Helping laid off employees get connected with recruiters – Building TALNT (and what’s next)

About seven weeks ago, I sent this email out to my friends:

“Hey friends, anyone want to build some stuff?”

It was a call to action to help those being laid off due to COVID. A few volunteers joined me on this journey — Nick Meehan and Alex Bloom (along with several others)— and around 3 weeks later we launched TALNT. We learned some things and have some important updates, so read on to learn more about what’s next 😃. Nick and Alex, thanks so much for your contributions and dedication to this project. And thanks to everyone else’s contributions and support along the way!!

Yes, I understand our logo was lower case but our name is written in all caps. I wanted an all caps logo, but we didn’t get it done in time. Sorry to any OCD folks out there. 😬

But first, why did we even build TALNT?

The economy is in this weird place where seemingly half of companies are struggling while the other half are operating with business as usual, some even thriving. After seeing friends lose jobs while many companies were still hiring, we thought there needed to be a better place for recruiters to go to get in front of good talent. We built TALNT to better connect those people who were recently laid off with employers still hiring.

I had seen the countless number of Google sheets being circulated with “layoff lists”. And there was no shortage of aggregators:

But layoffs were growing and we heard from recruiters that they were not A) finding these lists as helpful as they would like and/or B) weren’t using these lists at all. So, we wanted to build a simple aggregator that pulled in additional important information about a candidate’s desired job and whether or not they were still actively in-market. We thought it would be more useful. That was TALNT.

We started building it over the weekend in late March, and then the Product Hunt Makers Festival popped up at the same time. We decided to participate in that while building TALNT, but because we didn’t ship ASAP, a few other aggregators and marketplaces popped up that led to our pivot. These were all great projects in their own ways:

How could we make TALNT differentiated? More useful to recruiters? We decided if we could ensure that our candidate list was somehow “vetted” and higher quality than other lists, recruiters would be more likely to use it. And that was our ultimate goal: make something useful to recruiters so they use it. So, we added in a vetting layer which required that candidates receive references, and we assessed those references (not programatically at first, but eventually).

After ~3 weekends, we shipped 🙏. We did a “soft launch” with some friends and our network, and started receiving candidate and employer feedback. We learned a lot. Above all:

References != Quality

We sort of knew that going into this, but we hoped that by asking more pointed questions that unearthed a reference’s true feelings about a candidate and their familiarity with them that we would be able to filter through the noise of BS references. That wasn’t the case.

So, it was time to iterate. But how?

A key issue with references was that the reference givers were not bound to the platform or quality of their reference in any way. They were loyal to the candidate and no one else. So, we thought about ways we could get buy-in from reference givers to ensure they had to put a sort of public stamp of approval on candidates.

The flavor we came up with was more of an “elite” community of tech workers — start with a list of 100 of the best people you know and give them X invites, then give their invites Y invites, and then let it cascade from there in a “private members club”-esque model. Each invite represents a stamp of approval. But then you are fundamentally building a community, and you must provide value to that community. In a community built on hiring, you weren’t likely to provide value to ~90% of the people. And how do you get the first ~100 people to be incentivized to invite others? We thought about gamifying it, but then we thought there should be an easier solution to getting quality candidates in front of recruiters.

What if we solicited references, but they were obtained via a backdoor method? That presented its own challenges:

  • How might we source a list of people based on your social/work graph?
  • How might we confirm you worked together at the same time?
  • How might we reach out to those folks to ask for references? What if they never respond?

Even then, you still have the same selection bias of normal references. Most of these people going out of their way to submit an online reference will err towards being “good” references. Said another way: “Why would I go out of my way to leave a bad reference?”

As we dug deeper, we started thinking about why someone makes a reference in the first place. The real driver of people wanting to A) refer folks and B) refer quality folks is that those reference givers would want to work WITH that person.

So, how do you build a tool that makes it easier for either: A) people to volunteer up “these are great people” or B) give recruiters access to an internal network of potentially referrable candidates? We thought about providing tools for better internal sourcing of candidates. As in, build a platform that connects recruiters with your internal employees’ networks — have a way for your employees to refer from their network more easily and/or easily call out people in their network as “legit”. After talking with recruiters, it was clear that direction was far more useful.

Great idea, but one problem: Drafted already built it. We really like their core platform, and we like their referral system for layoffs. We think they nailed the mechanics.

So, we are excited to announce that we have partnered with Drafted!

Partnering with Drafted, and what’s next

We are going to be funneling everyone that hits TALNT over to https://drafted.us. We will also be engaging with all of our candidates, employers, and references to encourage them to head over to Drafted. If your company is hiring, you are looking for a job, or you want to refer folks then check out their site.

This was a great learning experience, and I am glad we were able to partner with such a great team. More than anything we are excited at the scale and speed with which the community is building to help displaced workers. Thanks to all of my friends who helped us conduct user research, spread the word, and provide resources. And special thanks to Webflow [http://webflow.com/], Airtable [https://airtable.com/], and Typeform [http://typeform.com/] for offering free versions of their premium products for pro-bono COVID-19 projects.

Are you passionate about problems like this? Let me know. I’m hacking away on ideas. If you want to work on something together, shoot me an email at scott@scotthanford.com.

Growth guy - product, marketing, and startups - just nerding out about all sorts of things.

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