Jonathan Finkelstein is founder and CEO of Credly, where he helps the world speak a common language about people’s knowledge, skills and abilities. He has worked with thousands of organizations to launch online workforce development programs and learning platforms a global scale. His work helped bring about a digital transformation in how people develop skills that lead to in-demand jobs and careers that did not exist just years ago. As the son of two New York City public school teachers, Jonathan graduated with honors from Harvard University.Follow Follow
Storytelling About Credly with Jonathan Finkelstein
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 134. This week we have storytelling about Credly with Jonathan Finkelstein. During this episode, Jonathan and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Credly.
Jonathan is CEO and founder of Credly and an expert in all things talent and education. His passion to “create a world where every person can achieve their full potential based on their verified skills” and help organizations make better decisions really comes through during the podcast.
Credly hosts the world’s largest digital credential network available. Their goal is to help the world speak a common language of verified knowledge, skill and ability. In order to do so, they issue digital badges, learn about your workforce and supercharge your profiles.
A few things we touch on today: Are candidates more interested in developing new skills or enhancing existing talents? How often should candidates and employers reassess abilities to make sure they’re up to date? How does one go about getting credentialed?
Of course, we cover more, but you have to tune in to learn. Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.
Show length: 31 minutes
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Welcome to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case Podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens or should happen when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better as we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment and HR tech. That’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. You’re listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today, we have Jonathan on from Credly and we’re going to be learning all about his firm. I can’t wait. I’ve been following Credly for forever. So, it’s just nice to talk to him and learn about his firm, and learn about how folks are using and buying Credly. So, Jonathan, simple introductions, why don’t you introduce both yourself and Credly?
Thanks, William, and thanks for the chance to talk with you and your audience today. I’m Jonathan Finkelstein. I’m the CEO of Credly. Credly is focused on helping people achieve their full potential on the basis of what they actually know and can do. The way we do that in the world is make sure that organizations have access to real-time trusted information about their skills and abilities when making human capital decisions.
Well, I love this on many levels. One is candidates today are desiring that their skills be improved, right? So on one level, as a recruiter, it’s hard to figure out what people… If I say Python on my resume or LinkedIn profile, the breadth and depth of my knowledge of Python is nebulous. So from a recruiting perspective, it’s nice to know where people actually are on their journey, but it’s also nice on the candidate side, because that’s often questions that they ask during the recruiting process is, “How are you going to make me better? How are you going to upskill me? How are you going to increase my skills?” So, I could see it playing both from the employer’s perspective, both on a new attraction of talent, but also internal mobility. It also resonating with candidates as well.
Absolutely. I think you’ve nailed two of the key parts of what make this approach to thinking about skills so important across the whole labor market, what’s in it for the individual, what’s in it for the company and how does the company turn that or the organization that someone works at it into a benefit of employment. When you think about it, the most important decisions that organizations make are about people, and yet it’s the area in which they have the weakest data sets. Most of it has relied on self-reported information, which even the most well-meaning individuals left to their own devices do not represent the same skills and the same achievements as someone else who may have gone through exactly the same experience. And that puts a lot of individuals in a poor place when it comes to decisions made about them, but it also puts organizations in a really tough spot not to have reliable information.
Our approach when it comes to where does this verified information come from has been to create a network of the organizations that see you and your skills in action, and then help them all align on a common way of representing your skills, your certifications, and your achievements. So when you look at any one of the thousands of organizations that operate on our network, they may be competitors out in the world offering competing products or having competing firms, but they all have a common way of providing transparency to skills. They all prescribe them using a common format, aligning to a common set of skill and competency tags and information, and ultimately giving the earner a common way of representing their skills. So it takes the guesswork out of it, and that as individuals meet firms or new opportunities, they can present their skills in a way that isn’t self-reported, but comes with a data-rich and trusted backing of the organizations that can attest to what they can do.
You’re exactly right, William. The flip side of that is we’ve been seeing 400% increase over the last year or two in terms of organizations that are issuing these credentials, these certifications to their own employees as a way of signaling that they are not only the standard setter in their space and the ones capable of issuing these certifications, but that by virtue of working at these companies, you’re going to be building up that verified record of your human capital, which makes you more marketable the longer you stay and work there.
I love this because, again, we’ve looked at academic institutions. Historically, you get an MBA from Harvard and it’s assumed, and rightfully so, that you have a general knowledge of business, right? Probably even more, not just a general, probably a deeper understanding, especially if you have some specialization. There’s a credential. There’s a way of saying, “Okay. Yeah. There’s a rigor that was applied. I can trust that this person has this knowledge.” What’s different about skills is A, they change frequently, A, and I can see people making an argument for working on your own, as an individual working on your own strengths and making them stronger, or looking at your weaknesses and trying to balance yourself out.
I can see looking at contiguous skills or transferable skills. Skills, they’re different than degrees. Degrees are important. I’m not going to say they didn’t cover, but skills, what’s great about what y’all are doing is you’re basically saying, “Okay. With this skill, we’re going to zone in and focus on this thing.” It’s agreed upon in the way that y’all have done it. We want to dig into that in terms of the rigor and the testing and how you deal with the competencies. But what are you seeing right now from the candidates themselves and as they approach their skills? Do you see them wanting to build skills that are outside of maybe what they’ve done before and broaden themselves? Or do you see them, it’s the old cliche of a mile wide and an inch deep or an inch wide and a mile deep? What are you seeing in the skills market?
Yeah. Well, when you playback the last year and a half, in particular, I think that if it was not understood by every member of the labor market, it now certainly is. You are an HR department of one. You might work at a company that invests incredibly in professional development and learning opportunities, but it’s still up to you to figure out what is your priority, what kind of career benefits are you looking for. Certainly, there’s a sweet spot between that and what your company wants and needs and expects of you. There’s a great opportunity there. But at the end of the day, I think we’re seeing in today’s labor environment that each individual can choose to lean to the kinds of opportunities that are going to lead to the kinds of outcomes that each person is looking for.
Now, to your earlier your point about looking at degrees and what kinds of proof points emerge from formal academic learning programs, as you pointed out historically, for those lucky enough to actually complete a degree, you wind up with a pretty top line assessment, usually in the form of bachelor of science or associate’s degree. There’s very little understanding today about what actually went in to earning that and what skills you bring to the table. So even academic programs are looking at ways of adding credentials to degree program for offering smaller ties micro-credentials that are more specific about how you can apply your skills. That approach, as we know, has been really accelerating by training providers, by associations that offer industry certifications, and by companies themselves that are either certifying their own workforce or the customer base that they serve through product certification. The movement has been towards a more granular unit of achievement that is backed by rich data that can help someone trust in what is the context in which this person who presents these skills is going to be successful.
Jonathan, just real quick on that is it’s a smaller unit, which I love, of course, because you can get into… Take marketing as an example. Are you great at direct marketing versus outdoor advertising? Both are important. One skill might be different, is absolutely different than the other. And so, what’s that? When we look at certifying that, when we look at credentialing that, we’re making sure there’s trust involved, right? So there’s trust involved that the credentialing is true and accurate. One of the things that I love about the granularity of what you’re doing, I wanted to ask you about what’s the rapidity or velocity in terms of how often should we be thinking about credentialing in terms of, okay, let’s say I tested really well exceptional on direct marketing and we’ll just use that as an example or you can use one that’s better than that, of course. How often do I need to, both as an individual, as an employee or as an employer, how often do I need to go back and make sure that my skills are up to date?
So certainly the answer to that is going to depend on what your own goals are and how fast paced or fast moving the industry and the job roles that you’re in and that you’re serving in terms of what they care about. But I think what we’re seeing is one of the biggest sectors that have a home on the Credly network are organizations for whom training and certification is either the primary thing that they do or it is strategically connected to the growth of their organization. So if you take a group like the Project Management Institute, which issues the PMP and other certifications, arguably among the most popular certifications requested on job descriptions in the world today, second only to the generic driver’s license, and they have a very robust program around recertification, continuing education, tracking those learning experiences to keep your PMP active.
As a result, they have created a very reputable Credential with a capital C that people look for by name on resumes and name in job descriptions. You can see that play out in product certifications, where the rate of change of feature sets and use cases and workflows within product certifications, whether it’s Microsoft Azure or AWS or Oracle, and SAP, Cisco, all of whom have very rapid release schedules, not only on their products, but on the certifications people can earn in those products. You can see that play out in the digital credentials that they earn and that Credly distributes and helps individuals put to use on our platform. And so, in those kinds of environments, I think the expectation is that you’re continually learning and that you’re continually updating your certifications.
You’ve got credentials that represent what I think of as the lower case C credentials. They are asked for by name on job descriptions, but they don’t usually appear with a capital letter, like the PMP or your Azure or AWS certification as a requirement. Often, these are either so called soft skills or human skills. They might be skills as you point out around marketing or communications. This is an area where I think people are looking. At the end of the day, if they’re going to make a bet on you, they want to know that you have the highest likelihood of producing value for their organization in the shortest amount of time. The more appropriate credentials or proof points you can bring to the table, I think the less guesswork and the more trust an organization can place in you in making a hiring or promotion decision.
There are a range of… One of the reasons Credly is taking the approach we have, rather than define our own credentials or make our own assessments, we welcome to the network the organizations that do communication or collaboration or marketing skills from all different types of angles that meet individuals at different points of their career or help them serve in different types of settings. At the end of the day, the individual can bring that all together onto a common profile and present a holistic view of themselves. Many of these credentials do include expiration dates that the issuer feels best indicates how often it is you should be upskilled or recertified. We leave it to them to make that determination, and that winds up as a data point that’s part of every credential the individual earns.
I love that. This is a distinction I want to make sure the audience understands, because a lot of folks that are in the skills market develop their own assessments, their own testing. They’re the mechanic behind the scenes that actually says this person has this skill or not. The way that y’all have done it is you said, “Yeah, we could do that, but there’s a better way. There’s a better way of getting these credentials and making sure they’re true to what actually is needed in the market. It’s by the people that are actually in the market.” So, explain that a little bit for folks, just making sure that they understand how one goes about getting credentialed.
Sure. So credentials can come from a range of different organizations. Some of them come from organizations, like associations that set the standard for skills within their given field. These can be cybersecurity organizations, like ISACA, ISC)², or CompTIA, the largest vendor neutral certifier of cloud and computer and IT skills, or SHRM in the HR space, or HRCI, the Human Resource Certification Institute. These are groups that offer both learning and certification and have a lifelong relationship to people throughout their career. That’s one segment of a very common source of credentials. People can enroll in the learning, and most cases go direct to the assessment, which can either be an online assessment. Sometimes they’re proctored exams. Sometimes they include the review of applied work in the field, which is an increasingly common approach. People want to know that you didn’t just pass a test, but they want to know how you apply your knowledge.
So, these trade organizations in everything, from IT to HR to supply chain management, like the credentials from APEX or in Allied Health, like the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing. You name it. There are credential groups that set the standard in every field. Another approach is to earn credentials from organizations I alluded to earlier, like the product certification providers. This is everything from unicorn companies like Pendo, or recently acquired companies like Tableau and DocuSign that have all determined that earning credentials is essential to the top line growth of their businesses, that as their product suites become more complex and cover more workflows within business and large enterprises, the only way people will renew their subscriptions, the only way people will get value out of the products come renewal time is by having people out in the field that are certified in the use of these products.
And so, it’s not a coincidence that if you visit any of Salesforce’s buildings, you’ll see the Trailhead branding all over the buildings, because Salesforce is a great example of a company that has aligned its learning branding with its company growth strategy. You see that with company after company. Credly helps power all the Grow with Google certificates, including the ones earned through Coursera in IT support. These are credentials where somebody has either decided they want to level up within their career or even change career. These are credentials that can help someone make that transition or get that promotion.
And then lastly, William, I’ll add that there’s increasingly a good likelihood that you work at a company that not only sponsors your ability to earn these certifications through professional development budgets or through the training programs they themselves sponsor, but that they are actually becoming issuers of credentials. To your very first point, we’ve seen a tremendous growth in businesses who see a link between retaining employees and branding their organization as a great place to work because it’s a great place to learn. Many businesses, from IBM to State Farm to PBH and Bank of Montreal, have instituted credentialing programs for their employees. So, you might not need to look any further. They’re in your own L&D department.
I love it. Real quickly, COVID and remote work, I guess in general, let’s just go there, have you seen a difference between the approach in skills and credentialing pre-COVID as it relates to how we’re still technically in a pandemic, but as it is now?
Yes, definitely. I think the trends were already all moving towards this concept of skill-based recognition and skill-based hiring, but we certainly saw an acceleration, I think, driven not only the pandemic, but also by a much overdue change in mindset about thinking about diversity and equity in making people decisions. I think those two components, the… I think when it comes to the retention story and the relationship between individuals, their employers and the career they want for themselves, people really got to see the true colors of the organizations they work with as can happen in any relationship when times are tough or times are bad. I think individuals really got a sense for what are the real values that my organization manifests.
When it comes time to thinking about how do you right size or correctly size a company during the beginning of a pandemic, how do you treat people with dignity, how do you invest in their learning to help them fill the open seats created by a lot of growth that happened as all the digital transformation trends accelerated, the common angle on all of this is it’s never been more important to know who has what skills, how do you respect what people bring to the table. Having a common way of recognizing people, I think added a lot of humanity to the way individuals, I think, feel respected in the workplace. Obviously, people trying to make career changes, people who feel like their jobs may be at risk or that the industry that they’re in is undergoing a lot of change sought out what are the most appropriate short form credential I can get to prove what I already know or to get me into a new pathway towards a different career, that accelerated.
Organizations themselves said, “We’re completely digital. Why are we still printing paper certificates? At the end of the day, we’ve got to have a more streamlined, efficient approach to recognizing achievement?” All of those things drove the growth of what Credly provides. And then through the equity lens, I think when you’re living a world in which 26% of Black Americans hold a bachelor’s degree compared to 40% of their white peers, a disparity that’s much a starker if you are a woman of color, you can’t keep leaning on bachelor’s degrees or degrees at all as the way you winnow down a funnel of talent to make decisions, because you will find that you have summarily dismissed the most qualified people before you’ve even began to meet them. And so, new approaches to driving more equity in the talent acquisition funnel have also driven groups [crosstalk 00:21:30].
I absolutely love that you brought us here because it can be a great equalizer, because again, I use the Harvard MBA example, there are folks again, historically… Well, let’s not deal with it right now. Historically, there was two camps. There was folks that were… That’s what they wanted. They wanted to recruit folks from Harvard. There’s another group on the other end of the spectrum of they absolutely did not want to recruit folks from Harvard. And so, bias was on both sides. But skills, it seems, and again, applied correctly, skills seems like you either have the skill or you don’t, and I like that. Again, as it’s truly applied, I like that as an equalizer and looking at talent for what they actually are good at, what they bring to the table, the value, et cetera. So, I love that you brought us there. I got three things left and I want to get through them real quick. One is when people first look at Credly, what do they fall in love with?
Great question. Well, I guess it depends on the person, but some of the things I see in comment across the various audiences we meet, I think they fall in love with the simplicity and the elegance of actually being able to look across the universe of so many different ways that skills can be assessed and learned and demonstrated. This can be a really complicated landscape. Look at anybody’s logo charts of all of the players who play in the content or the assessment or the learning or the HRIS space. There are so many different ways to learn, so many different companies, so many different associations.
I think the simplicity of being able to represent outcomes from so many different environments in a very common, simple way that is both human-readable than any person who’s never met you or who may be unfamiliar with where your skills were assessed can look at it and have a really quick understanding of what you bring to the table. That simplicity is, I think, something that’s fairly magical to people. It’s not something that you develop overnight. Credly has been working on and abdicating for transparency and a common way of talking about achievements across verticals and across the landscape for a long time and has really created and tapped into a movement over doing this, which has brought some odd bedfellows to the same network. So that’s one thing.
I would say the other thing that people fall in love with is… I don’t know, William, if you are the kind of person who monitors own finances and likes to understand where you stand in any given moment, or if you know people who when they get their paycheck are putting it into applications where they can understand how much to save and what to spend on their family and their kids and what’s going towards their entertainment expenses. It’s really clear to understand what you do with your paper or your digital paycheck that comes in every couple of weeks into your bank account, but nobody really has that same ability when it comes to their human capital.
I think what Credly is really trying to do is to help create that same sense of control and empowerment that comes with making your own decisions about your career, because you actually know what your skills are worth. I think that’s something that strikes both individuals and organizations. When they look at Credly, they go, “Not only can I understand what a skill and a certification is and what it represents, but I can understand how I can spend it, what I can do with it,” and that really resonates with people.
So this will be a dumb question, how do they render? How do candidates render? Internal candidates, external candidates, how do they render their skills and credentials? How’s it best rendered?
Great question. The one common approach is that every credential is rendered with a set of a data that you see on a digital version of… You can think of it, even though it doesn’t necessarily look like a traditional paper certificate, it’s got all the information you would expect, plus all of the data richness and links out to the ways in which this credential can be valued. So, you see who issued it, and of course, it’s verified that it came from that source, when it was issued. Does it expire? What are the individual skills and competencies that comprise this credential? What are the openings in the job market that are asking for this skill or certification? Where are they located? What are the salaries they’re paying? What are the related credentials or skills that might often be accompanying this one or that you might want to pursue or check out? All of these things are part of and are all how these credentials are commonly displayed.
The other thing though is this is a real marketplace and the credentials you earn, while they can be seen on your Credly profile and you can determine how and where you want to push them to your current employer through tools, like our Credly 360 product, where your current manager can get a sense in real time of your skills and your newly earned skill, or you can push them out to your social and professional footprint out on LinkedIn or your resume or your email signature, but it’s also a pull mechanism.
So, companies like ZipRecruiter are partners of Credly through our data service offering. If you log into ZipRecruiter today and you create a job seeker account, you’ll see the place, there’s a button that says, “Import my credentials from Credly,” and that will help inform your ability to match much more quickly to a job based on verified information. That’s just one example. Companies like Degreed, the LXP have integrated with Credly to allow that full round trip of data from your employer for the skills to develop on the job and your ability to pull in the data that Credly has helped you collect from other verified sources.
I love that, and I love the ZipRecruiter in particular, because it’s getting into the competencies, which is what recruiters are trying to get to with their job description, so that hopefully it builds a better match. You’ll kill me for this, but I wrote down Carfax for skills because it seems one of the things that… I’ve recently bought a car, and one of the things that it came with the car was a Carfax report. I had never really given it that much thought. And then I read the report, I’m like, “Okay, well…”
Exactly. We really become accustomed to the assets, especially the most important ones, like our houses, and buy and sell properties, or our cars. If we’re investing our skills and our time in the workforce and in learning are at least as big as the commitments we make to our cars and our houses.
You’re exactly right. So, no, I won’t kill you from that comparison. I think it’s awesome.
All right. Last question out, favorite customer story of one of your customers using Credly, no names. Anonymize it. We don’t need to know who it was, but just personally your favorite story.
There are so many good story and it’s what excites me about the work we do. Maybe real quickly, I would say shortly before the pandemic struck, I was out on a business trip in an Uber going from customer to customer and to airport to airport. I think in a single day, I had a couple of customer visits. My Uber driver had a book in the front seat. He was studying for his CompTIA A+ exam, which is issued on Credly. I got to a meeting, where there was a project manager who had her PMP certification and was a Girl Scouts gold award winner from when she was in Girl Scouts, which is the highest level of achievement you can achieve in Girl Scouts, and then met with somebody who had earned a credential in the cloud computing system that that company used.
All of them were on Credly. Multiple people had multiple credentials on our platform and it really struck me that the work we were doing to bring more transparency and more trust to help people present themselves in the world and how businesses make decisions was happening. When you start to meet people by chance throughout your day that all have begun to realize the benefits of representing their achievements in this way, I think it really starts to make you realize that all the hard work in helping propel this movement is starting to pay off.
Yeah, you’re making a real difference. That’s what I love about it.
Jonathan, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. This has been wonderful, and I just really appreciate your time.
Likewise. I enjoy all the work that you do, and thank you for facilitating such amazing conversations. I’m glad to have been among them. Thank you.
Thank you, and thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.