Coffee in hand, dog on my lap, I opened my laptop to engage with clients. An email jumped out at me, titled:
“how to interview for a job while sitting on the toilet.”
Chuckling with curiosity I opened it to find a request from a marketing company. They had seen my blog post "3 ways your intuition tells you if you'll love that job," and thought I might be interested in writing a story about a startup company called Canvas.
Unsure what I was potentially getting into (why the toilet?), and why my intuition said “yes” when I asked if I should follow up on this, I pulled up the Canvas company website. The Canvas platform allows recruiters to text with potential hires, anytime from anywhere. Watching the demo, the process seemed simple, user-friendly, and transparent. Yet this felt far removed from how my friends were recruited into Silicon Valley in the late 90’s, with college recruiters visiting campus, then in-person interviews, then messages left on answering machines for a call back, and finally lures of hiring bonuses.
Can you really interview for a job through text just 20 years later?
So I reached out to a friend who has a small, traditionally run tech firm. He is often seeking fresh talent, so I asked him for initial thoughts about Canvas. I heard his GenX groan through email. My thoughts exactly. But while I initially rejected mashing my fingers onto a keypad over just calling someone, texting took off and brought me along somewhat unwillingly. Along with communication research, John McWhorter helped me understand through his 2013 TED Talk, “Txting is killing language. JK!!!,” that texting is just finger talking. And it turns out, in 2018 Canvas is showing us that texting can be a great tool for the initial step in recruiting. This story, then, is as much for me, a “GenXer” coming to terms with the rapidly changing recruiting process as it is for my newfound respect for Canvas. It’s also a story of intuition, letting go of initial bias, and welcoming an innovative new recruitment tool.
To prepare for talking with a busy CEO, I reached out on LinkedIn to friends in recruiting, tech, and corporate training and retention. I used their feedback to draft questions. In addition, the word “democratization” kept coming through intuitively whenever I thought about Canvas, so I drafted a few questions around that. Then on a Friday morning I carved out an hour to talk with the CEO of Canvas, Aman Brar. I found him warm and his responses so thoughtful and succinct that I had answers to my questions in half that time.
We began with the story of how Canvas came about.
In addition to an extensive amount of volunteer work for community youth, Aman Brar has a broad background in leading technology companies through periods of high growth, and he has held key corporate strategy and finance roles at Fortune 500 companies. As former president of Apparatus, Aman led the company from local, to regional, to global and then through a $34.2 million acquisition. After this success in 2015, his team was sitting around thinking about what to do next. They recognized a need for a method to boost recruiting productivity and saw text-based interviewing as a potential solution. So they shared that idea around with some HR execs at Space X, Airbnb and others, received feedback, and raised capital. Then, together with Kelly Lavin and Jared Adams, Aman launched Canvas, a text-based platform that allows recruiters to engage with and screen potential talent.
Now we were only a few minutes into the call and I felt uncharacteristically nervous.
So I chuckled when he noted that one of his motivations for creating Canvas was to allow the interview process to catch up with all the other areas of our lives where we don’t start relationships with awkward phone calls. Aman noted that we are 10 years in to this being a part of how we communicate and that “if you look at the data, Gen X, Y, and Millenials tend to be pretty telephone adverse now.”
So I asked how Canvas works. He said Canvas is an initial recruitment tool, allowing companies to engage potential candidates at the “top of the funnel”. Meaning a recruiter can send out texts to many potential candidates and each of them can then engage through text, asking questions about the job climate and benefits. If excited about the potential, both sides can agree to an interview over the phone or in person. And while this platform is targeted for the initial stages of the recruiting cycle, Canvas can be used for ongoing support (such as sending a text on the day of an in-person interview with directions).
Benefits to Recruiters
Aman described the benefits for recruiters as two-fold. First, it eliminates the awkward phone call as the initial communication. He said, “imagine a world where on popular dating sites like Bumble or Match, you had to schedule phone screens with people you were interested in. “A” it’s awkward and, “b” it doesn’t scale well.” So the second benefit for recruiters is scalability. Canvas “allows recruiters to leverage the platform by increasing the number of initial interviews from 4-6 in a day to 40-60. “
Benefits to Job-Seekers
Canvas has a lot of benefits for job seekers as well. Aman and his team see people today “are on go, busy, living full lives.” The Canvas platform increases the ability for these busy candidates to meet recruiters and get an initial sense about a company. With Canvas, you don’t have to download an application or go through a lengthy process to talk with a recruiter. The candidate can ask questions in real time about benefits and the potential for working from home.
It’s a time-saver as well. For those already happy in their job, it is a low investment way to engage with a company. Aman said, “It’s a tight labor market right now and candidates are more empowered today than they ever have been and want to get a sense of the culture, benefits and opportunity; so this is an opportunity to reduce potential interview costs.”
And then Aman used the word “democratize”
and I about fell out of my chair.
I kid you not, folks, this is why trusting intuition and not letting bias get in the way is so important. I may have dismissed this great opportunity to talk about Canvas because I was thrown off by the word “toilet.”
I asked him to expand on how his team sees Canvas as helping democratize the initial recruiting process. He said that anyone with a phone can engage with a recruiter, without having to go to own a computer, or go to a library, or download an application.
To follow this thread I asked about what Aman sees as Canvas’ role in relation to the underrepresentation of women and minorities in the tech industry. Aman explained that bringing more diversity into the workplace “ is a complex issue and not one company’s technology is going to solve the problem. But we are proud of the dent we are making in that world. For example we can take a chat conversation and de-identify it so that when shared with a hiring manager they will be less focused on if that conversation is with Aman Brar or Amy Brown.”
This removes unconscious bias
at the top of the recruiting funnel.
With a click of a button.
And removing my very conscious bias about who I initially thought Canvas was for, he clarified that his team sees the value in the platform going beyond “just Millennials or only today’s college graduates. In fact, Aman was excited to share that the first person recruited through Canvas was an experienced welder from a rural part of the country. Since its inception just 7 short months ago, people using the Canvas platform are recruiting welders, machinists, software engineers, physical therapists, nurses, physicians, customer care reps, and pilots. He also said “folks who are hard of hearing have written in saying ‘this is going to change my life and my ability to engage with companies.’” His team sees this as “a pretty universal communication platform. We think the reach is much broader.”
This made me excited for my former public speaking students. For example, a student showed up to class one day in a full suit and quietly let me know he had to leave early for a job interview with Tesla. Looking back, I imagine how balancing work, raising his daughter, and going to school, would make an initial interview over text a much needed time-saver. He could have asked about job climate, benefit packages, and job description before deciding to drive to Silicon Valley for an interview.
I also thought about my introverted students and asked Aman about his blog post on introverts. He said, “there is a time and place for pressure sensitive interviews where everything is measured on time. But we look at Canvas as a business casual first interaction between the candidate and recruiter. You have an opportunity to take a deep breath and take a few moments to think about what you want to say. “
On a personal level it made me very conscious of my students, friends, and even self, who are moms re-entering the workforce. He called us, “an untapped resource that the world needs to look to.” And as Aman noted, we were early adopters of texting. With all those years under our belt we can respond to a recruiter through text just as well as our nieces and nephews who are graduating college.
It also made me conscious of Canvas’ potential value for the incredibly rich diversity of my family, friends, former students, and colleagues. It made me consider how Canvas can help our talent speak for itself and bypass any initial unconscious bias that hiring managers may or may not have about us.
Yes, Canvas is user friendly, democratizing, and lets recruiters and potential talent initially engage in a low friction, low investment way. And this GenXer is no longer cynical, but has become a fan. Although if a recruiter sends me a text while I’m in the bathroom, I’ll likely run over to my closet, don a suit, and sit at my desk before I text them back. Just for manners sake. But I wouldn’t have to, and that is the beauty of Canvas.