Behind the Fellowship: Recruitment & Cultivation

What kind of process goes into finding and recruiting over a hundred Fellows? Former intern Louise Tan takes us behind the scenes with the Recruitment Team to find out how Teach For Malaysia ticks.

“I intern at the Communications department in Teach For Malaysia, which is by nature a very inter-departmental job. We work together with Recruitment to promote recruitment drives, Training to keep the world informed on Fellow’s progress, and Partnership Development to welcome our corporate sponsors to the TFM family. The last thing I expected my job to entail, however, was recruitment work. Specifically, I would be making cultivation calls.

What? I squawked when I found out. Me? Do I really have to? I’m a shy person; I’m not the best at making conversation. I’m great at dealing with people virtually – I usually drop them an email before speaking to them over the phone so that they know what to expect. Cold calls were not my thing. I don’t like them, and I wouldn’t want to do that to people either.

Perhaps it helps a bit to give a little background on what cultivation calls are. When you begin an application to the TFM Fellowship, you will be notified that someone on the recruitment team will call you. That’s why you leave your contact details with us.

When the Recruitment team calls an applicant over the phone, they ask them a few basic questions: How did you hear about Teach For Malaysia? What do you understand about TFM’s mission? All of these help to gauge what kind of a person the applicant is, and also give the applicant a space to ask questions about the Fellowship that might not be clear from the website alone.

Cultivation calls, I learnt, are very important in building Teach For Malaysia’s network and extending our reach. They also help to build personal one-on-one relationships with the applicants. This is important for a movement that is so young that as of the time I’m writing this, it still doesn’t have alumni. These calls help to get information about TFM to our target groups.

The recruitment team doesn’t write any applicants off because they don’t give good answers: they always stress that these aren’t telephone interviews. In fact, with a good number of calls, a blur applicant might be turned into a high-potential Fellow, i.e. someone who is likely to make it through the selection process to become a Teach For Malaysia Fellow. They cultivate Fellows – hence why they are called Cultivation Calls.

The recruitment team members aren’t the only ones responsible for making Cultivation Calls, as I found out. Application numbers go into the thousands. As such, every member of the TFM staff is encouraged to set a target for a minimum number of Cultivation Calls to make every week. And yes – we do call every single applicant.

This is the extent to which Teach For Malaysia is committed to its cause. It believes in the potential of every child – and the potential of every applicant.

Not too long after that, I went through training with the recruitment team and made my first round of Cultivation Calls. I recognize now that my initial hesitation was my fear that I wouldn’t sell Teach For Malaysia well enough. Once I got over that, I realized that Cultivation Calls are a great way to get to learn about the Teach For Malaysia mission and contribute to the cause. All over the office, there are little reminders about how effective Cultivation Calls are – notes about how some current Fellows needed 4 calls before completing their application spur us on. For every call that you don’t make, there is a potential Fellow who could complete their application, but won’t!”

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