidate is bilingual, etc. With this information, school leaders can hone in on which candidates are the best fit for school-level interviews.

Focusing on the User Experience (UX) for Candidates

Between the national teacher shortage and being in the middle of a highly competitive market, we have no wiggle room to lose candidates because of a hard-to-navigate application platform. Here enters a focus on the candidate UX.

Before sharing how we have improved the UX, I think it’s important to share some context on what the typical UX was previously like for candidates. Think of a bulky, buggy, cumbersome process that wasn’t intuitive, and involved a lot of emails. While candidates were receiving the necessary information, it was a time-consuming and manual process. Our team spent a lot of time fielding questions from candidates. This was a huge gap for us — we weren’t prioritizing the user experience for candidates in a way that was beneficial for our team and the district.

We wanted to create an application platform that mirrored interactions candidates may have been familiar with from past experiences using technology. We wanted it to be intuitive. The result is the Candidate Dashboard.

  • We moved away from the page-by-page format and to a dashboard platform. The Candidate Dashboard has each stage of the application process presented as a “tile.” Tiles will only unlock, and go from gray to blue, once a candidate has advanced to that stage in the process. This means that a candidate cannot click on a tile until they reach that point in the process. Furthermore, a check mark in the tile indicates that the stage is complete, and our team is in the process of evaluating the submission. Candidates now know that there is no action needed on their part, and we don’t need to send an email confirming that they have completed that stage. This is a win-win!
  • We moved away from long and detailed updates over email. Now, when there is a status update, candidates receive a generic email prompting them to log in to the Candidate Dashboard for more information. All necessary information for each stage of the application process lives in the corresponding tile on the Dashboard, as well as having a home base for all resources candidates need.
  • We created new features to increase user engagement. Candidates in the recommended hiring pool have access to a vacancy list that updates in real time. Additionally, candidates can indicate their interest level in each vacancy (i.e., highly interested, moderately interested, not interested).

You might be asking, “Well, did any of this actually work?” and the answer is yes!

While it has taken time, we are confident that focusing on the UX for school leaders has resulted in many positive outcomes. The Candidate Dashboard is now 3 years old, and while we still have room to grow, we believe that the Candidate Dashboard has contributed to a number of wins for our team, and the district.

  • The updates to the online portal have increased capacity for our team. School leaders don’t require as much high-touch support with identifying candidates who might be a good fit for their school, and candidates are able to access information easily on their own — like real-time vacancy information.
  • Increased and more intentional information sharing (among other factors) have led to earlier hiring. So far, we have filled 150+ more vacancies to date than we did at the same time last year.
  • We have increased the share of hires made coming from our centralized pipeline. In 2015, 45% of hires came from our centralized process. In 2017, 61% of hires came from our centralized process.
  • We’ve heard from school leaders directly that they are able to better prioritize which candidates to contact using engagement features like the filters and vacancy interest levels; thus, saving them time throughout the hiring season.

Once we oriented our work around the importance of user experience, we’ve received more completed applications than ever before, and it has required less busy work from our team. School leaders are more empowered to making hiring decisions that are best for their school communities, and we’re able to carve out the time to think strategically about the hiring needs of our schools, to plan for long-term projects, and to ensure that our most important stakeholders, our students, have excellent teachers in every single classroom.

Nancy Wright (DCPS)
Teacher Selection Manager @ DC Public Schools