Photograph by Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images
SparcStart solves the problem of employers trying to recruit passive candidates
By Laura Entis, Entrepreneur.com
By this point, Maury Hanigan is used to winning pitch competitions. So far, she’s entered three and swept them all.
Her most recent victory was at Pitch Night NYC’s inaugural competition, held in midtown Manhattan. From a field of 13 contenders, most who fit the tech startup stereotype, i.e. 20-something males in jeans and t-shirts, Hanigan stood out. Not just aesthetically — although blonde, middle-aged and dressed in business professional attire, she certainly did — but also for the poise and polish of her pitch.
While other founders floundered, wasting precious seconds of the strictly enforced two-minute time frame with unnecessary details, Hanigan’s focus never wavered. When it was her turn to get up in front of the judges, she concisely outlined what her startup, SparcStart, does (“SparcStart solves the problem of employers trying to recruit passive candidates”), the need it fills (“companies want to poach the superstars from their competitors, but when they do reach out, only 5 percent of candidates respond”) and the traction it’s already generating (“we’re being used by Ernst & Young, L’Oreal, Cisco, Citrix and a bunch of other companies”).
A couple of weeks after her Pitch Night victory, Hanigan is at the start of what will be a busy day. It’s 9:30 a.m., and she’s already had a meeting with a prospective client. Later, she’ll head into the SparcStart offices, which are located in midtown. In a t-shirt, pink scarf and jeans, she’s dressed more casually that she was at Pitch Night and is palpably energized. After a long career spent helping companies with their recruitment strategies – including a 20-year stint running a talent management firm — she finds that entrepreneurship suites her. “It’s about people taking charge of their own lives — you don’t find a lot of complaining and whining.”
While many of her competitors at Pitch Night were recent college graduates, Hanigan believes her lengthy career experience gives her an edge. “I know employment law,” she says matter-of-factly. “That’s very important if you are going to start a business in this space, especially when you are talking about big companies.”
It also helps that she understands the recruiting process from both sides of the equation. Decades spent consulting companies on their recruitment strategies taught her what employers want, but she also has a solid grasp on the psyche of a job candidate, joking that “when you are in recruiting, everybody’s son’s nephew shows up on your doorstep asking you for advice and if you can read his resume.”
Unfortunately, a platform that delivers what both these employers and candidates wanted? That didn’t really exist. While the rest of the Internet had evolved into a visual platform, recruitment techniques were inexplicably stuck in the 1990s. “I looked at the available options and understood that for employers, there was no way for them to tell their stories,” she says. “And that’s what recruiting is. But you can’t do it with inaccessible text.”
So one day, in December of 2013, she literally sat down with a blank piece of paper and began designing a recruiting platform from scratch, guided only by the information she knew candidates wanted, and the information she knew employers needed. What, she wondered, would that look like?
Launched in June of last year, Hanigan’s startup is a mobile and video-friendly recruiting platform. Each job posting includes three short videos, one from the position’s hiring manager, along with two spots from colleagues who are able to briefly outline, in tangible and relatable terms, the top reasons to apply. There’s also a more traditional job description (because “legal departments aren’t going away”) but the posting is tailor-made to be shareable and engaging.
During the conception stages, Hanigan ran the platform by various Fortune 500 companies and made tweaks based on their feedback, especially from their legal departments. From the start, the focus has been to help businesses easily create job postings that, along with providing technical information (location, salary, responsibilities etc.), gives potential employees a real sense of what the work environment is actually like. “From the videos, it makes it easier to judge,” Hanigan says. “Is it formal or informal? How frantic is it? What’s the culture like?” The postings are designed to be shared, and “go viral.” (Not viral in the billions-of-hits style of Alex from Target, Hanigan stipulates, but “viral within a talent community.”)
Today, SparcStart is working with a handful of global companies, including L’Oreal and Ernst & Young, as well as a few smaller organizations. The service is intended to fill entry-level to mid-level professional positions, with salaries ranging from $75,000 to $150,000. “We’re never going to replace the C-Suite, and I don’t think people will look for hourly workers using SparcStart,” Hanigan says.
During our meeting, Hanigan pulls up a SparcStart position created by Morgans Hotel Group for a line cook at Isola at the Mandrian Hotel in Soho. While a typical job description can be found on the page, it’s the videos that stand out, including one from the position’s hiring manager, in this case executive chef Victor LaPlaca. “Why is Isola a great job? Not only is it a job but it is a career building move for you,” he says in the video, as plates and glassware clink in the background. “You learn to do a lot of things that you may not normally do, from butchering pigs to making mozzarella to making your own pasta.”
At 30 seconds, the video is slightly longer than SparcStart’s recommended length, but Hanigan feels it’s a great example of what the platform does best: giving candidates a window into what a position actually looks and feels like. “If you’re a line cook, the idea that you are able to slaughter your own pig…What!” she says excitedly. “In the middle of Manhattan?!”
Eventually, Hanigan wants to see SparcStart evolve into a place where candidates go to search for positions, but for now the startup is solely focused on creating job postings for employers. (A single position on the platform costs $249; The price goes down to $199 per position for 10 positions, and $149 per position for 100.)
Like most early-stage startups, SparcStart faces an uphill battle. There are a few minor kinks on the platform– the line-cook position, for example, fails to state the name or address of the restaurant. But that can easily be fixed; the real concern is the possibility that a big, established and tech-savvy recruiting site (OK, LinkedIn) will take SparcStart’s video feature and make it available for postings on its platform. Such a fear, Hanigan says, misses SparcStart’s real strength: Its ease of use. “We’ve done what Apple did, and make the user face so simple that you don’t appreciate the complexity behind it.” The company has a patent pending on its content management system.
Hanigan raised an initial round of $100,000 from family and friends, and is in the midst of raising an additional $1.2 million in a seed round. In light of her three pitch competition victories, “the fact that I’m still working so hard to close this round of funding makes it very frustrating,” she says, shaking her head. “I clearly have a something that, in two minutes, is identifiable as a viable business – it meets a real need, has a real revenue model, and has traction based on the Fortune 500 clients we have.”
When investors present her with a laundry list of criteria they say they want, she meets them all. “Having founded, built and run a multimillion-dollar business for 20 years, I’m an experienced entrepreneur; I have deep industry experience, I have traction, we’ve applied for a patent for our content management system,” she says, ticking off each item. And while some investors have shown interest, she admits it can be difficult. “As I like to say, I’m still dancing for my dinner.”
This post is in partnership with Entrepreneur. This article was originally published at Entrepreneur.com.
Lure Passive Talent with Strategic Sourcing, Nurturing
In a candidate-driven labor market, even people who aren’t looking for new jobs can be enticed to join your organization when employees, recruiters and hiring managers are all enabled to sell the company’s employer value proposition to these passive candidates.
Scarcity is the new reality, said Jennifer Johnston, head of global employer branding and recruitment marketing at Salesforce, a cloud-computing firm based in San Francisco. “Many of the people we want to hire are already employed. We have to spend a lot of time and energy in prying them loose. The candidate is firmly in the driver’s seat.”
Passive candidates have become a focal point in most talent acquisition functions, said Maury Hanigan, a recruiting strategist and founder and CEO of Sparc, an HR technology firm that helps companies engage passive candidates with a video-based job marketing platform. “Employers want to recruit the best qualified candidate, not just the individual who is most interested in getting the job. Passive candidates are desirable because they are succeeding in their current job, but that’s also what makes them difficult to recruit,” she explained.
Laura Mazzullo, an HR recruiter at East Side Staffing, based in New York City, agreed that it’s not easy to convince passive candidates to join a new company. “These passive candidates are not exactly interested in changing jobs,” she said.
Hanigan says the challenges of recruiting passive candidates are threefold: identifying them, engaging them and convincing them to accept. She described the difficulties: “They don’t make themselves known, they rarely respond to recruiters’ outreach, and they are uninterested in moving to a job that is comparable to their current position.”
According to Johnston, recruiting passive talent includes optimizing employee referrals and talent data to target leads, prioritizing those leads into good prospects, nurturing prospects, and delivering an amazing candidate experience.
Identifying passive talent is accomplished through strategic sourcing, Hanigan said. “A recruiter can search LinkedIn for candidates that fit a broad range of criteria, but, depending on the function or seniority of the position, there are limitations.”
The hardest part is actually creating the pool of passive leads, Mazzullo said. “You have to identify where they are and if they’re really ready to make a move. The main thing that remains consistent is the need to identify individuals who are truly open to considering change.”
Mazzullo said the biggest mistake people make is pressuring individuals to leave their job before they are truly ready. “Timing must be right for the passive candidate. Sure, they may not have begun an active search, but they should have begun envisioning change in their mind.”
Referrals are the No. 1 source of targeted leads at Salesforce, Johnston said. “The people we want to hire are generally in our employees’ networks,” she said. Salesforce employees use an app to submit and track their referrals and to see what is happening with their employee referral payouts.
The company also administers an online employee referral community through a manager who “points people to resources, answers their questions and helps them refer in real time”; holds referral contests to keep the program top of mind; and stages referral clinics. “This is where we sit with employees to go through their networks with them and see who we might want to target,” Johnston said.
The results have been good—at Salesforce, 50 percent of employees participate in the program, she said.
Johnston credits the use of talent data to target advertising and understand what skills and experiences people need to be successful in certain roles as key to more-effective recruiting. “Using data for recruiting is a real greenfield area,” she said. “We like to look at competitive intelligence, to see where we are gaining and losing talent. We look at layoffs, acquisitions, other companies moving into the market and total addressable markets. We look at the common traits of our top 100 salespeople, for example, which can widen out our addressable market and give us a better chance at hitting our numbers.”
Qualifying and Nurturing Prospects
Once you have a pool of leads, they need to be sifted through and placed into buckets, with the goal being to drive interest only from people with a high probability of hire.
It’s important to remember that not all passive candidates are alike, Hanigan reminded. “You have individuals who are locked into their current position by financial ties or personal circumstances. These individuals are generally unmovable. The other passive candidates are recruitable if the timing and opportunity [are] right.”
A happily employed individual may be open to a new position for a variety of reasons. For example, he or she may want more responsibility, may want to expand his or her expertise or experience, may be frustrated with some aspect of the company strategy, may not get along with his or her boss, or may anticipate a sale of the company or division, Hanigan said.
Readiness to jump is the most important thing to identify when sifting through passive talent, Mazzullo said. “It takes way too much effort to convince someone to leave a job if they’re 100 percent happy and satisfied there.”
Sourcers and recruiters also need to think creatively. “If you become too narrow and stringent around requirements, you may overlook top talent,” Mazzullo said. “Know the must-haves for the role, but certainly consider folks from different industries [and with] different levels of experience; otherwise, you’ll be limiting yourself and waiting entirely too long to find the ideal person. You want to be selective and discerning but also efficient and flexible when sourcing.”
For those who don’t meet the profile for a certain role or cultural fit, “we want to be respectful of their time and our recruiting team’s time and [turn them away] in a respectful way,” Johnston said. Those that make the cut receive special attention. “We’re looking to build relationships with people that we would hire, at least on paper. We want to make sure we keep them warm,” she said.
Such nurturing tactics include the following:
*Sending out recruitment marketing content to prequalified prospects. “This keeps prospects warm, but it also provides us with intelligence. We find out who opens our blast and what they click on. Also, we know who doesn’t open a message or who unsubscribes, which lets us know who may not be a good prospect,” Johnston said.
*Holding functions such as networking sessions, happy hours, brunches, and day-in-the-office events, where prospects mingle with employees and hear about what it’s like to work at the company firsthand. Day-in-the-office events are like a “huge informational interview” that’s still fun for prospects, Johnston said. “They learn more about you in a nonthreatening way, and we get to see how they interact with our team and how they will fit in our culture.”
Passive candidates want to understand how the role is different from the one they’re currently in. “This is where marketing and recruitment work in tandem,” Mazzullo said. “Without knowing the specifics of why your role, firm or team [are] better than your competitors’, it will be nearly impossible to entice today’s discerning passive candidate.”
This is why the nurturing component is so important. “When our prospect has that day—when they’ve had enough of where they currently work—they have our number, [and] we have a relationship with them. It pays off, but you have to be in it for the long haul,” Johnston said.
Improving Candidate Experience
Johnston said Salesforce has implemented a few new ideas to improve candidate experience, specifically at the hiring manager level. “This is a weak link in our chain and our area of focus in the next few months,” she said. “We want to make every hiring manager a hiring magnet. We want to train this army to help us close more candidate.”
Keys areas to home in on include training managers to assess candidates for fit and to sell the company. To do this, Salesforce has trained hiring managers on how to conduct competency interviews to find the right types of skills that make someone successful in particular roles and how to pitch the company. This training is extended to others beyond just those making hiring decisions. “We make sure all of our employees can talk about our culture,” Johnston said.
Another critical area is understanding how to treat passive candidates. “We have a pre-interview team briefing to educate hiring managers on etiquette,” Johnston said.
Experts advise that recruiters and HR:
Be on time for the interview. “Respect the time constraints of the candidate who has a demanding career and potentially little flexibility to schedule interviews and phone calls,” Hanigan said.
Be prepared by having read the resume.
Keep candidates informed of their movement in the hiring process.
Allow candidates to meet hiring managers. “Passive candidates prefer to talk directly to the person who would be their direct boss,” Mazzullo said. “They want to build that rapport early on, and it’s that relationship that will close them on your offer. This means, as recruiters, we have to encourage managers to have more-frequent communications with passive candidates so they feel valued and courted not just by us but by the person who will manage them.”
Hanigan added that employers wishing to lure passive talent should understand why the candidate is willing to explore the opportunity and emphasize the aspects of the job or company that meet that need. Further, “be prepared to discuss not just the current position, but the career path that will be at least as strong as the one the candidate is leaving.”
There are some things employers seeking to recruit passive talent should not do:
*Don’t drill them as though they are actively seeking a change in employment. “Do not ask them ‘Why are you here?’ or ‘Why should I hire you?’ Johnston said. “That passive candidate is thinking, ‘Hey you called me.’ It’s a huge disconnect and sours the process right out of the gate.”
Don’t expect the candidate to conduct extensive research on your company or to prepare for an interview the way an active candidate would, Hanigan said.
*Don’t put them through a demanding process. “I’ve seen passive candidates pull out of interview processes if they feel it’s becoming too demanding, time-consuming or tedious,” Mazzullo said.
“Make yourself available for them. The best firms are doing just that: They are meeting candidates for meals wherever is convenient to conduct interviews or are using Skype or Face Time to accommodate candidates.”
*Don’t try to lure passive talent with a similar job. “If they are currently an HR generalist at your competitor, why would they want to come do the same job for you?” Mazzullo asked. “They may only be interested in joining your firm if you can offer them something they can’t get where they are now.”
*Don’t assume your organization’s prestige is enough to persuade a passive candidate to move. “Individuals change jobs because they believe that the new job is a good career move and a better opportunity than their current job. Very rarely do individuals move because they perceive that a company is better than their current company,” Hanigan said. “When reaching out to candidates, it is more important to entice them with the specifics of the job than it is to promote the company. Job-specific information is the most compelling.”
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
In 3-2-1 with Maury Hanigan, Data Scientist, Founder and CEO of Sparcstart
1. December seems like a dead month for business, especially after December 15th. As a recruiting veteran, why do you think otherwise?
While hiring activity is limited during December, it may be the most active month for recruiting. Both the candidates and employers step up their activity.
Candidates have some free time to pick up their heads and see what is out there. Their work schedules slow down, there is very little corporate travel or major meetings during the weeks leading up to the holidays, so they have more time at work and they have time off. Even if they are happy in their jobs, the year-end is a natural time to assess where they are in their careers and explore options. While many of them will submit applications if they see an enticing job, many more will just gather research about who is hiring and which companies have interesting opportunities. They may wait until their bonus check is in hand before they take any action, but candidates, especially passive candidates, are at their most active stage during the year-end holidays.
Employers are also active. Since many companies’ budgets run on a calendar year and approval for headcount is tied to the budget, many recruiters know that they have a significant number of job openings that will become active on January 1st. The good recruiters start lining up candidates and reaching out weeks in advance so they have a strong list of potentials when the job opening activates. Experienced recruiters also know that there is a concentration of turnover in the beginning of the year and replacement hiring will increase.
2.Do you consider the perception that January is the best month for job searching to be a fallacy? What about employers whose budgets aren’t approved?
January may be the month when you can measure the most activity in the recruiting market, but like almost every endeavor, the folks who are prepared and laid the ground work are the most successful. That applies to the candidates who have done their homework and know what employers are offering, and recruiters who have publicized their openings and reached out to candidates to build a talent pool. In both cases, the best options will be snatched up quickly once the hiring begins.
Identifying and sourcing good candidates is almost always a good investment, if not for a current opening, then for a future one. And most candidates will wait several weeks for a start date. If they are a very sought-after candidate, you may lose them to a competitor who can offer them an immediate opportunity, but good recruiters know how to sweeten a deal to overcome that challenge.
Depending on the job level, recruiting can be a several week to several month process. Anyone who waits until January 1st to begin will be at a disadvantage.
3. What else should employers be doing to prepare for the new year?
Employers need to reassess how they are reaching out to candidates and sourcing candidates. They need to ask themselves if their practices are in synch with candidate behavior. There are now more mobile devices than there are desktops and laptops. Adoption skews with age so unless employers are recruiting an older workforce, the majority of their candidates are getting their information on a mobile device.
Do employers have 100% of their job postings designed for mobile? And not just readable on mobile, but truly designed for mobile. A text-only job description, even if it resizes to a mobile screen, is not mobile friendly content. Mobile is designed for video, not text. Text is effective if it is short, bulleted information, not paragraphs of information. Video is engaging if it is short and produced for a small screen. Corporate videos are too long, take too long to download and are hard to view on a phone or tablet. Responses on mobile need to be clickable, not typed.
If employers want to convince candidates that their company is innovative and open to new ideas, they can’t convince them using old technology. Employers are often frustrated by the lack of response from candidates, but they shoot themselves in the foot all the time.
SparcStart Recruiting Platform Launches, Shifts From Traditional Job Descriptions to Engage Candidates
The recruitment field is constantly adding new technologies to improve the industry. Better sourcing tools, software to make interview scheduling more efficient, mobile platforms to connect with talent on-the-go: The industry, like most, has undoubtedly shifted to a technology-driven field. And now Marketing Executive, Maury Hanigan, has added yet another technology to improve how you recruit. And although the solution is driven by technology, it focuses on the opposite—the human aspect.
SparcStart is a recruitment platform that “humanizes” the recruiting process by deviating from traditional job descriptions to give employers the tools to effectively market their positions and engage top candidates with rich content. The new technology uses consumer marketing best-practices to improve effectiveness and drive results, which it defines as engaging highly-qualified candidates and providing information that will motivate them to apply.
Job postings on SparcStart go beyond “archaic” job board posts to include:
Short video clips from the hiring manager and his or her colleagues. Videos can easily be recorded with webcams or smart phones, and quickly uploaded.
Employer added additional information about the company, job, career path, location and other distinctive aspects of the job opportunity.
Job search capabilities from any device by specifying job title, location, key words and any other employment factors that are important to job seekers.
“Online job boards are extremely limited. They restrict employers to posting text-only job descriptions that are boring and uninformative,” said Maury Hanigan, founder and chief executive officer of SparcStart. “To engage those coveted Millennials and passive candidates who aren’t actively looking for a new job, companies must market their open positions by providing interesting content. With SparcStart’s videos, candidates can see their potential boss and co-workers, and start envisioning themselves in the job. It’s a powerful hook.”
You might wish it was easier to hire passive candidates. Maybe that means it’s time to improve the marketing strategy for your recruitment process.
SparcStart, a recruiting and job search platform, revolutionizes the hiring process for employers. Instead of relying on boring job postings to attract candidates, employers can create interactive and easy-to-read job postings that attract passive candidates. SparcStart enables employers to use videos to market their career opportunities and attract the best talent.
How SparcStart works: Employers create a SparcStart profile that highlights important information about job openings, the company, and videos featuring employees and the company’s hiring manager. After a job is posted, employers can send opportunities directly to passive candidates and engage talent in the hiring process.
For employers: SparcStart helps employers catch the attention of passive talent through authentic videos. Every employer profile must include a video of the hiring manager and two videos of colleagues the candidate would work with. Through authentic videos, employers can engage with more candidates and increase their response rates for job postings.
For job seekers: Instead of reading through boring and confusing job postings, SparcStart gives job seekers the opportunity to interact with employers on a personal level. Every job posting will include videos from the hiring manager and employees, as well as important information about the job and company.
Pros of SparcStart:
Easy to use and fully mobile.
Attracts passive job seekers.
Uses video to interact with candidates.
Free for job seekers.
Cons of SparcStart:
Employers must pay for each job posting.
Are you ready to market your career opportunities to passive candidates? Find out what SparcStart can do for your hiring process today by visiting SparcStart.com.
Job Seekers find Job Postings with Video More Compelling