Fixing the Outdated Campus Recruitment Process — An Interview with Scouted’s Founders

Dartmouth grads, Jacqueline Loeb and Robin Levine, worked at Bridgewater for a collective 15 years. Through their experiences with hiring they noticed a serious problem with the way college recruitment had stayed stagnant for the last 20 years. Their frustrations led them to found their own startup,Scouted, to update the “outdated, fragmented, expensive and exclusive” college recruitment industry. Scouted replaces the traditional campus recruiting process and “quick resume glance” with technology that evaluates candidates on the metrics that matter for long-term success, like EQ and grit, on top of traditional indicators like GPA and college.

How exactly is the college recruitment process outdated?

Jacqueline Loeb: “At the most basic level it’s all offline, companies are still physically visiting campuses to recruit. This systematically skews the playing field for students. So if you’re a student at Harvard versus being a student at the University of Indiana, the companies that are coming proactively to your school are going to look very different.

Robin Levine: “Secondly, we use data to do pretty much everything today, and yet most companies are decades behind when it comes to using data to take the subjectivity out of hiring, and make it a more objective process. Recent research says that the best predictors of long-term success go beyond college and GPA. Yet the model hasn’t adopted this and students are being judged solely on these factors when applying for jobs right out of college. After their first few jobs their GPA becomes irrelevant, companies care more about the skills they’ve developed and their strengths. So there’s the ‘technology component’ but then there’s the ‘what companies are looking at and how companies are thinking about and evaluating people.’”

How have you seen this process affect low-income minority students at elite colleges?

R: “We would see kids from programs that focus on helping underprivileged students get into elite colleges after being “rockstars” in high school. These programs are highly competitive so the students were special enough or at least had enough grit to find themselves there. They then get to college and while every once in awhile there would be an exception, the vast majority of the time their grades systematically skew lower. Their GPAs would be under a 3, or less than a 3.5, which is the cut off for a lot of places. Not to say they aren’t smart enough, it’s just a bigger challenge for them to adapt into certain environments. And then when you watch their interviews or look at their resumes, they’re missing key skills that they didn’t have the opportunity to hone beforehand like their affluent peers. This makes their odds of finding a job in their field after college much slimmer.

“I don’t know if there ever is going to be a 100% level playing field, that’s just the unfortunate truth. But systematically making it a un-level playing field bothers me. It’s just silly, GPA is just an indicator of something else and if you’re not digging in behind it you’re not getting at the fundamentals, you’re not really getting to know that candidate. And when you’re hiring for a position, the person that shows up is not the GPA, it’s the underlying person.”

J: “The GPA obviously might mean something — it might be a indicator of discipline, work ethic, or a certain type of smarts— but it can’t be used in isolation as a holistic predicator of intelligence.”

R: “The top level indicators doesn’t show what’s going on in that underprivileged student’s life. If you keep using a bias screen you’re gonna keep getting a biased outcome. The same thing is true though if you don’t get a diverse input/sourcing, you won’t get a diverse output.”

Have you had any candidates with a story that illustrates this point?

R: “One of our most successful hires ever grew up in a very rural area with an alcoholic single mom in a bad school system. She was really bright but had absolutely no resources and she wanted to change her life. She fought tooth and nail until she got into Harvard where she was a terrible student. She had never had that exposure to learn how to operate in a structured school system. She was just as bright as anyone there, she just didn’t know how to handle the work she was given. But despite struggling she was really involved on campus and had a huge impact there. And from the moment she started her job her ability to adapt and take the tumult of it all made her very successful. She was willing to sleep under her desk to get the work done, she had a practical common sense, she had so much to add to the company. She wasn’t the best at knowing what to say at a client meeting but that is a lot easier to teach than that ‘I’m going to figure out how to do this, I’m going to be successful’ drive and that ability to just shape your own life.”

How can this problem be solved?

R: “There’s a ton of research, and then just common sense, that says soft skills are a better indicators of someone’s long term success. And that’s what we’ve found in our 15 years of experience doing this, specifically with college kids, and from the research we’ve been exposed to from Angela Lee Duckworth, Korn Ferry and Laszlo Bock.

What you have is a complex person with a combination of values, abilities and skills. It’s not a grade or report card sitting in front of you, it’s a human being. So what we’re trying to do is look at those deeper drivers, not the surface level but the underlying root causes or fundamentals of why you are who you are.”

J: “To make that concrete, we’re not discounting someone that’s worked really hard in school to get a good GPA. We’re unpacking it. What does it mean that you did really well in college? It probably means that there’s a certain level of intelligence. But you can also have someone with the same level of intelligence and a very different GPA, which probably means that there’s a certain level of discipline and work ethic.”

R:“Just like in the markets you want to triangulate your viewpoint, we want to look at a lot of different indicators of what someone is like to get at those underlying fundamentals. The drivers behind attributes like grit are more important than grit itself.”

J: “Capability mixed with hunger is the strongest force.”

So what does Scouted do to get to know candidates beyond the top level indicators?

J: “We take a lot from Laszlo Bock’s article on the things you can do to make good hiring decisions. One of these methods that we’ve adopted are the systematic behavioral interviews. When you ask everyone the same question in the same environment you can start leveling the playing field when those questions are answered. Scouted’s first round interview process has pre-recorded questions, meaning every candidate has an identical interview experience. Our questions are designed to understand how our candidates think and make decisions. This way we get to see the thinking behind their decisions, as opposed to the outcomes. If you just focus on outcomes, you bias people to certain experience sets. If you’re getting at the thinking of how they dealt with things and asking the same questions to every interviewee, you start eliminating biases which let people’s values come through better than they would in a traditional interview system.

“At Scouted we make a point at looking at people’s resumes with perspective and context. How did this person take advantage of the context they were in? If they were at Exeter and had all these resources available to them, how did they deal with that versus the student that was at public school trying to make the best of their situation? With that, you get a more holistic view of the resume.”

R: “Fundamentally, we care about who you are and what you’re like, and I don’t think resumes tell that well. I don’t think any one indicator tells that well. What I really want to get at is the underlying drivers, those attributes that make up a person. Once you’re getting at that you are getting at the context of a person; what opportunities they were exposed to, how they handled them and what they did to overcome hardships in their life. This all gives you a better picture of their story and how they think. These tools are going to get at who they are, not what their background has allowed them to achieve, whatever that background is.”

                                           Scouted team at the ERA demo day April 2016

Check out our full article on grit and determining success here