Based in San Francisco, Tom Brunskill is the co-founder and CEO of Forage. Forage partners with leading global companies (including BCG, GE, Microsoft, JPMorgan) to create online training courses for college students to build career skills and confidence.Follow
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 198. Today we have Tom on from Forage about the use case or business case for why his prospects use Forage.
Prior to his role at Forage, he was an M&A Solicitor at King & Wood Mallesons and Corporate Lawyer at MinterEllison. Thomas studied at the Australian National University.
Forage bridges the gap with virtual job simulations that are purpose-built to inspire, engage and hire the next generation of talent.
Show length: 28 minutes
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Music: Welcome to RecruitingDaily 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.
William Tincup: Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. You are listening to The Use Case podcast. Today, we have Tom on from Forage, and we’ll be learning about the business case, the use case, cost-benefit analysis, et cetera, for why his customers stay customers of Forage and why prospects become customers of Forage. So, let’s just jump right into it. Tom, would you introduce yourself and introduce Forage?
Tom Brunskilll: Of course. It’s great to be here, William. My name is Tom Brunskill and I’m the CEO and co-founder of Forage. I’m based here in San Francisco, despite my accent, which you might take as not being from America. I was born and raised in Australia and moved over here four or five years ago to build Forage. And what we do at Forage is we work with typically large global brands, but not always large global brands, such as BCG, Goldman Sachs, Latham Watkins, GE, to create free, open access job simulations for candidates to build career skills and confidence.
And so the purpose behind these programs is to allow young people to road test careers before they actually apply to a particular company and the simulations quite literally simulate what it’s like to work in a particular company. So if you enrolled into the electronic art software engineering job simulation of Forage, you’d be learning how to build a fictional game called [Vax 00:01:35] Man, and you’d be learning how to use C++, you’d be learning how to use Python, the languages that they use there. You’d be learning how to mitigate cybersecurity risks as you develop the game. The whole idea behind these open access job simulations is for young people to build those career skills, build the confidence, and build the visibility to apply for the jobs which align with their superpowers and their passions.
William Tincup: What I love about simulations is, especially on the front end of the funnel, is it gives a person some insight into the job at that place, whatever the job is. If it’s a call center job, then they’ve got insight into, “Okay, here’s a day in the life.” Whether or not it’s a game or whether or not it’s a virtual reality or augmented reality or whatever, it’s insight into before you apply. I mean, go through this and just see, “Would you excel at this?” But you all have added another level of this that I really love, and it’s the job skills part where you’re actually teaching people. So the simulation alone, if you just stop there, that’s fantastic for so many people. So many candidates, instead of hitting that reply all, or LinkedIn apply all, and Indeed apply all, instead of doing that, you can go job by job, go into a simulation and go, “Yeah, this isn’t for me. I wouldn’t thrive here.”
Tom Brunskilll: Exactly. We actually have quite a few people in our team who used to work at Indeed, and we almost describe ourselves as the anti-Indeed in some regards in terms of what we are trying to do in the job application process is introduce some positive friction into the job application process so that we can surface the candidates who have demonstrated high intent. They’ve got to know the business, they’ve got to know the role. One of our fundamental insights at Forage is the way that recruitment has historically worked, which is hire first and then train second, doesn’t actually make a ton of sense in the age of software. And so what we do is we flip that around and allow companies to train candidates at scale first, and then hire the ones that know what they’re walking into, are aligned with their company, are aligned with the role, which obviously results in lower downstream attrition and happier employees and happier employers.
William Tincup: Well, what I love… Again, the job skills part is just really unique and it’s lovely because someone, we obviously can see this for folks coming out of high school or early stage careers, et cetera, the application, you can tell us a little bit more about the audience. But even people that are mid-career and they want to change their career and on their LinkedIn profile or on their resume, they don’t have those skills. So, if you just looked at that stuff as a recruiter or a hiring manager, you would say, “Yeah, this gal or this guy, they don’t fit because they’ve worked in food and beverage or whatever. They’ve worked in a different industry, have different skills.” But if they go through this, they go through the training, they show that interest and they do simulation, they actually like the job, that’s actually a person I want to talk to. So I love that. The question for you, many questions, but first is industries or jobs where you’ve just seen this thrive for your customers.
Tom Brunskilll: Yeah, our starting point is we don’t think there is an industry or job where our job simulations don’t work. I think fundamentally we believe that any career can be transformed into a bite-sized, online, interactive experience or job simulation. But where we’ve seen the job simulations particularly thrive, to begin with, is in professional service roles, corporate roles, so we work with a lot of law firms, consulting firms, accounting firms. But we’re, as you mentioned, we’ve now starting to work with use cases outside of the student land itself. So, if you think about military personnel who are transitioning into civilian life, parents who have been out of the workforce for a number of years who are re-entering the workforce, there’s a bunch of different inflection points where we’re seeing that our programs work. But for the most part, our programs are very industry agnostic. I know in the last two weeks, we’ve launched a software engineering program with Lyft, a marketing program with Lululemon, new investment banking ones with JP Morgan. It’s really quite broad in terms of the catalog of simulations that we do host on Forage.
William Tincup: Well, congratulations on the career transitions. So, you mentioned the military veterans, they’re in fair chance and second chance opportunity folks. That’s yet another 70 million people in America that have felonies. It’s another group of people that career transition is a way to A, build some skills and then see what a job looks like and then go from there. I know the audience will wonder in terms of the simulations themselves, or even some of the skills themselves, are they bespoke? Are they, if you’re working with a consulting firm, is it skills that they care about in a simulation that’s built for them or is it built by a job class or is, I want to say off the shelf, that’s not the right term, but are there ones for consulting firms and you’ve got different tiers and things like that, so you pull them off in their, I don’t know, just not generic, but not specific to the company? So, and I’m sure it’s probably a mixture of both, but just take us into the skills and simulation part of that.
Tom Brunskilll: Yeah. So as you correctly got right there, it is a mixture of both. So most of that catalog of job simulations are company specific. So, if you jumped onto the Forage website, there would be, it’s like a Netflix experience. You would see a bunch of different courses or job simulations that you could enroll in and it would be the BCG strategy consulting job simulation. It might be the SAP tech consulting job simulation, and then you would jump into that particular curriculum. And that curriculum has been created in partnership between Forage and that particular company. So people within SAP, within our corporate partners, will actually contribute to the creation of that curriculum, that job simulation.
And then, so if you are a candidate, you are going into that SAP experience and you are literally receiving, obviously a lighter version, but a version of the training that someone at SAP would go through. The only difference is that it’s pre-application process, so it’s pre-hire, and it’s completely free and it’s completely open access. So, absolutely anyone can enroll in these courses and many of our job simulations have four , 500,000 candidates enrolled in, at any given time. So, some of the big ones have certainly gained a lot of traction, particularly during COVID.
William Tincup: What’s beautiful about that is, again, if you’re exploring different careers at any point, again, high school, college, after college, at any point in your life, if you’re just thinking about something different, this is just a wonderful way to explore. “Hey, I wasn’t even thinking about this, but I went into it and I started looking around, looking through the curriculum. I started testing myself. I started learning some things. I went through simulation. I think I’m actually pretty good at this.”
Tom Brunskilll: Exactly. Exactly. And the other way is true as well. We say that the job simulations are just as powerful in telling you what isn’t suited to you as what is suited to you because, particularly, a lot of candidates have a fixed idea. I know when I was at university and I was fortunate to be able to go off and study law and I thought I wanted to become a corporate lawyer because I was watching Boston Legal and Suits and thought that was what the world of law looked like, and surprise, surprise being an attorney is nothing like that. It’s not a great proxy for a career. And so the idea is, most founders out there, is building a product that I wish I had, that I could road test those different careers and dispel some assumptions or myths around what a particular career look like.
I mean, we’ve got job simulations with Walmart, for example. Walmart is, first and foremost, a data science company. But most candidates, myself included, would never think of Walmart as having super compelling careers in data science and software engineering and so their job simulations on Forage all relate to data science and software engineering. And we find many students who jump on and be like, “Whoa, I thought I could only be a software engineer at Google or Facebook or wherever. I never thought about Walmart as having compelling careers in the same space.” So yeah, you’re exactly right.
William Tincup: And Wall Street is, they’re also hiring software engineers, turns out, and they have money to throw at the situation. How fast is it timing wise to spin something like this up? So when a practitioner hears and says, “Okay, I think this would really be wonderful, especially pre-apply.” This actually filters, now you get quality that comes through the front end of your pipeline and funnel because they’ve tested themselves, they’ve learned about the company, they’ve done a simulation. These are actually interested parties. They’ve done some things and stepped through some hoops that a regular candidate that just hits reply all to everything, that’s easy. You can do that. So, as a recruiter, I love the quality part of this. Now, the question is, “Okay, how fast can I get one of these?” You live in the same world. How fast can I get this done? When you’re working with a client, a new Forage client, what is that experience like for them?
Tom Brunskilll: Yeah, so it depends on the company. Some companies like to create highly customized, bespoke curriculums, which can take, we use a pool of independent expert contractors that help us design the curriculum, in partnership with our corporate partners. So, the more customizable ones typically take six to eight weeks to launch from first signing with us. Whereas we do have, and I should have mentioned this earlier, we do have a catalog of off-the-shelf content which a company can look at and then customize to their particular brand.
And so those programs typically launch in under four weeks. So once they have a look, they figure out what content that they want, they can tweak it to their particular a brand. It just depends whether the company is wanting to really create the content from scratch with our contractors or whether they want to buy part of our off-the-shelf content. But, yeah, it typically is somewhere between four and eight weeks from wanting to work with us and that job simulation going live.
William Tincup: Oh, that’s fantastic. That’s fast. That’s really, really fast. That’s awesome.
Tom Brunskilll: You have to move fast. Yeah.
William Tincup: Yeah, you have to. Yeah. I know practitioners will wonder if someone goes through the skills testing and learns some things, goes through the simulation, can they apply right there or are you driving traffic to a careers page? Where do you drop them off after they’ve done those things that you’d want them to do?
Tom Brunskilll: Yes. So what we’ve built is we’ve built backend software for our corporate partners to see everyone who’s engaged in their program, who’s completing their program, where they’re studying, what their skills are. So it’s quite a powerful CRM tool to have visibility over, everyone that’s enrolled, completion rates, every stat under the sun sits in that CRM tool. And then the companies can use that to, say, for example, you wanted to know, let’s say, every freshman student who’s studying at UT, who’s doing a software engineering major, who’s completed the program and is interested in working in their Austin office, you could find those candidates just with a couple of filters within a couple of seconds and reach out to them and invite them into your recruitment process.
We also do, with some of our longer term partnerships, integrate with their ATS and CRM tools. So we’ll pass those candidates over into their CRM or ATS tool and they get tagged as foragers. And then we can actually measure the downstream performance of foragers, people who go through our job simulations versus those who don’t go through our job simulations. And, unsurprisingly, a company, the data that we see, is that a company’s disproportionately more likely to hire a forager than a non-forager because they’re higher intent. They’ve learned the skills, they’ve got the context, they get into the interview process and they haven’t thrown spaghetti at a wall. They know why they’re there and that’s why we see those candidates typically outperform the mean.
William Tincup: Yeah. And longitudinally, you can tie this to performance down the road to then see, “Okay, they started as a forager. They went through the process. They had the intent. We hired them. We onboarded them, trained them, did some other stuff with them. And six months, nine months, a year later, what’s their performance like?” So closed loop, you can actually go backwards and actually show, “Okay, this is why you do it.” You do it, A, to give them a test. To basically help them understand behind the veil. We hide the job. You did a great example of talking about the legal profession. We hide the true legal profession behind a veil. We all watch Law and Order and so we think that’s the job. Of course, that’s the job. No, it has nothing to do with the job, and it’s much more mundane than that.
And, again, some people love that, would thrive in that. And it’s, “How do you know?” So you go through this and I think, in time, as you get connected to the ATSs, and then you get connected further into talent management, performance, especially, it would be really interesting to see both engagement, retention, and performance and see those scores and see what it looks like there. Again, not necessarily today, but just in time, it would be really interesting. The folks that are helping you with building out the skills, competencies, those are historically training and development, learning and development folks. So how does TA, or how do recruiters do that either themselves? Do you see that happening or is it more the hiring manager? Who helps build out in that four to eight week process? Who’s the team or the people that you see actually leading that, “Okay, here’s what we need to test for. Here’s what the skills are, et cetera.” Whose hands are in that kitchen?
Tom Brunskilll: So, what we do is we go, the TA and HR team, typically, are the project managers, they’re the champions for what we’re building. But, ultimately, the curriculums are contributed to by business themselves. So, what we’ve done is we’ve built this curriculum intake process where we ask asynchronously a bunch of questions, video questions, through interviews with different people within the actual business. Its asking them like, “What do you do during the day? What are your biggest challenges? What are the things that you look for in a great hire? Step us through hour by hour, what are the exact things that you’re doing when you’re at your desk?” And so we get this intake of information from business itself and then we hand that over to our independent contractors who have typically worked in that company or a similar company, so they’ve got really good context.
And then they turn all that intelligence into a curriculum, and then we hand the curriculum back and then they look at the curriculum, they may make a tweak or two, and then that’s when we brand it and launch it. But what’s particularly interesting and what we think is compelling about our particular job simulations is that, we obviously love L&D, TA, but the primary contributors here are business themselves, and that’s why we’ve seen such incredible uptake from companies because people in business are the ones that experience the frustration when they hire people that don’t have the right skills, don’t have the right experience, and they’re like, “I wish I could just teach them beforehand what it is that we do, so that if they join us, they know what they’re walking into, they’re hitting the ground running.” And so this is their outlet to be able to do that.
William Tincup: I love that. I love that. So people are going to wonder, when you show Forage to folks for the first time, you had mentioned the analytics on the back end and being able to see stages and where people are and what they’re consuming and things like that, I would love that. But as you… Excuse me, made a sneeze.
Tom Brunskilll: Bless you.
William Tincup: As you demo Forage, what do people fall in love with?
Tom Brunskilll: Honestly, the moment where people truly fall love with Forage is when they interview the candidates who have come through the Forage system. So it’s not so much in the demo itself, but it’s when you are sitting across from a desk or Zoom is more likely in today’s climate, it’s speaking to someone who clearly just has very high intent, enthusiasm, knowledge, and a zest to join that particular company. And seeing that happen time and time again with people who come through our job simulations is, quite frankly, I think a relief to a lot of our TA partners. What these job simulations are doing are ensuring that the people that they are interviewing are aligned with the company, the role, the responsibilities, and I wouldn’t take it for granted that happened before Forage. And so I really think that that’s where the magic moment is when they’re doing those interviews and realizing that they’re attracting so many high intent candidates who know why they’re there.
William Tincup: So, two things, well, three things. But what’s being displaced here? We’re we not just doing this and this is just completely new for a lot of folks, A. B, what’s typically the rejection response when your team shows Forage to a prospect for the first time, and they’re just, “It’s a no. It’s a no.” Why is that?
Tom Brunskilll: So, I think the two questions go hand in hand. I don’t say this because it’s glamorous, but our product is category defining. There isn’t a substitute for it, because our view of the world is that it’s fundamentally changing. We are moving towards this train then hire approach rather than the historical hire then train. And so, because of that, when we have prospects who decide not to work with us, it’s because it’s a leap too far, and they’re more comfortable with doing things the way that they’ve always done them. We never lose to another competitor, per se. It’s usually just, “Hey, I don’t think we’re ready for this. This seems like a big leap forward.” So, that’s typically why we see prospects not work with us, but more and more as we’re educating the market on this category, the benefits, good data’s coming through, we’re obviously finding that those conversations with prospects are becoming infinitely more easy because we’ve got a compelling data story, track record, to be able to talk to.
Whereas, in terms of what we’re replacing, we are really replacing that hire then train, so that idea that there should be a completely frictionless approach to applying for a job. So, you think about the Indeed experience, the LinkedIn experience, how do you make it as easy for candidates to do one-click applications to as many jobs as possible? We are anti that. We’re like, “That doesn’t serve TA teams.” Because what ends up happening is TA teams end up with tens of thousands of applications with only the same amount of resources to figure out who is a good fit or not. And it’s also not great for the candidate because it doesn’t encourage them to actually try and get to know what they’re applying for. So, in terms of what we’re replacing, we’re really trying to replace that mindset that the application process should be entirely frictionless. And we like to introduce this positive friction into that process.
William Tincup: Yeah. But it’s good for both parties. Again, with the recruiters, it used to be, we would judge based on how many people applied for the job. I remember being in meetings, people were like, “We had 25,000 people applied for the job.” And we’d celebrate that, that was the thing. That was what we were measured on. It was a positive thing. Problem is that, out of that number, 98% of it is just noise. It’s people that should have never applied for that job. Didn’t have any intent. That’s one of the things, I think, I love that you’re unlocking is sentiment and intent.
You’re going to learn about the company. You’re going to learn about the job. You’re going to learn about the skills. If you don’t want to do that, then you don’t have the intent, which is, I’d rather know before we go stages into the recruiting process. So, it’s good both sides. You close that up really nicely because it’s good for the recruiters, and the hiring managers, so you don’t waste time, but it’s also a lovely experience for candidates.
Tom Brunskilll: Exactly. I think one thing we’ve really focused on at Forage is, how can we guarantee that every candidate that comes onto Forage walks away with value, regardless of not whether they have a job? And so everyone who goes onto Forage can use the experience on their LinkedIn, on their cover letters, on their CVS, in their interviews. We’ve got a framework for how people can use the job simulations through their application process so that even if they’re not getting a job with one of our hiring partners that are able to showcase those skills, that intent, the things that they learned in their application process, and we hear of tons of candidates who end up jobs elsewhere and ascribe part of their success to having been able to do these job simulations beforehand.
William Tincup: Ah, love it. Okay, last thing, I promise, your favorite customer success story without a brand, without names, of course, and I know you got hundreds of these. It could be something recent, but just something where you’re like, “Okay, this was really, really cool.”
Tom Brunskilll: So, I could talk about the big brands who are now sourcing 30, 40, 50% of their hires through Forage and we’re talking eight, 900 hires a year. Obviously, those stats, we take great pride in, as we’ve seen that companies have really leaned in and embraced forage, but I think it’s the human stories, it’s the more personal stories where we really get a kick and I was in New York last week, and one of our earliest users, this incredibly talented student called Nana, who was born and raised in Ghana, had moved to the US to study, had studied law, studied undergrad in Michigan and studied law at Howard, we got to actually meet up with him, and he did our program and got connected to one of the big law firms in New York.
Applied, got the job, and he’s now working in New York and he’s been a fantastic supporter and advocate for what we’re building. But we got to have breakfast with him, and they’re the stories, and they’re the people that we really derive a lot of purpose and enjoyment from. And, ultimately, that’s why we do what we do, is to create new pathways for people into the world of work and make sure they end up with the jobs they end up loving. So, yeah, that was a really neat moment for us last week.
William Tincup: That’s life changing. That’s amazing, Tom, thank you so much for your time today. I know you’re busy. I appreciate it. And teaching us all about Forage.
Tom Brunskilll: Awesome. Thank you so much, William.
William Tincup: Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to The Recruiting Daily podcast, The Use Case podcast, in particular, and until next time. Thank you.
The Use Case Podcast
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.
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