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Pekarsky & Co. May 2016 Newsletter – One Size Does Not Fit All

June 9, 2016

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

 

I am constantly reminded of how interesting, diverse and nuanced search work is at Pekarsky & Co. Just this past quarter, the Edmonton contingent, has worked on everything from the Artistic Director of the Citadel Theatre, one of Canada’s largest regional theatres, to the Vice President of Operations for Tiger Calcium, one of Canada’s leaders in production of calcium chloride, and much in between. Even when we have searches on-the-go that are similar in nature, scope or sector, we still confront nuances, stick-handle subtleties and create customizations that influence and inform our process along the way. Though this is the essence of our ‘boutique’ offering—the ability to bring a completely customizable and nimble approach to every mandate–it’s very much like the rest of real life; it is not a check-the-box, paint-by-numbers exercise. Our problem solving skills are tested daily as we encounter variations in our work usually related to the idiosyncrasies of human beings and the organizations they, and we, serve.

 

And so in January of 2016, when I began my MBA journey with Thompson Rivers University through correspondence, whilst working full-time here at P&Co., I was surprised to discover a juxtaposition between the diversity of my classmates, engaging coursework and dynamic discussions that occurred and the sanitary standardization of the testing at the end of the semester.  As a natural lifelong learner with a tremendous amount of respect for the work that post-secondary institutions do, let me tell you, returning back, after years away, to that panic period referred to as “finals season,” is not pleasant. Currently, as I make my way through that period cursing silently, I started to wonder why standardized written exams (combination of multiple choice, long and short answer) give so many people test anxiety when the process of learning amongst peers is so enjoyable, rewarding and completely non-standardized.

 

 

Feeling butterflies before an exam of any sort is to be expected; we’ve all felt it whether it was before an athletic tryout, a job interview or meeting your partner’s parents for the first time (or at least my partner’s). What I’m referring to is the type of test anxiety that influences the student’s ability to perform well based on their level of knowledge. Although it is difficult to measure exactly, according to the Washington Post in 2013 as much as 20% of the student population was afflicted with a severe case of test anxiety and another 18% percent was believed to suffer from a moderate form. Today, I suspect that these numbers may be even higher, which would indicate that a large portion of the student population’s performance is not being represented accurately, or, put another way, is not being represented in a manner that gives the student the best opportunity to demonstrate their future aptitude as a member of the workforce. I don’t find exams particularly enjoyable but I also don’t think, thankfully, that my anxiety level would lay in either of these two categories. Yet, such a large portion of students go through their semesters mastering the subject matter and excelling at course work only to find themselves panicking prior to writing the most heavily weighted evaluation of the semester.

 

With the recognition of various learning styles (tactile, visual and auditory), schools are starting to adapt their service delivery models to adapt to the changing needs of students. It is commendable that each teacher and professor attempts to make the learning experience as positive and constructive as possible for each student regardless of learning style. But what about adapting the assessment structure? Students spend the entire year or semester using a method that works well for the absorption of knowledge but are later faced with a challenge when the time comes to demonstrate said knowledge.

 

Indeed, a standardized test does not guarantee fair selection. The monkey featured here will outperform all of the other animals with no real preparation or studying; while the goldfish may have been preparing for weeks and will not make it out of the bowl. There is no easy solution to this issue as creating a customized test for each student would require more resources than our education system receives. Yet there is a stigma among students that don’t perform well on exams that they aren’t ‘smart enough’ when really that perceived failure is not an accurate representation of their abilities and knowledge of the subject matter, nor an accurate harbinger of their future contributions to the workforce. It can be argued that the process of being knocked down by failure and having the stamina and courage to get up to try again is part of that learning process but to what end? The ‘real world’ outside of post-secondary institutions does not guarantee success but more often than not, the amount of effort put in is proportional to the quality of the result.

 

 

Returning to the formalized education system after a break of several years has been both exhilarating and difficult. I have been able to assess my own personal style and method by which I learn best. I remember that during my undergraduate degree, I received my first instructional taste of accountability and responsibility when it came to my academic affairs – gone were the days of constant reminders of upcoming tests and quizzes! Now my MBA journey is teaching me the art of balance between my academic, work and family life. In the context of that academic life, there is so much pressure put on students to receive A’s on exams yet the method by which to score those high grades is not always a reflection of the professional world equivalent of the subject matter. In my experience, an important portion of my learning, that I now utilize daily, came as a by-product of my program, which was learned outside of the classroom walls. It would be interesting to consider testing those soft skills, which often come as a bonus to a post-secondary or graduate education, in a simulated environment relevant to the course subject.  After all, in my day job as a search Associate at Pekarsky & Co., when we pre-qualify a candidate for a mandate on which we are working, the technical competencies are far easier to assess than those soft skills around culture fit, team play and bringing the much sought-after though hard-to-find ‘no task is too small’ mindset. Not only would this type of simulation serve as a training ground for the graduates but also provide a holistic manner in which to test both the hard and soft skills acquired during the course. Of course, I defer to the professionals in education as I am unaware of the restrictions and guidelines of such a testing format. But one can dream! At the core of it all, my main desire is for the education system to encourage the use of active, applicable knowledge through their testing process as opposed to static, mechanical memorization of facts simply for the use of an examination. Quick: What’s the quadratic formula? The capital of Paraguay? The Periodic Table of Elements sign for Darmstadtium?

 

Just as each individual has varying needs in order to receive the most out of their studies, each client has various needs for the search process in order to find the best fit for their organization. We have a solid process by which we operate and conduct our searches but we are always more than happy to work with the client by altering it to suit their needs. The destination point remains the same but the process by which we arrive to that point may differ. The understanding that an approach that works for one client may be obsolete and unhelpful for another is crucial to finding the best individual possible. Going through a process for the sake of process is archaic and to be perfectly frank, lazy. We choose to listen to our clients, understand their needs and tailor our process to match them. After all, we are in the people business so it would be counterproductive to work against our largest asset.

 

 

Perhaps this is my literary outcry for post-secondary institutions to find innovation within their evaluation process or perhaps it’s my way to vent while I study for my own standardized exams prior to the end of the semester. One thing I know for certain is that being small and nimble is a huge advantage when it comes to being able to change course for the benefit of the end user whether they be a client or a student. I say this with the understanding and respect that large post-secondary institutions do not have the same luxury. Those institutions are providing a high level of education to each cohort of students and I am proud to be a University of Alberta Alumnus as well as a current student of Thompson Rivers University. Keeping in mind that one type of format doesn’t work for everyone, Pekarsky & Co. leverages our process and our ability to adapt to deliver the high level of service in which we pride ourselves. It is exciting to be able to learn from each client and the process that is born as a result of that learning. Albeit time and resource consuming, we wouldn’t conduct our business any other way.

 

Jane Bogatyrevich is an Associate in the Edmonton Pekarsky & Co. office.  As you can tell, Jane is currently working towards her MBA.