As part of a four-person founding team of a relatively early stage company AirPR, over the last few years I've felt every single pain a startup could feel. From the challenges of raising capital to figuring out the profile of the ideal customer, it often seems like we're pushing a boulder up a hill over and over...and over...again. What's more, the last five years alone have seen massive innovation in nearly every facet of the economy; which means companies are forced to continually learn about best practices and methods in terms of running a business.

Recently, I've become rather obsessed with hiring, as we move the company to the next phase of explosive growth. Rather than crawling into a hole, which is my often my first thought when facing yet another business challenge, I have come up with a better solution: talking to folks much more equipped to understand my problem, then paying it forward by sharing their knowledge.

My challenge du jour? How to attract a new generation (Millennials in this case, God bless them) of workers to our business while simultaneously understanding what will drive them to work hard, stay engaged, and ultimately take our company to the next level.

As my newly minted pal Adam Smiley Poswolsky, Millennial workplace expert and author, so aptly sums it up: "In a rapidly changing and unstable job market, Millennials want to constantly learn new skills, discover different ways of thinking, have transformative experiences, and make new connections that will help them as their career evolves. They want their boss to be not just a supervisor, but a mentor and a coach. Work has become a classroom and playground for career experimentation."

That's a tall order, particularly for small companies with limited bandwidth and resources.

To dig a little deeper into this topic, I sat down with Fulbright Scholar and Mellon Fellow, Josh Millet, who currently serves as Founder & CEO of Criteria Corp. Josh is working to make talent acquisition less painful for companies with Criteria's pre-employment testing platform (backed by a Scientific Advisory Board of experts from Harvard University, Penn State University, and Stanford). And believe me, there's a ton of opportunity in both regards. His most recent innovation is JobFlare, a free app that takes job seekers through six 90-second brain games that track performance in key predictors of job success: math and verbal ability, attention to detail, problem-solving, and memory. Subsequently, based on performance results and their user profile, job seekers are sent relevant job postings.

Enjoy the knowledge drop, and if you're an early stage founder, listen up!

Rebekah Iliff: How did you get interested in the employment space?

Josh Millet: After I sold my first startup, I stayed on and began hiring new employees (for the first time in my career). I sat through an awful lot of interviews where it was clear the person wasn't a fit after only a few minutes. At that point, I started thinking about creating tools to address this problem.

RI: Why is hiring so hard for early stage companies?

JM: I think hiring is hard, period. But early stage companies sometimes feel the pain most acutely for two reasons: First, startups with less than 40-50 employees often have no dedicated HR staff, so there usually aren't cohesive or structured hiring methods in place. Second, the effects of a single bad hire can be felt more acutely in early stage companies. Small companies can't afford disastrous or unproductive hires.

RI: What are some of the key changes in the hiring space over the last 10 years?

JM: The web has transformed the hiring process in so many ways, both for job seekers and for employers. Mobile is also becoming more and more important. According to data, about 28 percent of job seekers--including 53 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds--have used a smartphone as part of a job search. It's becoming critical to find new ways to reach job seekers where they are. Creating fun, engaging, mobile platforms for job seekers to get connected with job opportunities is a compelling way to provide a positive and appealing candidate experience.

Applying for jobs is so much easier today, but this hasn't been as much of a boon for job seekers as you might think. It has led to a dramatic increase in the number of applicants for each opening. Employers are often inundated. Since we started Criteria ten years ago, we've seen applicant-to-hire ratios expand by three or fourfold. But many applicants are unqualified or have barely read the job description. We call them "résumé spammers." Employers need tools to address this, and for job seekers, it can be harder to get noticed. So, while frictionless hiring seems to have many advantages, it yields new challenges, too.

RI: What are some of your suggestions for employers hiring Millennials?

JM: Culture is the great differentiator for Millennials. I worry more about the possibility of a bad Glassdoor review than about losing a customer. When we hire for entry and mid-level positions, where many applicants are less than five years out of school, résumés are even less helpful than usual. We look for growth potential and traits that predict long-term success, like intelligence and work ethic.

RI: What are the top three to five qualities employers look for in candidates?

JM: I would say critical thinking (cognitive ability), work ethic, and attention to detail are the top three qualities employers look for today.

RI: What are the top three to five worst things a candidate can say or do during an interview?

JM: First, not being prepared and not having researched the company. Second, I often get "Oh, I forgot that was on there" when asking about something on a candidate's résumé. That's a real turnoff. If you haven't reviewed your own résumé carefully, why should I? Last, a prompt, thoughtful follow-up is always a big positive, so when candidates don't write follow-up emails, it is conspicuous.

RI: How is the idea of work evolving with the advent of technology?

JM: Technology has not only dramatically improved our quality of life, it has also driven higher productivity in the workplace. Generally, work today is more flexible, and workplaces are more transparent in ways that are employee-friendly. However, I find myself persuaded that technology will inevitably lead to higher unemployment in many sectors of the economy. That will be a challenging transition for society to navigate.

RI: What are your thoughts on this article?

JM: Ugh. It completely misses the main point about the gender gap in tech, which is primarily about the low number of female applicants for technology jobs. It's a problem that goes back to STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math) as well as educational trends that don't encourage more women to enter engineering fields. On a related note, tech firms that are using interviews as their main means of evaluating engineers are in trouble.

RI: What problem are you solving with JobFlare?

JM: The big problem we are addressing is that it's hard for young job seekers to get noticed when they don't have much on their résumé, or didn't have much educational opportunity. We see JobFlare as a talent surfacing platform that can connect talent with opportunity. It's well known that cognitive ability is one of the best predictors of success in the workplace. People with learning and problem solving abilities can prosper in any role, and employers know this. But too often employers use unreliable proxies like educational pedigree or previous experience to infer this kind of information.

JobFlare lets job-seekers, especially Millennials who may have sparse résumés, show their potential by playing fun brain games that measure key traits employers want; and it can then offer job seekers targeted job opportunities based on their profiles.

RI: What is the biggest myth about the hiring process?

JM: That résumés and interviews are the best way of evaluating an applicant.

RI: What are the most valuable non-technical, non-quantifiable job skills a person can possess?

JM: Curiosity, hunger, and emotional intelligence. There are ways to quantify these qualities, but it's difficult.


RI: Last but certainly not least, how will employers hire candidates ten years from now?

JM: It's tough to predict what the world will look like in ten years, even if you're in the prediction business! But I believe that the traditional ways employers gather intelligence on prospective employees - résumés and interviews--will become much less important.

Many employers already recognize that résumés and interviews usually don't work very well as an information-gathering technique, and that they certainly don't predict performance accurately. I don't think they'll disappear altogether, but they will be surpassed by a variety of evidence-based approaches to gathering what I call "talent signals." I think we are still pretty early in the shift to data-driven employee selection methodologies, and there's a big misconception about this trend. There's a lot of talk about how algorithms that take the human element out of hiring could de-humanize the hiring process, and that they represent a threat to the HR profession.

The opposite is true: HR talent will be more of a differentiator, as data-driven hiring will give humans better information to make decisions, not outsource hiring decisions to an algorithm.

Published on: May 17, 2017