Industry insights: Empathy Can't Be Automated: Solving Complex Problems in a Tech Marketplace

Empathy Can't Be Automated: Solving Complex Problems in a Tech Marketplace

By Danté Nel on April 24, 2018

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Being technically competent is not the same as knowing how to win at interviews or offer negotiations - and often it's not enough. We know this, because we advise hundreds of software makers every day. Over the past two years of OfferZen's existence, we've realised how many smart and talented people really struggle to land their dream jobs. As a tech company, it was tempting to completely automate guiding candidates through the hiring process, but we decided against doing so. Instead, we set up a well-equipped team of tech marketplace advisors who give individualised coaching to all our candidates.

Here's why we took this unusual approach and created a cool career in the process.

The shortcomings of only using software to help people

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At first, we thought about automating everything on the OfferZen platform. Especially for fast growing tech startups (we’ve exploded from 4 to 43+), this is a tempting consideration, because once the software is in place, it works around the clock and is completely standardized. A heavy focus on software also allows businesses to scale efficiently without drastically increasing employee numbers or fixed infrastructure costs like office rental. Whatsapp, for example, had only 35 engineers when it was acquired by Facebook. Even when their user base doubled to 900 million, their team still only had 50 engineers. In human resources or recruitment, however, tech startups have tried this approach with largely poor results.

In a business as focused on people and their intricacies as OfferZen is, it simply did not compute to rely only on software. For example, how much would a person trust a generic template or an impersonal bot response when they need guidance in high stake scenarios like offer negotiations?

When we started OfferZen we knew that the traditional recruitment model didn’t care enough about the candidates’ experience - something we vowed to change by turning it on its head: Instead of software makers applying for tech jobs, companies reach out to them. Taking a personalised approach, we first understand what software makers really want in order to help them get hired in a position that matches their preferences. We then help them stand out to companies with an online profile. Once companies invite them for an interview, we help candidates navigate the hiring process with:

  • Knowhow of companies and their hiring processes
  • Coaching on using “soft skills” in interviewing and offer negotiation and
  • Advice with tough decisions.

This requires us to know and contextualise the personal stories, backgrounds and considerations of hundreds of people; something that software or templated advice would have a hard time solving. At the same time, it would be really difficult for any single human being to keep track of that many candidates. That’s why software isn’t completely off the table. Quite the opposite: Our team of tech marketplace advisors is equipped with well designed software that empowers them to monitor and coach hundreds of people in their job search.

How other companies solve complex problems with a human-computer hybrid approach

Of course, we’re not the first company to think of this human-computer-hybrid approach to solve interpersonal challenges. One of the most interesting examples is PayPal, a company started by Elon Musk and Peter Thiel. Peter shares how criminals kept outsmarting PayPal’s fraud detection software in his book Zero to One. Part of the problem was that transaction volumes were too high for all of them to be scanned for fraud individually by their team of analysts. They also couldn’t automate everything because hackers frequently adapted to the software the company put in place.

PayPal’s solution: Software would pick out suspicious transactions from the vast number of ongoing transactions. An easy-to-understand user interface allowed human analysts to track the software’s finds and make the final decision on whether fraud had occurred. PayPal cleverly used computers to reduce the size of the haystack while enabling their team to find the needles.

We realized that the challenge we were facing also had large volumes of data: we see thousands of interactions between candidates and companies each week. But we also knew that we couldn’t simply process that data with software. Rigid algorithms would struggle with the nuance of helping candidates get hired in a role that matched their personal preferences. We needed not only smart systems but also smart people!

Enter the tech marketplace advisor

Our solution is to give each tech marketplace advisor (aka talent advisor) the software and knowledge to manage a portfolio of dozens of people looking for their next dream job:

  • We built a sophisticated backend system called “Tara” from the ground up. It enables tech marketplace advisors to keep track of how people are doing with ease. A “live feed” shows them their candidates’ events, such as job interview invitations. This helps us to coach people pre-emptively, based on their individual situations.
  • We use data-driven dashboards to monitor where people are in their job search. These enable us to switch from a high level overview of hundreds of people to a granular view of an individual candidate and his or her interactions with particular companies.
  • We equip our team with relevant & specific knowledge, such as the hiring processes of actual companies in the marketplace and salary data based on what real people earn in particular cities. As we scale, we continue to learn what knowledge is most valuable to people so we’re always reading applicable books as a team such as Crucial Conversations and Never Split the Difference.

Despite our industry, we continue to hire people who typically don’t have a technical or recruitment background. Instead, they often come from fields like psychology, law, business, humanities or sociology.

We’ve realised that the diverse array of backgrounds helps us deal with the full spectrum of human behaviour in our marketplace. It helps to have different perspectives on the team. In the words of Kate Viljoen, who’s been in the role for almost a year:

“As an industrial psychologist, I wanted to help people at a significant, stressful point in their lives - changing jobs. I’m fascinated by human behaviour and decision making. Here I get to see that play out in front of me at large scale.”

That said, the common denominator between all of our team members is that they have empathy, are good at analysing communication and have the ability to successfully support and coach people in complex situations.

Humans enabled by software

Too often we saw that people failed at their job search because of a lack of hiring-focused knowhow. Ultimately, we decided to solve this problem for people using OfferZen by not relying on bots. Instead, we’re growing a skilled team of tech marketplace advisors and giving them all the tools required to coach hundreds of people in landing their dream jobs.

If you want to work at OfferZen as a tech marketplace advisor click here to see more about the role.
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