Given that innovation is so often the byproduct of a stagnating system, it was only a matter of time before somebody decided to revamp the decades-old university admissions process.
After graduating from the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ont., with a bachelor of math and honours in computer science, Konrad Listwan-Ciesielski applied for a Canadian entrepreneurship program called Next 36, where 36 up-and-comers are selected, handed seed capital, paired up with mentors and put to work.
Part of the selection process for the program involved recording a 60-second YouTube video describing exactly why the applicant wanted to be in the program, and that got Mr. Listwan-Ciesielski thinking, particularly once he had spoken to his mentor, former Black’s Photo chief executive officer John Kelleher.
“He told us how much time he spent in his career when he was in an interview and someone walks in and within two minutes, after the first question or two that he asks, he instantly knows that they’re not a fit for the job,” the 22-year-old Toronto native explains.
And so it was that Mr. Listwan-Ciesielski, along with fellow Next 36 team member Emilie Cushman, founded Kira Talent in Toronto two years ago. Though the venture started out as a way for companies to enhance their recruitment process, Kira has since been looking more toward academic clients, which include University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and Yale University in the United States.
“Some of our customers have been saying that every year, they’ve been removing the amount of essays they ask students [for],” Mr. Listwan-Ciesielski explains, “because every year they all sound the same, they’ve all been reviewed by their friends, their family and their professors. You can buy an essay online for, like, $50 or $100.
“By forcing them to do a video interview right on the spot, where their communication skills and English skills are put to the test, it’s a great way to get a real and authentic glimpse of who the student is and what their skills are like.”
The process is relatively simple, and forms another piece of the overall admissions process, alongside the application form, references, essays and possibly an in-person interview.
“Once the student is in our system and they’re ready to interview, they watch maybe two or three different videos from that school, which is either their dean or their admissions officer or director introducing themselves, asking the question,” Mr. Listwan-Ciesielski says.
“Then the student has a little time to think and then they’re recorded on camera for 45 or 60 seconds ‑ it’s all up to the school to customize – and once they’re done, the video is actually embedded into the application.”
The reception among schools has certainly been positive, particularly the added dimension that video applications adds to the admissions process.
“What does is it helps us to see the skills that an employer would. This is like an initial employment interview,” says Shai Dubey, director of the MBA program at Queen’s University, which also uses the Kira Talent system.
“This helps us very quickly to see this individual under a pressure situation and how they react so we can see their poise or lack thereof. We can see a lot of things that you can’t on paper, because some of these kids will spend a year writing their essays and have multiple people take a look at them – they get one shot at this.”
As for building on Kira’s early success, Mr. Listwan-Ciesielski talks excitedly about his company’s newest innovation, which is an on-the-spot method for testing an applicant’s writing ability.
“What we’ve built is a way that you ask video questions still, but students would be able to type up a response in two or three minutes,” he says. “So you can actually see what their writing ability is in a raw setting where they only have two to three minutes, as a opposed to giving them five months to polish their essay, get it spell-checked through Microsoft Word and that stuff.”