Matchmakers

Tilr CEO: Why Algorithms Make The Best Recruiters

The art and science of using the internet as a tool to recruit employees hasn’t just fundamentally changed once in the last 15 or so years – it has actually changed twice.

And tilr co-founder Summer Crenshaw has actually had a front row seat to both – and is hoping to kick-start the third major sea change.

Fifteen years ago, before setting off as human capital entrepreneurs, she and co-founder Luke Vigeant were working at CareerBuilder.com, back in the days when “it was still a startup.”

In that ancient era of a decade-and-a-half ago, Crenshaw was engaged with trying to convince businesses to get their help wanted listings out of the newspaper and onto the internet. Something that we take for granted today – and was something of an uphill sell back then.

But the seas did change, and firms started getting online. At first, they were still able to “get excited by how many applicants they had,” because in the pre-digital age, rounding up a reasonable stable of potential employees was a challenge.

Soon after that first sea change, however, a second one began. Firms stopped feeling excited about all those digital applications, and started feeling overwhelmed. They then started asking themselves a question that was nearly the opposite of what they had initially been seeking: “How do we minimize our number of applicants?”

“And that,” Crenshaw told Karen Webster, “was something of a paradigm shift.”

And it was a paradigm shift with cost, because digital recruiting was suddenly a process of exclusion that became incredibly good at using technology to keyword-search resumes, with the result of knocking out qualified candidates.

And so three years ago, Crenshaw and Vigeant launched tilr to solve that problem, with the goal of creating a more inclusive, and efficiently productive, platform to help firms digitally recruit and retain workers using the magic of algorithmic hiring.

How tilr Works

The problem with exclusive recruiting systems, like the one most businesses and applicants are trapped in, is that they can’t be counted on to include and exclude the right candidates. The system tends to reward people who are good at including the right keywords in their resumes, as opposed to finding workers with the right skill set.

Also, Crenshaw told Webster, it tends to force an interview-based hiring process that is largely out of step with the needs of many employers and employees. Consumers are changing jobs more often, or working a variety of gig economy jobs – and while that was once considered a millennial working habit, Crenshaw noted, it is increasingly becoming a tendency of American workers in general.

“tilr wants to answer the challenges of the changing system we have today, which is about excluding individuals, and moving it into something where we value individuals in a hiring process on the basis of their skills,” she said. “We’re also interested in figuring out how to eliminate that bias that exists in the hiring process.”

And it does that, Crenshaw explained, through automation. Customers sign on to the tilr platform and create a profile that includes their skills, whatever they include clerical work, cash handling, customer service or others.

Once the user has entered that information, tilr performs the background check and certifies that the worker has all the relevant skills and education they claim to have. Next, the algorithm looks to match the potential worker with an employer who has a skills table that aligns with their experience. The employer then selects the worker they want and sends them an offer.

“A big part of the draw for the users is that they will be sent job offers through the service – not job listings, not requests for interviews,” Crenshaw told Webster.

Because algorithmic hiring is a very new and different way to go about the process, it faces a difficult challenge as it attempts to crack the “chicken or the egg” problem that all platforms face: convincing two user groups – workers and business – to try something new.

Cracking the Chicken or the Egg Issue

At first, Crenshaw noted, they worked to recruit both sides of their platform with equal vigor. But after some early beta testing with a select user group and a handful of businesses spanning a few verticals, they observed that workers were willing to wait for jobs to a slightly greater degree than employers were willing to wait for a worker to fill a position. They also noted that, because their worker vetting process was a little more time-intensive on the employee side, some changes needed to happen.

So they modified their strategy somewhat as they entered markets. Though the firm always enters with a core funnel of workers who are ready to start accepting work on demand, they have begun recruiting in the business community earlier and with greater specificity.

“Our sales process starts earlier so we can build a very tailored understanding of what employees you are going after from an organizational standpoint,” said Crenshaw. “We have really settled on a process of scaling our candidate flow based on the needs of our companies that are coming on.”

Apart from custom-building their worker base to the needs of their business users, tilr also manages payments for the short-term and temporary workers working from the platform for the hirers – and can provide all workers with weekly payments, further thinning the friction for workers and even allowing the company to experiment with test hires.

“We’ll see a lot of listings on our platform that offer a three-day paid trial, and then at the end, the employee will be offered a full-time job,” she noted. “That’s a lot more efficient than the traditional interview – it actually allows the employer and employee to test out what it would actually be like to have them on the job.”

Who Uses tilr Today (And What’s Next for Tomorrow)

In many ways, Crenshaw noted, the main areas tilr services very closely align with the segments of the Bureau of Labor statistics that data would generally predict: general services (like hospitality), logistics, customer service and retail.

“Those are industries that are rapidly growing and expanding,” she said, noting that this was something they have expected to see from the early days of the firm.

What has been more unexpected, she said, is the number of businesses that have moved into using the platform to hire full-time workers.

“I had assumed when we started that gig work would have been the bigger use,” Crenshaw said.

And at first it was, but as firms began using tilr more – and having good experiences with it – temporary employees decided they could use it as a tool to hire full-time workers.

“They see value in trying a new methodology for trying new individuals. We are title agnostic, we are only looking at skills,” Crenshaw noted. “We aren’t asking anyone to apply and we are proposing something other than the time-consuming and uninformative interview process. That’s an empowering proposition for the employer and the employee alike.”

And a proposition that can be empowering for a wide range of job types and job skills – which is why tilr is looking to launch into large enterprise white-label partnerships that will allow large-scale firms looking for highly specialized and skilled labor to use tilr’s algorithmic matching technology.

“That, we think, will be particularly useful for information for internal promotions. How many people get passed over for advanced roles in their company simply because their manager doesn’t know what skills they actually have?”

A workplace that can hire on the basis of skills, she noted is one is more inclusive and egalitarian, which is a good thing. And it’s also one that runs better, because it can put the right person in the right job more often.

A Better Workplace

As Crenshaw was finishing her remarks to Webster, she noted that a driving motivation in founding and developing tilr has been about building a world that is more inclusive. From firsthand experience, she noted, she’s seen that the worst problem with poverty is the amount of gravity it has for those who are stuck in it. Even those who want to get out are often pulled back from getting a hold on the things that would allow them to pull out, like steady employment and pay.

“There are a lot of individuals who can’t get jobs who live in impoverished regions because they can’t get through the application process at a job and because they don’t know anyone who can connect them and put a resume in the right person’s hands,” she noted. “And we can prove the value in just having exposure to workers you might have never thought of or seen.”

A person picks up a lot of skills along their job path, Crenshaw noted. For example, a person who handled cash at a restaurant can handle cash in a bank as a teller as long as the bank knows that employee has cash-handling skills.

And tilr combines that value of inclusion with another one: making sure they have a fast, frictionless payment system for their workers who are unbanked, of whom they have quieted a few.

There are people who can’t get a checking account in the U.S., she noted – and tilr, until it started working with Hyperwallet to implement a pre-paid card system, was writing a lot of checks to its workers, knowing full well that check cashers were about to eat up a lot of their workers’ income.

As of today, that system pays weekly for the gig workers retained through tilr’s platform. In the future, Crenshaw noted, the goal is to offer payments daily.

“As we look forward to scaling nationally, what we are really looking at is paying workers who are doing great work faster – because that could really have a transformational effect for both the employees and the companies that hire them.”

Because as of today, it is a market that needs transforming – the 85 percent of gig workers who say they would work more if they were paid more regularly is a testament to that. The team at tilr thinks it can reduce some of that pent-up demand to work, and make sure that workers are better suited to the slots.

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