The FOT Interview: Newton Software’s Joel Passen

Kris Dunn HR Technology, Kris Dunn

Editor’s Note:  FOT Founder Kris Dunn sat down recently with Joel Passen, Head of Marketing and a Co-Founder of Newton Software, a company developing corporate applicant tracking software that helps organizations improve hiring.  The FOT Interview is not a paid post, we reserve it for folks who we think have a unique angle on a common problem in the Talent game. Translation: We respect their game.  In the case of Newton, we loved the “sales funnel” feel of the solution, starting with what the dashboard recruiters see when logging in. Take a look:

1. Joel, you claim you’re a recovering recruiter who developed a recruiting solution that just plain works.  What’s the equivalent of a relapse to you as a recovering recruiter?  You find yourself avoiding meaningful feedback?  People think you’re a fundamentalist due to all the praying that follows your posting?

[JP] Well, I’ve always said that buying job postings is like going to Vegas and sitting at the nickel Joelheadshot slots. No really, sometimes I feel like I should hire a sponsor to sit next to me during the day to talk me out of getting too involved in our customers’ recruiting programs. I sit in meetings and on calls with HR and corporate recruiting teams and listen to all the common problems that I used to help solve as a consultant.  I often have to remind myself that I’m at the table to talk about solving problems with technology not necessarily to offer advice on organizational structure or solving communication problems. Truth be told, I still jones for a good recruiting strategy session.

2. We dig your software because the prominence of what I like to call “the funnel”, or more to the point, “the truth teller”.  Can you take a couple of minutes and tell our audience what the funnel is and why the candidate funnel holds such prominence in the UI of Newton?

 [JP] Well, first, thanks. We’re receiving recognition from the community at large for having finally designed applicant tracking software that focuses on ‘processing’ candidates and improving recruiting programs and not just making promises about getting more candidates.

 As for the funnel, it’s not necessarily a new concept in recruiting. Most interview processes are designed as funnels. I think of the candidate funnel as a systematic process that narrows down a group of candidates into a final person or persons. A candidate must go through a series of discrete stages before becoming that finalist. If the funnel is configured properly and used consistently there are a series of ‘stage gates’ that produce very measurable metrics. Accurate, stage specific metrics help us continuously improve the funnel’s results with very little latency and fewer wasted resources.

Here’s the deal. When we started to design Newton years ago, we designed it to meet our needs as corporate recruiters. We lived the candidate funnel every day. We know that recruiting is a linear business process defined by a series of discrete stages and driven by binary yes and no decisions.

Instead of building another corporate applicant tracking system that requires a ton of customization and ultimately doesn’t ever understand recruiting, we built a system that works the way that recruiting works out of the box. We built a candidate funnel!

We also realized that if we focused on usability as the number one feature, people would actually use the system and we wouldn’t have to continuously beg people to use the software. In turn, when people use a system that is designed to drive the yes and no decisions that drive candidates down the funnel, they capture very succinct, very telling metrics. In other words, they capture the truth.

For Newton users, the truth starts on the home page, a real-time breakdown of the candidate funnel. We call it air traffic control for recruiting. I may rename it ‘the Dunn funnel Page’.  We also have a real-time recruiting performance dashboard that breaks down the stage-to-stage conversion rates of the funnel and the time it takes to move candidates through each stage of the process. Our dashboards are about finding the bottlenecks and log jams in the hiring process. And, the key to this is that we keep it simple, so even companies with few resources can have the power to continuously improve recruiting.

Note from KD: Here’s a shot of the dashboard peeps (top numbers are what I love, classic sales funnel activity to take all the BS out of the machine), click to make it go much bigger….

Funnel Dashboard

3. You have to pick two consecutive funnel components to evaluate the performance of a recruiter.  What two funnel stages do you pick and why?

[JP] Easy. When I was running recruiting departments, I was most interested in the beginning and the end of the funnel.  Number one, are my recruiters getting candidates and filtering them effectively before sending them to our hiring managers? If yes, it means that my team is working hard and they have their jobs calibrated accurately. It also means that our hiring managers are getting good service.

Two, are we closing candidates that we’ve spent lots of time and resources on in the funnel? If yes, then we’ve given the candidates good information during the process (candidates with the best information are most likely to take jobs because they understand the risks), the experience has been good for the candidate and the managers and my team have collectively executed.

4. Word has it you’ve started a group called the HR Mafia.  Since everyone knows the mob has been relegated to fat guys running around in air jordans and Lawrence Taylor retro jerseys, why should we care about your mafia?

[JP] I cannot confirm or deny that I’ve assembled a ‘family’ of HR industry experts that collaborate, share ideas and offer businesses valuable solutions. I can tell you that if I were to start a syndicate of experts, ‘HR Mafia’ would not be the best handle. That said, I’m from Cleveland, so I like to think that I have a little gangsta in me still, so think what you want.

5. You run a company in San Francisco and have to try and pick off engineering talent amid the Google and the Twitter (yes, “the twitter”).  How many foosball tables do you have?  What’s the worst idea related to recruiting talent in San Fran that you had and why did it fail when you thought it was going to rock?

[JP] We used to have a ping pong table, but we got accused of never leaving the office and Steve, Newton’s Head of Products / Co-Founder, won everyone’s beer drinking money every week so we donated the table to a local youth center.

Actually, we’ve been really fortunate. Newton Software is our third successful business in the talent acquisition industry. Over the years, we’ve developed relationships with people that possess deep domain expertise in their respective fields. For example, our cloud architect worked with us in our last venture. One of our services managers was a consultant at a client of ours. Our key engineers were people that we worked with when we were recruiters back in the day.  And, given that we are intimately familiar with the labor market in the Bay Area, we know that we need to be creative and pursue talent in secondary markets. So, we don’t compete with ‘the twitter’, buy oxygen bars, have go carts in the office or sell our souls to make great hires.

Listen, we make mistakes all the time, all kinds of mistakes. But, I have to say, we know recruiting pretty darn well and don’t stray from our formula. That is, we eat our own dog food.

Here’s how recruiting works at Newton Software.

1. Calibrate our jobs for skills, experience and character.

2. Identify the pockets of talent where we perceive there will be matches.

3. Develop our candidates the old fashioned way, call them and tell them our story.

4. Conduct meaningful phone screens to optimize time.

5. Conduct orchestrated interviews focusing on ability, talent and character all the while marketing our opportunity.

6. Offer people an honorable, interesting job in a fair work environment with real people with little tolerance for politics.

Oh yeah, we do have one offbeat perk. We offer a ‘low to no’ meeting culture. We hate internal meetings, they suck and they waste a lot of time. We prefer the agile method of decision making: define the issue, look at the options, make a decision, live with it.

Editor’s Note: Joel Passen is the Head of Marketing and a Co-Founder of Newton Software, a company developing corporate applicant tracking software that helps organizations improve hiring. A self-described recovering corporate recruiter, Joel has been involved in the talent acquisition industry for the past 15 years. When Joel is not thinking about recruiting, he’s either thinking about food, cooking or pretending to write a food blog. Check out Joel’s profile on LinkedIn.

Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.