Aman Brar, CEO of Canvas, a text-based interviewing platform, joins Brandon Laws for a future-oriented discussion about the impact technology is having on recruiting. They discuss how A.I. and machine learning are playing a role in the way employers recruit, top technology trends in recruiting, and how technology is improving the user experience throughout the recruiting process.
Brandon Laws: Hey. Welcome back to the show. I’m your host Brandon Laws. Hey, as some of you may have probably picked up by now, 130 episodes in, I have a deep, deep love for technology and I’m really fascinated by it in general and I think what’s really exciting right now is that employers and other businesses are really making big investments into technology in the HR space.
So I think there’s a couple of things at play here. One, they want to create a great experience, one that employees expect nowadays with technology. It’s sort of embedded in our lives. The other thing is to make seemingly really simple tasks really efficient.
So I think there’s a couple of things – experience and efficiency. Technology is going to do that. That’s why I think in a lot of the people practices, you’re seeing technology start to pop up.
In today’s discussion, I bring on Aman Brar. He’s the CEO of Canvas and they have a very interesting tool where it enables text messaging within the screening process during the recruiting phase. I really think you’re going to enjoy what he has to say. We really talk holistically about how technology is being integrated into the entire recruiting process and we talk about the industry in general, as well, and what technology is really doing.
So I think you’re going to enjoy this with Aman. Remember to connect with me on LinkedIn. Follow me on Instagram and of course feel free to give us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. We would really appreciate the support, so other people can find the podcast. Enjoy the episode.
Brandon: Hey, Aman. Welcome to the podcast. It’s good to have you.
Aman Brar: Super glad to be here. Thank you for having me.
Brandon: Yeah, of course. So you’re in the tech space, HR industry. You built an awesome tool and I want to talk about that in a little bit. But first off, I want to ask you about how technology is weaving its way into the recruiting industry. There’s a lot of recruiters out there. People are fighting for talent.
How are organizations leaning on technology to make the recruiting process easier on them, but also a better experience for candidates?
Aman: First of all Brandon, I think it’s exciting that venture capitalists and entrepreneurs are thinking about the HR space passionately now, right? So I think there have always been degrees of technology in the HR suite. You know, everything from processing payroll to those first generation ATS. But I think as you see what has happened with entrepreneurship and certainly there’s a large focus on sales and marketing technology and now we’re starting to see intellectual and financial capital move into healthcare tech and fin tech and obviously pertinent to this conversation, HR tech.
So I think it’s great that there are just so many brilliant people now around the world. You know, thinking about how technology can make a difference in the HR suite. So that’s exciting and certainly relevant to our story. I think where I’m excited about change is creating more meaningful and less complicated experiences for recruits or employees and also enabling HR professionals, recruiters or not, to get more done in their day, right?
It feels good to be able to use modern tools to accomplish more and it’s exciting to see intellectual and financial capital in that space starting to fulfill some of that need.
Brandon: You mentioned capital making its way into this industry. I’ve been reading a lot of articles and I think I saw something in the SHRM Magazine recently, just about AI, machine learning and how there is a lot of capital being put into these areas where you might have technology that’s so sophisticated and can start making decisions basically about what candidates to hire and maybe asking the right questions. What have you seen – especially with the tool you’ve built, what are you starting to see as far as the AI machine learning kind of playing a role in the way we recruit?
Aman: Yeah, yeah. No, I think it’s certainly playing a role. I think my personal philosophy on machine learning and AI is, I think where we are right now, it’s about this kind of combination of the human and the machine, if you will, to get to an optimal experience for the candidate or employee.
So I don’t believe we’re at a state today where we can just kind of fire and forget these tools to make hiring decisions. But I do think we can weave them and incorporate them into your recruiting tech stack, your HR tech stack to have better outcomes than you had yesterday. I think the way we’ve certainly designed and built Canvas is to have these delightful experiences that are embedded in our software that certainly drive the time to hire or automation or some magical moments. But it’s side by side with that human kind of orchestrating the conversation.
So that’s my personal feeling. If you look at – you know, certainly while Amazon is has created the first cashier-less store. You know, it’s even harder for a grocery store, right? And not have someone there helping you scan your can of Campbell Soup, right?
So I look at that as a good example of how – you know, look, there are four stations to do your own self-checkout at the grocery store. But largely it would still require a human to be kind of overseeing that experience to make sure that nothing is falling through the cracks and that’s kind of my perspective on where we are right now. Gary Kasparov, the grandmaster chess player, points out that at least currently, the combination of AI and the human will be AI alone when it comes to chess.
Now we will see how long that lasts, right? So I think we just – you know, understanding where we are on that continuum, thinking about how you weave these tools into human experiences I think is really, really important. But I think we can also acknowledge that the most repetitive, mundane tasks should be and are going to be automated. It’s a part of our workflow. So we’ve got to push ourselves to make sure that HR professionals are providing meaning and value in their work.
Brandon: I like the point you’re making that AI and humans side by side could be better than just AI by itself or humans by themselves. So the pairing makes for probably a better experience. What about in the future if AI becomes so good that it’s impossible to tell the difference between that and a human and that’s just the experience that people have? What do you think about that? Do you think we’re getting there?
Aman: Well, I mean – you know, look, I think we could get there. I think this is kind of shifting out of the HR sphere to largely something as a society we really need to think about is how do we derive – you know, kind of meeting what levels of creativity and creation can AI achieve. So I think it’s – what would be relevant in this conversation is not just let’s say passing a Turing test in conversation. But then also is there creative thought being employed by AI?
But there are really good examples of creative thought being employed by AI. So like right now, Watson has done some really interesting experiments on creating new recipes and food combinations that humans don’t even know they might like, right? But based off other preferences that it examined.
So I think it’s something we should rightfully keep a watchful eye on. You know, typically, if you look at the shared human experience and innovation, we’re – we tend to overestimate what’s going to happen in the next – you know, in a few years. But we –
Brandon: Yeah, I have heard –
Aman: But we underestimate what might happen – so I think – that’s kind of the thing I’m always kind of thinking about, right? It’s like we’re probably – if you think about where we are with AI and machine learning right now, we’re probably overestimating the impact over the next three years. But we might be underestimating it over the next 20, right? I think that’s something we should all be thinking about for sure.
Brandon: I want to dive deep on the AI conversation just for the pure reason – I wanted to ask you if that type of technology is really only accessible to enterprise or huge corporations or as the small, mid-sized business. Are they going to be able to sort of have access to those sorts of tools in the people practices and make their HR and recruiting practices more streamlined and a better experience, and all those things?
I wonder when you’re fighting for talent, and large companies have access to those tools where somebody else may not, what that means for fighting for talent long term.
Aman: I think the answer is yes, that small businesses, medium-sized businesses, they will have access to these tools and I think the startup technology community is going to play the role of an intermediary here.
So if you bear with me for a second, I think it might be very easy to have salt and pepper in your diner. But if you have a whole – you know, in this case, there might be a hundred different spices that you’ve got to rely on, on the startup to combine in a certain way, to be efficacious to that small business, right?
I do think that you’re already seeing this, right? You’re looking at – even things as simple as payroll with software like Gusto or – you know, we’re starting to see the accessibility technology I think. Everything from the SMB all the way to the enterprise and historical markets and definitely in HR tech.
One of the things about starting a tech company is oftentimes, it’s as though you are serving the SMB marketplace as you work your way up in the universe. So sometimes they’re actually the first to get started on some of these more innovative things. So I think keeping our eyes open and evaluating the software options that exist for SMBs I think is important. But I don’t at all foresee them being completely left behind.
I think there could be fits and starts, right? Where if you look at some of the very – you know, what’s called high-end AI automation that’s out there. Maybe hard to purchase if you’re not at scale or Fortune 500. But I think that’s just a matter of time before different flavors of that ice cream are commercialized for small businesses.
Brandon: Your company, Canvas, you focus on text-based screening and interviewing. I want to dive deep on that in a second. What are some other technological methods during the recruiting process that you’re seeing that are pretty innovative right now?
Aman: Yeah. There’s a lot of focus – I would say I’m excited about what’s happening with the diversification of assessment technologies, right? So I think just lots of use cases where there’s a new level of specificity afforded by technology, right? So it might be, you know, here’s a way to get at a person’s accounting skills or financial skills or coding skills or sales skills. I think that’s a really – and we’re still so early. But I think that you’re going to find that – I think recruiters or talent assessors or hiring managers are going to be able to weave together a basket of goods, if you will, to kind of optimize on who might be the best candidate for a given role and really have an opportunity to learn more about that candidate’s ability to be successful in the job earlier than we ever have before through simulation and some of these other things.
So I’m pretty fascinated by the assessment marketplace. I think that there’s a lot of companies doing interesting things there. So that’s certainly an area that we pay attention to.
Brandon: So you’re doing text-based interviewing, recruiting. What else, along that spectrum, are you seeing? Are you seeing a lot of video-based things? Any automation from that perspective?
Aman: Yes. So I think video is really interesting. I think it’s certainly a good stop in that talent funnel. I think one of the challenges with video is timing where a video is in that process. I think in a lot of the surveys that we’ve done, video as the first step, you know, it doesn’t feel quite right to talent. Then I think if we think about video in our personal lives, we’re always a little more comfortable maybe with a step before of getting ourselves in the video or there’s all other set of concerns like, “Gosh, I got to move this Windex bottle that’s behind me,” or “I have this interview.”
So I do think that we kind of underestimate the overhead with video and I don’t think it is the cure to all things. I think it’s great by the way. I mean I certainly use it. But I think we should think about the right place and time for video as well.
On the automation front, I think where we certainly employ lots of automation in our software, everything from – you know, pure play bot activity, all the way to a recommendations engine. I do think there are lots of interesting things happening in that space and we’re going to see a lot more of it.
I think one of the things that HR professionals need to kind of work through is I don’t believe that the HR suite is going to rule the day. I think we’re in a time where, best of breed, I personally think, is really the way to go and have you weave best of breed tools together to create a delightful experience. I think some HR professionals are still kind of over-relying on, yeah, we’re going to buy one piece of software that’s going to do an average job across a lot of different functions. I’m a little skeptical about that’s where we’re going to end up in the long run.
Brandon: So Canvas focuses on text-based interviewing. Why did you decide to go that route?
Aman: Well, we saw a real market opportunity. You know, it felt like there could be just a great wedge in connecting the enterprise to candidates through a novel method like texting. So if you think about it, we can have this rich, beautiful, intelligent software for the company. But for the candidate, there’s no transaction cost, right? There’s no need to go down with software.
We can meet them where they are. They can answer on their own time. So it just – it honestly felt like – like a natural hole in the marketplace. I think that certainly speaks to why we havehad so much growth so quickly. I think it was kind of an obvious oversight. Why doesn’t some technology like this exist? So we saw the hole and came rushing in and then it has been fun.
Brandon: What problems are you really trying to solve with the text-based recruiting process? You said there’s a hole in the market, like nobody is probably using this or maybe the screening process wasn’t as efficient or a good experience. Is that why you went that route?
Aman: Yes, pretty much. So I think inefficiencies in the screening process. If you think about it, on a couple of different levels. One is, recruiters are constrained by time, right? So in their typical world, if they’re using a phone-based screening process, they can do like six of those max in a day, right?
Aman: And so kind of what the thought was, is, “What if we just blew up that notion of inventory, right?” Now you’re literally doing 60 of those in a day through text-based communication and so – and it’s not that – you know, all of our clients right through different phases of the funnel. They go to live conversation or they go to live interviews. But the whole point is you can get to brass tacks a little faster and more efficiently. There are very few places in our life that we have awkward phone calls with strangers, right? Do you know what I mean?
Aman: Like it’s really a rare thing. But recruiters have been holding on to it desperately for a while. I think that we got to think past that. Then the other analogy I would make is imagine if apps like Match or Bumble where if we use scheduled phone screens with the people that you’re interested in. I mean that makes no sense at all, right? It’s like awkward and it doesn’t scale. It’s not very efficient. Yet you might still find your partner in life through a chat-based mechanism at first.
So we thought, “Why couldn’t the same be true for a customer service associate?” Why do we have to have a phone call first? The other thing I mentioned is, you know, think about how many trillions of bits of data we’ve lost to the ether over these phone screens, over the last hundred years, right?
And so a real opportunity. So I think one of the things that’s exciting about Canvas is that there’s more than meets the eye as far as what we’re kind of up to and the fun that we’re having building out our product. But we see a lot of opportunities to kind of collect and analyze the conversation and reviewing information. So the hole isn’t just the communication hole. But this data hole, right?
Brandon: Data, yeah.
Aman: Basically you have just – literally the best we have for 100 years’ worth of phone screens is a few scribbled notes, right?
Aman: And I just think we can do better, right? So I think that’s – you know, trying that – that will actually add more science to the equation.
Brandon: Yeah. So on that note, we were talking about machine learning earlier and I noticed – I was watching the video on your website. Your tool actually starts recommending interview questions during the screening process. What are recruiters, hiring managers or whoever is using your tool, what are they saying about that kind of experience? Do they like it? Do they want more control? Do they actually like the fact that they’re being suggested questions to ask?
Aman: Well, the mentality we’ve kind of taken is how can the system be a coach, right?
Aman: So what I like about – I think what our recruiters like about it, to answer directly your question, is they’re still in control, right? It’s not an AI bot just ramming a bunch of questions to the system. It’s a suggestion to the recruiter who’s still empowered to make the right decision about what question or resource to send that candidate. I think it has been very well-received, right? As a suggestion and I think appropriately branded as such.
We certainly have fully-automated experiences in our software as well where we’re – it’s going to recommend what it wants to recommend next. But that’s kind of – the recruiters control that as well. So I think the whole notion of suggestions has been really well-received. We really had an opportunity to build kind of a coaching cloud for recruiting and that has been one of our early philosophies is how do we coach recruiters.
Imagine being right out of school and actually having a system that’s helping you versus having to rely on the next time you can talk to Sally about the next question to ask of job engineer two candidate, right? So it’s – you know, in that sense, it’s helpful and there’s a degree that you’ve graduated beyond needing any suggestions. Well then, hey, save the time of typing by just clicking the button, right? So it’s – and what’s great about our questions in our system is that the recruiter drives them, right?
So recruiters create libraries of their questions based on different roles. So it’s almost like there’s a pride of authorship in there. Like if you think of a good question, you kind of get some credit for it over time. So it’s good.
Brandon: It probably goes back to the point you’re making about data and that – there’s more than meets the eye with this tool. You’re probably collecting a bunch of questions and responses over time, and platform-wide maybe it’s sort of looking at the data, looking at the position and then making suggestions? Or is it just based on the library for that one particular user or company that’s using it?
Aman: Both levels.
Brandon: Both, awesome.
Aman: We have reference data at a kind of global level. That certainly helps make smarter decisions and then we have customer-specific data that’s not shared beyond that customer. We’re optimizing within that as well.
Brandon: What points in the recruiting process do you want people using this tool? I imagine, to your point, you don’t want to relinquish full control and you still want that kind of human experience. Is it really just in the screening process where this tool could be valuable and streamline a lot of that or maybe the first interview, second interview? Where do you see people using it the most?
Aman: Yeah. So I would say the very top of the funnel, screening, and then what I would call logistics and follow-up. So imagine you had a quick screen. OK. You know, we would love to bring you in to meet with the hiring manager and you can actually even schedule that meeting right within that chat stream. Where now, let’s say they’re coming in next Friday at noon. Our national language engine will recognize that as a time and date. You can do some fun stuff with that.
Then I could schedule a note to go out to you Friday morning at 8:00 with a little glider saying, “Hey, we’re looking forward to seeing you on campus today. Here’s the map to get to the office.” You preschedule that, right?
So there are all these things that we are overlooking as far as how we can enhance that recruitment process by thinking about technology. So those are the places where we see continued usage past the screen. You know, and to schedule a note drop on the candidate’s first day, right? And say, “Hey, just checking in to make sure you have a great first day.” So it’s a way to get all those tasks into the system and working for you and kind of enhancing that.
Brandon: That’s interesting. So in one way, people are relying heavily on the tool early on in the process. But it’s not like the tool is ever being left behind throughout the entire experience. You’re almost relying on that tool to enhance the experience or keep it very streamlined and keep the experience the same until the day they’re hired, right? Maybe there are little touch points here and there, like schedule to calendar, messages being sent on the first day. To your point, that’s pretty neat.
Aman: Yeah, yeah, exactly. So I think once you kind of get your hands on it, there’s a lot there to empower your process.
Brandon: I think what’s frustrating – I’m in the sales and marketing world and there’s tons of software available, right? I can pick and choose my marketing automation software, analytics systems, all that. I think as capital starts making its way into the HR industry, HR people will have the same problem if they haven’t already, where there’s just tons of software suites available.
I think a lot of people are looking for one solution where – OK. So Canvas, you have the recruiting process sort of dialed in and all the way to the point where they’re hired. I think people are looking for systems like that where it just enhances the experience and continues to put the employer brand forefront. What’s your thought process on when you’re building a software, that’s going to make HR and talent officers’ lives a lot easier? What goes through your mind when you’re building something like that?
Aman: One of it is – I think we’ve kind of said there is this whole – well, I can tell you how we built Canvas and how we continue to build it. I mean I think there’s this absolutely macroeconomic opportunity, right? To go automate every process in the world with some magical AI. And I think the way we’ve decided to look at it is, “What are the things that recruiters are doing and how do we create these delightful moments to help them accomplish more without calling it machine learning and AI?” Right?
Aman: So you notice, right? Like you don’t see it anywhere on our website, right? The whole point is let’s create really cool outcomes using these technologies. And not just kind of waving the words around for the word’s sake. So we’ve kind of looked at what I would say, “What are the micro tasks?” What are the little everyday things? And looking at it at that level and then knocking them up just one at a time, right? So every week, we’re kind of adding something new where the recruiter doesn’t have to do that task in the same way anymore.
So when you look at where we started seven months ago, many of those little delightful moments we’ve created didn’t even exist. But they came from just seeing how conversations were flowing. You know, seeing how recruiters are using tools and getting great suggestions for them about things they would like to see. So I think we’ve kind of taken that bottom-up approach, right? So how do we look at how people are actually communicating and how to automate those tasks versus trying to deploy some magical piece of AI that sources, recommends and hires magical candidates all in one happy flow? I think we’re far from that right now.
Brandon: As we wrap up this discussion – and I could honestly talk to you forever and geek it out all day long about this. What are the other trends that you’re seeing in recruiting and how is it maybe going to shift the way that you’re doing business?
Aman: Yeah. I mean I think we have to open our minds up to how we think about how the data can be employed for good. So here’s an example. With Canvas today, you can click one button and de-identify transcripts, right? So you could take these conversations and screens, click one button and gender-neutralize them or neutralize them in other ways.
So we have to kind of open ourselves up to thinking about hiring differently then, right? So I think that there’s this kind of give-and-take about that, about how social ones might shift because I could tell you, hey, I can de-identify this candidate. But you might – not you specifically, but hiring managers might go, “Gosh, that feels kind of weird to me,” you know. If you think about, “Well, why do you really need to know? Why do you need to know if I’m Amy Brown or Aman Brar?”
But that creates a lot of change management and uncomfortable conversations to kind of get to a better outcome. So in many cases that we have the technology to do some interesting things, but we have to work through the human side of it, right? So I think that’s a big theme that you will see in the whole D&I space over the next few years. The other side is I think maybe a little more practical and tangible, which is we’re living in a great time right now for recruiters where they really can start operating in a one-to-many mode, really operating as marketers of employment. I think that’s exciting and I think you’re going to – if you’re kind of stuck in the old model, you really ought to think about, “How do I reexamine what it means to be a recruiter?” in this labor and market, with the technology that we have and really kind of thinking about the world. You know, maybe less from an individual sales perspective. But more from a macroeconomic marketing perspective. And I think those are the recruiters that are likely going to see a lot of career success over the next decade.
Brandon: Love it. Aman, thank you for being part of the podcast. This was a lot of fun and you’re a wealth of knowledge. I love what you’re doing. It’s really fascinating. Where can people learn about you, Canvas, anything else that you want to mention?
Aman: Yeah, yeah. Check us out at www.GoCanvas.io. Best way to get to know us is scheduling a quick 15-minute demo with us. No one has ever regretted seeing the software in action. You can follow us – you can follow me on Twitter, @amandbrar and Canvas on Twitter, @gocanvasHQ. So some great ways to stay in touch with us.
Brandon: Awesome. Thanks a lot Aman.
Aman: Cheers, man. Have a good one.