CEO INTERVIEW SONRU
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Ed Hendrick, CEO and Founder, Sonru
Today we are travelling to Ireland to speak to the Founder of a company that has operations in five continents. The growth of this company is a model of how to develop an idea, initiate excellent research, formulate correct conclusions and then launch the product and company.
Here is a company that is superbly financed, with a global client base, that continues to expand, and even at the start, secured a corporate customer who is a globally known name. So it was with eagerness we went to meet the founder and learn not only about the product and the process that has made his product a huge success. Ed Hendrick, CEO and Founder, Sonru.
How did the idea for Sonru and the recruitment video product evolve?
It started from a combination of two things. My personal experience being interviewed and seeing the obvious pain points associated with this process: the scheduling of the interview, needing to be present at a particular time, the difficulty of getting time off from your current job to attend an interview (and make up an excuse for not being in the office). Then having to go to an interview and answer the same early-stage and “getting to know you” questions time and again with a number of different people. It didn’t seem very efficient. So, I was initially looking at the process from a candidate’s perspective.
I was only out of college a few years and had always wanted to start a business. The technology that was around at that time, Skype being found in 2003 and YouTube in 2006, really interested me. I realised that this was going to be a real game-changer and that singers and actors were being noticed on YouTube. As a 21-year-old, I was a keen user of these technologies and my experiences drove me to review changes in technology, and in particular, online video solutions.
The original idea was to build a YouTube for recruitment. We were not aware at the time that this had been tried in different formats over the years, but the technology had not been available. The introduction of video at a very early stage in the recruitment process, to effectively create a video CV, was very flawed. This was when we started to look at the issue in depth.
In 2007, I quit my job to start the company and to focus on exploring the concept of introducing video into the recruitment process. I joined a start-up programme that gave me a lot of guidance, mentoring and advice on how to start the idea and fine tune the product. Through this process we arrived at the concept of the automated video interview and I met our CTO who then came on board to try and build Sonru.
It seemed such a natural fit to introduce video into the recruitment process. How could we help candidates to stand out, to be spotted, to put themselves out there to create a portfolio of themselves through using video? This is the aim we were focussing upon. Bí le Sonrú means "To stand out" in Irish Gaelic.
What about Skype and/or video conferencing – did you not feel these had taken the market?
Skype was initially our biggest competitor. With Skype interviews and phone interviews, the challenge was to get people to make a change from picking up the phone and calling candidates and to instead take the time to type better questions, give candidates a few days to respond and then review the replies internally.
We found that companies didn’t really want to use video conferencing solutions to interview candidates that they couldn’t meet in person. It was still a lot of hassle to set up video conferencing, and the more expensive solutions required a huge amount of broadband and candidates needed a particular technology. Technology was being used, but it was not accessible to everyone.
Did you see other developments offering video in recruitment?
There was a phase in the recruitment industry when people tried to add videos to their CVs and to move the paper-based CV to video. We spoke to employers, who received video CVs. We found that because they had not requested this format from all the candidates, who had applied for the job, they were at risk of discriminating against a candidate who did not submit a video CV. Also, there was the risk of discrimination based on appearance and gender and race. All of these combined elements meant they didn't know what to do with these videos.
We also found that in terms of assessing qualifications and experience at a very initial stage, video CVs slowed the process as, trying to listen to someone describing their work history in a video without some very clear structure meant that candidates could be talking for 10 minutes and the interviewer would have difficulty understanding what their education and
work experience was exactly. This slows the process, making it more difficult to get relevant information at the very beginning.
There were a lot of challenges with this concept and it didn’t add a huge amount of value, as it was too early in the recruitment process. We concluded that we weren’t going to change the traditional CV and how people use it. So, we shifted our focus to the first-round interview, following on from a CV when candidates had been accepted and screened.
Our goal when we started was to revolutionise the recruitment industry through the use of video. In order to do that, we needed to build a product that was incredibly simple to use by anyone across the world, on very basic technology, with very low broadband speed. To apply it to the masses and look at introducing it to mainstream recruitment for every role, it had to be uncomplicated and tick those boxes.
From our initial research, we found that interviewers were incredibly busy and they weren’t that keen on setting up video conferencing. We designed it initially with interviewers just typing in the 5 or 10 questions that they would use in the first-round interview and giving the candidates a deadline for completion. It eliminated the need for a candidate to be in a particular place, at a particular time, and made it convenient for them.
As well as that, we wanted to create the experience between an interviewer and a candidate where an interviewer asked questions and pretty much straight away the candidate has to give the answer. The candidate can’t stop or pause the interview, or skip questions once the interview begins. So, the interviewer is controlling the content, the subject candidates speak about, and the candidate pretty much has to give the answer on the spot replicating that face-to-face experience, and this allows the recruiter to get real answers from the candidates, not rehearsed ones.
What priorities and benefits did you list and make the product deliver?
From the candidate’s perspective, apart from the necessity of adding value and convenience for them, it’s also about allowing them the opportunity to present themselves and to stand out from the crowd. Sonru also introduces a huge amount of efficiency on the recruiter side. Aside from eliminating the need to schedule interviews with candidates, it also eliminates scheduling panel reviews of interviews. The video interview can happen remotely, it can happen collaboratively and online.
This is hugely powerful and we found this to be an extra bonus! It added an incredible amount of structure and transparency to the process. As candidates answer the same set of questions, interviewers can review and compare equally across all of the candidates. We also give candidates access to the interview once they have completed it. They cannot change their interview, but they have it on record. They can see it, learn from it, and listen to it as a refresher on how they replied to each question. So that was another bonus that we had not expected when we started.
What is the candidate time limit to reply?
From the invite to the closing date, clients generally give candidates three or four days to complete the interview. Again, the system is designed to speed up the process, so we do not advise clients to allow candidates two weeks. A lot of people will leave these things to the last minute, and that’s human nature. So, it’s better to have a tighter timeframe rather than allowing too long a window for interview completion.
What does the candidate see?
They see the question on the screen, and a timer counting down, showing the time they have to read the question. They are not being recorded at this stage, and when the time-to-read reaches zero, it begins to record their reply. They can see a small image of themselves, so they can make sure they are focussed and on camera, but not distracted by looking at themselves. Something that we are now introducing is the ability for interviewers to include a video clip or an image as part of a question, adding more to the actual question that is being asked.
How did you decide to include the service for mobiles?
If you had asked me about mobile 5 or 6 years ago, I would have said that this is a process that is in a different league when researching and applying for a job. With Sonru, candidates are entering the consideration phase for a job and the interview is quite a serious step in the process. We had to ask ourselves if candidates answering interview questions on a mobile phone was taking it seriously enough.
However, through research, we decided that it’s something that everyone will have in the palm of their hand. When we saw the introduction of the forward-facing camera, it was a real game-changer in mobile for us. We went to test it, and it worked incredibly well.
What guidance do you give candidates, and when and where are they recording their interviews?
We give very clear guidelines to candidates, e.g. to keep the mobile steady, to be in the right position, to have the camera looking at you correctly, and other guidelines to make sure that they record a very good quality video.
Before the candidate completes the interview we check the broadband speed, their microphone, the camera, to make sure everything is working. We also allow them two practice questions and they complete these as often as they wish. They can review themselves afterwards and see their answers, so they are well-prepared, can become familiar with speaking to the camera, and see themselves on video. They know what the interviewer will ultimately see. Most candidates will do two or three trial runs with the practice questions. The practice questions are just random questions from a database, to get candidates used to the system.
In terms of interview completion, we launched the mobile app and since our launch, almost 25% of candidates now complete interviews on mobile devices, and for some clients it's above 50% of candidates. This is huge, bearing in mind that recently, applications from job boards surpassed 50% on mobiles. We can see the number of candidates completing interviews on mobile devices growing to 50% in the next two years. Mobile is incredibly powerful in terms of accessibility.
For location, we are now seeing the majority, almost 90% of candidates, completing interviews from home, and most candidates will compete interviews either on the weekend or in the evening. It’s all about convenience for them and mobile is really making a big difference. If we had looked at that statistic five years ago, we would have seen a higher number of candidates completing interviews in Internet cafes, at friends' houses or even at work.
What roles are being sourced using Sonru?
We are seeing an increase across all sectors. When we started, we would have mainly been working with technology companies, interviewing for technical, call centre, customer-facing and multilingual roles.
As the market matures and the adoption of video interviewing increases, we have seen that usage is spread across all sectors and that roles are broadening. It is moving up to mid-level and senior management roles. For example, we've seen clients interviewing for some CEO and some director-level positions using Sonru.
We see many graduate roles being sourced also. The graduate space is a sweet spot because your candidate is naturally very tech-savvy and there is a lot of volume there. With graduates, for a lot of roles, the challenge you have is that on paper the graduates are quite similar. They can all be very strong, very well qualified in particular subjects, but they do not have a lot of work experience and you don't get a sense of personality. Whereas the video interview allows you to get a real sense of personality, an understanding of the company they want to join, their passion for the role, and you can test empathy.
You have a very high percentage of government clients.
Our client base is global. We are an Irish company, but the majority of businesses are outside of Ireland. So, our results list Government clients worldwide. We have definitely found that a lot of government organisations are looking for efficiencies, they are big employers, they need to handle a lot of interviews, a lot of scheduling, budgets are being cut, they want to spend their money more efficiently and they are interested in this type of technology.
CERN, creators of the Large Hadron Collider, was our first client outside of Ireland. This is effectively a Government association, a science organisation, the biggest physics experiment in the world. The team from CERN would be speakers at many conferences and are well-respected, and this gives people a lot of trust in Sonru.
I think one of the challenges you have in the very early days of launching any new product is building trust and credibility, and we need to deliver this to the clients and the candidates. It’s great to see that Government organisations are looking at making so many improvements and introducing efficiencies and best practices into their organisations.
How do you check the personality fit and reduce risk of video bias?
A lot of the problems of screen shyness have gone away, meaning that clients can really tailor questions to tease out the personality of the candidate and see their fit for the role and organisation.
The original fear of video was that there would be a lot of unconscious bias and potential discrimination. This was due to a perception in the industry and with hiring managers that “if I see people on video, I am going to base my decision on looks”. The fear was that they were just going to hire the “better–looking” people, but this is not the case. People are professional and there are particular guidelines around the world for selecting people.
When an interviewer conducts a face-to-face interview, they tend to be reliant on notes, which is not very transparent and can be edited. Whereas with Sonru, everything is on record and there is a very easy comparison between candidates for particular roles. Through using Sonru, it is very easy to identify if someone is being discriminated against.
This is a major change and is a real help in reducing unconscious bias. This is not a science and it will always be "work in progress" for any organisation.
What are the top benefits of Sonru as seen by companies?
Out of the many benefits that come out of this service, it would seem that reduced time-to-hire is perhaps the top one. This is the initial obvious benefit of a product like Sonru when employers see it for the first time. They realise:
- We do not have to schedule an interview;
- Candidates don't have to be there;
- We save a huge amount of time and money;
- I can see people quicker;
- In competitive markets I can make decisions quicker and move on a candidate before someone else;
- I have got an advantage if I can interview candidates in two or three days in comparison to someone else who is going to take two weeks to set up an interview.
When we drill down into what other benefits clients get from Sonru, we get a lot of feedback. Our clients are saying that because they are seeing the candidates earlier in the process, they are able to get so much more information from the video. They can "get a sense of the person", the personality, the communication skills, see how they answered questions, their passion. All of that is in the video and so much earlier in the process.
It has given them more confidence in selecting who to bring forward.
We are seeing conversion rates after a video interview that are much better than previously recorded with phone interviews, or even initial face-to-face interviews. Conversion rates for people who are brought through to being hired are much higher.
We are also seeing that a lot of people who were borderline candidates, who may not have been considered based on their CV, are being brought forward and the company wouldn't have had the resources to interview as many people as they can now with Sonru. There have been a number of case studies where candidates, who on paper CV wouldn't have been given an interview, really impressed the company on video, showed their passion, and were selected and turned out to be star performers. This is a big shift and big change in terms of people who could have been just rejected because of their CV. They are now being selected and turning out to be better performers than others. This is a really exciting aspect of introducing video.
If you think back to not using video, everything is about filling out forms: an application form, uploading a CV, answering some questions - it is all text. Meeting the person is such an important part of the selection process and we are enabling interviewers to meet candidates so much earlier on the process in a very simple, cost-effective and accessible way. It makes the old process look antiquated.
How do you badge this service and assure confidentiality?
Key considerations we had to make at the start were making the video interviews confidential and secure, and not having a system where the recording can be sent anywhere via a link, or uploaded to YouTube. We had to build the trust of the candidates for these interviews, showing that it will only be the employer who will be looking at them.
The client can control access to video interviews very easily, and when they share interviews with colleagues, they simply allow access to view that particular interview, or relevant candidate interviews. They can remove people from the viewer list, so they only see the relevant information for that particular role. There are no links sent out by emails, and you are just giving people access to a secure system itself. They must login and their activity is logged. Everything is encrypted and as secure as a bank's system.
How do you see Sonru advancing in the future?
Sonru is currently available in 18 languages, and this is vital when you're dealing with a global audience. We consistently add more languages, which is exciting as we have clients in the U.S., across Europe, The Middle-East, Asia-Pacific, Australia and New Zealand.
Video interviews are constantly being recorded, and we have a 24/7 in-house support team. We provide all candidate support, and clients are not contacted by candidates for help, or queries about the interview. Candidates have access to FAQs, there is instant message chat, and they can call or email us. We are always there for candidates.
We started with support in different time zones but we brought it all back into the Irish headquarters. It helps us to develop this centre of excellence here, from a support perspective, and also to be able to share knowledge between the team more easily. We are looking to build that team over time.
Do you use your own product to hire multilingual candidates?
Absolutely, yes! We use Sonru for all our roles just like our clients overseas, and it works really well.
What are you looking for in your people you hire?
In the last few years since we've scaled into a bigger organisation, we really had to sit down and think about the type of person we are looking for, and culture is a major element. In a fast moving technology company, which is expanding globally, you need people who are self-starters, who are able to get on with the job, are able to be investigative, be curious and figure out solutions. Ultimately, to be people with whom you want to work. It is really important when you're employing people that you like them, you go for lunch with them, you get on well and you become friends. We also of course have certain levels and requirements from an educational perspective. We do look for solid backgrounds. We think that it’s important for certain roles that candidates have a level of education that shows someone has gone through and completed the course, whether it's a degree or a Masters, they have stuck with it and gone through the different stages. All of those aspects are really important to us in terms of selecting people.
What is your goal?
Our goal is for Sonru to be the default first-stage screening interview. When I speak to clients they are saying, "I have got some Sonrus to review later today. I am doing a Sonru later. I am setting up a Sonru”. It’s become a verb or a noun, something any firm aspires to hear and hope might happen.
We are only scratching the surface in terms of the number of clients who are using us. Candidates prefer this type of an interview compared to a phone interview as they feel they are getting a better opportunity to present themselves and pitch for the job.
How do you chill out?
I have always lived in Ireland and we are based in the South-East. I grew up in the countryside, so we have mountains and beaches within a twenty-minute drive. I like to get out into the mountains and go hiking. I am from a farming background so I like to get back to the farm as often as I can and enjoy that way of life.