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There's been a lot of talk about the importance of soft skills, but most traditional hiring practices leave evaluation of these skills to the final step of the process. What if we used soft skills as the initial screen for candidates? Will that open opportunity for a broader, more diverse population of candidates? Will employers find more candidates with the personal characteristics that not only make them a good hire today, but also a good employee over the long-term? Those are the questions we are trying to answer with theThings.biz, a free professional assessment service and online job market for people who lack "direct experience" or a strong professional network, but who have the personal characteristics that lead to success.

Photo of Geordie McClelland
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theThings.biz is a career advancement service that goes beyond the resume.  We help young people who have neither direct prior work experience nor strong personal connections (recession grads, Veterans, and those with non-traditional backgrounds) start fulfilling careers. We provide searchable, reference-based professional profiles built around what a candidate can do as opposed to what they’ve already done.  To achieve this, we highlight transferable skills and leadership qualities – two essential attributes the traditional resume usually ignores – and provide a job search engine that matches job-seekers with companies looking for talented, entry-level hires.

Though companies recognize the value of soft skills as being critical in their new hires (a Bentley University study found that they were deemed more important than hard, technical skills need for a job), they aren’t using them in their primary evaluation of candidates (the same Bentley study found only a minority of employers who do so).  We think this gap is caused by a lack of reliable means to reliably measure these characteristics in an initial screen.  We’re addressing this challenge by requiring candidates use references to identify and rank the soft-skills they proved most in education, job and volunteering experiences.  We limit choice and force rankings to provide a reference-verified view of people’s accomplishments that is standardized and comparable across a diverse set of experiences.
 
With reliable, standardized measures of transferable skills, we are helping to bridge the language gap that can make the difference between “non-relevant experience” that employers ignore and “the diversity of perspectives” that companies need.  And by measuring early achievement by how a person works and thinks as opposed to explicitly what he or she did, we’ve created an alternative to the entry-level resume that highlights meaningful results that can realistically be achieved prior to the start of one’s career.
 

Who does this idea benefit, who are the main players and what's in it for them?

We help recession grads, Veterans, and people with non-traditional backgrounds (including opportunity youth) start fulfilling careers. And we help companies who are looking for a better way to find entry-level talent with the personal characteristics that suggest that they will be a good, long-term hire. Our funding comes from companies who post jobs on our site - in addition to posting the job, we also provide candidate matching services, applicant tracking services that help make the process transparent for job candidates, and the ability to evaluate and compare the soft skills of all candidates for a job (even those who didn't apply on our platform) on theThings.biz

How is your idea specifically increasing access to employment opportunities and pathways for young people?

With a self-evaluation process focused entirely on achievement through proving transferable soft skills, we raise the importance and value of these characteristics in the minds of young people. Too often good, valuable work is ignored because traditional hiring practices screen only for "relevant experience" - our process is based on the idea that all work can be good, relevant work if people are mindful about developing and proving these soft skills. We believe that when young people know these things about themselves and are able to communicate where and how they've proven them, they'll better represent themselves through the job search process and ultimately be better employees. For companies, we are providing a rigorous, standardized evaluation of young people's soft skills. In doing so, we hope to bridge the gap between what companies say is important in young talent (soft skills) and how are they currently hiring (hard skills and in-network referrals).

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We are up and running now at www.theThings.biz. We are looking to collaborate with organizations whose focus is helping young people be more career-ready by developing their soft skills (either directly or in-directly) to test the effectiveness of our platform in preparing young people for a job search and career. We are looking for companies who are not satisfied with the quality and diversity of the candidates they find through traditional recruiting methods to try our system.

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to receive from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

We'd love to collaborate with organizations who are working with our target candidate audience on a daily basis - to see where we can help and also to continue to get feedback on usability, additional content and functionality that would be valuable, and potential partnership models that can help us help more people. Longer-term, for those who test theThings.biz, we'd love to know: Among job seekers, the impact on: - Self-awareness - Confidence in their job search - Understanding of the characteristics that companies value - Job search outcomes Among companies, the impact on: - Quality of candidates identified - Diversity of candidates identified - Candidates hired And ultimately - over the long-term we'd like to find partners who can help us track the long-term achievements of those candidates hired through our system.

The idea emerged from:

  • An individual

How do you envision your idea being implemented?

  • Keen to prototype it, find partners and pursue implementation

31 comments

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Photo of Liz Duffy
Team

Very impressive website! Happy to connect you to Isles Youth Institute in Trenton, NJ if that would be of interest. See http://www.isles.org/services/isles-youth-institute/about#.U_BfurxdWFY. Good luck.

Photo of Geordie McClelland
Team

Hi Liz - Thanks so much. I'd welcome any chance to share our story with IYI and see if we might a resource for them. Thank you for the offer - my email is geordie@thethings.biz

Photo of Liz Duffy
Team

Sorry for the delay in responding. I just returned from vacation and am swamped at work. I'll make an email introduction now to IYI. Liz

Photo of Geordie McClelland
Team

Hi Liz - no worries at all. Thank you so much for the intro - I'm following up now.

Photo of Dave Zinsman
Team

Hey Geordie!

Sorry I didn't chime in earlier--just been super busy. This is great stuff! As a Marine vet, I know firsthand how hard the military to civilian transition can be. I think everyone, especially youth, would benefit by being able to communicate transferable skills. I love your product; how can I help?

Where are you at right now in the context of this challenge? Are you building upon your current product to add youth applicability; adding completely new youth candidate functionality; etc.? Let me know, would love to help however I can!

Photo of Geordie McClelland
Team

Hi Dave,

Thanks for your offer to help (and for all of your contributions on this challenge in general). We just launched our Veterans experience right before this challenge hit OpenIDEO - and we're making adjustments to it based on analytics and feedback we are getting from users. The young, disconnected population in general has been our target from the start, so we are similarly making adjustments to that experience as user data comes in.

So while we are making some changes to the platform, our primary focus right now has been finding new ways to get in front of the populations we serve. On the Veterans front right now that means working with Universities and Community Colleges as well OneStop Career Centers in the US - for the broader disconnected youth population we trying to get in front of organizations and efforts that are already helping this population through coaching, mentoring and supporting volunteerism.

At this point, we'd love to get help with:

- Finding ways to integrate what we are doing with other ideas that are being developed in this challenge (i.e., could our profile building process help users of the Book of Lifelong (L)earning connect the dots between disparate, unconnected and seemingly unrelated experiences that in aggregate help to develop an ideal employee? could we be one of the resources that a Delphee refers users to if their needs match up with our services?)

- Sharing our story with organizations that are already helping these populations get their careers started but lack a way to meaningful capture and market achievement

I'd welcome any opportunity to walk you through a live demo - would love your thoughts on what we've got now and how we might integrate with some of the ideas that you are developing. I'm at geordie@thethings.biz

Thanks again,
Geordie

Photo of Dave Zinsman
Team

Great stuff, Geordie!

RE: our primary focus right now has been finding new ways to get in front of the populations we serve. ---> The first thing I think of with that in terms of product is building shareability. Would love a demo; will connect through email. Talk to you soon!

Photo of Guy Viner
Team

Great to see you two collaborating around the challenge topic. Great work!

Photo of Guy Viner
Team

Geordie- awesome to hear your thoughts on how participating on OpenIDEO can be helpful to your organization. Do keep in touch and let us know how the challenge helps your thinking and the evolution of your website.

Photo of Geordie McClelland
Team

Absolutely Guy - I frankly wish we had the opportunity to participate in this conversation during our initial build. That said, the ideas circulated have already influenced our development and partnership plans - and, maybe as important, the positive energy here has been a great shot in the arm for our team.

Photo of priyanka botny
Team

Hi Geordie,
Great thoughts! Is there a difference between education and gaining work skills?

Photo of Geordie McClelland
Team

Hi Priyanka, our system has been set up to give equal value to educational experience, job experience, and volunteering experience in building a soft-skills based profile. Each is an opportunity to show how a person works and thinks as observed by the people they worked with - and in thinking about these as transferable skills, we really want to present a view of how a person can work in any environment (in school or in a job and across any industry). At least that's what we've got now - would be interested in the community's thoughts on the approach.

Photo of priyanka botny
Team

Let's take an example : Person X is well educated and lacks skills like programming, communication etc.. He/She has a degree in Engineering (B.S) but fails to get a job due to interview failures and approach. How is that self-evaluation actually done? X feels that he has worked hard and gets demotivated.

Photo of Geordie McClelland
Team

Hi Priyanka, in this scenario for each educational experience that Person X has had, he or she would identify one reference who would identify the top two soft skills that Person X proved, the reference would rank them and then write a brief description as to how Person proved it. After getting that feedback, Person X would rate him or herself against those same criteria. Even if Person X didn't get the job you reference, our system encourages him or her to find other opportunities for work (any work including "non-relevant jobs" and volunteering) as a way to further demonstrate and hone his or her soft skills (while also contributing to the economy and community). As Person X gets more experiences, his or her profile highlights the characteristics that are identified most often and thus truly define how he or she works. With this summary of the person (as a person, not just a set of skills) we are trying to replicate the value of a referral - without relying on a professional network.

So in the end, maybe Person X isn't the greatest communicator, but is really defined by his or her initiative, ability to work across cultures, and ability to work effectively in a team - those characteristics along with the degree in Engineering may be what the next company is looking for. That's the type of match we can help facilitate.

Photo of Alisha Snyder
Team

Hi Geordie, I just signed up for theThings.biz! This seems to be a great resource for those lacking conventional skills. It seems like it will be great for the youth, but as has application to GenX and older. For example: my mother worked in food service all her life, but has spent the last 20 years as a homemaker. TheThings.biz could really bridge a gap and level the playing field no matter the age. Great idea.

Photo of Geordie McClelland
Team

Hi Alisha, Thanks for the kind words. You point about other generations is a great one. When we first thought of theThings.biz, we were really focused on finding something that could work to help young people who entered the workforce during the recession and who struggled to start their careers. But as the idea has taken shape and as we've gotten more feedback from users, it seems there might be applications for this kind of evaluation for people at many different stages of their careers - from "mid-career switches" to parents reentering the workforce after being full-time career givers. Right now, we are thinking we should focus on showing some success with this young and disconnected population from a placement and career advancement perspective before extending it out to serve other populations. That said, there are a couple of services out there that are helping some of these other populations - there's one in particular your mother should check out: https://www.momcorps.com

Thanks again for your support and for signing up - and please let me know if you think of ways that we can improve the experience on theThings.biz and make it more useful tool for either job seekers or companies.

Photo of priyanka botny
Team

Geordie,
Have you seen this before? http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=facebook&lk=4&num=1
I thought I will share this with you. I was trying to build an app that can analyse FB data and sync with job sites - as a prototype. This may be of some help to you too.

Photo of Luisa Fernanda
Team

Priyanka and Geordie,
Both your ideas have a great deal of overlap. Interesting to see you sharing tips and insights,
Keep the collaboration going,
Luisa

Photo of Geordie McClelland
Team

Hi Priyanka - I'd seen Wolfram before but hadn't thought about it in the context of what I'm doing. You are right though - this could be a very interesting layer on top of the data that we are already gathering and displaying. Thanks for sharing!

Photo of priyanka botny
Team

Hi Geordie,

How about a routine match instead of keyword match ? This way we are trained to work even with distractions. Can we make an assessment tool to match routines (tangible) rather than keywords like Conducted, Supported, Delivered etc... they just give an idea but a routine could help see the assessment and more visual in terms of sentences like "I like swimming" Can I be a part time swim coach at the Y? or "I love eating" Can I get an opportunity to taste food at Food Network's specials? I would love to hear from you. check out : http://tinyurl.com/nb4684z

Thanks!

Photo of Emma Scripps
Team

Geordie,

I really like the emphasis on soft skills. As a former teacher, I recognize the importance of soft skills in moving projects or work forward (i.e. how do you relate to each other in teams? How are you at listening) and agree that adding more reliable measures of soft skills could help to better promote them in the hiring process.

Thanks for this contribution.

Photo of Geordie McClelland
Team

Thank you Emma - I especially appreciate that you take this view as a former teacher. It's often expensive and inefficient for employers to develop these types of skills in their employees. But from my perspective, school is a great environment and time in people's lives to focus on developing these skills as the foundation for their professional growth.

Photo of CYG consulting
Team

Do the candidates need to come from a special area or is this opportunity global?

Photo of Geordie McClelland
Team

Right now, the professional evaluation and marketing tools for candidates can work for a global, English-speaking audience but the job placement service works only in the US. It's not a significant change from a database perspective, I just need to look into local laws for operating businesses in companies outside of the United States. What locations are you thinking?

Photo of CYG consulting
Team

So - you could use this tool also in other countries! I am from Germany. There are already a lot of companies offering temp work for example even for younger people with no exam- Man Power. What is it, that your service is differentiating from other companies? Where does the incentives for unemployed young people are? Most of the companies are promising fast handling and no paper work. On the other hand, people aren't able to move for example, since the pay load isn't that much. Do you have additional incentives next to a secure work place, which could be a benefit for them?

Photo of Geordie McClelland
Team

Hi Stephan - I would love for this to be of use to young people in Germany. As for incentives for young people, right now the way that we've been looking at this is as a new way to present experience for any potential job, with a focus on the types of skills that can be proven in almost any environment that can be of value in almost any environment. We'd like to help realize a future where jobs that can lead to fulfilling careers are more broadly accessible - you don't have to got to the best University (or even University at all) to prove that you are the type of person that a company would want to hire - you would just be measured on how you work and how you think - not where you did those things. I hope that answers your question? If not, let me know and I'll try to do better in a future response.

Photo of CYG consulting
Team

So, your are mainly changing the working experience and try to narrow down the working conditions! The first one, I'm encountering mainly within the marketing area. This is a change of the modus of how you can perceive the same product differently. The second one is interesting! Though you are not really changing the way access a job, you could see this as an opportunity of changing the working profiles. Instead of using the university degrees and see how these degrees could fit with the existing job roles, you could be seen as an intermediate preparing the young people for the job in a more job relevant way!

Photo of Geordie McClelland
Team

That's definitely the hope - we've got the platform to do it and some participation of companies. But to truly change the way things work we need a movement of companies who recognize that the current system isn't working and of young people who embrace and build upon what is (at least now) seen as a non-traditional background.

Photo of Sital Shah
Team

Geordie,

This is an excellent initiative. Recruiters focus too much on what you have done, and not your potential. I am struggling as a mid-career professional who wants to move to a new role or industry.

Two suggestions: maybe the job candidate can also write about himself or herself to compensate for lack of references; or there can be some assessments of translatable qualties. Also, there needs to be a marketing campaign to get employers to rethink what is important and their approaches to hiring. Chapter 2 of "Good to Great" by Jim Collins discusses getting "the right person on the bus".

Photo of Matthew Wilson
Team

Yes a lot of this lies with companies approaching graduates as entry level ositions, and hiring them to be at the bottom of hierarchical structures. There is a lot more businesses can get from college graduates, and the work up the totem pole mentality leads to these young people working up the totem pole, taking fewer risks, and often losing what they have that is most valuable to offer.

Photo of Geordie McClelland
Team

Thanks Sital and Matthew. Sital, we are totally on the same page with both of your points - as for the self-assessment piece, that is part of our process. After a candidate's reference identifies the two things that best defined how he or she worked, the candidate them rates him or herself and then writes a short example of how he or she proved those characteristics during that experience. In practice, we are preparing job candidates to answer a question like "tell me about an experience when you showed initiative" through the process of building a profile. They'll have both theirs and their reference's POV on a question like that.

And yes, getting some more, vocal companies on board with their perspective on what's important in a new hire is key and to Matthew's point, training them while also preserving their unique value - and that's a big part of our push now. Thankfully we're talking with a number of companies who recognize and are doing something about the problem of youth unemployment, who understand that hiring someone is about more than just acquiring a set of skills, but actually bringing in a person who can play an important role on an evolving team. I'm hopeful, we aren't there yet, but there are enough people in positions of power who recognize that things in recruiting aren't working as well as they could be, to make a real difference in the lives of young people and their businesses. That said, we have a lot of work to do in enrolling more companies to help evolve our service and continue to invest in training once someone is on the job to really make a difference here.