"Keep running experiments until you’re out of ideas": The route to a recruitment revolution

13 min read

19 March 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

2019 marks the tenth anniversary since the worst year of the global financial crisis of 2009. Many of us remember all too well the numerous talented graduates who couldn't find work. Aidan Cramer, the co-founder of JobLab, has created a business that means that 2009 may never happen again for graduates. He's created an online community that puts candidates in the driving seat of job applications by ripping up the rulebook on how young people are expected to apply for their first job, (and he's using cryptocurrency to keep them loyal).

When it comes to unusual entrepreneurial tales, you could say that tech-loving Aidan Cramer has a pretty colorful founding story. From building an online human trafficking site at university, (don’t worry, it was to raise awareness about the issue), and nearly getting arrested for it, to finding himself at the tail-end of university and jobless, he co-founded a company that changed everything for him, and for thousands of other young people like him.

The business in question is called JobLab. Founded in 2014, it’s a digital jobs platform that allows candidates to proactively search for tech roles via uploading videos where they sell themselves to employers rather than the other way around.

Four years down the line, and with Cramer and co having grown their revenue by 240% last year, and boasting some 32,000 candidates on the platform and counting, could businesses like this one prevent future employment crises from happening?

Let’s start at the beginning…

Where did the spark for starting JobLab come from?

Whilst studying advertising I ran a project to raise awareness about the impact of human trafficking. I actually built an online marketplace selling people as part of that project, with the insight that if we showed how easily people are being bought and sold online, we could reach a much wider audience.

That campaign went semi-viral locally, I got a call from the Metropolitan Police, almost got arrested, had to shut it down – and that showed me the power of online marketplaces to spread a message, and reach new users. But it also gave me the ability to treat transactions online quite simply.

I then graduated and fell into advertising, and quite quickly discovered that it wasn’t the career path I wanted. Then like many graduates, I ended up on the graduate job boards and not knowing what to do next. I realised that these job boards were just one small iteration away from newspaper classified ads listed online.

So, I wasn’t hearing anything back, and my friends were all in a similar situation. So I decided to try to fix the problem myself by building an online marketplace that gives candidates the ability to get discovered and gives employers the tools to find and hire them.

How does the application process differ compared to more traditional job-seeking formats?

It’s turned on its head. Traditionally an employer would write a job description, post that, then wait for people to apply. Whereas we get candidates to publish a JobLab profile and upload a video to sell themselves, and then employers apply to them and invite them to job interviews.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said in the recent Spring Statement that salaries are rising and that the jobs market is buoyant despite Brexit fears. Do you agree?

Yes, we’re certainly seeing that at the graduate level. We’re not sure whether it’s companies looking at relatively lower salary, lower skilled labour that is domestically based, but we’re seeing an increase on the previous year in terms of jobs listed being listed online.

I don’t think Brexit is going to have much more of an effect, it’s just delayed uncertainty but that’s kind of priced into company’s hiring efforts. The smaller growing tech companies we work with are hiring at the same rate that they always have done.

It’s likely, however, that the biggest Brexit-related impact will be felt among big corporates, but it’s not something we’re actually seeing yet.

During the global financial crisis, it was almost impossible for grads (even highly qualified ones), to get jobs. What’s the reality for grads in 2019?

There are a lot more opportunities for graduates these days, and we’re certainly seeing candidates on our platform having a lot more choice, so they can be a little more selective over the career path they choose.

Historically I think graduates would take what they could, but now graduates are looking at different areas of a business – the social aspect, the office space, the location – whereas before people were a lot more long-term career focused.

Why are graduates no longer interested in applying solely for corporate jobs? Is it part of a culture change?

Graduates are getting greater exposure and awareness of the startup opportunities available. Historically it was only the big companies who targeted candidates at university.

Startups are very savvy in terms of marketing to clients, and also their potential employees, in selling the benefits of their company culture and their offices, and almost treating it as a marketing activity to hire the best talent. It’s also taking away from the ability of the big corporates to tempt graduates in who are very set in their ways when it comes to acquiring candidates.

How did you identify that ‘bright young grads’ want to work for startups?

I think it’s more about what opportunities candidates are given direct access to, especially whilst at university. I believe it’s the absence of discussions around working for startups at schools and within universities that makes young people more curious about them.

Even whilst I was studying, I remember going to the careers fairs and only seeing the big companies there, and it made me think, ‘what else is out there, and why aren’t I getting access to it at university? Think about it, if you force big corporate opportunities down young people’s throats, they’re going to look for other options themselves.

So, I think the question we should be asking ourselves is, are startup opportunities for grads not available, or are they not getting the exposure that they should?’

Why are startups more concerned with the personal attributes of a candidate?

Startups don’t have the structures in place to deal with and manage employees that aren’t the perfect cultural fit. We need to rely heavily on trust, and feel, so we screen quite heavily based on people’s soft skills. The size of the company is also important – at JobLab we’re almost like a family, and that’s really important for making progress. So if one person doesn’t fit in with that, it can be incredibly destructive.

Tell me more about the use of cryptocurrency tokens as an incentivising factor in getting grads to use your platform?

There’s a war online to gain people’s attention, and especially when it comes to graduates looking for their first full-time role. You look at any jobseeker’s phone and they’ll be getting hundreds of messages from job boards or recruitment consultants, and it’s hard for them to filter out the noise and let them know what the real opportunities are – the paid opportunities.

So in part, it was about proving that the messages they were getting from employers through JobLab were genuine, and making clear that giving time and attention to those opportunities was an important thing to do. It was also the fact that our data was being sold on sites like LinkedIn, and we wanted to give back to our community for the value that they were giving to us, because, ultimately we were part of that community not too long ago.

It sounds like your platform hosts something of a ‘grad community’, is that why you turned to crowdfunding as your method of gaining finance for the business?

Absolutely. We started getting a lot of requests from our community asking how they could get involved in our long-term plan. We wanted our community to be involved in our journey, so we needed a platform to give them the opportunity to invest in and own some of the company. We’re already 85% of the way towards of £200,000 target, and we’re hoping to exceed that in the days ahead.

Can you see JobLab expanding its reach to older candidates?

Yes, in the future. The primary focus, however, is on helping recent graduates across different sectors first, and then different geographies. Once our candidate pool starts gaining experience, we can organically move into different sectors as they become more senior in their positions.

Can you tell me about a stumbling block you hit with the business recently and how you got over it?

At the end of 2017, we pivoted the business to focus on a very niche sector and also changed our business model from monthly subscription to success-based pricing. We started to grow revenue rapidly but our clients also started to think of us as recruitment consultants and expected more from us in terms of account management.

We found ourselves calling candidates every minute; making sure they were replying to messages, attending interviews and completing profiles. We had a clear path to revenue but not to scale, and it was not the type of business we wanted to build.

So we treated candidate engagement as a constraint and ran a dozen experiments to address it and try to improve engagement without the need for human intervention. It was in that period we tried paying candidates small sums to complete positive actions, and it worked.

That’s where JobLab Tokens were born and almost overnight we went from an agency to a scaling tech platform. The real lesson is to never lose sight of the end goal and keep running experiments until you’re out of ideas. Often breakthroughs will happen first.

– And that’s Aidan Cramer, the co-founder who uses smart tech to treat graduates like the adults they are, and with the respect they deserve…