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Skillist: Changing Hiring For Good

By: Ananth Kasturiraman & Caroline Fay 17 May 2018

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Alumni for Impact series, which features alumni who are making a difference in the social sector, specifically in K-12 education, impact investing, nonprofit supportive services, and social entrepreneurship.  Ananth Kasturiraman (MBA 2017) and Caroline Fay (Ed.M., HGSE 2016) are Co-Founders of Skillist, a company dedicated to connecting untapped talent to in-demand jobs.

Fun fact - the resume is about 500 years old. It was invented by Leonardo DaVinci. Now back in the 1800s, this invention was revolutionary, but today, the resume is just not working for most job-seekers. For many of you reading, applying to jobs through the current system has been less than ideal. You’ve spent hours editing, included as many keywords from the job description as possible, tapped connections to put in a good word - and still felt entirely unclear whether you might be deemed a fit. Imagine how much harder this process is for the millions of Americans without a bachelor’s degree. 

For entry-level roles, many employers tend to rely on the credentials within a resume - like a four-year degree or a blue-chip employer - as a proxy for skill. However, this practice significantly narrows the pool of talent that a given employer might consider, and leaves millions of jobs sitting open. At the same time, tens of millions of workers are being overlooked for great entry-level professional jobs because they lack the right credential, even though they’re otherwise completely qualified. This massive systemic imbalance is what drives us every day at Skillist. Since we first started working on the kernel that would become Skillist in early 2016, the guidance we’ve received through our respective Harvard schools (HBS and HGSE) has been integral in both advancing our work and helping us course-correct as we navigate the ever-complex workforce development landscape. 

Our first attempted solution - a community college career portal called Yellow Brick Road - was a 2016 finalist in the HBS New Venture Competition Social Enterprise Track. Over the next year, we tried our best to turn Yellow Brick Road from a business plan into a real company - and HBS played a major role in this journey of discovery. During Ananth’s EC year, he took courses such as Launching/Scaling Tech Ventures, Public Entrepreneurship, Managing Human Capital, and Reimagining Capitalism, while also pursuing an Independent Project with Professor Joe Fuller, Director of the HBS Managing the Future of Work Initiative (and now one of our advisors). We also took part in the Harvard i-lab Venture Incubation Program and met with a number of Rock Center Entrepreneurs-in-Residence to get advice on our idea. By April 2017, we had determined that a solution that enabled fairer and more effective connections between jobseekers and employers was the best way to move forward -- and we decided to pursue our idea full-time. We’ve since built and launched Skillist, a proprietary skills-based application system. We currently work with companies who have unfilled, entry-level roles in critical functions like customer service and administration, and we connect them to great candidates who they might otherwise overlook.

Wondering how it works? We work with employers to translate their job descriptions into a clear list of skills. Candidates apply by sharing detailed examples of how they have developed and acquired each skill. We encourage users to draw from all aspects of their lives, adding personal achievements and volunteering to more traditional professional activities like education and work history. When employers receive an application, there is no name or identifying information attached, which lets them make a decision based on skills above all else.

Not only does this enable companies to make fairer hiring decisions, but it helps them access talent that they’re really excited about. During our pilot, we found that 40% of all Skillist applicants were passed through to the next round, meaning it was twenty times more effective than the pass-through rate on the average online job board! Our efforts are strengthened by partnerships with community colleges and workforce organizations like Year Up, which enables companies to tap talent that they often struggle to connect with. 

We are so energized by the opportunity to make the labor market more effective for both jobseekers and companies. For too long, we’ve depended on degrees as proxies for competence and capability. It’s high time to bring the focus back to skills. In doing so, we can open up access to economic opportunities to traditionally marginalized groups and bring more equity into our economy - all while making hiring an easier, better experience for companies.