Teach for America CEO offers tips to job applicants

July 9, 2009

The founder of Teach for America, Wendy Kopp, recently chatted with New York Times reporter Adam Bryant about what she looks for in a job candidate. Some of her suggestions seem valuable for anyone searching for a job. Here's an excerpt from the interview: Q. Talk about the art of goal setting. A. It's all about setting a goal that's at the right intersection of ambitious and feasible. We do see the incredible power of setting stretch goals. But if you set a goal that's really not within reach, people will just give up on it and you really don't have a goal. We've seen this over and over. I think there's as much talking down of goals around here as there is of actually saying, "You're not thinking big enough." Q. What are you looking for in teachers you recruit? A. The No. 1 most predictive trait is perseverance, or what we would call internal locus of control. People who in the context of a challenge --  you can't see it unless you're in the context of a challenge --  have the instinct to figure out what they can control, and to own it, rather than to blame everyone else in the system. Q. Any particular time-management techniques? The best time-management thing I do is reflect an hour a week on the overall strategic plan for myself --  what do I need to do to move my priorities forward? And then there are the 10 minutes a day that I spend thinking about, "O.K., so based on the priorities for the week, how am I going to prioritize my day tomorrow?" I don't know how I could do what I do without spending that time. Q. What's your two-minute commencement speech? A. My two-minute commencement speech would be to tell graduates to take on the world's inequities now, because they're huge and have such important human consequences. But they are solvable. It's just that it takes incredible amounts of time. They're very complex problems. So better to start early so that you have enough time. And also, I just think there's actually a huge power to inexperience. In the context of deeply entrenched problems that many people have given up on, it helps to not have a traditional framework so you can ask the naƒ¯ve questions. That can help you set goals that more experienced people wouldn't think are feasible. You set those big goals, and you wake up a year later after insane amounts of work and realize you actually met them.