What we learned from an evening with a bunch of Mumbai jobseekers

1200 859 Shortlist

On a rainy Friday evening in Mumbai, we got together with over 30 outstanding professionals and jobseekers so they could learn more about Shortlist and we could get to know them! Despite the gloomy night, the conversations that ensued over hot chai and pizza were both bright and enlightening.

Here’s what we learned:

Candidates want the freedom to switch careers

Many attendees from a variety of industries and job roles expressed their willingness — nay, desire — to switch careers to something more meaningful or exciting. Some of them had even invested their time and money into acquiring skills like mobile app development or project management, hoping it might help them in making these non-linear career moves. We were particularly inspired by a candidate who mentioned wanting to take up an internship in digital marketing to get his foot in the door and work his way up after putting in 10 years in a totally unrelated industry!

We love to hear that professionals want to challenge the status quo and fulfill their potential in a career they’re excited about. Unfortunately, candidates explained that employers they’ve spoken to often don’t see things the same way. Firms like to hire ‘low-risk’ candidates and therefore tend to hire based on industry experience in an effort to ensure job fit and increased retention.

Ever thought of switching careers but don’t know where to begin?

The main thing you can do is highlight transferrable skills you’ve developed in your current job. Maybe your career in software sales made you great at persuasively explaining complex concepts, which you could translate into a communications role. Perhaps in your operations role you really excelled in hiring and developing trainee colleagues, and that’s how you could shine in a people operations role. Get creative, keep thinking about the root traits that underlie success in each required job responsibility, and make sure to communicate this when appealing to potential employers.

Add in some research and lots of networking (online and offline), and you’re well on your way to landing that new dream job. It won’t happen overnight, but persistence and curiosity are your allies when switching career types and industries.

Brr — “Job boards feel cold”

We learned so much about where and how candidates are looking for jobs in India today. While Naukri, Linkedin, IIMJobs, and other job boards are still undoubtedly the most convenient places to find and apply to a high volume of jobs quickly, our candidates felt it was easy to get lost in the crowd — with hundreds or sometimes even thousands of applicants for a single position.

Issues they expressed included frustration over shooting resumes into a black hole and never hearing back about their application status (or whether their application had even been received by the employer!!) and receiving incessant emails about jobs that weren’t relevant to the interests they had specified after signing up. Contrastingly, they seemed to really appreciate the few times that companies had invested in warmer, more humanizing hiring processes.

Employers take note!

Shortlist has found that the desire for a more tailored hiring experience is a global trend. Check out our takeaways from a similar candidate event we hosted in Nairobi — from Kenya to India, candidates want employers and job boards to recognize that behind every CV is a real human, and every application represents an individual who is trying to further their career.

Hearing this loud and clear was an excellent reminder for us to continue prioritizing candidate care and being there for applicants every step of the way.

Today’s jobseekers want to be able to highlight their strengths on their applications

Another issue that candidates had while applying to jobs was figuring out how to put their best foot forward. They wondered how they could differentiate themselves from other applicants on a 1 or 2 page CV despite being advised (just like everyone else) to optimize for certain keywords employers would look for. Many candidates were surprised to learn that the average amount of time an employer spends on a CV is 8 seconds — very little time to highlight your key strengths!

On the other hand, our attendees felt far more confident in their applications when they actually had to put some skin in the game and showcase their skills on simulations and assessments that mirrored a day in the life of the job they were applying to.

What to do?

While we can’t change how other companies run their application processes, this reinforced for us that even though applying for a job through Shortlist takes a considerable time investment, most candidates are happy for a chance to show what they can do.

While we’re biased towards our platform (check out open jobs and start an application here!) other cool platforms that let you highlight your strengths and be objectively assessed as part of your job application include HackerRank and Aspiring Minds.

We hear you!

At Shortlist, we’re constantly trying to get to know and understand the experience of professionals in today’s job market so we can better respond to their needs and curate resources that will help them in their job searches (be on the lookout for more candidate resources soon!). Every time we get a chance to meet with candidates in person, we’re reenergized in our mission to level the job search playing field and help candidates highlight their ability to do the job to potential employers.

Do you have any other comments, qualms or observations about being a jobseeker in India?

How and where are you currently applying to jobs?

How are you currently exploring career opportunities — articles, blogs, networking groups?

What would you like to see in terms of coaching and mentoring opportunities?

How can we better support candidates as they apply to jobs, whether on Shortlist or not?

Let us know what works and what doesn’t in the comments!

To start an application, check out openings on our platform at

For more ideas, resources, and updates from Shortlist, be sure to follow us on Twitter, Medium, and Facebook (where we post new job alerts on our feed!).


Welcome to the Jungle

1200 900 Paul Breloff
Mridvika and I at our baby booth on the main drag.

A wise man once said that big conferences have a lot in common with zoos — many different species, all out of their natural habitats, perched awkwardly and confronted with a whole lot of sizing up. My colleague Mridvika and I just attended the annual People Matters TechHR Conference in New Delhi, and it was a zoo in the best possible way. Boy was it fun to see all the animals!

We were there as one of about 20 “Spotlight Startup” participants, which entitled us to a 1-meter frontage with logo on the main drag between the entry staircase and main hall. That meant lots of traffic, lots of people wandering by, and lots of people for us to accost with endless variations of our elevator pitch: “Hi, we’re Shortlist, we’re an all-in-one platform to manage top-of-funnel screening…” and “Hi, we’re Shortlist, we build customized digital application flows to assess candidate quality beyond the CV…” and “Hi we’re Shortlist, wanna go get a beer?” (In the unofficial test we conducted, this last pitch was the most popular.)

As I type this, delirious from a couple of intense days, a few salient impressions are crystallizing:

1. Buzzwords in search of a problem: Like my previous field of fintech, there were lots of acronyms on display. ATSes and CRMs and HRISes and HRMSes for sure, but also lots of “modifier” acronyms like ML and AI and a little bit of AR/VR. In fact, there was even an acronym that meant two different things: NLP meant both “natural language processing” and “neuro-linguistic programming” at TechHR! Everything was “integrated,” everything was “real-time” and “omni-channel” and “mobile-social” and the rest.

This gave a heady futuristic feel to everything, but I couldn’t help but feel that the buzzword arms race was sometimes more about showing off shiny new toys than a genuine breakthrough (yet) in how we can get, keep, and develop the best people.

2. Don’t forget the human touch: On a related point, with all the focus on tech, one can get the feel that we’re just around the corner from an all-digital future in which we’ll never have to actually talk to a human being as we hire. At the same time, several insightful panelists and folks we met emphasized their belief that human touch is still central and essential to getting people equations right. Yes, there’s room for automation and tech, but there are still some parts of the recruitment and on-boarding and training and cultivating process that can and should be done live and in person. For businesses like ours, success may depend on getting that critical balance right.

3. Focus on the how, not the what: When looking at the “forest” of HR tech in India, I noticed that a lot of the “trees” appear quite similar on the surface. There were a number of different recruitment tech businesses out there, most with subtle differences in pitch and product, but usually boiling down to some version of automated searching and matching using lots of data. I was reminded of the Thai t-shirt hawker on Khao San Road with the insistent “Same same but different” trill (if you’ve ever back-packed in Thailand, you know what I’m talking about).

But I am ever more confident that what will separate the winners from the non-winners will be the “how” of getting results, not the “what” of the summary pitch; it will be the execution, not the idea. Ultimately, some of these new approaches will work, some won’t, and the difference will likely be found in how each company shows up every day to deliver big value for its users.

Giving a rapid-fire pitch to the mentors/judges. Good questions ensued.

4. The jobs of the future are here: There was a lot of talk of the number of jobs that are in demand today that didn’t exist 10 years ago: Data scientists, UX designers, 3D printing engineers, AI architects, etc. There’s a recognition that hiring this talent is critical to get right as companies grow, as well as a recognition of the often thin talent pools for these positions. Training programs like those offered at Udacity and UpGrad, which teach these new skills, will become ever more important until traditional school curriculums catch up. Employers will also need to find new ways to evaluate these skills in absence of traditional markers like grades in the major.

5. Passion for talent & people ops: Perhaps my biggest and most exciting takeaway was: People love this stuff! In years past I’ve heard HR referred to as a backwater, an administrative more than strategic function within corporate hierarchies. Not at TechHR! I met so many thoughtful, visionary, brilliant folks who are truly engaged and passionate about finding better ways to find, recruit, train, retain, and unlock human capital at their orgs.

It was a terrific event for us to attend, particularly as relative newcomers to the HR tech space. Big thanks to Ester Martinez and the entire People Matters team for putting on a great show!

What are the other must-attend HR and tech conferences that we should make it to — in India and beyond? Let me know in the comments!

paradox of choice

When Deciding Is Hard: The Modern Recruiter’s Paradox of Choice

1200 900 Paul Breloff

When Barry Schwartz first wrote and spoke about the “paradox of choice” in the early 2000s, he was grappling with the cute problems of an analog world, like how to sort through the varieties of jeans at a Gap, or how to choose among the bottles of olive oil at a supermarket. I wonder what he makes of our modern digital cornucopia of options and decisions, of all the choices beamed directly to our computer screens available for one-touch purchase. If he thought he had it tough then…

What is the paradox of choice?

Quick reminder: Schwartz’s idea is that, paradoxically, more choice is often worse for us, not better. It seems counter-intuitive — we like to be in control, we like it our way, right away, so the more options the better, right? Wrong.

Research continues to show that beyond some minimum threshold of optionality, more choice leads to trouble in three ways:

  1. Too much choice leads to paralysis, not liberation, as we try in vain to sort through options and make the “best” decision
  2. Too much choice leaves us less satisfied with our decision (when we can actually make one) because we’re confronted with a bewildering array of opportunity costs in the paths-not-taken
  3. Too much choice sometimes even leads us to make objectively worse decisions, because our brains grasp onto faulty heuristics to guide us through the data and variables.

The reality is, deciding is hard! Deciding requires cognitive effort, of which we have limited reserves. Ask Barack Obama, who as President of the United States was charged with making hundreds of critical decisions every day, and wisely found ways to reduce non-essential decision-making to a bare minimum. As he told Michael Lewis, he limited sartorial hemming and hawing to preserve energy: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits…I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

How does the paradox of choice effect recruiting?

So, imagine the double-edged sword of the modern recruitment marketplace. Job boards and social media have succeeded in aggregating jobs and job-seekers so that candidates are inundated with hundreds of what-might-have-beens and the-grass-might-be-greeners. And now, employers can often generate candidate pools into the thousands. The thousands! For a split second, this could sound like a recruiter’s utopia — and then the paradox of choice is front and center. The reality of stacks and stacks of CVs sinks in and we’re reminded of the scientific reality that this will almost certainly lead to a sense of paralysis, dissatisfaction, and poor decision-making.

Sure, you say, reviewing a thousand resumes would suck and might lead to a creeping dissatisfaction with whomever one ends up choosing. But does this proliferation of options actually lead to worse decisions?

More decisions = worse decisions

I’d argue yes, in most cases. When a recruiter or hiring manager is confronted with a thousand resumes, she or he must figure out a quick way to make sense of the pile, a strategy to quickly screen. Unfortunately, the most common strategy to triage a stack of resumes is to look for markers of familiarity, a thought process that sounds like, “Do I recognize the school names, do I recognize the company names, does this person seem like ‘us’?” Unfortunately, biases of this sort (which are often operating implicitly, not consciously) lead us to enshrine pedigree over ability and entrenches like-hiring-like, rather than diversity.

What can you do to simplify hiring choices?

At Shortlist, we’re hoping that our automated approach to screening big candidate pools will remove a large part of the bias creep and decision fatigue that hiring managers face as they grapple with the paradox of choice. Here are a few simple steps to reduce the number of choices you face on a daily basis, and improve your satisfaction with those decisions:

1. Establish upfront screening filters

For most positions, there are certain factors that are necessary to function in the role — things like speaking a local language, having a certain salary range or being willing to relocate. By pinpointing and filtering for these basic must-haves, you significantly cut down on your number of options to consider for a role, and save yourself the time of getting to know a candidate who ultimately couldn’t accept an offer or succeed on the job. We use an automated chatbot that asks candidates questions regarding basic fit (location, salary range, etc.). If they don’t fit the must-haves, we don’t advance them through to the next round.

2. Use competency-based assessments to identify top performers

Whenever possible, test applicants with competency-based assessments or case studies instead of relying on CVs and unstructured interviews to make hiring decisions. Generating data points on performance will help you objectively rank a long list of candidates and ease the stress of making choices.

3. Present decision-makers with essential information only

Whether you’re a recruiter sharing a list of candidates with a client, or a talent acquisition head who needs the hiring manager to make a decision, chances are at some point in the recruiting process you will be sharing information on candidates with others. Think about how much information you need to share on each candidate to help them make smart decisions without the stress. At Shortlist, rather than include every one of the hundreds of data points we collect on candidates, we share the important stuff while holding enough back to create a subtle sense of “magic” when the candidate who shows up for an interview is just right.

This article originally ran on People Matters.

Human Capital: The Other Capital in Impact Investing

1400 929 Paul Breloff

Why Human Capital May Matter More than Money, and What Investors Can Do About It

human capital

Impact investing, in the words of Mugatu, is “so hot right now.” More than $15 billion a year is flowing into impact investment, fueled by a growing appreciation for the ways business and market-based mechanisms can drive positive change in the world. This is great news! I’ve been working in the social enterprise world for more than a decade, from my early days as a wannabe begging for an unpaid internship in India, through stints at a fast-growing microfinance institution and a seed impact fund, and now co-founder of a social enterprise of my own. But money is not enough for impact businesses to succeed; they desperately need an answer to their human capital challenges to unlock their world-changing potential.

As an investor, I saw firsthand how deeply companies struggle to recruit and retain the best talent, cultivate senior leaders and define the right culture and values. This cross-cutting challenge is not confined to one sector, and deserves much broader attention and action, in a similar way that multiple sectors unified and rallied around impact investing over a decade ago.

There is definitely some great work underway in worlds beyond impact investment, with myriad funders, nonprofits and even companies dedicated to human capital issues around the world. Firms specialize in delivering leadership training, running fellowship programs as social enterprise on-ramps, providing all varieties of up-skilling to in-market talent, and promoting talent management best practices. But while impact investors have at times mobilized around cross-cutting ecosystem factors like capital markets, regulatory frameworks and distribution infrastructure (which is great!), most relegate talent topics to side conversations and suppose portfolio companies will figure it out on their own.

I hope impact investors can start to understand the many ways that human capital issues are worthy of more attention, lest all this money flowing into the space will not be leveraged to its fullest potential.

Why does human capital matter?

How do we dimension this human capital problem, and why should the impact investing world care?

Bottleneck to growth and impact

Entrepreneurs and managers consistently cite variations on “not finding the right people” as one of the biggest challenges and constraints to scale, ranked on par with or sometimes even higher than funding. One study recently found that once they’ve raised capital, 75 percent of early-stage entrepreneurs believe that the inability to attract and retain talent is a critical impediment to scaling. McKinsey has found that over half of companies the world over cannot find qualified candidates for entry-level roles. During my time at Accion Venture Lab, we surveyed 35 financial inclusion CEOs around the world and found that talent was the top issue facing their organizations and the single most important issue to them personally (above funding).

For companies, vacant positions stall growth and cause quarterly targets to slip. Making the wrong hire can be even more costly than none at all, given the amount of time and money invested in new employees. A recent global study found that 69 percent of employers reported that a bad hiring decision put a strain on their company, and other data reveals that up to 50 percent of hiring decisions were considered a mistake. Even further, if a company can’t effectively develop its team, the failure of employees to realize their potential directly impedes the company’s growth and impact potential.

Fixing a rigged opportunity marketplace

Beyond measures of enterprise-level underperformance, impact investors should care about fostering more fair and transparent job marketplaces as ends in themselves. More than just income, work for most people shapes identity, self-worth and personal fulfillment.

Unfortunately, today’s labor marketplace is rigged. Job opportunities are determined far more often by factors like pedigree, connections and bias than genuine ability and merit. Researchers from the University of Chicago and MIT have found that white-sounding names had a 50 percent better chance of being called for an interview than African-American sounding names, and similar biases exist globally around race, gender, religion and more. Further, in emerging markets, where access to opportunity is more often determined by “birth lottery” (the initial conditions into which someone is born) than ability, mindset and hard work, impact businesses need a better way to identify competencies and match talent to opportunity. We need to shift the recruiting paradigm from pedigree to potential.

This isn’t charity, it’s just about leveling the playing field and giving talented people the chance to be considered for life-changing opportunities on the basis of what matters, rather than what doesn’t.

Why is human capital being under-supported by impact investors?

If focusing on talent is such a big opportunity, why wouldn’t impact investors be all over this? How can we account for this apparent “impact market failure”? Without belaboring the point, there are a few issues that might explain the minimal attention:

· No owner: Most funders are issue- or sector-specific, and because human capital doesn’t “belong” to a single sector, it often slips through the cracks.

· No comfort zone: When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail — and at present, most impact investors come from financial backgrounds and are more comfortable talking money than people.

· No easy answers: Human capital is a many-headed beast, implicating structural issues like local education systems and globalization; individual differences in personality, circumstances and abilities; firm-level differences in organizational context and culture; and so on. It touches everything and resists easy fixes.

· No success stories: Most sectors become “a sector” when a successful new model shows potential. Microfinance’s rise gave birth to “financial inclusion” and solar pioneers gave birth to “access to energy” as fields with dedicated funding pools, in-depth research and dedicated convenings. There haven’t been human capital posterchildren yet, but I’m hoping the rise of impact-oriented talent players like RippleWorks, Omidyar Network’s human capital team, African Leadership Network, Spire, African Management Initiative, and my company Shortlist can start to change that.

· No convening body: Financial inclusion has CGAP (and others), solar lighting has GOGLA, cookstoves has the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves — and, of course, impact investing has the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN). Unfortunately, the GIIN of human capital just hasn’t been created yet.

What can we do about it?

I hope more funders start to recognize the critical importance of human capital as the foundation for the success of the impact enterprises and initiatives we’re all supporting. A number of groups have started doing research and a small but growing body of literature is emerging on talent and human capital. But we need more to further diagnose the problem, understand the ecosystem, contextualize issues and ideas to local markets, and make recommendations for action (at both an ecosystem and firm level).

We also need more pioneering investors to see this as an area of great opportunity. Omidyar Network has been a leader here, setting up an in-house “human capital” team to help their investees attract, develop and retain top talent — but I’m not aware of other impact investors who have shown such commitment. Organizations like Argidius Foundation, Blue Haven Initiative and AHL Venture Partners (all funders of ours) have made human capital a focus area, but they are the exceptions (unless the broad bucket of “education” or “edtech” counts). At Shortlist, we just went through a fundraising process and heard a similar refrain from many impact investors: “Human capital is not within scope or is not a mandate fit,” or “human capital only counts as ‘impact’ if focused on people making less than $2 a day.” I’m hoping more investors and funders start to see this as an important issue with the promise of system-level impact, up and down the salary scale.

Even for investors who don’t start investing in human capital companies, I hope they can focus more actively on human capital issues within portfolio companies. When making an investment, go deeper than assessing the co-founder biographies: Spend time understanding the organizational structure, staffing plans, recruitment strategies, training programs and the company’s values. I’ve seen impact investors spend weeks digging through financial models, formation documents and board minutes, but not ask a single question about the culture and sub-C-suite team. If investors cared more about people, so would entrepreneurs — you can help entrepreneurs prioritize people just by asking about them.

We also have an opportunity to learn from mainstream global trends around the future of work and the evolving higher education landscape. It’s a heady time with many calling for the unbundling and disruption of higher education, the digitization of economic opportunity, and new tools to help companies find, recruit, manage and train talent. Let’s learn from the best and bring these new practices and technologies into our markets and investments.

Finally, let’s turn this into a sector, shall we? I, for one, would love to see a dedicated resource center focused on “talent for impact” that could bring together the best research, resources, brains and energy around the world to help impact investors and social enterprises alike. That’s a conference I’d show up for, and bring my friends.

This article originally ran on NextBillion.

Related: To Be or Not To Be (a Social Enterprise)

We met 50 jobseekers in Nairobi — here’s what we learned

2000 1389 Olivia Wold

In late March, we had the chance to get to know an impressive group of professionals at our Nairobi office.

We wanted to meet some of our all-star applicants face-to-face and pick their brains about job seeking in Kenya, and also give them the chance to ask us questions and learn more about the Shortlist process.

The candidates — all experienced professionals in marketing, operations, finance, supply chain, sales, HR, IT and more — blew us away with their enthusiasm and commitment to unlocking their professional potential. Here are four of our team’s takeaways from these conversations:

1. Candidates are hungry to find their dream jobs

Each of the candidate attendees brought so much enthusiasm to the space. In fact, they were so excited to talk about their careers and job searches that they even came to hang out with us on a Friday night!

Candidates who are currently job-seeking are really the experts on what’s working and what’s not, and we appreciated their eagerness to give feedback. For example, in a discussion about job boards, we learned that some that we thought were popular weren’t so user-friendly, and we got tips on new ones (like Jobs in Kenya, UN Jobs Lists, Career Solutions and Impact Pool) to check out. Do you have other job boards to recommend? Let us know in the comments!

2. Candidates know what they want — but not where to get it

In small group sessions, we got to hear about the job search resources that candidates would love to have (and were willing to pay for), but don’t know how to find. Some of their ideas included:

  • Live chat with a career coach
  • Have an expert review and edit their CV (especially to cut it down from four or five pages to one!)
  • Get help with interview preparation, for example, receiving a list of common interview questions for a specific sector or job type
  • Take a test that tells jobseekers what positions they’re best qualified or suited for
  • Learn to develop an “elevator pitch” or cover letter that makes a powerful, positive impression on employers

This was definitely food for thought for us, as we strive to support both the candidate and employer throughout the sourcing and screening stages and beyond. We’re still in the process of developing our offerings for candidates, but if you know of any similar services or resources, let us know in the comments!

3. Recruiters should remember the Golden Rule

The job search can be a time consuming, disappointing and seemingly never-ending experience. Taking the extra effort to treat others the way you would want to be treated (with respect and fairness) would make everyone’s lives better during this process.

Many candidates expressed annoyance with getting generic rejection notices at the end of a lengthy job application. Understanding that it’s not possible for companies to write a personalized note to every applicant, candidates pointed out that getting a rejection addressed to “Dear Applicant” did not make them feel like their effort and interest was recognized.

People noted other ways for companies and recruiters to respect their time and effort, like making sure to take down expired job openings from their websites, or not accepting applicants when they already have someone else in mind for the job. These comments were a valuable reminder that behind every CV and application is a real person, who needs to be treated as such.

Lastly — authenticity matters! Jobseekers are very attuned to whether or not the companies they are applying to feel honest and real – in everything from the job description, to their e-mails, and especially the interviews. Companies should remember that the candidate is evaluating a fit with you just as much as the company is evaluating the candidate — so be real, tell it like it is, and be authentic!

4. You can’t beat in-person connections

In today’s world, a huge amount of interaction happens face-to-screen instead of face-to-face. Certainly, technology has enabled greater access to opportunity and incredible advances both in recruiting and professional development. But, we heard (and saw!) from candidates how excited they were to get in a room with their peers and talk about these career-critical topics. Webinars, Twitter chats and blog posts are great resources, but there’s nothing like being in a room together to make connections and form relationships.

When asked about professional networking groups, most people weren’t aware of any standout professional associations or networking groups in their fields. And of those who named some, they said they might help connect you with other professionals in your field, but don’t offer robust services for jobseekers. Let’s crowdsource some ideas — if you have more ideas for great meet-ups for jobseekers and professionals in Nairobi or Mumbai, let us know in a comment below.

See you next time!

To everyone who joined us at our happy hour — thank you, and we hope to see you again soon! If you’d be interested in attending events like this in the future, get in touch with me at