A.I. Powered Matching with Andrew Freundt and Satish Kumar

06/17/2020 19 min read

The events of this year have certainly been eye-opening for many organizations - to say the least.  It’s been a wake-up call to a number of ineffective hiring processes and biases.

On this episode we are speaking with Andrew Freundt and Satish Kumar. Andrew is a Senior Director with Pontoon Solutions; a division of The largest staffing firm in world Adecco Group, Pontoon is a global HR outsourcing company that drives the acquisition of permanent talent and manages contingent and project workforces on behalf of organizations in more than 100 countries.

Satish is Co-Founder & CEO of GLIDER, a competency-based hiring platform powered by A.I. that works with Enterprises, MSPs, and Recruitment Agencies to bring Total Talent Quality in the talent ecosystem.

Transcript:

Paul Estes:

Welcome to Talent Economy Live. I'm Paul Estes, editor in chief of staffing.com and host of The Talent Economy Podcast. This has been an extraordinary moment for remote work. Entire populations have been forced to work from home. Proving that remote infrastructure is viable on mass scale. We believe that remote and on-demand talent strategies to be the main competitive difference going forward. We're live every Wednesday with key insights and direct experiences from top freelance talent, executives, and remote experts. The show's aimed to keep you informed and up to speed on the ever-evolving workforce as we navigate these challenging times together.

I'd like to welcome back Laurel Farrer, founder and CEO of Distribute Consulting and a Forbes remote career contributor. Laurel, welcome to the show.

Laurel Farrer:

Thank you for having me. Always a pleasure to be here.

Paul Estes:

One of the things I want to talk about is an article that I just published on staffing.com, What 10 Influential Fortune CEOs Are Saying About Remote Work. I thought it was very interesting because they really span the spectrum of what they were learning. Some were saying like Apple, "Hey, we're going to get back to work as soon as possible. It's key to our hardware business." Companies like Dell were saying, "Hey, I'm really learning from this moment and it could really change the way we work." And even Morgan Stanley said, "I expect that we'll have a significantly reduced footprint." When you read all of those opinions, what do you think coming out of COVID is going to look like for large companies?

Laurel Farrer:

I think that your article highlights exactly what the answer is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It's going to be different for each company. So, I'm really glad that you brought attention to this fact. Because this is something that we talk about all the time as consultants is remote work is not one size fits all. It's not a polarized decision between we have to go fully distributed or we have to send everybody back to the office. It's an opportunity to strategize and to leverage workplace flexibility as a way to cut costs and to really enhance the dynamics of your workforce. So that's my favorite part. And the takeaway of this article is it's different and that shows we have proof right here that every company is thinking about this in a slightly different way and really leveraging it in a unique way to optimize their individual brand.

Paul Estes:

There's something about our brains where we want it to be binary. It's a lot easier if it's just either or, and I can adapt to that single function. Remote How just actually published a survey that they did with a ton of big company managers, and I think it supports what you were talking about saying hey, most people do want more flexibility and flexibility in its broadest term, but they want that blended model. They want to be able to go back to the office where it makes sense and then maybe work from home or the days when we can go back to Starbucks, work in a flexible way. How are you as a remote consultant helping managers or organizations understand that blended idea where it's not binary?

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. And so the future of work, whether it be artificial intelligence or VR or whatever, the future of work is all about employee empowerment. We're really trying to unlock the human element, and that's exactly what we're trying to teach as remote work consultants, is that it is not a conversation about location. We're not saying that everybody should go to a home office or to a coworking space or to the HQ office because that conversation is still dependent on location. We're really trying to push the awareness of location irrelevancy, that it's about virtual operations, virtual infrastructure so that it doesn't matter where people are, whether they're at the office or at their home or at a client's office or in an airport. The business can continue without being tied to a location. That's what we really want people to be aware of is stop thinking about where and really prioritize how.

Paul Estes:

Or if there's an emergency like a pandemic, that you can keep your business up and running. Thank you, Laurel. I'll turn the screen over to you for this week's Laurel's List.

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. Perfect. Well, I think that this is a great segue into the list for this week because it shows that managers finally have the space and the head space to start thinking long term. We've been in such a reactive mode for so many weeks and months now just trying to figure out what is happening and are people okay and what does this mean for our business, so the fact that we can start thinking proactively is a big sigh of relief and we can start thinking what's in the future. And this is the future, is remote work. Not saying that everybody's going to leave the office overnight, but it is now part of the present. It is part of the business world and we are understanding that we just need to embrace virtual operations for the foreseeable future.

And so as we're thinking about what's ahead and how do our businesses need to update, talent acquisition is something that I think is dangerously ignored in this conversation. We're thinking a lot about tools, we're thinking a lot about culture, but very, very few people are talking about talent acquisition, which is exactly why I'm especially excited about the conversation today with our guests because we're going to be talking about this fabric securement and recruiting. This was a really big problem during coronavirus when everything locked down. This is something that employers didn't talk about very much is how much that affected their business operations. The first quarter is traditionally a very high time for recruiting, for internships, for promotions and replacements, and just for hiring in general. And so that pretty much had to completely stop for a lot of employers, and that's going to cause a lot of ripple effects longterm through the rest of the year if we can't figure out how to make talent acquisition friendly to remote work.

So that's why my list for this week is how do we need to update our hiring processes and our talent acquisition workflows in order to be compatible with remote work? The first thing that we need to do is label remote jobs. Yes, this seems very, very simple, but oh, my word, it is such a problem, that this is where we call this secrecy or loft or hidden remote jobs where an employer is willing to allow an employee to work remotely. However, they're not willing to externally label it as remote friendly in the job posts, and what that is causing is a lot of discrimination and a lot of discriminatory decision-making once somebody is hired. I might say yes to one person, but I might say no to another person, and we really obviously don't want to venture into that territory, but it's also creating a massive supply and demand crisis in the remote job market. It's estimated that about 90% of job seekers are looking for remote jobs, but only three to 10% of jobs are actually listed as remote, so it's causing a really big clog in the funnel. So the more that employers can be much more transparent and open about the fact that they're willing to hire remotely from the get-go, that will help job seekers and help the employers identify the best talent regardless of where they're located.

The next one is soft skills screening. These are absolutely essential in remote work. I mentioned this in a previous episode, but there's an academic study that was conducted by Roberta [Sawatzky 00:08:53] in Okanogan, Canada, and she studied what the essential skills of remote workers are. She was expecting those to be hard skills, things like Zoom and video conferencing and written communication. However, the top eight were all soft skills, things like communication, empathy, proactivity. Those are absolutely critical in remote workers, but our traditional talent acquisition funnels are not screaming for those, so we need to make sure that part of our filtration process is designed to test and look for those soft skills in our future remote workforce.

The last thing is geo-targeting. This is a really common mistake that most employers make, as they say, okay, I'm willing to hire remotely. Therefore, anybody in the country can apply or anybody in the world can apply. No problem. Remote is remote. Not accurate. Not even a little bit, and even worse, most talent acquisition funnels are not designed for that level of volume. The average increase in application rates of a virtual job post versus an onsite job post is an increase of 3000%. 3000%. So employers really need to be aware of if they say I'm hiring from anywhere and it's remote-friendly, they're going to be inundated with applications, and it doesn't necessarily increase the quality that much, only the quantity.

So instead, employers should be very careful about selecting opportunity zones for their industry, for their product, for their consumer market. There's a lot of different criteria that they can think about, but work with a consultant to identify what are the best places for us to be hiring from and as it relates to licensure or talent pools or whatever, and then only hire from those zip codes and you'll see much, much higher return on your investment.

So that's my list for this week. Remote label, soft skill screening, geo-targeting. Those are three of the most critical updates that you need to make to your virtual hiring process workflow in your human resource department. Paul, any thoughts about that?

Paul Estes:

The things that you said that I think is really interesting when you start talking about soft skills and hard skills, and I experienced this because I've hired lots of people in traditional settings where you get resumes and they come in and then they go through a loop and you have those conversations, and I've hired tons of freelancers. When you hire freelancers that are not location-based, they're not going through a loop, you're actually hiring for a project, the soft skills seemed to matter almost as much, if not more, in many cases as their ability to deliver the work. Their expertise that they have because you're now putting a lot of trust in them, and trust is communicated in soft skills. Have you worked with people around trust as they step into remote work?

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah, I mean, this is the core of the conversation, that in this new location-independent work environment, we are independent, and so we need to be effective self managers, and that means that we are trustworthy and we're able to trust others. Trust is actually one of those skills that Dr. Sawatzky tested on, and so we need to be able to make sure that we develop that relationship of trust prior to hiring. This is why we see a rise in working interviews in Distributed companies. It's because that gives an employer an opportunity to build that relationship early and prior to signing the contract. So yeah, I think that it's absolutely essential that we are screening for this, but then also creating a culture of trust within our companies so that we can be more trusting and people can feel trusted because trust is always a two-way street. So yeah, working hard internally and externally to create a conversation of trust is absolutely essential.

Paul Estes:

I think it's one of those words that we talk a lot about, but as you unpack it, it becomes harder on both the employee and the employers. Thank you so much, Laurel, and look forward to talking to you again next week.

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. See you then.

Paul Estes:

The events of this year have certainly been eyeopening for many organizations to say the least. It's been a wake up call as Laurel talked about on how ineffective a lot of hiring can be. I'm speaking today with Andrew Freundt and Satish Kumar.

Andrew is a senior director with Pontoon Solutions, a division of the world's largest staffing firm Adeco Group. Pontoon is a global HR outsourcing company that drives acquisition of permanent talent and manages contingent in project workforces on behalf of organizations in more than a hundred companies. Satish is the co-founder and CEO of Glider, a competency-based hiring platform powered by artificial intelligence that works with enterprises, MSPs, recruitment agencies to bring total talent quality to the talent ecosystem.

Satish, Andrew, welcome to the show.

Andrew Freundt:

Thanks for having us.

Satish Kumar:

Thank you very much for having me.

Paul Estes:

Well, before we dig into AI, which is going to be a very interesting topic, andrew, I wanted to ask you some of the changes that you're seeing companies do as they start to retool for a much different way of working post-COVID. What problems are they asking Pontoon to help solve and what are you hearing from clients

Andrew Freundt:

Yeah, I think that it's really accelerated questions they've been asking for a long time and it really was around which geographies have the best talent? Should we be opening offices there? And now it really is switching to, how do we keep up with some of these firms that have already determined that they're never going to go back? You've got obviously the news with Twitter not returning, Facebook not having to return potentially salary cuts. So they're really looking at how do we keep up with that?

And I think one a lot of folks aren't talking about but we're starting to hear is the concern that if they do make their workers go back, are they going to stay? Is there going to be a mass exodus of workers that are going to these companies that have stayed remote work? So those problems are I think being solved for because we've been able to do the first real-time testing at a massive scale of these systems and being able to prove that systems like Zoom and Teams and all of the technology out there is holding up. The load testing has been real and realized, so I think that they're open to things they never were before.

Paul Estes:

It's interesting as you watch the news over the past three months, how many times you'd hear about the technology sort of struggling a little bit. Zoom having quality issues, Teams having some outages in Europe. But now, a lot of that has been ... now that they're able to handle the load, a lot of the quality problems are starting, not all of them, are starting to subside. We have Satish, and I'm going to get to you in just one minute, but, Andrew, Glider is a company that really tries to help make the hiring process efficient. When you look at the work you were doing at Pontoon, say, six months ago or a year, what kind of demand are you seeing and what kind of problem does Glider solve?

Andrew Freundt:

Well, I think the big problem almost every MSP hears from a client is about candidate quality. That's what they care about first and foremost is candidate quality, and it's very tough to screen effectively and hire every person on your team that is an expert. Most recruiters, even the good ones, are not Java engineers necessarily or have that skillset to be able to determine who's good and who's not, and also just a very manual exercise, going through thousands of resumes. One of my customers alone, you're getting 30,000, 50,000 applicants in a year. To imagine going through manually that was absolutely something of the MSP of the past, and the MSP as we know it like that is dying. There's really also no value add within those administrative tasks, so we're definitely seeing an evolution of how do we automate things? How do we use technology like Glider to really take down manual tasks and be able to be more consultative in what we do?

Paul Estes:

That's great. Satish, what was the inspiration behind Glider? And tell me more about the product and how it's being deployed.

Satish Kumar:

Glider was started out of its own necessity, necessity, the mother of invention. Our recruitment team was spending so much time finding the right candidate and passing them on to the hiring manager and just to find out that hey, they are not able to conduct the task and interview that they're expected to do. So we needed to solve this problem very, very fast because the pressure was mounting on the delivery team. So, really went back to the first principle approach. [inaudible 00:17:58] Both teams are working hard, the recruitment and the hiring manager, and really figure out that if the problem with the quality, it must be solved upstream in the process, as Andrew pointed out. So that led to the journey of Glider AI. And [inaudible 00:18:17] no interview tax for the hiring manager, which means by the time candidate reaches the hiring manager, they should be pretty much qualified.

And just to add one more point that I then started to look deeper into on my own life journey. It makes so much sense because this process also enables access to opportunity for under-privileged people who could not otherwise qualify or get shortlisted in the traditional process, and I happened to be one of them while growing up, so it is a personal story for me as well.

Paul Estes:

As you go to market with this application, who are your customers? Where are you seeing demand? Obviously MSPs like Pontoon as they try to digitally transform, but what other sort of organizations are reaching out to you?

Satish Kumar:

Sure. We started this work working with big enterprise customer for direct hiring, and that has been phenomenal, and we can see there the internal recruitment team can place an important role by offloading some of the tasks of the hiring managers and pre-vetting the candidate. But then when I started looking at the contingent labor, I realized that the problem is even more bigger because in there, there are multiple parties, there is MSP, there is suppliers, and then the [inaudible 00:19:47] at the end of the day. And goal is to serve the [inaudible 00:19:50]. But there is a fundamental problem in the sense that does expectations not set along these three entities. What are the emotional quality? And because there are multiple parties involved, the definition of quality is very different by the nature of it. So that complicates the problem even more. And unless the goals are aligned and quality being at the forefront, it's very hard to mandate.

Therefore, when we started working, we started looking at okay, how can we let the enterprise or the MSP decide the quality benchmark and set the rule of the game before the game begins, which means have that quality benchmark disseminated to all participating suppliers and then play by that rule. And that really removed biases, made it very a standardized process for all the participants, and for that, we have something called total talent quality, and the goal of getting that to bring an augment quality in the process and bring transparency in the talent ecosystem, and we do that through different [inaudible 00:21:05]. Technology, I will ignore technology [inaudible 00:21:08].

Paul Estes:

You brought up ... oh, go ahead, Andrew.

Andrew Freundt:

Yeah. I was going to say we were excited to partner with Glider because they've fit some gaps. And so back to your question of a year, and I'd say really two years ago, we really had evolved where we were using predictive analytics through past supplier performance to predict the likelihood that they'd succeed on the new role. And that was very useful and it really took us from something like a 24% interview to offer rate for an IT role up to about 30, 33%. We weren't happy there, and we said, how else can we go further? And it really came down to gosh, just because they did well before the recruiter changed, somebody left the company that was really good, it also just wasn't terribly scalable.

So by combining with Glider, we actually, and I'll give an example from earlier this year, we had a request for 175 Java engineers to be hired in a quarter, and that's a tough task. It was in one market, very picky customer, very tough skillset. And so with working with Glider and our supplier community, bringing everyone together, the MSV, supplier, and the technology, we created a series of tests that were specific for what this client hired for and got that approved through the organization. But we went from what would have been, we would have gotten or had to review about 2100 resumes. That's that's about eight candidates per role to get to that 24% interview to offer where four interviews for one offer. That would result in 700 hours of interviews as well, which equates to 17 and a half full weeks at 40 hours a week of interviewing ultimately to get 175 candidates hopefully in three months. With using Glider, we were able to not review a single resume. We could just look at the baselining, the scores, how they compared against all the tests we got. So from again, 2100 resumes reviewed to zero. And then we went down and interviewed 241 candidates and got a 62% interview-to-offer and filled all those roles in 14 days, which was the fastest that we'd ever hired engineers, the highest interview-to-offer ratio, and literally it saved the customer from an interviewing standpoint $50,000 of interviewing time.

And then ultimately the really nice part I like about Glider is that it levels the playing field where there's this issue with perceived quality. You might be looking at a high level consulting firm at $300 an hour. That person must be better. By having this evaluation and it's not a resume anymore, it's not the name of the company, it's their skill set is actually this, we saved on that single project, $1.8 million over a six-month period, and again, saved them 50,000 in interview time and got time back to the managers and filled it in two weeks instead of 17 and a half.

Paul Estes:

No, I think it's one of the interesting things that Satish, you were talking about, is that the process really focuses on the type of work and the skill set, and that's something Laurel mentioned earlier is, is both not on the soft skills but making sure that you focus on the expertise.
Satish, I want to ask you a question because you said AI, and then when you were talking a little bit about bias, in 2018, Amazon scrapped a secret AI recruiting tool that showed bias against women in technical roles. And so we know that AI is based on known data sets, which in a lot of cases is not diverse, so the AI is not being trained on diverse data. How does Glider solve for the challenges that AI faces as it relates to bias and diversity?

Satish Kumar:

Definitely. This is one of the top concerns when it comes to candidate screening at the top of the funnel. Are we picking people out of the funnel and maybe not the whole decision making bias? And that happens if you leave completely independent in the hands of AMS team to pick the decision and call. Our evaluation requires candidate to perform a task that sort of mimic the job you will be doing after joining the company. So basically pretty much it presents a candidate performance on the job. And when candidates are asked to perform that job based on their ability and competency, they're going to perform at certain level. But not only that, during that period, the system will monitoring in real time their performance and the activity as well, and in a really transparent manner, that the system tells the candidate what you're was supposed to do, what you're not supposed to do.

And then at the end, the competency data gather, which is true reflection of their skill on the job. That competency data that is really deciding that how relevant they are for the job and not really going by just by text analysis of their resume and then making some bias against it. So our approach is not completely hands-off, but really empowering the team to get right this thing. And not only that, when we really present the competency, we also explain why we are saying what we are saying, so it's not left [inaudible 00:26:39] and gather the data to make the right decision.

Paul Estes:

When I looked at the Glider product, and I think it's important since we were talking about AI and automation, there still is in person interviewing or sort of the opportunity for a candidate to show up on video and ask questions and things like that. How does that play into the process you're developing?

Satish Kumar:

Sure. So what you're talking about in the live interview right now, and definitely with the post COVID-19 world, given the environment, the volume is going to be very, very high. Now, the question is can they all be conducted in in person interview or even live remote interviewing? The answer is pretty much no because the volume is so high. So through the automated system, more things need to be evaluated ahead of the time and prequalified that funnel, and then the rest of whoever is qualified should be a live interview remotely or maybe in person as well. But now we have flexibility because today video, high quality video interviews have become very common. But you know what? Given a chance, I personally would like to meet the team before I take my decision. But the purpose would be very different. Purpose is not to evaluate you and really interview and grill you. The purpose should be that, let me explain what it feels like working in our company. Think about the compatibility, the cultural fitness. [inaudible 00:28:17] the part that needs to be talked about in person, and we can go do the interview, but the ability to do the task should be done ahead of the time in a more scalable manner.

Paul Estes:

Now, I think one of the things that Andrew said, and Andrew, I've got a final question for you, one of the things that Andrew said is the interviews still happened. It just, you didn't spend 17 days of constant interviews to make that happen. And so I think that the combination of what, Andrew, the way you're talking about the future of Pontoon and implementing Glider is very powerful. Andrew, you said something at the top of the show about MSPs and sort of the model is dying in some ways pretty rapidly. As you look at both MSPs and vendor management systems, in the next five years, what does that world look like?

Andrew Freundt:

I think there's a lot of different options and there's not a one-size-fits-all approach. For some, it does make sense to bring it back in-house. It's very tough to justify a large MSP team to be on site with a lower spend kind of a program based on fee structures that are there today, but what an MSP can do and it really is through ... we're constantly monitoring the market for tools like Glider and we're building some of our own in house, we're automating.

At Pontoon, I was very excited and it was very different, but we had the first ever fully automated recruiter list RXO on our RPO side of the house for recruitment process outsourcing. And that was for a major company. Literally there's no touch whatsoever from a recruiter, and it goes directly to the manager and they can again, interview folks or see a prerecorded set of interview questions and see things from their pajamas. So it's really us staying on top of what's what's out there, informing our customers, keeping them aware of changes in laws and regulations, but just it's a lot more consultative and it's not these manual tasks where I'm just clicking to onboard someone or check a box in a VMS. Heavily automated and much smaller MSP teams, a lot more advisory, and that's the future.

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah, great insights, Andrew, Satish, I want to thank you both for spending time with us today on the show, and I want to thank everybody out there for listening and taking the time as well. Next week, we have Lisa Hufford. She is the CEO of Simplicity Consulting and an early adopter of on demand and agile talent. Thank you so much and stay safe.

Paul Estes:

Thank you for taking the time to listen to The Talent Economy Live brought to you by staffing.com by Toptal, a brand new industry site that's leading the conversation around the future of staffing. Join us back here every Wednesday at 4:30 Eastern for a new episode of The Talent Economy Live.