In the Spotlight: Headstart uses Machine Learning and Data Science to hire a more diverse workforce

Every month, a promising recruitment tech vendor will tell its story in ‘In the Spotlight’. Headstart uses Machine Learning and Data Science to transform the recruitment process, enabling clients to find the right high potential employees regardless of gender, ethnic status, sexual orientation or age. Gareth Jones, CEO of the London-based tech vendor, tells how you can hire a more diverse workforce.

Gareth Jones, CEO of Headstart

For the people who don’t know Headstart, can you tell us what it is?

“Headstart is a specialized recruiting platform for early talent teams. Our mission is to make recruiting fair for everyone and improve diversity in organizations. Headstart aims to level the playing field for candidates by leveraging data science to match the right applicants with the right skills to the right role. This generates a match score that allows recruiters to quickly see which candidates fit best – regardless of their gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, sexuality, and other factors. As well as significant improvements in the diversity of candidates moving through the pipeline, customers using Headstart have reduced cost-per-hire and saved millions of dollars through smart automation. We support large organizations with early talent, graduate, and campus hiring programs across the UK, US, and Europe.”

Why was Headstart founded?

Headstart began life as a candidate marketplace app. The app helped organizations fill graduate roles with candidates that had the right technical expertise, as well as cultural fit. From working with customers, we realized the most valuable piece of the puzzle was enabling organizations to hire the right candidates, improve diversity, and manage high volumes through our machine learning algorithms. Screening criteria such as qualifications, grades, and education hasn’t changed for decades in most companies. This needs to change. To win in the competitive and valuable world of early talent, recruiters need a holistic picture of each candidate to assess suitability. But it’s impossible to do this for thousands of applications at scale, and particularly to drive diversity – and that’s where Headstart comes in.”

The Headstart team

What makes Headstart unique?

“Our commitment to make software that people love. Many organizations still use legacy, out-dated software platforms. For candidates, outdated applications that add unnecessary stress to the process with poorly-designed, confusing application forms is bad enough. We take offence to impersonal automated communication and an experience that’s not
optimized for mobile – a key requirement for today’s world. Headstart’s application flow is smooth and slick. In a recent test, our system generating up to 50% more applications in comparison to another platform. And with legacy platforms, recruiters are slowed down with clunky features and workflows that hinder progress. Recruiters that use Headstart are amazed by our intuitive drag-and-drop interface that helps them work faster so they can focus on the job at hand – hiring the best talent for their organization.”

According to your website, Headstart is ‘on a mission to transform the way organisations hire!’. How is that going and when do you think your mission will be accomplished?

“We’re just getting started. Whilst diversity has been a hot topic for the last few years, many organizations are yet to make meaningful changes. We’re on the cusp of a substantial change as diversity and inclusion become not just a ‘nice-to-have’, but a license to operate. We believe diversity is really an outcome of hiring the right people with the right skills – but this is prevented by traditional recruiting practices thanks to unconscious bias, superfluous role requirements, and technology that isn’t built for the modern world. We also recognize the sheer scale and volume for most roles means the job of a recruiter has changed considerably over the last decade or so. Instead of being relationship managers, most of the work is administrative. Our work will be complete when every recruiter achieves their true purpose as a value creator for their organization, and every organization focuses on hiring the right people, regardless of background.”

What are you guys currently working on to improve diversity in tech?

“Headstart customers have seen some astounding, progressive results. From doubling female hires in tech departments, to improving ethnic minority hires by up to 20%, there is proof that Headstart helps organizations move the needle on the diversity imperative. One of our recent product releases has been to offer candidates the ability to leave any information on extenuating circumstances that may have affected their education or work experience. Some of the real examples received range from a university student involved in a hit-and-run car accident that affected their grades, to financial situations that meant candidates had to work throughout their studies to support their family. These examples are everywhere, but aren’t often taken into account. Diversity has to be an outcome of fairness, and doing the right thing.”

How does your tool work for organisations that would like to use it now?

“We work with organizations to assess the skills, experience, and education levels required for each role. Roles are listed on their branded early talent portal, allowing candidates to manage their application in one place by entering common information like grades and experience, and answering specific questionnaires that can be used for pre-screening. Recruiters can see all active and completed applications, and the full hiring pipeline for each role. Completed applications have a unique match score against them, showing their suitability against the requirements of the role. The match score levels the playing field by taking into account any contextual background the applicant has provided, like whether they grew up in under-privileged areas.”

“Recruiters can move candidates through their process with our drag-and-drop interface, which can start automated communications with rejection information, sending links to third-party assessments, or scheduling appointments for interview and assessment days. They can also engage, follow-up, and respond to candidates individually with a full communication history.”

“Managers and directors have full reporting on the hiring pipeline and information on how diverse groups are progressing, so corrective action can be taken. Candidate data can also be sent to HRIS platforms when hired, for a complete data history.”

The Recruiter Dashboard

What is your roadmap for 2020? 

“After announcing a significant funding round last year, we are focused on significant product improvements around explainable machine learning and AI (which we see as a minimum ethical and mandatory standard), delivering on our commitment to build software people love, and helping more organizations to take much-needed action on diversity through early talent.”

Where will Headstart be in 5 years? 

“Organizations are only as good as their people – and those people have to be in the right roles. Most organizations have a very basic understanding of their employee’s skills, so absolutely aren’t utilizing the talent they have to achieve their business goals, or help employees find their purpose, which leads to low engagement and eventually attrition. I think there’s an opportunity to help organizations better understand the people they already have – and something we’ll be thinking about over the long-term.”

About ‘In the Spotlight’

Recruitment tech talent is present all over the world: vendors that stand out and help you find the ideal candidates. Every month, a promising recruitment tech vendor will tell its story in the ‘In the Spotlight’ column on The kick-off was for the Greek Owiwi and their pre-employment assessment tool that combines gaming technology and validated psychological methodology to help you find the best talent.

Do you know a vendor that’s not to be missed in ‘In the Spotlight’? Or are you working for a recruitment tech vendor with a special story, advanced technology or a great mission? Feel free to send an email to Erwin Hokken, editor at Recruitment Tech.

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