First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Paul Breloff: All things considered, we are in good shape – thank you for asking. I feel really fortunate that my family and my team are healthy and that we can keep doing important work. There have been a lot of new challenges to navigate, but one of our values is “find the adventure” so we’ve been doing our best to approach all of this with a sense of curiosity, creativity and optimism.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined Shortlist
Paul Breloff: How much time do you have! Seriously. I’ve had a winding career journey, which makes some sense in retrospect but was a bit bewildering as I lived through it. I studied philosophy and psychology in undergrad, which prepared me for everything and nothing. I spent a few years in advertising, which I enjoyed but it didn’t hold the kind of meaning and purpose I craved. I went to law school and was a practicing corporate lawyer. And then I started to find a path that made sense for me when I moved to India to join a microfinance company. That led to a stint at the World Bank working on “financial inclusion” issues, to starting a venture capital fund investing in fintech startups around the world.
The common thread for me over the last decade has been, how can we use business and innovation to create more access to opportunity? How can businesses help connect people to chances to make their lives better? For many years, microfinance seemed like the right answer. But about five or six years ago, I realized that what I really want to work on is jobs — how can we connect people to great professional opportunities, how can we make sure as many people as possible can find work?
So Shortlist for me is about connecting people to opportunity, and as our mission states, “unlocking professional potential.”
But to do this, we realized we first needed to make it easier for companies, for employers, to hire. My co-founder Simon (Desjardins) and I were impact investors in India and Africa for several years before we started Shortlist (along with our third co-founder Matt Schnuck), and we saw over and over again how hard it was to hire great people, and how access to talent was consistently the number one barrier to growth for these enterprises.
Companies were drowning in piles of CVs, unable to objectively discern who would be best at the job, while candidates were stuck in a demoralizing cycle of applying to hundreds of jobs and never hearing back. We realized a few things were needed: better tools to automate the painful parts of the process, like reviewing piles of CVs; better ways to collect more data, particularly beyond just CVs, which are often such bad signals of potential; and a far better experience on both sides — more fairness, transparency, and humanity.
This is how Shortlist began – with the idea of connecting candidates and employers by leveraging smarter data and technology. At Shortlist, we take a competency-based approach to sourcing and screening talent. We enable candidates to apply for jobs by demonstrating their skills online. While not cutting out human intervention entirely, we use technology to objectively assess the potential of each candidate and provide everyone with feedback – a digital asset they can use to become more self-aware and apply for jobs elsewhere.
How does Shortlist innovate?
Paul Breloff: Shortlist is a platform for great talent and great companies to find one another, and do it in a way that goes beyond just the CV to look at skills, interests, work styles and more. We used to say “The CV is dead!” and while that’s not exactly true, there’s more important data out there than just your CV data. On the Shortlist platform, young professionals and companies create profiles; job applicants go through an intensive vetting process before making it to the client’s dashboard as a potential candidate. First, a chatbot vets the candidate on basic parameters such as location, salary preference, and experience level, among other things. Next, during the assessment stage, the candidate performs on-the-job tasks (e.g., a finance candidate would answer questions about a balance sheet) to gauge their ability to excel in the role.
Based on these inputs, Shortlist creates a holistic, skills-based profile of the candidate for the employer to engage with on our platform.
Shortlist also offers a flexible software platform, Shortlist Connect, for companies to help them attract, screen, and manage the talent recruitment process. You can create a unique company page to help introduce jobseekers to your brand, culture, and perks, and to let people get in touch even if you’re not hiring. We also let companies build a few screener questions into their applications, and easily integrate skills assessments into applications if they want. And a number of other innovations in the pipeline which we look forward to announcing soon!
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Paul Breloff: Significantly! But in some surprising ways.
In the early days, there were some nerve-wracking moments. It’s tough to run a recruitment company when the world decides to go into a global hiring freeze. But we’re now starting to see that open up as economies globally reopen.
On the flip side, we’ve seen this as a massive experiment of sorts. It’s tested our team’s culture and spirit, and I’m so proud of how we’ve adapted and rose to the challenge of staying connected and values-driven even while we’re all working from our own flats and kitchens and whatnot, and across many cities in three countries. We held our first-ever virtual company-wide hackathon to brainstorm new ideas, particularly around to help out our candidates and provide more value to young professionals. A lot of great ideas from this hackathon translated into new features on our platform – a CV builder, end-to-end communication with candidates on our platform for employers, video interviewing on a home-grown platform that rivals Zoom, and more.
I’ve been surprised by how well we’ve been able to learn and grow and even do some things better remotely. Many of our team meetings are now multi-channel: we use the chat function to discuss, we collaborate on google docs, and we’re video chatting (instead of all sitting in a room with one person speaking at once). Our introverts have a louder voice over chat, and it can be even more engaging sometimes than in person.
We also see interesting ways COVID has accelerated trends around remote working, which we think opens up interesting angles to connect our community of talented young professionals to global opportunities with global companies. Borders matter less with digital work, and there’s a new openness from companies everywhere to find the best talent even if they’re in a different country or time zone.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Paul Breloff: There were a lot of tough decisions that we had to take over the course of the last four months. When the pandemic began, we immediately got into a cost-saving mode and worked towards making sure that we were conserving money as much as possible. We took a fresh look at every shilling, rupee, and dollar we were spending and everyone got involved in renegotiating contracts, cutting costs, and helping us be a leaner, more sustainable business. Some choices were easy, like pausing travel this year, a decision that was pretty much made for us, while others, like pausing bonuses for now, were more difficult. Ultimately, all of our decisions have been made with a focus on sustainability for the company, our clients, and our team members — we keep saying “the future is bright so long as we can survive the present!”
Some of the more complex decisions we have been faced with are actually related to our company strategy. In March, much of the professional world very suddenly became remote-ready. Companies have embraced remote workers because they have to. This has opened up new remote work opportunities globally. We are shifting our focus so we can meet the needs of newly remote-ready companies and professionals, including sharing more remote jobs in our community, launching a virtual internships platform (coming soon), and experimenting with cross-border placements. This has meant coordinating resources across all our teams so we can be a more globally-forward, digitally ready team — and of course all of this has been done via email, WhatsApp, and Google Meet instead of sitting around a table and whiteboard. Overall though, it’s going really well; we’ve embraced the complexity and are better for it.
How do you project yourself and Shortlist in the future? Or what is your outlook for the future?
Paul Breloff: We believe COVID is not fundamentally changing the future, but it’s accelerating it. Trends like remote or virtual work were already happening, and now they’re happening really quickly. As teams adapt to this remote or work-from-home reality, it will likely matter less where someone sits, where they were born, what nationality they are, so long as they have a computer and a WiFi connection. We think this is a huge opportunity in a world where talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not — this can help distribute existing job opportunities just a little more evenly.
We are actively exploring and testing ways to deliver more value to jobseekers, in order to help them stand out from the crowd and become eligible for jobs they might otherwise have never heard about. We’re trying to bring more of those remote-ready jobs, and “remote-curious” companies, onto our platform. We’re trying to make sure we have talent in our community ready for these jobs, and trying to link them to resources to get even better. We are really excited about these trends and what it means for realizing our mission of unlocking professional potential.