Using technology to eliminate bias in the hiring process

Interview with Vahan Melkonyan, Co-founder, CEO at Cauldron

Episode #15

“Companies track unconscious bias in the field of candidates they already have. So they try to include inclusion metrics and hire from the pool of candidates, they already have. I think 70% of candidates that get to the job description and don’t apply to the company that they can never track,” Vahan Melkonyan, Cofoudner at Cauldron.

In this Episode, Vahan Melkonyan, Co-founder, CEO at Cauldron joins HyeTech Minds to discuss the future of the hiring process in today’s technology-driven workforce.

76% percent of hiring managers admit attracting the right job candidates is their greatest challenge. They are wasting their time by going through tons of applications from candidates that are not actually a good fit for their open positions. The average length of the job interview process stands at about 27.5 days. This Armenian startup Cauldron transforms the job application process helping companies to eliminate long and inefficient screening processes and hire the best candidates in the shortest time.

Vahan’s bio: Co-founder of Cauldron. Cauldron eliminates long, inefficient screening processes and the never-ending interviews and helps you narrow down your applications and let the most passionate show off with pre-screening assignments.

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Interview Highlights

Narine:  Hi Vahan, welcome to HyeTech Minds. How are you? How is there in Yerevan? 

Vahan: Hello, Narine. Thanks for having me. It’s really good. I’m doing very well. Yerevan is good.

Narine: Do you have good weather there?

Vahan: The weather is very rigid. We have snow one day, and then very sunny the other day. So I mean, it’s March for you. So it’s gonna get hotter. 

Narine: That’s really good, because we have such a cold day today. I’m super excited to have you today at my show HyeTech Minds. It’s perfect timing to have this conversation about how technology transforms the job market and how it transforms the hiring process. 

But before jumping to our conversation, can you talk about your background – who you are and what you?

Vahan: Sure. So a few quick words about our background. I say our as our teams, we actually, me and Alex, my co founder. I mean, we have known each other since elementary school. So we go way back. And then we started our first company and project together with more people, but we were also together in our second year of college, actually. 

So as a student, you don’t get to see what’s out there in terms of jobs and careers, you only get to see the companies who advertise to universities, which are your, your big corporations, nothing exciting there.

So we went ahead, and we built a platform to basically connect students to like, any kind of careers or career opportunities or ways to start their career. And yeah, that went for a few years. Fast forward two years, maybe a bit more. And we, again, keeping a big part of the team, we started this project, which is called Cauldron. 

And basically we took everything that we learned from our past experience being a recruiting company and recruiting service. We launched this product, which aims to solve the job application market. There are so many tools you can use for kind of screening your resumes, understanding what the people are applying to you, or testing or all these things. There are so many tools nowadays that do these AI matching and everything. But in the end, for the candidates perspective, it all comes down to give me a resume, I might or might not get back to you in a few weeks. 

That’s a shame, right? Because it’s, it’s, it’s a very bad experience for the candidates. And for the companies as well, a resume is not enough information to really do the best judgment. And that’s how this unconscious bias and these poor interviews, statistics happen, where I mean, hiring managers, interviewers really do not get enough worthy interviews in that time, and a lot of the time is wasted. Yeah. So we are introducing a change to that application process, which also affects a lot of the other issues I mentioned.

 Narine:  I mean, that’s true, that technology is impacting the way we live our lives, the way we communicate, the business kind of everything is disrupted now by technology. Technology not only is democratising in the job searching process, but also it helps companies to find new innovative and more biased ways to hire candidates. 

So in this sense, what unique problems Claudrone is trying to solve, what value are you bringing to companies? 

Vahan: We focus on three things. And two of those are very intertwined. One is we say we aim to save a lot of time and resources that are now wasted on screening candidates going through resumes interviewing, right. And there are a lot of these stories that we heard early on when we’re doing research where interviewers are hiring managers who will tell us, hey, you know, I only like one one person out of 20 interviews. That’s, that’s the result of a poor application process where people who are not fit for the job, get to the interview stage. And your hiring managers who are your best people, they are your team leads, they are your senior engineers, or senior professionals and they spend 19 interviews worth of time, like 20 hours or more on just nothing. So that’s obviously the one thing we focus on. 

Our Northstar metric is the amount of interviews your hiring managers do that are actually worth it. So that’s kind of what we track. And the other portion of it is candidate candidate specific, right. So, a lot of effort going into the product is guaranteeing that the candidates using your company are going to be satisfied, the candidate experience is going to be what good communication is going to be there for, our motor furnaces, there is no such thing as over communication. So any information you can get your candidates while they’re applying gets good. And, and with that, and with the model we’ve chosen, we also do a lot to remove the unconscious bias that currently exists. Where people are trying to screen on resumes, there’s not much you can get from a piece of paper. So a lot of decisions are being made on things that don’t don’t really matter. And, the way our product works, it completely eliminates that at the application stage, which is which is the biggest factor where people are applying and giving them no permission.

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Narine:  So Cauldron eliminates long, inefficient screening processes and the never-ending interviews, which is an important thing in terms of giving the company the opportunity to save time and retain right candidates. So, how does Cauldron as the product works in practice? How does the screening process happen? 

Vahan: So, the way the product works is, we position ourselves as like a job application. So there are many tools for recruiting currently, but most of them are on the measuring process of the whole thing, big applicant tracking systems, CRM. We position ourselves at the entry stage of everything. So you build your job positions on a Cauldron. 

Then big companies already have their HR tools, we will just simply integrate with them and all of your candidates will go through the pipeline you’ve built through Cauldron and will end up in whatever tool you’re using for tracking. 

So, in a way, we are the platform where you build your jobs, and then and and share your job. And then you use it as your hub for the application. The way you set it up.

Narine: Is Cauldron an app or you can use on a web too

Vahan: Cauldron is a website. It’s a software as a service, where a website is on the cloud. Companies can access it very seamlessly through their browser, they can build their jobs there, and then they can integrate there.

Narine: So, companies need to integrate Cauldron into their software? 

Vahan: If they already have something, so most of the companies already have some sort of tracking tools, they can integrate it. If not, we also offer a very functional tracking system of our own that actually smaller companies benefit a lot from it, because we’re usually cheaper than then. And when we introduce the product, at the stage of companies that can use a product might be smaller, so they don’t really want to invest in a tracking tool. So they can just use caudron for their needs, until they’re bigger.

Narine: When you’re saying job application, does this mean that  a company can build its own unique application process using Claudon or you provide templates that a company has access to? 

Vahan: Really good question. Obviously we have the job builder, which is how you can build your application process. You can offer templates that can get you started and we offer all of our knowledge and intelligence in this field. It’s really, it’s really a trick of balance of how much stuff you want your applicants to do before they are able to apply. 

But the builder is set up in a way where companies can do whatever they want.  If they want to set some pre screening questions, they can do that if they want to ask for a few templates that you can get started with. And during the onboarding process, and during discussions with us, we provide a lot of our knowledge and what we have in store . If we have experience working with certain positions, we will share that with you. 

There are plans for the future where the platform will provide much more intelligence to the user. So let’s say you’re hiring for a certain job, let’s say for a sales developer, the platform will give you a template that you can use straight up for a sales developer, and then it’s less work for you. That’s something coming. Right now it’s a very custom process.  So you can build absolutely whatever you want.

Narine:  I have been in tons of interviews both in the USA and Armenia. I’ll tell you the truth, it’s different in many ways. But one thing is common, is time – the time that takes sometimes 2 months to get through the entire interview process and be hired or get rejected. As the candidate that’s a draining process

In this sense of time, how does Claudron improve this? What is the average time of a company to hire a candidate if they use the Cauldron?

Vahan: So again, super question. Time to hire is definitely one thing, we care a lot because it affects both the company’s experience and the campus experience. I will ask you this question through the candidates point of view, right, because it’s time to hire the same. So now, and this is a very sad story, but it’s something that’s really affected us when we were just starting to build a product.

 We went on a demo day- BootCamp Demo Day, and it was some of their alumni. And this is an engineering boot camp. They teach people to write code, write projects, to do really well, people who probably skipped out on college or want to learn more. So we were there and their alumni came, and they mentioned that they started looking for a job, because you’re going to need six to seven months before you land your first gig. So six to seven months, for a person who already knows how to code already can build up their websites, their projects they have everything is a lot. And this is where we understand something’s definitely broken in the candidate market, as a candidate who doesn’t have these privileges on their resume, it’s very hard to stand out in the application process.

And interviewing can take a while, but getting those interviews takes much longer. So what we are aiming for, and what the product really does is, let’s say, I’m a candidate I’m applying to. I know for a fact that if I finish this application process, let’s say there are three, three points, right, three tasks. If I finish all three tasks, I am guaranteed a follow up from the company. So replicate that five times, instead of 500 sent resumes, and you get five interviews in the next week. And then you can go on to interviews, and then and then you land your job.

So our long term plan is doing that on scale, so that every candidate instead of spending five and six months on just applying can spend a few weeks and already have offers on the table.

Narine: Are there specific professions you are focusing on right now.

Vahan: Right now, I’d say most experience the platform has is with these very high volume roles that many companies hire in bulk. Let’s say you have your business development team, you’re in need sometimes a lot of business developers, you have your customer support team, you have your marketers, you have your engineers entry to mid level engineers are perfect are a perfect use case for the tool. A lot of other other roles in the engineering department, your product managers, your designers. So everything that a startup a really fast growing startup would need. I’d say the two covers really well. 

But we don’t make physical limitations. So the tool can be used in various spaces. And one space we have experience in particular that was out of the blue is finance. Apparently, in the world of banking and banks. There is not much innovation when it comes to hiring so a lot of these bankers still go to Schools still go to colleges trying to get these people and they have these resumes and they have to look at the resumes physically. 

Exactly. So, we actually have experience with one of the biggest investment banks in LA, who used Cauldron to run their University Case Competition. And it went out pretty well, because now instead of resumes, they could ask for example  Case Competition tasks, a lot of these team formation, everything was dealt with on the platform. And all they needed to do was to just click review, and they were done even like scheduling interviews was also done on Cauldron. And that was a huge time saver for them. So yeah, finance is a very, very underrated field, I would say for these kinds of things.

Narine:  Yeah, I think you can find a lot of industries I’m interested in increasing their candidate hiring efficiency and reducing the time spent on interviews.  For example, healthcare is one of the biggest employment providers in the United States. It’s a huge employment market.

 So Vahan, you have mentioned eliminating bias during the interviews. I think it’s a  big problem everywhere. In some ways, technology helps to eliminate bias in the hiring process. 

Some companies already use artificial intelligence to assess candidates and predict their possibilities to succeed in a position. Some companies even go further. They use on-staff psychologists to help develop customized assessment algorithms that reflect the ideal traits for a particular role, like a sales representative or computer engineer. 

But, on the other hand, the technology isn’t always guaranteed to be accurate, we can not totally rely on the technology. 

What are some of the tools Cauldron uses to make the screen process as accurate ? 

Vahan: So you hit it right on point where we cannot rely on technology alone. And when I say technology, I mean the word very broadly, as you said, companies that utilize AI and I think it’s been a trend where AI has been doing more stuff than good in different industries. 

And recruiting is unfortunately one of them, where some tools that utilize AI did, in some sense, even increase the level of unconscious bias and bias in the systems, right. A lot of tools rely too much on keywords they find on resumes and other texts. So a lot of there’s a big issue nowadays, with candidates with job seekers where they need to optimize their resume for the computer screening algorithms, so that they can get interviews.

Narine: I’ve heard about using keywords? 

Vahan: Exactly. That’s what I’m saying. And I mean, for me, it’s absurd. There are people who charge you to optimize your resume for keywords. It’s starting to become a game of “Can I market,” “Can I do marketing” Can I do like, like optimization of my keywords, so I can rank higher on the resume search algorithm or something. 

And that’s not that’s not removing bias that’s introducing more of it into the system. 

And there are more systems a lot a lot of these a lot of these psycho and a lot of these products that are based on psycho analytics and behavior analytics, they are also suspect there are some companies in the Fortune 500 space that use the very common Myers Briggs assessment on their, on their recruiting schemes and one stage of that and there’s not much information you can get out of it that that can that can get. So it’s I’m not saying it’s something that’s objectively bad to use in hiring. But because there’s a lack of information on the candidates just from the resume, people are starting to get maybe too creative on how to tell one from the other. 

So what we do is actually completely the opposite: we focus on human intelligence instead. So your manager is the best person who can say if someone is going to be a fit for their team or not, there is no algorithm that can do it better than them. So what we do is we try to optimize the hiring manager’s time, so that they get to only see the best candidates and then judge who they want to interview and who they want to hire. 

So the problem, why they can’t do it now is because they’re overwhelmed. They may have 20 interviews a week. And, and most of them are bad, if they have five interviews a week, and all of those interviews are worth it, all of those interviews are with fit candidates, they can just have fun interviewing, then there would be no problem they would be they would end up hiring more, and they would end up with interviews that are worth their time. And it’s not wasted time in that sense. So our solution is to make it so the human intelligence companies already have the recruiters and hiring managers have more time left on more important things. And, by introducing more friction at the application stage, but at the same time guaranteeing your candidates a chance to succeed. 

And about bias, there’s a really good point that I’m actually writing about now. Companies track unconscious bias in the field of candidates they already have. So they try to like hiring for diversity, or include inclusion metrics, from the pool of candidates, they already have the people who already apply to them. There are many candidates, and approximately, I think 70% of candidates that get to the job description, and don’t apply to the company that they can never track. They can never know who those 70% of people were. 

Which means you have twice as many people who didn’t apply to you. And most of these reasons, believe it or not, are related to inclusion. And it’s not necessarily inclusion or biases, as we as we think. We think immediately, we think, background, we think race, we think other things that are in the media, but a lot of the time, your description can be worded in a way where I just don’t feel like I should apply to you, which is also a defining factor. And, and those applicants who just never apply to you are never captured in the data. So you can never actually know how well the hiring process at the application process is structured.

 One of the key features for Caudron is you get to capture the interest in the position before the application so that Yeah, so that you can actually capture like those candidates who would never apply. And you can even ask them for feedback, why they decided not to apply in the end.

Narine: I totally agree with you. Sometimes I see title job titles. has such a wording in it. And when you read the description, it appears they are simply looking for a business development, or social media strategist. 

Vahan: Their jobs that require way too much for what the job actually is. You see some entry level roles that are asked for, I mean, the easy mistakes, everyone knows right there are companies that ask for a message for no reason. But the wording is important right? So if an entry level job asks and reads like required bachelor’s or master’s or PhD I mean obviously the company meant people with Master’s can apply but if I’m reading that I think that bachelors but masters is better but PhD is much better. And then I think that I’m not good enough so I don’t apply to that. But I was just gonna mention that there’s a lot of studies that show that girls and women in particular need much more affirmation confirmation of their skills in description to apply and then obviously, younger people need much more confirmation that they’re suitable to apply. And then Gen Z specifically, just just based on how the how the generations brought up they they look for again, confirmation they look for “Am I 100% compatible with this job description” in order to like click the ‘Apply’ button and like some people just don’t click the ‘Apply’ button because it’s worded bad. And that’s never captured in the data that companies have.

Narine: Vahan, What about being overqualified. This is another huge issue for candidates. You see the job that asks for a Master degree. Then when you go to the interview, they reject your candidacy due to being overqualified? How can Cauldron address this issue? 

Vahan: So that again, goes to is really is very much related to like candidates not actually not not being sure what this job is, and what are the required, what are the actual requirements. So when the company’s structure, their pre screening, forms, and questionnaires and tasks. Now, when you register to apply, you see a task, and you can judge for yourself. So if you feel like the task is too hard for you, obviously, you’re not going to complete it, and you, you see that you’re not qualified for the job. But again, if a company has a really well structured task, if you’re qualified for it, you’re going to be able to breeze through it and apply, and that’s going to signal the company that, hey, here’s a qualified person. And for me applying again, if I see that task is too easy, I already have my dad that had me. Maybe I’m better than this, maybe I should go look at the senior position instead, which has a different task. 

So it’s very much a thing of like giving your candidates away to, to understand how well are they fit for this position, this or that position, and maybe even giving them a way to self assess themselves while applying. And again, this all comes down to Q&A candidates knowing that if they complete something, they are guaranteed a result response, this is why they will be willing to like take up more time or willing to go through much more to apply because they know that there’s a guarantee they’re.

Narine:  I think data collection is incredibly important to make the best hiring decisions? Data analytics can not only help a company to improve the effectiveness of its talent acquisition function, determine job competencies for each role. But, also the companies can use data analytics to gain a competitive advantage in the market in terms of retaining the best candidates for the position. 

For example, study shows 71% of companies see people analytics as a high priority in their organizations. 

In this sense how and which data Cauldron focuses on? How do you use this data to make the screen process more effective? 

Vahan: We’re all about data, right? So if you want to try to describe what Cauldron is, you can just say, current as a tool that helps companies collect more data on their applicants at the application stage. Because once again, the big thing we’re going against here is the standard hiring practice, which is to send us your resume. We offer to ask more questions and get to know each other before deciding everything. So the way the way you structure a job position is always going to include something more than the resume, which is more data, where people and not AI can base their decisions on. So if I’m a hiring manager, I get to see it. Instead of 200 resumes I get to see at 20 let’s say videos of candidates, talking about work, talking about talking about answering questions about the position. And I can make a better, more judged decision on who I want to take up for the interview. 

That’s one thing definitely while applying getting more data on the candidates, another thing we’re very proud of is obviously that there’s a lot of places you can source candidates from these these are your job boards are indeed your your LinkedIn, your the social networks, right you can you can get a lot of applicants on Facebook. 

And sometimes companies cannot be sure which of those sources works the best. Which of the sources gives them the most amount of applicants and the best quality of applicants so yeah, we actually have a system incorporated that can let you know which applicants came from which source and which of your bad applicants came from where. 

So at the end of the day, you can sit and you can see, all of my best people came from my pay dad on LinkedIn or Twitter or indeed, let’s say, and the next time you can invest more on that and get more quality applicants. So that’s also a tool that allows a lot of data analytics to work and yeah, give more structure to decision making.

Narine: Is Claudrone adapted to an international market, as well? 

Vahan: No, we’re very geography agnostic. The tool can be used anywhere, as far as you’re using English as your main language for communication. I mean, you can type in whatever language you want. But yeah, the menu and everything is in English. So we already have experienced companies with companies from non U.S and non Armenian companies showing interest in a product and deciding to try it on. So it’s definitely not limited by geography. And that’s a trend in today’s recruiting and post pandemic or pandemic recruiting? 

Because everything is remote companies are understanding that you know, what the whole world can be your recruiting, market, your recruiting area, so why not try to hire internationally because everything is remote and having these remote offices? So with more companies hiring remote workers, it is very important. Every recruiting tool. Is this agnostic, this geography agnostic so that so that it doesn’t matter where your offices are, you can hire the same way.

Narine: That definitely creates a larger market opportunity for Cauldron. And talking about perspectives, what you think what’s future holds for Cauldron. Where do you see your company, let’s say in 3-4 years? 

Vahan: Yeah, one thing about startups is you can never plan for too long. But obviously, we do have not like six or seven. 

One thing that we continually mention is that our long term is very much on the candidate side. And we are already building the foundations for that. As I mentioned, you know, the hardships of getting hired or getting interviews as a job seeker with these tools. Making the recruiting process a bit noisy, are there and they’re going to continue? Because the more job seekers there are the more resumes that are in the pipeline, the harder it is going to get for you to stand out on your own with your resume or your whatever. 

And, and that’s kind of the goal obviously ties down a lot with company oriented goals, which are, every company wants to have a strong employer brand. They want to be the good guys that give candidates a chance they want to be. They want to have them spend a lot of money on recruiting marketing nowadays, again, in the same vein, and we fit in all of those causes. 

And obviously reducing bias in hiring is also huge. So yeah, we fit in a lot of these company goals. But we also have a secret agenda of helping the candidates. I often call ourselves B2B to B2C a company because we sell a business product, but for the benefit of your candidates. 

Narine:  Super concept, to sell a product for the benefit of customers I think you should make this your slogan.

So Vahan, what is the best way to learn more about Cauldron, or contact you directly for more info?

Vahan: Yes, so have a website. We have pages both on LinkedIn and Twitter.  And you can visit our website at Yeah, and that would be our website. You can straight up sign up for a free demo there or book a call with us from the website.

Narine:  Well Vahan jan, this was a great conversation. I think one of the best interviews )) Good luck with all your inspirations. I would love really to have you back and talk more about bias and inclusion in workforce development. Stay safe 

Vahan: Thanks to you for having me. And stay safe.

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