Hiring For Skills Instead of Credentials

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It’s upsetting to learn that just about two years ago, TechCrunch wrote an article about HireArt entitled, “Resumes are Bulls**t. HireArt is better.”

It’s upsetting because that’s the most perfect headline for any article about HireArt, and I’m jealous that TechCrunch beat me to the punch. That headline is perfect because it succinctly captures HireArt’s unique essence — solutions-based thinking driven by a healthy irreverence for flawed traditions.

The flawed tradition that sparked HireArt? Contemporary recruiting practices, which privilege irrelevant credentials over demonstrable skills, according to Julia Averbuck, HireArt’s head of operations.

“What does it mean that someone has a 3.9 GPA at Harvard?” Averbuck asks. “Yes, it means that they’re hardworking, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can do this job.”

The solution? An souped-up take on the job board, one that not only syndicates an organization’s job posts, but that also screens candidates for you.

“HireArt wants to be a system that could test someone’s ability to do the job, and [it wants to] improve the efficiency of recruiting, when it came to actual skills and not just credentials,” Averbuck says.

Origin Story

HireArt co-founders Elli Sharef and Nick Sedlet both worked for companies with well-respected recruiting processes. Sharef was with McKinsey & Company, whose one-time managing director Marvin Bower was among the first to recruit talent straight out of business schools; Sedlet was with Goldman Sachs, yet another powerful recruiter of fresh MBAs.

But when Sharef moved to her next job, she learned that not every company is as adept at recruiting as McKinsey or Goldman Sachs. A lot of organizations rely on the wildly inefficient post-and-pray method, or other similarly unfocused methods of sourcing.

“[Sharef] saw how different it was, and how frustrating recruiting could be,” Averbuck says. “So what she wanted to do was she wanted to create a process that could replicate the McKinsey process, in that it could pick out the raw talent. It could really figure out who the best candidates are for the job.”

And as Sharef thought about the idea more, she realized that even the McKinsey process could be improved upon. Powerhouse companies like McKinsey and Goldman Sachs often focus their recruiting strategies on graduates from top-50 schools, artificially limiting their reaches. “So, even though they have this great interview process, they’re actually not addressing every potential talent out there,” Averbuck says. “[Sharef and Sedlet] wanted to create a process that helps anyone — with any kind of background — shine beyond their resumé.”

HireArt’s Take on Recruiting

For employers, HireArt is sort of a combination job board/ATS, but with much better screening capabilities. You head to HireArt, post a job, and it syndicates your posting. HireArt assigns you an account manager, whose job is to figure out what, exactly, you want from your new employee. “We spend a lot of time upfront understanding what [companies] want,” says Averbuck. “We’re not just going off of the [job] requirements; we’re not going to go off of some great idea we have. We do a call with the hiring manager to say, ‘Tell us what you’re looking for.’”

Once HireArt has this information, it can start curating a “candidate list” — that is, a list of the top few candidates whom the platform determines are the best matches for you, out of all other applicants. In this way, HireArt is sort of like an ATS, separating the wheat from the chaff.

Of course, the problem with ATSs is that so many of them filter candidates according to keywords on their resumés. Hence the myriad articles on beating the system. And, at that point, a resumé is pretty much worthless. It no longer shows off who a candidate is, but what a candidate knows a company wants to hear. Good luck trying to hire the best of the best in those conditions.

HireArt, however, takes a different, more hands-on approach to candidate curation, using video interviews and “work samples” (more on those in a bit) to test relevant skills.

“There’s actually two parts to [the screening process],” explains Averbuck. “The candidate first sends in their resumé, and then they’re invited back for a video interview. Whether they complete the video interview or not, in my personal opinion, is already an assessment of them.”

As Averbuck points out, applying to a job online is an absolute breeze, for the most part: just send in your resume and see what happens. By asking applicants to complete a brief four-question assessment — two video questions, two written questions — HireArt hopes to test whether candidates really want the job or are just blindly sending off resumés.

“The idea is that, if someone doesn’t come back and do this extra 10-15 minute assessment, then they’re probably not that interested in the role,” says Averbuck. “That’s something that employers waste a lot of time on these days.”

Imagine, for example, posting an advertisement to Craigslist. How many applicants are you going to receive in total? (Conducting an experiment, writer Eric Auld received 653 responses to a job ad in 24 hours. Afterwards, he took the ad down. How many more would he have received had he kept it up?) And how many of those are going to be quality candidates? (According to ERE, on average, more than 50 percent of applicants fail to meet the basic qualifications).

“An employer’s going to get 100-1000 resumés [on Craigslist],” Averbuck says. “You go through all of those resumés, you pick out the best ones, and the first ten people you call just aren’t interested. They just kind of sent [the resumé] because, ‘Why not?’”

Averbuck describes the video interview invite as “the first line of assessment” because, rather than assessing skills, it assess candidate interest. If a candidate can’t be bothered to complete the assessment, they most likely can’t be bothered to care much about the position if they land it.

After this first layer of screening, we come to the actual assessment. The questions that HireArt asks candidates are specific to the level and the category of the role which needs filling. “For example, for a customer service role, we have them answer a customer service email, or we have them do a sample customer service call,” says Averbuck. These are the work samples  mentioned above: little activities which provide snapshots of an applicant’s relevant skills.

While HireArt generally deals with entry-level and non-technical jobs — the necessary skills for which are easier to assess online — the platform does have a process for evaluating higher-level candidates. “For a more senior marketing job, for example, it’s a little harder to do work samples, but we ask for examples of prior work, or we ask them to talk about certain aspects of digital marketing that are going to be important for their jobs,” says Averbuck.

It’s About Fairness

“From a candidate perspective — it feels weird to say this — but when [Sharef] and [Sedlet] started [HireArt], they started it with a goal of fairness, of giving everyone a shot,” says Averbuck.

One can see why Averbuck feels weird saying that: when you’re used to screening candidates via the far-from-perfect systems of ATSs, screening candidates doesn’t seem like an especially fair process. And the process is especially broken if you’re screening for credentials instead of capabilities.

But the hiring process should be fair, shouldn’t it? Every applicant should have the chance to show an organization who they are. If who they are isn’t right for that role, fair enough — but cutting candidates out before they get a chance to prove their worth seems not only cruel to candidates, but also counterintuitive to the company’s mission. If you’re looking to hire top talent, should you really be trusting resumés and keyword filters? Can you afford to limit yourself to certain schools?

Sharef and Sedlet started HireArt in part because they saw companies using the wrong criteria to hire people — e.g., looking for degrees instead of skills. “They felt like a lot of companies were just screening for top-50 schools,” Averbuck says. “Honestly, if you’re a startup looking to hire a customer service person, for example, you probably don’t even need to hire someone from a top-50 school.”

“We started the company with the goal of showing that people were picking for the wrong categories,” Averbuck explains.

While HireArt acts as a third-party curator of candidates, Averbuck believes that this does not result in any sort of frustrating separation between applicants and companies. If anything, Averbuck sees HireArt as a way to bring prospective hires closer to employers: “If they do make it through to the top candidates, then they’re usually one of 5 or one of 10,” Averbuck says. “They get a lot of employer attention. They really do get the visibility.”

Going Forward

“We’ve figured out what we do well,” Averbuck says of HireArt. “We’re at a point where we want to scale that.”

While HireArt is currently in the middle of raising capital to scale-up its operations, the company is also looking to improve some aspects of the platform. For example, Averbuck says HireArt is looking to collect more data on how applicants are performing, so that it might leverage that information for the benefit of job applicants. “Right now, we grade applications extensively, and we collect all of this data, but we’re working on how we can come around and figure out how to give this back to candidates,” Averbuck says.

HireArt also collects employment data on every candidate that gets hired, to see how well they’re doing and how long they stay.

On a more general note, HireArt seems to see the value in constant improvement. As Averbuck notes before our conversation ends, “We recognize that we’re definitely not there, in terms of ‘Do we perfectly assess the abilities to do the job?’ But we assess it better than just a resumé, so we want to keep improving how we assess it.”

Read more in Resume Format

Matthew Kosinski is the former managing editor of Recruiter.com.