Shortlist stories

Announcing our $2 Million Series A

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I’m proud to announce today that Shortlist has raised $2 million from an incredible group of investors, led by our longtime partner Blue Haven Initiative, with participation from Compass Venture Capital, existing investor Zephyr Acorn, and several others. This funding will allow us build out our vision for how companies in Africa and India build their teams, grounded in the belief that potential and motivation matter more than a CV, and that both companies and job-seekers deserve better than the status quo.

Team Shortlist Kenya

Just as a tech wave has disrupted a range of other sectors, a digital transformation is changing the world of HR and recruiting. These are exciting times! But a lot of this innovation is missing something essential, and (nearly) all of it is built for markets other than ours.

These days, most of the sound bites about HR tech champion artificial intelligence and machine learning as the chief protagonists of the revolution. No doubt, a variety of companies are changing the lives of hiring managers by pulling information from CVs more efficiently, scraping keyword data from social networks like LinkedIn, and applying natural language processing to job descriptions. While impressive, this approach runs the risk of a classic “garbage in, garbage out” conundrum: job descriptions are often thoughtless cut-and-paste efforts, CVs are just retrospectives and miss potential, and LinkedIn keywords are self-reported and unvalidated — do we really think crunching all these is the best way for companies to find that perfect fit?

There’s an even bigger disconnect in emerging markets, where a burgeoning youth demographic is entering the workforce without elite university or corporate experience, without great CVs, without 1,000 connections on LinkedIn. There are more people entering the workforce in Africa alone in the next ten years than the rest of the world combined — yes, combined — and if we don’t find new ways to identify hidden talent, companies won’t be able to build the teams they need to succeed, and the youth bulge will have a hard time finding a steady job, let alone unlocking their potential.

Team Shortlist Mumbai

We’re building Shortlist to be a scalable way to collect signals that really matter, like demonstrated skills, interests, aspirations, work style preferences, and motivation — and use them to match the right jobseeker with the right company at the right time.

We’re deeply proud of the product that we’ve built, which makes it delightfully easy to customize a digital job application that gets to know candidates beyond just their past experience. We’re also humbled to be trusted by more than 300 clients and 400,000+ jobseekers. But we’re just getting started. There’s so much more we want to build to get to know candidates better — their passions, personalities, and potential — and to use that data to find them jobs they love. We’re already hard at work coming up with new ways to bring top talent into the Shortlist community, to get to know them with a mix of digital and offline experiences, and to organize that data for easy use by employers who are looking to hire not just faster and cheaper, but also better.

Team Shortlist Hyderabad

We believe in a future where every team is comprised of the best-fit professionals, the job application process is human, transparent, and fair, and professional potential is unlocked across Africa and India — and beyond! We’re so grateful to have a group of dedicated investors who believe in this future too, and are joining the adventure.

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Putting the “chat” in chatbot: Introducing our new features!

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At Shortlist, we want to make sure everyone has fun throughout the hiring process! We design human-centred products for our clients (employers) and candidates to help them enjoy the experience of recruiting and applying for jobs.

We’re excited to introduce our latest product — a new & improved candidate chatbot!

Candidates chat with a bot — that’s as sassy, funny, or straightforward as our clients want it to be — to share details about their background, skills, and experience. Shortlist configures the chat questions based on specific details employers need — no unnecessary questions, and no boring forms!

Today, we’re launching a more flexible and interactive chatbot that will enhance the recruitment process for both applicants and employers alike. Take a look at our latest features!

A more interactive application experience for candidates

Hundreds of thousands of candidates across Africa and India have applied to jobs on Shortlist, and we want them all to know that we’re on their side! We try to understand these candidates as people — what they love and hate about job applications, what aspects of the process stress them out the most, and what they’d love companies to do differently. (We also engage with candidates on several other exciting topics, but not all result in a new product build 😊).

We took all of this into account when creating our new chatbot. Here’s what candidates are most excited for:

Better communication: Candidates can preview a job application before they dive in, see how long they have before the deadline, and track the progress of their application.

Candidates track progress through the application and chat using an intuitive interface.

More human interactions: A WhatsApp-esque chat interface makes it more enjoyable for candidates to share details about their careers and interests.

Easier navigation: Unlike most structured forms, candidates can easily move through various stages of the application and come back to ones they want to complete later.

Friendly prompts help candidates understand what to do.

Clear instructions: Friendly prompts, cleaner drop-downs, and lots of messaging tell the candidates exactly what we’re looking for.

Flexibility: Candidates can answer questions in the format they are most comfortable with. For example, they can enter their salary in whichever currency and time period they’re comfortable they’d like.

More flexibility and customization for employers

Hiring managers — what if you could automate every question you ask an applicant during an initial phone screen? That’s essentially what our chatbot does for you! It takes in the key information you would ask to gauge if the candidate is a fit for your role. Here are the features that allow us to replicate the experience of a phone screen, at scale!

Employers only include questions they need.

More flexibility with the question flow: With our customizable chat, you make sure you’re only asking relevant questions. Depending on a candidate’s response, you can branch to a different set of follow-up questions.

Automated screening: Exclude candidates that don’t meet basic criteria early in the process, just like you would not continue with a phone screen if the candidate didn’t possess a “must-have” skill.

‘Boost’ candidate scores on core requirements. Branch to different sections based on a candidate’s response.

Automated scoring: Give different weight to questions you care the most about. For example, if your ideal candidate has 4–6 years of experience building financial models, you can “boost” responses to the question, and it will reflect in the candidate scoresheet.

Structured data: Responses to chatbot questions live in set columns in our database. If a candidate has answered a question for one of your applications, they don’t need to again.

See for yourself!

We’d be delighted to show you around our new chatbot — email us at for a demo.

We’re excited about making the hiring process as fun and stress-free as we possibly can and there’s so much more we’re working on to achieve this. Stay tuned!

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Shortlist’s Favourite Reads of 2018

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2018 — what a year!

We certainly had a lot of fun building cool products, going above and beyond for our clients, and engaging with hundreds of inspirational jobseekers last year. We also grew as a team, adding 27 new Shortlisters (and 3 Shortlist babies!) to the family. We even found the time to brainstorm and make a crucial addition to the Shortlist values.

But when we weren’t at work, we spent time refreshing our knowledge and discussing the latest trends across startups, talent, technology, and beyond! Without further ado, here’s what we loved reading last year (and why):

Paul Breloff (Co-founder & CEO of Shortlist and self-proclaimed bookworm):

The Culture Code — Probably the book that has had the most significant impact on how Shortlist thinks about teams and culture, and inspiration to this blog. It’s particularly exciting when a book can break through the noise and provide a compelling answer to a simple, huge question like, “why are some teams great, and others aren’t?” Daniel Coyle goes through the steps leaders can follow to build great environments that enable teams to thrive — as well as highlighting some of the common ways leaders and their teams muck things up.

The Fifth Risk — In case anyone needs any additional reasons to believe that the current US political situation is dangerously crazy, this book helps you understand why the apparatus of the US government is actually really important, beyond the politics, for things we really should all care about. Only Michael Lewis can make big bureaucracy fascinating and scary and a page-turner…

The Overstory — Will never look at a tree the same way again. A big-ish book but fundamentally changed how I look at nature, the delicate balance of our ecosystems and globe, and the philosophy-beyond-pragmatism import of caring about life forms even if they move slowly and don’t show signs of sentience.

Bad Blood — I definitely wanted more from this Theranos blow-by-blow, like a little bit more “what does this all mean, how can things get better” — but it still delivered a gripping page-turner of “How on earth did none of these adults stop this?!



Ariane Fisher (Managing Director — East Africa and one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs!)

Becoming — My favorite book of the year. Michelle Obama’s story is vulnerable, honest, and filled with insight on how to build a life of meaning.

Barbarians at the Gate — The incredible page-turner tells the story of the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. It’s the ultimate story of greed, backstabbing, and corporate intrigue.

Educated— Tara Westover’s thought-provoking and moving memoir of growing up in a survivalist family in rural Idaho is at its core a story about the meaning and value of education.



Mridvika Raisinghani (Managing Director — India, saleswoman extraordinaire, and supermom to adorable 6-year old twins who are taking Mumbai’s junior chess circuit by storm)

Built to Sell — Some interesting sales anecdotes and perspective (e.g., don’t hire fancy country clubbers; hire 2 sales people at once and get them to compete), but packed with lessons far beyond sales and marketing alone.

Zero to One — A quick and fascinating read for any startup enthusiast capturing Thiel’s lessons from founding PayPal to becoming one of Silicon Valley’s most successful investors.

The Difficulty of Being Good — Gurcharan Das uses the 2000-year old Indian epic, the Mahabharata, to describe the failings and virtues of its major characters and how they relate to the ethical and moral dilemmas that we face in today’s complex world.




Rhea Mehta (Director of Assessments at Shortlist and mother to one of the three Shortlist babies born in 2018!)

[Podcast] The Sorting Hat — This episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain plays out the Harry Potter analogy to expose the risks of using personality tests to screen candidates for jobs.

Babyhood — A parenting classic on developmental psychology (and an engaging respite from reading about pureed foods, sleep, and diapers). Penelope Leach addresses how our minds develop and helps us understand why people behave the way they do.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go — This upbeat and easy to read Dr. Seuss classic, written for children aged 1–100, is one of the few books I consistently read to my daughter. It’s always fun to revisit Dr. Seuss’ lyrical adaptation of life’s profound truths — “You have brains in your head, You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose!’




Pranay Merchant (That’s me! Manager — Strategic Initiatives, recruitment geek, and startup and tech enthusiast)

The Hard Thing About Hard Things — My companion on a visit to the sunny beaches of Varkala, Ben Horowitz’s practical guide on how to navigate every hairy problem you can possibly encounter while building a startup is a must-read for every startup employee or wantrapreneur! Don’t be startled by the occasional hip-hop song lyric or liberal use of profanity.

Mindset — Stanford professor Carol Dweck distills decades of research on success in school, work, sports, and nearly every field of human achievement into a simple yet groundbreaking idea: people that think their abilities are unchanging — or those with a fixed mindset — are far less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset (the belief that one’s abilities can be developed through effort and embracing failure.

How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You) — Fascinating long-form article from one of my favourite blogs, Wait But Why. In classic Tim Urban fashion, this piece breaks down a large and consequential question into a digestible framework for how to pick a career that reflects “who you are, what you want, and what our rapidly changing career landscape looks like today”.

[Podcast] Talent, Tech Trends, and Culture — No prizes for guessing why this episode of the Andreessen Horowitz podcast makes my list. 🙂




Over to you… What were some of YOUR favourite books or blogs from last year? Let us know in the comments!

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How I “Unlearned” to Recruit

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Musings from my first six months at Shortlist

As a hardcore recruiter from the recruitment consulting industry, the last six months have been a journey of unlearning what I knew (or what I assumed I knew 😉) regarding hiring, and learning the way recruitment should really happen. I switched my job a little over six months ago to join Shortlist’s Mumbai office, where tech-powered recruitment is our core business.

Shortlist envisions to help all companies build happy, high-performing teams. Our mission for the other businesses (Executive Search, HR Advisory, Training, Campus Placements, and other exciting ideas) are in sync with that of the core business — to ‘unlock professional potential’.

So how has my thinking shifted in the last six months at Shortlist?

Crunched for time? Here’s a bulleted summary of key takeaways from this article, though you will probably miss my key learnings.

– Digitizing candidate data collection is a life-saver for recruiters

– A sustainable hiring strategy is built on a structured recruitment process

– Search approach based on potential rather than pedigree is a catalyst for effective hiring

– Employer branding works like a charm

Digitizing candidate data collection is a life-saver for recruiters

At Shortlist, we create chatbot questions to collect data on candidates. This data automates prioritization and screening of job seekers. Of course, traditionally I have done this manually by going through every resume and cover letter. Like most recruiters, right after hearing, ‘Go, get them!’, I would start calling job seekers. Frustrations would go through the roof if, after all my efforts, the candidate wouldn’t be interested in the job or wasn’t looking for a change at all. My stress levels were at an all-time high, given the unimaginable man hours I was putting into it.

The most awkward and tricky information to collect (which actually matters most to employers in the Indian job market) is salary expectations and the notice period of job seekers. On most occasions, where I was not able to predict a candidate’s earnings, getting this information meant calling up a stranger and asking upfront about their earnings. Our automated chatbots get all this information upfront. Transactional stuff out of the way, I can focus on what truly matters.

Our technology allows job seekers to submit virtual interviews in the form of audio and video responses, and we also offer a proprietary personality test, which job seekers can take for free. This means personality and communication criteria can be assessed by employers before meeting the job seeker.

Key learnings: Put technology to work for you. The basic information can actually be collected and measured before the interview stage.

A sustainable hiring strategy is built on a structured recruitment process

Organizations grow. Even the best places to work on the planet prepare for attrition. Companies will always need to hire. We know this at Shortlist. And so, we work with employers as thought partners, not just for account management but to strategize the entire recruitment process, right from the birth of vacancies till successful joinings. This includes writing job descriptions for companies, setting up a bias-free search strategy, creating multimedia job description pages and competency-based assessments, and sourcing applicants.

When the right match has been found for a particular job, the first job-pitch call of a talent acquisition professional can make-or-break the deal. In my personal experience, on calls, I have struggled with which points to talk about and questions to ask. Historically, I have ended up talking to job seekers about what’s already on their resume and have sometimes been driven into extremely long calls. A typical call between a recruiter and job seeker has each of them narrating stuff off of a good resume. The only difference being, a recruiter is framing the resume content as a series of questions and the job seeker is answering in the affirmative.

The human touch of the Shortlist process has us connect with job seekers at the end of the on-platform application. Here too, we have a fixed set of validation questions that we ask everyone in the same order, but they go far beyond the resume and instead probe into motivation and fit. We condense our chats in exciting briefs shared with employers on our Talent Gallery, for each of the shortlisted job seekers.

Job seeker care (Candidate Support as we love to refer to it in the Indian context) ensures that when someone applies for a role, we are there to assist because we understand that job applications make even the best of us nervous at times. As a recruiter, I have been at the supply end to black hole job boards for some of the popular life insurance companies. I take solace in knowing the fact that all applicant tracking systems have a subscription lifespan. Serendipitously, I might just cross paths with the hiring managers to tell them about Shortlist.😊

An integral part of our process includes closures with all job seekers who have been rejected during the screening stage.

Key learnings: Think long term. Structure wins. #Candidatelove matters.

Search approach based on potential rather than pedigree is a catalyst for effective hiring

When there is no other metric to consider beyond experience, education, duration of employment and work gap, and other (irrelevant?) personal data points, companies and recruiters do not know what criteria to look for and where. This scenario is often described as the talent shortage problem of our time. Here’s our take on each of these metrics:

Experience — At Shortlist, we study career paths and have created our proprietary salary benchmarking tool. We believe that skills matter more than experience — for example, a UI/UX designer or a data analyst can often step up as a Product Manager. To create job applications that can identify candidates with the key skills, we dive into our treasure trove of functional assessments, created and curated by our product managers and instructional designers in association with industry experts and include them in our job application flows. Performance on assessments guides us in making a judgement, whether applicants have become irrelevant and might not be a right fit, even though they have the on-paper experience.

Education — No doubt premier institutional education makes a candidate a great hire. However, on-job-performance might have no correlation to educational background.

Work gap and career shift — We like job seekers whether they are currently employed or not. Trying to keep millennials engaged at work is a herculean task. We have come to accept that our forefathers were much more patient about spending decades at a single company.

Age, race — Our process doesn’t screen for age or race, nor should ANY process! We work with and prefer job seekers who approach the application process with a growth mindset and prudence.

Key learnings: There are always enough people. As a recruiter, I can level the playing field.

Employer branding works like a charm

Impersonal searches have long bugged the industry. A key role of a recruiter is to motivate job seekers to apply to a company. Prior to joining Shortlist, I believed in withholding the name of my clients during my search. Communicating my client’s brand across was difficult on call or by email. It was difficult to even prompt the reply of job seekers with a copy of their updated resume with email templates consisting only of the job description and company website.

Shortlist has gone the human resources business partner way for companies. We are committed to telling job seekers upfront about the company and the role. Our multimedia job descriptions have been able to convey the employer’s brand across; at least the essence of it. This, in turn, has generated interest even from passive job seekers. We invest time, money and efforts not only in going where job seekers are but also in taking the employer’s brand along. This means job seekers aren’t ghosted anymore with promises of having applied to an esteemed client that cannot be named.

With our proprietary database and curated talent hot lists, we are building focused talent communities that are driven to your brand as your business grows.

Key learnings: Investing in employer branding can make hiring easier on many levels.

Happy recruiting!

One Team: A Fifth Shortlist Value Enters the World

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By Paul Breloff, Simon Desjardins & Matt Schnuck

Our Kenya team, happy about our fifth value (or so we choose to believe).

A year ago, we wrote a blog about how Shortlist defined our values. It’s been fun to see the engagement with that blog, which has interestingly been our most popular one ever. We interpret this to mean that people really like stories about team culture & values — or people just happened to be Googling the term “swashbuckle” and stumbled on us.

So we thought we’d share an exciting development: We’ve added to our values!

Values, and the culture they help define, are living breathing things. Just as our team continues to grow, expand, change, move around… well, we wanted to create some space to revisit some of our basic building blocks and see if they’re keeping up.

And when we considered that, we decided: mostly, yes… but they were missing something.

Specifically, we wanted to call out the importance of team and collaboration a little more directly. We loved our existing values — but with a critical eye, we realized they came across as more individualistic than we’d like.. Own it; Act with intention; Find the adventure; Be a whole person. These are all things you can do just as well on your own, with or without a team.

In the time since we defined our values, we’ve seen how crucial it is to us to emphasize a team-centric spirit. We strive for the “we” rather than “I” in most things. We want people to act and believe that when the team wins, each individual wins.

This was brought home for us when we acquired Spire last year. While we brought the legal entities and office space together, we went through a parallel process of merging our team cultures and work-styles (see below white board). We realized how the values of both teams were more similar than different, and as a team we connected each team’s distinct values to a set of shared underlying principles and behaviors we could all get behind. With one exception: one of Spire’s value was “Generosity,” which was reinforced through mantras like “feedback is a gift” and practices like gratuitous fist bumping, which represented a generous burst of personal connection amidst otherwise busy days and personal agendas. We really liked that, and we wanted a little bit of that in our global Shortlist culture.

Epic work session merging Shortlist and Spire values…

To make the change, we learned a little bit from our last process: we made sure we pulled ideas from everyone, but ultimately took it upon ourselves as co-founders to define the actual words. We held three brainstorms across our offices in Nairobi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, collecting examples of what great team moments look like, what behaviors embody the teammates we want to be, and what sort of practices we want to avoid. We also collected different phrases or words or ideas that were particularly resonant for the team, and got lots of great ideas.

One of the brainstorms about being a great (and less great) team…

Then, the three of us co-founders combined individual journaling and co-drafting (hey, it worked last time!) to come up with the “new value.” We went back and forth, discussing what different words and phrases meant to us, and what behaviors we most wanted to enshrine and discourage. Ultimately we settled on the following:

One team. Teammates come first. Mood is infectious. Listen loudly. Feedback is a gift. “We” instead of “I”. When the team wins, we all win.

This captures so many different meanings for us. The idea that we’re “one team,” united by a vision, mission, and passion for unlocking professional potential, despite a variety of backgrounds, offices spanning three locations on two continents, and the dozens of individual life trajectories that have converged on the shared Shortlist adventure. These ideas orient us towards the credit-sharing “we” and away from the credit-hoarding “I.” They remind us that in our company (which we try to keep as flat and nonpolitical as possible), the best way to win individually is to help the team win. And they encourage us to think about feedback not as a critique, but as a gift from your colleague, who is giving it in the hopes of mutual growth.

Will this be the last change we make? Who knows, but probably not! But that’s all part of the adventure.

P.S. Curious to see the whole set of values? Search no more!

Own it. Be your best, even when no one is looking. High standards are contagious. Generate discipline. Drive for results. See the needful and do it.

Act with intention. Do the work to get clear. Buck convention. Big goals start with small steps; step with purpose.

Find the adventure. Changing the world should be fun. Inject romance into the everyday. Be bold. Dream loud. Swashbuckle.

Be a whole person. We’re more than our work. Seek balance and health. Learn from differences. Unlock your potential.

One team. Teammates come first. Mood is infectious. Listen loudly. Feedback is a gift. “We” instead of “I”. When the team wins, we all win.