Episode No:115

Transforming AI-Powered Hiring ft. Malinda Coler (CEO, Conversa)

Malinda Coler

CEO & CoFounder, Conversa

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Ep #115: Transforming AI-Powered Hiring
ft. Malinda Coler (CEO, Conversa)
Ep #115: Transforming AI-Powered Hiring ft. Malinda Coler (CEO, Conversa)
  • Ep #115: Transforming AI-Powered Hiring ft. Malinda Coler (CEO, Conversa)

Episode Summary

In this episode of the Hyperengage podcast, host Adil Saleh interviews Malinda Coler, CEO of Conversa, who discusses her AI-powered recruiting platform. Coler’s background in humanities influences her approach, focusing on evaluating candidates beyond resumes by using AI to conduct initial screenings and in-depth conversations. This method enhances the understanding of candidates’ skills and values, improving hiring quality and efficiency. Coler emphasizes the synergy of human judgment and AI in making more informed hiring decisions, ultimately reducing hiring times and better aligning candidates with company culture.
Key Takeaways Time
Melinda’s background in humanities and teaching helps her understand how to unlock people’s potential which informs her approach to hiring. 02:20
Conversa uses AI to read resumes and find evidence of skills, then allows the hiring manager to double check the recommendations. This amplifies human judgment. 4:05
Validating the product by having it screen candidates for real hiring managers and seeing it accurately identify qualified candidates they may not have otherwise found. 07:28
Having an AI chatbot have conversations with candidates to learn about things not on their resume like mentorship experience. 08:55

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Adil Saleh (0:00:17) - Hey, greetings everybody. This is Adil from the Hyperengage podcast. And again, we always love to have like female founders, like CEO's. We always like all about empowering, uh, you know, women's theme, women, uh, you know, expanding into the spectrum of AI and you know, SaaS and B2B, go to market. All of these. We've seen some of the women leaders like the CCO's and co founders and very few CEO's, one of which that we, we definitely have today. Her name is Malinda, she's the CEO of Conversa. She is trying to transform the startup hiring as well. Hiring in general, using all the expertise and product background in the startup hiring and in the human development and doing some amazing work in the past few years. Thank you very much, Malinda, for taking the time. Malinda Coler (0:01:09) - Yeah, absolutely. I'm excited to be here. And yes, hiring and team building is one of my favorite topics and I am building Conversa, an AI recruiting platform. So happy to talk about it. Adil Saleh (0:01:22) - Wonderful, wonderful. So just a quick background on you, you someone like doing masters in arts and generally like in human development and these kind of subjects. And then you started out working in the customer experience and then you had some product management role. You founded a startup named Roadmap, that is more about startup hiring. Then you ended up building Conversa. Could you just walk us through how you connected all these dots and how you know. I just want my listeners to have a view from someone doing with this art background, which is quite unique for them to listen, going on and building these platforms and trying to make an impact. Malinda Coler (0:02:12) - Yeah, I imagine it can sound unique that someone who's building an AI startup has a background in the humanities and not in computer science, but it takes both sides to build a company. So I'm much more on the community building business side and just understanding of the market. Well, a lot of my vision for how to hire people actually comes from being a humanities major and I was also a teacher before I got into tech. I was teaching in Italy, Spain, the US, and really learned how to unlock the potential of people. And so my approach to hiring is that, hey, we're not going to just stop at a resume and say that this is an accurate representation of a human being. We know that there's so much more to a person and this is not a reliable piece of information to use to make a hiring decision. Adil Saleh (0:03:16) - Amazing. A lot of people that we've met, like, they're, of course, HR platforms are quite a norm after the rise of AI in the last few years. And a lot of these companies, they're using neuroscience and psychology into it and emotional intelligence into it. So how do, when it comes to dealing with human, and, you know, having AI doing their interpretation and everything, so how do you see that playing out as of to make it really real, like make it really human and smart and intelligent too? Malinda Coler (0:03:52) - The secret is to actually use AI to amplify the power of human strengths. So at conversa, we focus on the power of human judgment. We say, okay, how do humans make decisions? The way that we make early hiring decisions is, well, we get a stack of resumes, or, you know, if we're a startup, we might just reach out to people that we know. But as soon as we exhaust that, we get a stack of resumes and we try to compare them to who we're looking for. It's very hard to look at ten or a hundred resumes and accurately assess how well they represent what we're looking for. So we use AI to read the resumes and a human can just ask the question in human language, like, well, show me evidence that the candidate can work with high profile stakeholders, and then the AI will go through, find the evidence and make recommendations. But the person is always there to go in and double check the work so you don't have to just interview the first few people that the AI says, hey, here's a good recommendation, you can go and check for yourself. Adil Saleh (0:05:02) - Okay, so you, based on, based on human judgment, you're trying to use AI as an augmented source on top of that layer, you know, because, you know, yes, AI can definitely amplify and replicate it for many more humans once, you know, once you get the data around the human judgment. So now talking about, like, thinking about the evolution of fire, like all fundamental ways that people used to sit one on one, have a real talk, have their questions, trying to, you know, understand people on a deeper level, personal level, and of course, even today, even imagining that there is no AI, you cannot still do it at scale for a company of like, let's say they want to hire like 50 people in a week, that's not scalable. So having AI as an augmented source, what is the biggest problem that you see when it comes to really having and nailing the human judgment down? Because a lot of bad decisions are made. Even the best of human resources, HR departments, they do like, the wrong decisions every day on people, and, you know, they hire the wrong people simply. So what is the biggest pain that you saw across your career? Malinda Coler (0:06:18) - Often people are hiring the wrong people because they don't have a full understanding of who they could hire. So what we're seeing is that when you have the ability to query in 100 resumes or even 1000, right now, companies are getting 1000 applicants, especially if it's a remote engineering role. But you have the ability to say, hey, here are my criteria, here's what I'm looking for, and actually query those resumes. You wind up discovering people that you might not have initially discovered, but relationship building is still a part of it. At this point, you're going to schedule an interview, pick up the phone, and call these people. One thing that we do to help this process is that we actually use AI to talk to the candidates as well. So if you're a hiring manager and you say, okay, I'm looking for an engineer who can also mentor other engineers. And the AI goes through the resumes and says, well, I can't find evidence that this person can mentor others. Conversa will go and talk to the candidates with an AI chat bot, it's a virtual recruiter and find out about their experience in mentorship. And then the hiring manager gets that information as well. What we're finding is that notes from the conversation with the AI chat bot where you can see what a human actually said in a conversation is really, really helping hiring managers and recruiters understand the full person and figure out sooner if there's someone that they want to work with. Adil Saleh (0:07:58) - Very interesting. And thinking about validation, like if I just talk about the regular SaaS journey, you got to make sure you have it. You have an idea, you think that there's a big enough problem. You want to build, build a SaaS experience to it. Like you build a product and then you hand it over to the people that you, you saw, you know, having those, those problems, and then you validate that, that experience, not just about solving their problem, it's just about making them, making sure they adopt to the platform as well. So could you tell us more about all that journey at Conversa? Malinda Coler (0:08:30) - Yeah. Validating the hypothesis that you can use AI to make early hiring decisions. Say, okay, who do I want to interview? Right. Once you start the interview process, now it's humans to humans talking. So what we did is we went out and we found people who were hiring and we put Conversa to the test. So we worked with another AI founder who was hiring a product designer and an engineer. And the results were just amazing. Let's talk about the product designer. The product leader said, hey, the way you hire a product designer is you go and you review the portfolio. This is a lot of work when you have hundreds of candidates. It's a lot more intense to reveal a design portfolio than it is a resume. So Conversa, the virtual recruiter, had conversations with candidates as they submitted their resumes. The people who stood out to the leader, it turned out that they had portfolios that the leader also preferred. We had one candidate, Naishi. She was a recent graduate with zero experience. What she said in her chat caught the hiring manager's attention. She wound up being a top candidate ahead of people with seven years of product design experience. And the real power here is that instead of me having to review 100 design portfolios, Conversa had conversations with candidates quickly said, hey, based on what these people are saying, you should probably talk to them. You should go take a look at their portfolio. And it turned out that that conversational alignment meant that the person actually was a good fit and had the right design approach. Adil Saleh (0:10:21) - So during this validation process and you did the interview, like did prospect help you with the prompting? Because of course they know what questions to ask. Malinda Coler (0:10:30) - Yes, yes, exactly. The leader who was hiring has to decide what questions to ask. Adil Saleh (0:10:38) - Okay. Because it's super important that what you asked to maybe sure. They make sure that you nurture their interests, their motivation, their skill set. Of course, some questions may give you an idea on the mindset, like what's their approach, the level of commitment to this role and how bad they want this job. Cool. Cool. So I mean, thinking of, let's say of course it changes with role to role. So what is, what is that you are, you start, you recommend using Conversa for specific roles. I know there are some rules that are more assignment based and tasks based. A lot of engineering roles are and you cannot predict based off of just portfolio. Or maybe, you know, ratings on GitHub and, or maybe these are not enough. So you got to make sure that you give them a task that you know, that you can ask them questions on and you can definitely take their brains on how, you know, second order thinking and critical thinking, analytical thinking, all of these problematic things that you, you come across when you hiring for engineering roles. So now with those specific hirings, how. Malinda Coler (0:11:47) - Yeah, you know. Yeah. Conversa works well for any knowledge worker role in a startup or technical environment. Keep in mind it only functions for the earliest decisions of like, okay, how do I go from 1000 people to five people? But we've tested it with business roles, sales roles, engineering, product design. And if you use AI to query the resumes and understand people on a deeper level and use AI to talk to people and about their approach, how they think, you will wind up aligning more deeply with candidates. Our customers say that with Conversa, they're actually able to screen for things like values and skills. Yeah. Adil Saleh (0:12:46) - So it basically helps you with qualified candidate pipeline. You know, you know, you save time making sure that you talk to the right people. Finally, you're talking to the right people and they're pretty much nurtured by AI. Just, you know, you had a conversation with the resumes and candidates and back and forth. I remember you also mentioned that even candidates can speak with the recruiters or hiring managers or HR managers, and they can, then they can have questions that they, they want to clarity on, on the role, any questions. And that's completely AI power, you know, for the candidates as well as for recruiters and hiring managers. Is it right? Malinda Coler (0:13:27) - Well, in the early phases, yeah. So first, yeah. If a leader is asking questions to Conversa like, hey, okay, show me candidates who can really execute quickly in a fast paced startup environment. The AI goes and finds evidence, well, here's a person who's spent five years at a startup. It's okay, well, how is this person's experience in typescript? Adil Saleh (0:13:57) - Yeah. Malinda Coler (0:13:59) - If they don't see what they want on the resume, just like, okay, yeah, five years experience of typescript. Well, what do they really build? So then the AI can go back and talk to the candidate and say, okay, hey, well, what did you really build with typescript? What was your role? And the candidate can in turn ask questions like, oh yeah, well, why is this important? And get information in turn about the job or the hiring manager. So, yeah, it is a two way conversation with our virtual recruiter. Adil Saleh (0:14:24) - Yeah, but it's also intelligent. It's not going to be like some of the roles that candidate mentioned on the resume. And if you ask like what does, let's say, what does Belinda is doing? What is she doing at Hyperengage? So since she's mentioned like, she's like a product marketing manager at Hyperengage, doing this, assist on this, on the resume, AI is not going to return the same answer. Reading up from, from, from the resume, it's going to be intelligent. Like on the second order, let's say, what was the main KPI that a lot of people, they don't have it on the resume. So then it should definitely prompt to the, to the candidate a notification to the candidate that he can personally write. He or she can personally write an answer. So it saves time for recruiting. Malinda Coler (0:15:08) - Exactly, yes. Adil Saleh (0:15:09) - Okay. Malinda Coler (0:15:11) - What happens with our customers is that if they use conversa to identify people from 100 or 1000 resumes, and this all can take 20 minutes, you're querying, you're asking questions, suddenly there are ten people who match what you're looking for. Nine out of those ten people will be people that you want to move forward. Our very first customer said that he could have hired the first five people Conversa recommended. And so, yeah, it's a huge time save. If a role takes two months to hire, you're going to wind up closing it in four weeks. Adil Saleh (0:15:54) - So this is pretty much proven that some of your early customers. Yeah, amazing, amazing. I was also thinking of, you know, from a recruitment standpoint as well, because a lot of these companies, mid sized enterprise, they are, they're working with recruiters, they have designated recruiters and they do the role fulfilling across different segments, different locations and all. And the biggest problem is that right now is that a lot of candidates that are qualified, they may not know, but their resumes are not ATS friendly. Of course they're using ATS systems. So if they get a tool or system that can talk to the ATS, just like for marketers, you can talk to the CRM using AI. Like, hey, bring me these leads with this contract value. Look at it in this sense. They're sitting at the first year of description and it comes up with all the data. And same is like a recruiter can talk to an ATS ordering like hey, bring me these CV's resumes and these roles with these experience and with these kind of specific backgrounds. And it filters down to a handful of candidates, qualified candidates that they can definitely look at and prioritize because at the end of the day, like you mentioned in the last, last meeting as well, that a lot of these hiring managers, recruiters, they don't get to speak with even 30% of their, their candidate pipeline for one specific role. They end up hiring from the first 30%. They don't know what the rest 37%. Maybe they could have had a better qualifier candidates there, but they don't have time. Okay, cool. So talking about your DT, what was that? Malinda Coler (0:17:36) - I was saying in traditional recruiting, so when you're not using Conversa, 75% of people get rejected without a human ever seeing their resume and 98% of people get rejected without ever talking to a person. Adil Saleh (0:17:51) - Yeah, absolutely. That's happening right in my house. My wife is, she's applied for the last three months and she's filled about 50 plus applications. Role is pretty specific to very core unique skills and robotic parts automation. It's a licensed role, but still, like she's had like she has only one interview and she's getting frustrated. Like on the, on the candidate side, it's quite a frustration. And as I also recall that you mentioned that candidates are the center of your product, like your product vision. You know, could you, could you explain a little bit on that too? Malinda Coler (0:18:27) - Yeah. To develop the technology, I actually worked with people like your wife. I built a community of 8000 women and underrepresented groups and helped them go from struggling to get hired or trying to break into tech to getting hired within ten weeks. And the way that we did that is we went in and we said, okay, well, let's take Holly, for example. She had been working at a health gymnasium, a giant health gymnasium company for ten years. So no one in tech wanted to talk to her. Her resume had things like manage the budget and profit and loss wasn't interesting. You really talk to Holly and ask the right questions. You find out that she led 25 people to increase revenue by 36% year over year. So she put that into her story, put that in her resume, put that on her LinkedIn profile. Within ten weeks she got hired as a director of customer success at a startup and eight months later she got promoted to vice president. So it's really about what you say and where you say it. So for people like your wife, it's going back and refining those metrics, refining the value that you add. And I'll say what we've discovered is that in today's market, you have to have metrics and quantifiable results, but you also have to have your values and what you add in terms of culture really present. So our goal as a recruiting platform is to make sure that people aren't going to get rejected because they just didn't say it the way a hiring manager needs to hear it. Everyone has something to say. And we want to know the full person. Adil Saleh (0:20:20) - Perfect. Perfect. And what is the best way to, you know, get started? Like, is that going to be hiring managers looking. They have a database of candidates inside your platform or your candidates or how are they going to get that? I know of Loxo and some of the platforms. They have a database inside, inside their platform and they have recruiters or hiring managers build candidate pipelines on the other side. Recruiter, you know, use their own pr and portfolio to know with employer list. Can they get inside? You know, it's equally important for a recruiter to have employers and candidates at the same time inside one place. So when it comes to recruiter or hiring managers, what is the best way out for using or integrating Conversa? And also, please touch a little bit on the candidate side. Malinda Coler (0:21:06) - Yeah. If you already have a recruiting tech stack set up, maybe you're using an applicant tracking system. Conversa just integrates into it. So you post a role, 100, 1,000 people apply. Conversa is integrated. It's talking to your candidates, and you can query resumes right there in the recruiting tech stack that you use through our integration. If you don't have any applicant tracking systems, Conversa can act as your applicant tracking system. And then as candidates, when they apply to a job and the company is using Conversa, they'll get that option after they submit their resume to proactively have the conversation or as the recruiter or leader asks follow up questions in their own environment. Oh, leadership skills are really important to me. Then the candidate will have the opportunity to come back and say more about their leadership skills, and candidates will get a transcript of their conversation that they can keep with them. We started this because we had candidates reaching out to us saying, oh, my gosh, I just said things that are the best I've ever said about how I think and operate at work. I really need that transcript. Like, okay, let's just give it to them. And then we decided to give them the notes that break down. Hey, here are the things you said that leaders really like, and here's what we want to learn more of. And then, of course, they started asking if they could have more conversations so they could get more notes, and that was a lot of fun. Adil Saleh (0:22:47) - Yeah, it's fun because at the end of the day, candidates are not frustrated because they're not getting a job or they're not getting to switch the job or get into a role. They're frustrated because they're not able to communicate to the right people or right companies. Even if they don't get hired. That's fine. So that's the biggest frustration on the candidate side. Okay, cool. So I have a quick one question before we push off. Let's say, assume ATS, like one of the big ATS systems out there. More than 60, 70% of the recruitment businesses are built, you know, inside that, and they have technologies around that. If they come up with an AI similar to this, what would still make conversa stand out? Malinda Coler (0:23:35) - Oh, many of them are trying to. Right now. Our customers say that we are the only technology they have found that can help them screen for values, soft skills, and culture. And the truth is, we no longer need to screen for the basics and the hard skills. You can easily get 100 candidates who meet your basics. So now let me know. You can have the tech stack and you can do the job well, can you do the job on our team? How do you work with other people? Adil Saleh (0:24:12) - Yeah, that's, that's, that's what, you know, I also mentioned in the beginning that it's all about, you know, how you psychologically connect with that candidate and understand and walk in that shoes. And I'm sure you're heading there as well, you know, applying these, uh, components of neuroscience and applying these components of, uh, you know, intelligence, like emotional level intelligence and all that. Great, great. Love that. I mean, I'm sure, uh, of course. Malinda Coler (0:24:37) - You know, we do. We do. But in the simplest terms, imagine if you could ask a hundred people any question you wanted, and then you could use AI to help you quickly parse the responses. And that's the power of it. Usually we only get to ask questions. I can only make ten phone calls a day. And then as the hiring manager, I'm not even going to make those ten calls. I'm going to wait for the recruiter, and then by the time they get to me, I'm only going to talk to five people. But if I could go and ask 100 people, hey, what is an engineering principle that you feel strongly about that maybe others disagree with? Well, that's a game changer. Adil Saleh (0:25:22) - Yeah, absolutely. I mean, knowing your question is super important and then doing it at scale, like, you know, like you explained, nurturing at scale is important. You know, they may change with role to role, but you got to make sure that you have standardized questionnaire, you know, across all the roles that you have. So then you can use Conversa, potentially, you know, and I'm sure you're working closely with your nation customers, which is a regular B2B SaaS startup journey. We are in the same boat. And you got to work closely with the customer until you get enough data. Then you can augment your, make your AI more intelligent. You learn from experiences and behaviors. I love the way you're approaching this from a commercial standpoint as well. Great job on that. I'm sure there's so much more for people that are listening and they're having hiring problems. A lot of them trust me, they already have hiring problems and even a lot of them are looking to, you know, hire their, you know, co founders, first vp of sales, you know, for us, growth leader, GTM leader, because it's all about, you know, getting more sales and more revenue on the top line. You know, even if they're, you're funded or you're bootstrapped, this is what matters at the end of the day is, and if you have a stronger team, you can build a better product. And at the core of it, in a B2B SaaS, what I believe, your product has to be bigger. Whether you're a first time owner, second time founder, third time founder, your product has to be bigger than your marketing in the first two years until you get product market fit. So that's, that's, that's the real game. I'm sure a lot of these listeners listening to Malinda today have some real deep insights. And I'm sure I'm going to check out Conversa two for another role that we are having two months later. I really appreciate your time. Malinda Coler (0:27:14) - Same. So do I. Thank you. Adil Saleh (0:27:17) - Take good care of yourself. Have a good rest of your day. Bye-bye.

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