“Recruitment is absurdly, fundamentally undisrupted,” co-founder Tom Davenport explained to Real Business when we sat down with the company’s founders at their base in the Rainmaking Loft co-working space. “While every other industry is being transformed by technology, it’s standing as a bulwark against the tide, but there’s no reason why it should be,” continued his business partner Andrew Lavelle.
“Of course there are job sites but really, having a job site is no different from having a job board, where you take a bit of paper if you’re interested in a job,” said Lavelle. “These sort of sites have existed since the dawn of the internet, and nothing has really has come along which is different.”
Yet since they founded their graduate recruitment platform TalentPool in 2013, the pair have been trying to bring a much-needed dose of innovation to the industry, matching 16,000 bright young candidates to interesting jobs in SMEs using an algorithm and allowing them to express interest in a vacancy in just a few clicks.
Having just closed a funding round that saw investors including HostelBookers founder Kingsley Duffy provide a total of £300,000 of new capital, the TalentPool’s co-owners are now focused on further improving this matching algorithm.
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“Compared to other companies in the market, ours is really pretty sophisticated,” said Davenport. “But it is still, in relative terms, early days – for us and the market in general and so a lot of our tech focus is going to be honing our ability to make good predictions.”
Already, the founders have seen their platform embraced by some of the UK’s most exciting SME recruiters, from Deliveroo to CommuterClub. Now they are focusing on scaling up both their technology and their business model, which brings with it a whole different set of challenges.
“It’s not just about the infrastructure – you need to be able to scale logically, too,” Davenport explained. “If a drinks party works with ten people, they can all speak to each other. At 50, it starts to break down. By 500 the logic behind it completely disappears. There’s something similar at play with recruitment.”
Laelle continues: “If you think about it simply, if you have five candidates you can apply one filter and get down to a a manageable number. If you have 50, you have to apply a couple more filters to get down to that manageable number. As you grow to 500, or 5000, you have to add more and more. They start off being obvious – the ones that an employer might give you. But if you apply all those obvious sorting mechanisms and you still have a group of people which is too large, then it gets complex.”
Lavelle compared the challenge faced by those in the talent tech space as that facing companies in the dating app space. “If you take all the people in London, you can say I’m interested in meeting a woman who is between the age of x and y and who must be in this postcode, but that still leaves you with 50,000 women. What you do next is kind of an unanswered question, and it is still an unanswered question for the recruitment industry. What we’re heading towards is what is the answer to that problem, which is exciting because it opens up a whole swathe of small employers to graduates – and vice versa.”
Indeed, a key part of the duo’s disruptive mission has been to introduce graduates to a long-tail of SME opportunities which the clout of big graduate schemes would otherwise mean they might not consider.
“On the whole, I wouldn’t want to question the decision making abilities of students, but I’m confident that in a large part, they’re swayed by the fact that the brands they see are the big corporates,” said Davenport. “These large companies can afford to take everyone out for expensive dinners and sponsor their rugby teams, and as a result of this, employers which provide a relatively small proportion of graduate jobs completely dominate campus recruitment.
“But although historically, people went to work for these big companies because that’s where the best people were, that is no longer the case. Now, there are so many people our age who, having got a job in a bank or consultancy, have left and started their own companies. If you go to a young company and work for them, you’re working for the best people. So the calibre of people in this world, and the energy that’s in SMEs, is now entirely different and significantly better than it has been at any point over the past three decades.”
They are also hoping to take some of the pressure away from final-year students who feel compelled to join in with the corporate milkround – a process which starts in the first year for many banking hopefuls.
“I got much more stressed than I needed to be when it came to graduate scheme applications,” said Davenport. “Knowing about the real range of options would have been an enormous de-stressor. What we’d really like to see is a market where graduates don’t feel that they have to spend months of their final year going to these networking events, trying to get a job. We want them to be able to enjoy university and know that at the end of it their will be opportunities out there for them.”
Their desire to make the process a bit easier for graduates doesn’t stop there, either. For all the technological innovation of the company they’re keen to stand out from the crowd with old-fashioned politeness, too. “Going through a degree, you put in a lot of work, and you shouldn’t be ignored. Something we work quite hard to do is make sure that if candidates apply for positions, employers always get back to them – so they don’t feel like their details just go into a black hole and never come back,” explained Lavelle.
In the long term, their vision for the future of the platform – and the industry – is even more ambitious. TalentPool’s founders are confident that they can expand to match up a wider range of recruiters and talented individuals with more varied educational backgrounds. “What I think would be fantastic would be if we could create a system where people, whoever they were, wherever they were from, wherever they were at university or school, could be painlessly matched with the right employer for them,” said Davenport. And as utopian it sounds, the TalentPool team seem well placed to give it a try.
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