Each week, the Civic Accelerator blog features an entrepreneur from our growing portfolio of more than 100 startups to share their “ah-ha” moments, trials, and successes in launching and running a social venture. This week’s venture profile is on Elena Valentine, Co-founder, and CEO of Skill Scout.
The 30,000 ft View
Skill Scout provides a suite of recruitment tools, collectively called experiential hiring, that fundamentally change the way employers attract and hire candidates. By enhancing the way employers and candidates experience one another through media-rich video content, skills demonstrations, and on-the-job previews, Skill Scout guarantees a stronger candidate match as well as greater visibility into candidate pools that would have been previously overlooked.
As an innovation consultant in Chicago, Elena was tasked on a project in 2014 to create pathways to meaningful employment opportunities for youth in Baltimore. At the start of the project, she quickly realized that the core problem was not lacking talent among Baltimore’s youth, but rather a disconnect between how youth were presenting their skills to employers, and how employers were filtering youth candidates. Simply because of a misdemeanor crime years ago, or a resume that didn’t exactly line with the keyword protocols of a resume sorter, many skilled and high-potential candidates were automatically filtered out of the hiring process. On the other side of the same coin, employers were needlessly spending millions of dollars on a recruitment process that was falling short. Under the assumption that this disconnect affected not just youth, but also individuals with disabilities, those without a college degree, or English as a second language learner, for example, Elena and her co-founder, Abby, decided to test a different approach to hiring: experiential hiring.
“Ah – ha” Moments
So what is experiential hiring? Elena and Abby decided to test their approach on local manufacturing companies to start, as this is where they saw the greatest need for middle-skilled talent. The experiment was simple – 1) provide manufacturers with a multi-media platform to show (not tell) what their vacant positions entailed and bring the company to life, and 2) provide traditionally overlooked candidates with the same platform show their skills and competencies. The results were impactful. Manufacturers participating in the pilot expressed a genuine excitement around the skills presented by the candidates that their existing solution bypassed, and candidates felt empowered by demonstrating their knowledge through skills tests and envisioning themselves in the role. The greatest “ah-ha” moment occurred when Elena and her team realized that this intervention represented a much-needed business solution for not just manufactures, but also entire industries that rely on middle-skilled talent to deliver goods and services.
Trials and Setbacks
As proud household contributors and parents, Elena and her team were committed to generating revenue from Day 1. This meant that, especially in the beginning, they had to prioritize revenue over scaling the core product. While this allowed them to be ultra-flexible with early adopters and refine their product with intimate customer feedback, Elena and her team had to remain patient with their desires to upend the hiring process overnight. Now with the advantage of hindsight and reaching profitability in 2016, Elena shares that what was perhaps their greatest challenge, in the beginning, is now her greatest point of pride, knowing that she and her team built a business model with paying customers from the beginning.
Running full steam ahead into 2017, Skill Scout just launched their first self-service app which will allow companies and candidates to create their own multi-media job descriptions and skills resumes, a task that until now has been managed by Skill Scouts’s team of producers. This product will allow Skill Scout to scale experiential hiring to manufacturers throughout the Midwest as well as enter into new industries facing a middle-skills talent gap.
Elena’s Tips, Tricks, and Hacks
- Get involved in communities outside of your own network. This helped us recruit an amazing team of diverse women leaders in areas that complement our skill sets.
- As a tech-enabled service company, Zapier helps us connect all sorts of existing apps to create a seamless experience for our customers.
Join the Good Fight
To support the work of Skill Scout, Elena shares that you can be an advocate within your own company. Start by shapring open positions with your broader network and in places your company might be overlooking, and be sure to share your experience to bring the job to life! If you work for a manufacturer or if you are responsible for hiring middle-skilled talent, reach out to Skill Scout to see how experiential hiring can change the way you recruit great talent.