At the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, the admissions interview is a cornerstone of the admissions process. Centred around the knowledge that an applicant’s fit for the program is dependent on more than just their grades, Waterloo has long invested in creating an engaging and holistic admissions experience for their applicants.
“We really want it to be clear to applicants that, while grades are a component, we know that there’s so much more to them than that,” explained Kaitlin Bynkoski, the Director of Admissions & Undergraduate Affairs at the School of Pharmacy. “We’re continuously learning and experimenting with new ways to get deeper, more comprehensive insights into our applicants.”
For many years, interviews took place on campus, with hundreds of hopeful applicants travelling to Waterloo for a weekend of assessments, interviews, and tours. As such a core piece of the admissions experience, it was difficult to imagine the process going any other way. When COVID-19 forced most of the world to go remote, the school prioritized not only the interview but the experience that surrounded it.
“We needed a tool that was built with our team and our process in mind,” Bynkoski explained. “And that’s how we ended up finding a home with Kira.”
Why Waterloo Pharmacy is powering their admissions process with Kira
- The pitfalls of choosing the wrong platform
- How Kira has enhanced an already holistic process
- Transitioning admissions interviews online - seamlessly
- Reaching a 97.6% applicant interview rate with equitable admissions
- Saving 20+ hours of work with built-in data analysis
- Future-proofing admissions for repeatable success
A round-hole process meets a square-peg platform
Amongst a written skills assessment, a campus tour and other events, the focal point of Waterloo's interview weekend was the panel interview. For about 45 minutes, each applicant would sit down with a panel of two practising pharmacists and a current upper-year pharmacy student.
“Both interviewers and applicants travelled from all over to be on campus for the weekend - it was quite intense for everyone involved,” shared Bynkoski. “Some of our interviewers worked the entire weekend and stayed in accommodations near campus in order to participate in the process.”
“There’s an incredible amount of administrative work needed to make a weekend like that run smoothly.”
So when the COVID-19 pandemic forced most of the world to go remote, the admissions team at Waterloo decided to take their interviews online for the first time.
“The first year we went online, the asynchronous interview platform we chose served its purpose for that year, but both the reviewers and our administration team felt like a lot was missing,” shared Bynkoski.
A lack of customization options not only created more work for the admissions team as they adjusted their process to fit the constraints of the platform, but without the space to include those personal touches, the overall experience fell flat. Many reviewers voiced concern over the fact that they weren’t able to create a connection with applicants, and Waterloo School of Pharmacy knew they had to make a change.
Wanting to regain that face-to-face connection, the school was determined to recreate their token panel interviews. The seemingly easy solution was to jump on the same tool they were already using for internal video conferences, Microsoft Teams. But after a few trials and many errors, the idea was quickly abandoned.
“There are so many disadvantages to doing interviews with an off-the-shelf platform,” Bynkoski explained. “Coordinating 250 individual meetings with interviewers popping in and out is an immense amount of work and an often chaotic experience. Links getting missed and wires getting crossed, it’s just bound to happen.”
“We faced so many challenges, both technical and organizational,” Bynkoski continued. “And with no dedicated platform support, the burden was once again on us to organize and execute the entire weekend, this time with the added stress of relying on a technology we weren’t experts on.”
“Those platforms really weren’t designed for the way admissions teams interview, and they take away from the actual interviewing experience.”
An all in one platform for ultimate peace of mind
For 2021’s incoming class, Waterloo was determined to regain the quality and connection of their traditional interviews, but Bynkoski and her team still believed they could achieve that without giving up the benefits of being virtual. That’s when they connected with Kira Talent.
“The combination of using Kira’s Live Interviewing and Asynchronous Assessments was a home run for us,” shared Bynkoski. “We could have our real-time interaction with applicants and our structured skills assessment, and use both data points to create more comprehensive evaluations of our applicants. That’s what really solidified our decision to switch to Kira.”
The dual-capability of the Kira platform to support asynchronous and real-time interviews meant that Waterloo was able to conduct the entire second stage of their admissions cycle with one software. Waterloo’s fundamental skills assessment was transitioned from its traditional paper format to being completed by applicants through engaging, video and written responses to the school’s custom questions. They were then able to complete what previously was an in-person interview with Kira’s real-time video interviewing solution.
“For our fundamental skills assessment, the flexibility that the Kira platform offered to applicants and reviewers was a huge benefit,” explained Bynkoski. “And the real-time interviewing allowed us to maintain that face-to-face connection.”
“Getting the benefits of both synchronous and asynchronous solutions on the same platform not only made our process more efficient, but it created a very cohesive and professional admissions experience for our applicants.”
Virtual interviewing designed for admissions teams
From the first interaction to the last, Kira’s intentional platform design and streamlined process helped the admissions team create more memorable connections with their applicants.
“Our applicants were so thankful for the kind of experience that we were able to offer them,” Bynkoski shared. “Other schools came up with all kinds of substitutes, but what we heard from applicants was that they didn’t measure up to the experience we created with Kira.”
One week before their panel interview, Waterloo’s applicants received communication from Kira inviting them to complete their registration on the platform. The invitations, fully customized with the School of Pharmacy's branding, walked applicants through their device setup, encouraged them to use the practice suite to prepare for their real assessment, and connected them to Kira's 24/7 technical support if necessary.
“The reviewer training that Kira provided was also incredibly helpful,” shared Bynkoski. Jumping into Waterloo’s scheduled training sessions, Kira’s dedicated support team helped reviewers practice with the platform.
“Previous systems didn’t offer that, so in the past, I had to walk reviewers through a process that I was only just learning myself,” Bynkoski added. “Kira made sure that the reviewers felt really comfortable working with the platform, and we had no issues on interview weekend.”
With all the pieces in place, Waterloo’s applicants and reviewers could go into their assessment with full confidence.
“The platform is seamless,” shared Bynkoski. “The functionality is so smooth, and the custom branding allowed us to bring our unique identity to the platform. Every detail is so thoughtfully planned out. Everything down to the ability to record our team asking practice questions so that applicants could meet our faculty and community before they completed their assessment.”
“The degree of customization that was available to us, plus the ability to add our own unique flair to the platform – I hadn’t seen that anywhere else.”
When it came to replicating their panel interviews, Kira’s Live Interviewing enabled Waterloo to finally create the virtual interviewing experience they had always envisioned. From prep time and prompts to rubrics and scoring notes, the platform’s built-in features created a cohesive and professional experience that was never possible with their previous solutions. By simply clicking on the unique link included in their invitation, applicants and reviewers were automatically placed in the right interview rooms, at the right times.
“With Kira, our interview schedule was loaded into the platform so there was no day-of stress or coordination. All anyone had to do was follow the link from their emailed invitation and sit back as the platform automatically moved them through the rooms at the right times. It completely eliminated the work and worry of constantly toggling between screens.”
“You really can mirror your existing process with Kira, which a lot of other tools don’t allow you to do,” explained Bynkoski. “Where other platforms have you adjust your process to fit their platform, Kira approaches it in the opposite way.”
“You get a platform that is already designed for the higher ed admissions process and the flexibility to make it uniquely your own.”
“The customized branding and the ability to add branded videos right into the platform not only made the applicant experience visually appealing, it also acted as a valuable touchpoint for us to promote our school and our community,” shared Bynkoski.
Building a more equitable future by bringing more applicants to interview
With equity top of mind, Bynkoski feels more confident in how the school’s new process with Kira is able to engage more diverse candidates. With applicants often applying to more than one school, the travel and time costs associated with mandatory in-person interviews quickly add up. By removing those common barriers, Waterloo’s admissions process becomes more accessible to applicants.
Our virtual admissions interviews ran last weekend. Thanks to everyone who participated! By the numbers:
-25 interview panels
-75 interviewers (50 pharmacists – including 41 alumni! - and 25 pharm students) pic.twitter.com/bawFURPhBq
— Waterloo Pharmacy (@UWPharmacy) May 3, 2021
“From a diversity and inclusion perspective, that’s a big change because it doesn’t cut out candidates just because of location or financial constraints,” Bynkoski explained. “If applicants can only afford to travel to one school, they’re having to make a very important decision very early in the admissions process.”
“With virtual interviews, applicants are able to make more informed decisions about where they want to study,” she continued, “and it ensures that we, as a school, have the opportunity to show them what we’re all about and why they should choose to enroll at Waterloo.”
For the applicants who do want to experience the atmosphere on campus, the School of Pharmacy plans to host open house days where applicants and their families can tour the campus outside of the stress surrounding the interviews.
“We see a substantial difference in how we’re engaging students to come to see campus when it’s an open invitation and not a requirement,” shared Bynksoki. “It’s a fun invitation to come and experience the atmosphere on campus, and it’s their choice whether or not to do so. Not wanting or being able to incur that cost does not affect their candidacy for the program.”
“We’re seeing now that not all students want to return to campus in the same ways,” Bynkoski added. “Yes, some can’t wait to get back in person, but there are many who prefer virtual interactions and the safety and convenience they provide.”
With Kira Talent, Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy increased their interview acceptance and attendance rate to 97.6%.
“More applicants accepted our interview offer and showed up day-of when we used Kira Talent, compared to our traditional process,” explained Bynkoski.
“As we seek to engage more diverse students in higher education, we need to address those issues and come up with new ways to make our processes accessible and equitable to every candidate, not just the ones that have the means to participate on-campus.”
Saving 20+ hours with at-a-glance analytics
“Kira brings efficiency to each stage of our admissions process,” shared Bynkoski
Once invitations are sent out, administrators are able to see which stages of the process applicants have completed, whether it’s opening their email, registering on the platform, or completing a practice assessment.
“It helps us avoid any empty interview slots due to miscommunication or lost emails,” explained Bynkoski. “We can check in and see how our applicants are interacting with the platform before interview weekend.” With Kira’s admin dashboard, administrators can also see, in real-time, which reviewers and applicants are online, ready for their live interview.
However, it was post interview weekend where Bynkoski and her team experienced Kira’s real time-saving power.
“Since reviewers didn’t have to be on campus in order to grade the skills assessment, we had more volunteers than ever,” she explained. “We were able to have multiple reviewers evaluate each assessment without adding any time to the overall process. And because they could log in at whatever time to complete their review, Kira provided reviewers with flexibility and convenience that they really appreciated.”
As reviewers scored their assigned applicants, Kira’s real-time analytics dashboards provided key data points for the admissions team. Where in previous years Bynkoski had spent countless hours organizing the interview scorecards, inputting the data into their system, and then analysing and reviewing it all, with Kira it was already taken care of.
“With Kira, all that information was in my hands instantly,” shared Bynkoski. “Applicants and reviewers are finished when they leave interview weekend, but for the administration, there’s still weeks and weeks of work that goes into organizing, inputting, and analyzing all this data.”
“Having everything, including the scores from both our fundamental skills assessment and panel interview, recorded and organized in one platform and downloadable at the click of a button, saved us around 5 minutes of data entry per applicant. That means that this cycle, we saved more than 20 hours of admin work, and ultimately, this enabled us to spend more time completing a thorough and holistic file review rather than inputting data.”
“I think most people see the front end of the Kira experience and appreciate the design and functionality, but they don’t even realize everything that’s going on in the background,” continued Bynkoski. “We could see all our interviewers’ scores, monitor if anyone was consistently scoring above or below average, and make adjustments if needed.”
“We were able to show our admissions committee that we had multiple reviewers and their averages were the same, which helped us make more defensible decisions. In a paper-based system, you would never be able to get the level of analytic data that you get from Kira’s platform.”
Rave reviews and repeatable success
In a post-interview survey, Waterloo School of Pharmacy found that 90% of reviewers preferred this year’s experience with Kira over the previous years’ interviews.
“Kira Talent filled the void in last year's interviewing process,” shared one reviewer. “It was awesome to be able to conduct a regular interview online.”
“The system is way more time-efficient than in-person interviews,” added another. “I was a lot more effective in grading with the moveable rating scale than I was on paper.”
With 96% of reviewers rating the platform 4 or more stars, Bynkoski and her team are confidently moving forward with Kira Talent for future admissions cycles.
“We're committed to virtual interviews for the next five years. But from what we've seen with Kira, I'm optimistic this will be our process for the foreseeable future,” explained Bynkoski. “From the sustainability gains that we’ve seen and the cost savings around that, to the equity and accessibility of the online process, to those higher interview acceptance and attendance rates, all of these are reasons why we feel confident saying that we’re staying with Kira long-term.”