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Service Targets In-Demand Tech Pros Who Are Open to Being Poached

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If you’re a tech professional who already has a good job, but who wants to keep the door open to other opportunities that might crop up, you’re probably thinking that the last thing you want to do is post a resume on a public job site where everyone, including your boss, can see it. It turns out, you don’t have to. There’s a better way to let the world know that you’re open to being poached.

Enter Tom Leung, a Harvard Business School graduate and former Google product manager who cofounded Poachable, a Seattle-based online recruitment service that enables you to take a passive approach to job-switching. I spoke earlier this week with Leung, who now serves as Poachable’s CEO, and I opened the conversation by asking him how the idea for Poachable came about. He said it was kind of serendipitous:

We had a product that preceded Poachable, called Jobb.Ly, that was designed to enable people to have these virtual interview loops. The idea was, rather than going from a phone screen to having someone come into the office and meet with six or seven people, you could do this asynchronously over the Web, using text as well as video. We built that out quite a bit, and it was quite a huge failure. We asked the recruiters why they weren’t using it, and they said interviewing people wasn’t a big pain point for them. Almost all of them said getting more leads to fill their roles was a big, big problem—specifically, accessing the passive candidate market. These are people who might be open to making a change, but aren’t hitting the job boards every day, and checking their LinkedIn email every day. Those are some of the toughest people to find, but they often are the most valuable, because they’re happily employed and rewarded, and generally, they’re probably performing pretty well. We interviewed some candidates who had recently changed jobs, as part of the Jobb.Ly research, and they said interviewing could be easier, but a bigger problem for them is looking for a job when you’re already in a job, without being exposed to your manager—because generally, these industries are pretty small, and everybody knows everybody. And this whole idea of uploading a cover letter and a resume is like doing their taxes for some people.

Leung said the third data point was having seen a lot of activity in the dating space, with startups like Tinder, which generally involve some sort of double-matching process:

We kind of put all three of those ideas together and thought, wouldn’t it be great if you could go to a place as a job candidate, and tell us exactly what you’re looking for, and what you’d be open to. And we’ll screen all of the job opportunities for you, so you don’t get spammed by LinkedIn recruiters who go more for quantity than quality in terms of their outreach. Then, you can tell us if you’re open to it or not. If you are, we’ll kind of get a temperature read from the employer. If they’re open to it, then we’ll come back to you and let you know that there’s a potential match there. Then you can reveal your full identity if you’re comfortable doing that. That seemed like a much better way to be able to find a job. When we talked to recruiters, they were all really jazzed about the idea, because they’re finding that people aren’t responding to their unsolicited mail as much as they used to, when the economy was worse—they’re getting pickier. So when a member gets a mail from Poachable, they know that we have already screened it, and we’re not showing them stuff that’s way off-track for them. That’s how it emerged—it wasn’t some sort of master plan. It was more of a classic discovery process, where you start connecting dots that you didn’t know were there.

I asked Leung about the revenue model, and he explained that it’s pay-per-lead:

That’s another reason why our approach is a little different. If you’re an employer, and you have a role, we’ll match the role with members who have a background consistent with that job description. If the member confirms that he also thinks he’s a fit, and he’s interested in learning more, the employer gets an anonymous [brief description of the candidate’s qualifications]. At that point, the employer can say he’s not interested. But if he wants an introduction, and to see the full profile, it’s only at that point that the employer actually pays Poachable. So the revenue model is really attractive for the employer, because it’s a pay-for-performance approach, which hasn’t really been done a whole lot in recruiting, with the exception of contingency relationships with headhunting agencies. They generally charge almost 30 percent of a candidate’s base salary. So if someone makes $100,000, that’s a $30,000 check they have to write, vs. for us, currently our introductory pricing is $50 per lead.

That, Leung confirmed, means the candidates don’t pay anything:

We thought about charging candidates for premium services, but we’re not going to do that for the foreseeable future. Part of the reason is that in a way, the candidates that we are focusing on are highly sought after, and they know they don’t have to pay anyone to find a new job. We wanted to make it really easy for our members to join. And for employers, they’ll pay, but they only pay when they get results.

I asked Leung what he would have said if someone had approached him with the idea for Poachable when he was at Harvard Business School, back in the early 2000s. He said he would have been very interested in it as a job candidate:

We were all exploring different opportunities, and the way we did it was pretty traditional—we would send a cover letter that was pretty much a form letter, where we would replace the company name, and maybe tweak a sentence or two. Then we’d send this one-page resume, which we hoped would reflect who we were, laboring over every semicolon and comma and parentheses. And then we’d submit it, and oftentimes we’d never even get a response, or we’d get a form response very long afterward. It just felt like a process that wasn’t that great. So Poachable would have sounded like a pretty attractive idea to me, but nobody had proposed that to me at the time. I might have started the company 10 years ago, had someone done that.

On the other hand, Leung said, the economy was very different at that time:

People were really doing whatever they had to do to get a good job. And as we’re starting Poachable, the economy is going in a very different direction, especially in the tech industry, where it’s not uncommon to have a role open for a year before they can find a candidate that meets the criteria. So it might be that we’re at the right time, in the right place, with Poachable. Maybe back in the post-9/11 recession, Poachable might not have been as compelling of an idea as it seems to be today.

I asked Leung why Poachable is focused strictly on technology professionals, and he explained that’s where they wanted to start:

Our vision is that we think this could reinvent how people find jobs across any industry. But one of the lessons we’ve learned being in startups in the past, is you don’t want to boil the ocean right out of the gate. What you want to do is really nail one industry, and perfect the technology, and expand from there. So being in the tech industry, and personally having hired dozens of tech professionals and been in the job market myself over the years, it felt like a great place to start, with our network and our expertise. But our expectation is that we’ll be rolling out additional markets soon after we get the beachhead established with the tech professionals.

I asked Leung if it’s fair to say he has poached, and he has been poached. “Oh, yeah, for sure,” he said:

The biggest time I was poached was when I was at Google, and I got poached from Google by a different company called Marchex [a mobile and online advertising company], which was not very well known—a very small, publicly traded company. That was a big move for me, and I think it was helpful to Marchex, as well. And when I went to Marchex, I had to hire about 25 people in two years. In order to hire 25, I had to interview a few hundred, after having initial contact with maybe close to 1,000. So I knew the pain of a hiring manager trying to fill a team very well. If you just do job postings and hope that people are going to apply without you tapping them on the shoulder, it’s a hard road. Certain companies can do that—obviously, at Google, people line up to come to them, and their job is just a selection process. But I think most companies are in a different space, where they have to make an effort, and they have to make it easy for people to get their foot in the door and start that conversation. That’s what Poachable does.

So will there always be a place for sites like Monster and CareerBuilder, or is this model going to make that model obsolete? Leung said he thinks there will always be a place for the traditional job sites, particularly for entry-level roles:

But I think as you move up the food chain, and you go mid-career and higher, candidates start to have a lot more power. And their willingness to jump through hoops goes down quite significantly. So services like Poachable, where we try to make it really easy, and we try to make it very incremental and targeted, seem to really appeal to the most sought-after candidates.

Finally, I asked Leung if he was aware of any copycat sites that have popped up to try to replicate this model. He said there are a bunch of startups in the same general area:

If you Google “Tinder for recruiting,” there are probably a bunch of them. But I think there’s going to be one place where passive candidates do this sort of matchmaking, and I believe that’s going to be Poachable—this is going to be a “winner-take-most” market. So everybody’s racing very fast to get that critical mass. And I like our chances.

A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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