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How to Hire Based on Merit, Not Pedigree

August 10th, 2021 7 minute read
We’ve all run into some version of the same problem. As candidates, we know we can do a job well, but we lack the professional experience to land an initial interview. As employers, we’ve got open positions to fill, and we want to fill them with the right candidates. Unfortunately, a traditional resume makes it nearly impossible to predict who those candidates are.

This problem affects Fortune 500 companies and small startups alike, and it’s one Omer Molad and co-founder David Weinberg set out to solve. They’ve since created Vervoe, an AI-powered skill-testing platform that helps companies hire based on merit, not background.

Omer is intimately familiar with both sides of the recruiting table. After serving as an officer in the military, he applied for hundreds of jobs without landing a single interview. Three university degrees and many years of experience later, he found that you couldn’t identify the over-performers on the team based on the universities they attended or their past work experience. And people who were great on paper couldn’t always apply their skills to the role they were hired to perform. 

He saw companies waste enormous amounts of time and resources hiring the wrong candidates, only to find the right ones in unlikely places. Which begs the question: how do we know which candidates will perform well in a role, and what are we missing when we screen based on someone’s CV rather than their skill set?

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Inspired by the unorthodox “job trial” process used by Automattic—and, more surprisingly, the audition process used by filmmakers—Omer and David set out to find a way to leverage the “try before you buy” mentality in hiring. They wanted to use technology to create a job trial scenario in 30 minutes (or less), at scale.

“We were ambitious, naive, and dumb enough to just do it,” Omer says. Today, Vervoe aims to be more than an HR tech company. They aim to be a movement—an entirely new way of thinking about how we hire talent.

The risk of resumes

Resumes have been around since Leonardo da Vinci. (Literally—he created the first one in 1482.) Once upon a time, a chronological representation of your working life made sense. The important part was proving that you’d spent a certain amount of time working away at a trade.

In 2021, we live in a creator economy teeming with startups, side hustles, and self-taught experts. Your professional and educational background are no longer a reliable indicator of your skillset, and a gap on your resume doesn’t mean that you can’t hold down a job. Often, it means you’ve spent time traveling, creating, freelancing, or doing other work that makes you a better contributor.

In other words, screening candidates on resumes alone is so 15th century. As Omer puts it, “If you hire for pedigree, you hire for privilege.” Generally, you don’t want the most privileged person. You want the person who can perform best. But the human brain is wired to seek out sameness. We look for people who went to schools like ours, grew up in a similar location, and—yes—who look and think like we do. 

Hiring based on background means you’re less likely to end up with the best person for the job. So it isn’t just a form of bias and discrimination (even if it’s unintentional)—it’s bad business.

So why do we do it? Apart from our cognitive biases, Omer says, recruiters are screening for efficiency gains and time savings.

So all these vendors have come and said, ‘You know what? You’re screening resumes all day. We’ll create this widget that screens resumes faster.’ But it’s not better. It’s taking something that’s flawed and making it more efficient.

Omer Molad
CEO, Vervoe

In a way, we’ve weaponized screening tools by focusing more on the tools themselves than on the reason they exist in the first place: hiring the right person for the job. Vervoe has approached the challenge of hiring talent in a fundamentally different way: see people do the job before they get the job.

“If you want someone who can weld metal, watch them weld metal,” Omer says. “Why do I care if they went to Harvard, or if they’re an introvert?” By disqualifying candidates without allowing them to show you what they can do, you run the risk of eliminating the best candidates before you ever meet them. 

Keeping human bias out of technology

Countless studies show that human brains are bias machines. When we tell technology what to look for, some of that bias carries over. So how can we ensure that even the best assessments are flagging the right inputs?

As Omer puts it, “Technology is a tool, but the human being is responsible. It’s like a car. We’re putting you in the driver’s seat and giving you a great car, but you’re the driver.” A computer doesn’t know what makes for a good employee at your company (at least not yet). But you do. The team at Vervoe helps unpack the core skills behind performance and how to test for those, but human teams still define what good and bad performance look like.

If the term “assessment” stirs up some anxiety for you, you’re not alone. No one likes to feel judged. That’s why Vervoe has put a lot of thought into how they present their assessment. It’s not a test—it’s an opportunity to showcase your skill as an applicant.

Most people don’t want a guarantee. They just want a fair chance and a level playing field.

Vervoe’s stats on assessment completion rates back this up. The percentage of applicants who complete an assessment they’ve started is in the high 90s, and the percentage who move from invitation to starting is in the 70s or 80s, depending on the role. 

Reluctant to add any interview steps that could possibly deter applicants? Ignore Omer’s advice at your peril: “Don’t drop your standards. Hiring anybody with a pulse is going to come back to bite you.”

How tech helps companies get out of their own way

“I just hired someone I normally would have screened out.” This sentence is music to Omer’s ears, and it’s one he hears a lot these days. 

He shared an example of an older man, Darren, who was laid off after 30 years in the mining industry. Darren had a challenging time getting hired elsewhere due to his age and limited professional experience. When he finally got a job as a van driver for Australia Post, he was over the moon. He had no previous experience as a driver, but he had the core competencies necessary to excel. The assessment tool that flagged Darren as a good fit for the job? Vervoe, of course.

All we gave him was a shot. We removed the barrier and helped Australia Post get out of its own way. That’s all that was required. We just needed to remove the noise and let people show what they can do.

Diversity isn’t just about gender, ethnicity, or race. It comes in many forms, and bias creeps into our judgments in ways we don’t always expect, including age, educational background, or even a person’s name.

As human beings, we gravitate to the familiar because it’s safe. While technology can’t remove bias from the process entirely, it can create space for people to show off their skills before we have a chance to form snap judgments based on insufficient information.

“We’re delaying the impression that you form from the point of application until after you’ve seen the work,” Omer says. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to ignore the other stuff, but it becomes secondary. The primary reference point is that they do great work in a way that’s relevant to your company and your job. And that’s what you care about.”

Join us each week for more tales from the trenches and best-practice people guidance.

About the author
Tom Hacquoil
Tom Hacquoil
Tom is the CEO at Pinpoint and he's passionate about building world-class teams.

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