Jan 17, 2018
Sometimes one tutor can't face the world alone. When the going gets tough, consider the option of hiring an associate tutor to share the workload and to grow your business, too.
For some, tutoring represents a side hustle to the tune of a few hours a week. For others, it can be a way to make ends meet for a concentrated period with busy periods followed by slow ones, and so on.
And then there’s me.
Unlike many tutors I’ve connected with over the years, I'm a full-time tutor. That’s neither good nor bad, just where my life has gone. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve stopped worrying (OK, mostly stopped worrying) whether I’ll attract new clients. Unsurprisingly, the idea of grinding for years to build a consistent client base doesn’t appeal to everyone. But if running your own independent tutoring practice, working with kids, and acquiring new skills still sounds appealing, and you really devote yourself to building your practice – you may one day want an associate tutor.
Hiring an associate is a good idea if you have more tutoring demands than you can handle, or if your life circumstances have changed and you want to share your existing workload. Or perhaps management is your true calling and you prefer hiring an associate (or several) to you actually tutoring.
Hiring good people is essential to keeping your business thriving. It’s even more crucial when it comes to tutoring – an industry in which tutoring requests frequently come in waves and interpersonal dynamics play such an enormous role. If you don’t have associates who are ready, willing, and able to take on new requests, you won’t just miss out on those growth opportunities, your brand will suffer, too.
I’ve previously touted tutoring networking and collaboration. In this post, I’d like to offer five steps to hiring the right associate tutor for you.
How you start the search for an associate really depends on two things: how much time you have to devote to the process, and how much demand you have for tutoring services. If your time is precious (and whose isn’t?), then you’re probably better off starting small and expanding as necessary. In my case, reaching out to my social network was sufficient to generate the leads I needed. And that narrower route has another benefit: it lets your immediate community know that your business is expanding, which will likely lead to referrals down the road. If you’re looking to reach a wider audience, consider these job-posting websites.
For simplicity, let’s assume your initial query turned up, five serious-looking candidates. First off, pat yourself on the back! Some combination of a well-worded post, a social network that actually reads posts like yours, and a little luck has positioned you extremely well for finding a great associate. You won’t need to interview all five candidates, so ask for resumes with an emphasis on their educational background and teaching experience. Anyone who doesn’t respond within 48 hours or doesn’t have a resume (!), or answers you with any sort of excuse for lacking the necessary background, should go to the bottom of the pile. Sift through the remaining candidates for teaching (and, ideally, tutoring) experience, academic background, and skills in the disciplines you have the most demand for. In my case, that’s math, science and test prep. Pick your top three candidates and try to schedule their interviews back to back.
Many people think that tutors’ most important attribute is their command of the material. I strongly disagree. Of course, high quality tutors tend to be sharp content-wise, but truly great tutors have exceptional communication skills. This includes gracefully admitting when they don’t know the answer to a question or when they’ve made a mistake. When I interview prospective associates, I engage in a role play, in which they play the tutor and I play an obstinate teen. (Full disclosure: playing the role of the obstinate teen is incredibly cathartic for me, given how many thousands of hours I’ve spent trying to manage them!) The chief goal here is to see how my potential employee handles a kid who doesn’t want to work. Of course, not all students are recalcitrant, but enough are that tutors must know how to the manage them. I typically present the prospective associate with a handful of questions to review for a minute or two before we begin. This lets them familiarize themselves with the questions ahead of time, so they’re not scrambling unnecessarily. And it more closely resembles actual tutoring in which there usually is some advanced knowledge of the content you’ll be reviewing.
The above process tends to winnow the pool down to a few potentials. If there isn’t a clear winner, that’s perfectly fine. Next, I ask candidates to fill out three forms: weekly availability, subject mastery, and a statement describing how much they really want to tutor. All of that information is important, but the most critical is their self-assessed subject mastery. You learn a lot about people based on how they score themselves on their academic strengths. Essentially, what I’m looking for is self-confidence within reason. I want folks who are smart and capable, but who also know that they don’t know everything.
The last stage of hiring an associate is often the trickiest. First off, I will inform my new hire if I have immediate tutoring slots to fill, in the hope that I can put them straight to work. More often, I’ll let my top candidates know that tutoring requests may come in suddenly and, pending their availability, I ask that they be prepared to jump in immediately. I also explain their hourly rate and their administrative responsibilities, and have them sign a standard non-compete agreement. (For what it’s worth, their signature on the NCA is more symbolic than something I intend to enforce. If an associate breaks the rules, say, by cutting side deals with parents of students, I simply let them go.)
Nobody sets out to be a tutoring administrator. And yet, as our lives evolve and perspectives change, the prospect of managing others instead of ping-ponging around town from student to student, is often increasingly appealing.
While there is no hiring protocol to completely insulate you from hiring a bad associate, the more thoughtful and careful you are up front by following the above steps, the less likely you’ll run into challenges down the road.