Podcast: Sense CEO Anil Dharni Talks About Recruiting Tech in the Age of Covid

Diverse Recruiting


Mark Feffer: Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer.

My guest today is Anil Dharni, Co-Founder and CEO of Sense. They’re a talent and engagement platform that’s built for enterprise recruiting teams, and in fact, they say they’re the only all-in-one solution built for that market. He’ll tell us a bit about Sense, and we’ll look at what’s going on in today’s labor market and how employers are trying to cope. All on this edition of People Tech.

Anil, welcome. Now, can you tell me about Sense? What does it do and who does it do it for?

Anil Dharni: Yeah, so we started Sense about five years back, very much focused on the high-volume hiring space. I’ve built multiple startups in the Bay Area, and they’ve ranged from enterprise software to consumer to mobile gaming. One of the things that I realized that the biggest asset that startups and companies have is the people. We spend as executives inordinate amount of time trying to attract, source and hire people talent into our company so they can help us grow and scale. As it turns out, while there’s a lot of human in the loop that is required to hire great people, but when it comes to hiring at scale, when you’re trying to hire 1,000 people a month, 10,000 people a month, companies really struggle. That’s where we found the real opportunity.

So what we’ve really tried to build is a life cycle candidate engagement solution that follows and tracks the candidate all throughout the conversation when they’re having with a company. We don’t just stop at the offer stage because as you can imagine, Mark, what has happened now is there might be people that accept your offer, and nearly 30 to 50% of them don’t show up on the first day. Even if you’re lucky that they do show up, a bunch of them end up quitting also on the first day, first week, whatever the case might be.

So especially in verticals like logistics, warehousing, light industrial, we are finding that it’s very, very difficult for companies to not only find people, but also to retain and keep them. That was the genesis of building Sense. It’s kind of interesting, once COVID hit and as you can see from the news articles that we see every single day, it’s really hit its peak. I think just yesterday, there was an article around Burger King and how the employees just quit and they have to just shut down the restaurant and this is all over the place. So it’s happening at much higher frequency than before, and companies are really struggling to find solutions that can help them with this problem.

Mark: Now, given the timing of COVID and everything that happened over the last year and your customer base and what they did, COVID must have been a real challenge for Sense. Can you tell me about the challenges you faced and what did you do to address them?

Anil: Yeah. Yeah. So first of all, once COVID hit and this was going back to March 2020, within a span of about two to three weeks, our customers, the number of job openings they had, were slashed by about 40 to 50% depending on the customer. The recruiting teams were laid off or furloughed immediately. Companies didn’t know which way the world was going to go. One thing they knew was they were going to stop hiring. But as a couple of months progressed, it pretty much switched around very fast. Companies realized that they went from a place of where they were having enough candidate flow coming in, they had job requisitions that were open, to a place where hiring managers never stopped opening job requisitions, but they stopped seeing the flow of candidates. So we turned that now, at least internally at Sense, we call it the famine.

So we are in the world of great famine right now, especially in blue collar, gray collar, the caring economy, the pink collar workers and temporary workers. Companies are struggling to find candidates. Even when they find the candidates, they’re struggling to keep them. So that is the number one conversation that I’m having with TA leaders, with CHROs, with CEOs is how can we leverage technology to help our teams do more with less? Because we ended up laying off a bunch of recruiters, sourcers, coordinators, and they’re not coming back. But the demand and my job requisitions are bouncing back up.

So I think I’ll share one statistic with you and with your audience. Indeed, they just published the number of jobs now in Indeed that have a sign-on bonus. So just last quarter, it used to be about 2% of all jobs on Indeed had a sign-on bonus. Today, it is 20%. A 10X increase. And, these are not for jobs that are AI, machine learning, creative. What we thought was where the war for talent is really upstream, it’s in the high end professional side of the market, that’s not the case anymore. These are all for jobs, whether they are Amazon jobs, FedEx jobs, UPS jobs, Home Depot, logistics. So these are in these industries where the highest challenges are. Of course, the entire healthcare industry is bearing the brunt of lack of candidates, qualified candidates for the right jobs.

Mark: You sit in an interesting place because you see what’s going on at a lot of different employers across several different industries. So what do you think is going on with the workforce right now? Restaurants, hospitality companies, for example, who just can’t staff up the way they need to, and they can’t figure out why. What’s your perception?

Anil: Yeah, it’s a multi-dimensional challenge, at least based on what we hear from our customers. It’s also pretty local and regional to some extent. But one of the first things we hear is safety. In regions, for example, where a lot of people, a majority of the population might not be vaccinated, workers are unsure of going back to restaurants and serving that population knowing that there’s going to be a risk.

Number two, once the pandemic hit, people actually moved away. So in the hospitality sector, in the cruiser sector, these companies are looking at their internal database and realizing, “My gosh, we laid off 20%, 30% of a workforce, and we don’t know where they are.” So they’re having to figure out what technology can be used to get back and reach out to them and say, “Please come back.” So there’s also been sort of the great migration now that has happened in the last year-and-a-half because of the pandemic.

The third thing I would say is the biggest loss of the people that fled the labor market was obviously women. This was really, really harsh on women. One of the main reasons was childcare support. So even today there are about 20 to 25% of all public schools are still not open. Women are struggling to figure out how to have enough flexibility where they can find a job yet at the same time take care of home care activities.

So again, it’s a multi-dimensional problem, no straight fix there. Of course, we are noticing that the wages are going up. Especially in the staffing space, our staffing customers are going to the clients and saying, “Listen,” and trying to convince them, “You’ve got to raise the bar, you’ve got to raise the wage. You’ve got to give a sign-on bonus. You’ve got to improve your working conditions.” If you are not able to improve your working conditions, people have just too many options today. If they don’t feel like working in the restaurant, they can just go to a warehouse. They can go to a logistics company, they can drive for Uber, whatever the options might be. So people have a lot more choices, and they’re making the choices depending on their own personal situations.

Mark: Do you see that situation changing or do you think over time it might kind of evolve back to what we used to call normal?

Anil: Yeah. So definitely a candidate-centric world, and it moved very quickly. So right before the pandemic, it used to be at least in the blue collar and gray collar workforce, it used to be the job seeker does not drive the market. But now I think companies are stepping back and they are trying to figure out not only the wages, which is okay, that’s a straightforward thing that you can do, but they are also highly focused around the candidate experience, around their brand, around loyalty, around retaining people. How do we improve the working conditions? How do we check in with our employees on a much more regular basis? Then how do we quickly take actions? How do we create candidate experiences that are different for my high volume hires versus my executives versus my BNI population versus my campus recruiting? So I think the leading edge company, the companies that really care about people, are really trying to redesign the candidate experience, the associate experience, the employee experience when they’re actually on assignment.

Those are the ones that are going to win in the short term. But I think this is here to stay for the long term in the sense that the companies that are not able to react, the companies that don’t change their recruiting processes, are going to suffer and they’re going to get out competed.

Mark: Now let’s come back to Sense for a minute. It seems to me that you’re in a pretty crowded space. There’s a lot of platforms trying to handle high volume hiring. So what do you do that’s different? What’s the part of your message that you think really sets you apart?

Anil: Yeah. So there are multiple things that we look at when we start talking to prospects and customers and try and see how we can help them. They come in to us, so it’s much more based on their problem statement versus us trying to say, “Hey, we have these six products go buy them.” We focus much more around, “What is your core problem today?” As I mentioned, number one is famine. So I just don’t have applicants and how can Sense help me? When we think about that, then the next phase is, “Okay, so what are the assets you already have?” In today’s world, one of the biggest things that companies are saying is, “Okay, we’ve exhausted the job board spend. I cannot spend any more money because I’m just not seeing the flow of candidates. Even the candidates that I’m getting, we might lead them to an offer stage, but they’re going to quit. They’re not even going to show up. So how do I find the high quality candidates?”

So they are looking at I might have a large database of millions of candidates that have been my silver medalists, that have been my alumni, that maybe applied to me and I never got back to them. So let me go back into my database and let me try and target people with special messaging by which I can reactivate them.

So I think that’s what’s very differentiated about us. We are not that much focused around, “Hey, how many applicants can you get in your inbound,” but much more about utilizing your existing assets that you have. That’s number one.

Number two, our approach on how we communicate with the next generation of the workforce. As you know, over 50% of the workforce are now Millennials and Gen Z’ers. Most of these techniques and in this crowded space, most players are focused on, “Oh yeah, let me start an email campaign.” The world has changed. Emails have a 10% or 12% of open rate. Emails have a one to 2% response rate, if you’re lucky. So these customers come to us and say, “Wow, you are really differentiated because the way you approach, the way you connect with candidates is much more modern.” What do I mean by that? So we can do it via text message. We can do it on a chat bot interface. We can do it through WhatsApp. We can do it through email. It’s all this combination that comes alive from an experiential perspective for the candidate. How do we know that it works? For example, when they go through a chat bot experience, on average, a chat bot scores 94% in terms of satisfaction rating.

Then how do we measure ourselves that the recruiters and the operators and the talent acquisition teams are actually using the platform because that’s key. What we’ve really done, Mark, there is we built this no code interface. TA teams, talent acquisition teams, can now design experiences without knowing how to code stuff. And they can say, “I want to build a customer journey,” or, “I want to build a candidate journey focused on,” let’s say African-American folks talent pool, or Latinx talent tool. “I want to do it very intentionally. I want to have these many touch points. I want this touch point to go out as an email. I want this touch point to go out as a chat bot. I want this touch point to go out as a text message.” When you are given a single platform to which you can craft your entire end-to-end candidate experience, it’s an aha moment for our practitioners. That’s what I would say is the biggest differentiation we have compared to our competitors.

Mark: Anil, thank you very much for joining me today.

Anil: Yeah. Thanks.

Mark: I’ve been talking with Anil Dharni, CEO of the recruiting platform Sense, and I’ve been doing it here on People Tech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of RecruitingDaily.

PeopleTech is part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs, visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com.

To keep up with HR Technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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