Storytelling about TechScreen with Mark Knowlton

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 144. This week we have storytelling about TechScreen with Mark Knowlton. During this episode, Mark and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing TechScreen.

Mark is an expert in all things technical screening and recruiting. He has over 20 years of experience in the tech recruiting space, and has observed the problems that recruiting teams face on scale over that time. His passion for empowering recruiters to conduct documented detailed technical interviews regardless of their own technical skillset really comes through during the podcast.

TechScreen is a one-of-a-kind SaaS; it’s the only evaluation tool in the world that can address the biggest pain points recruiters face when hiring in the tech field. Their new 4.0 product will address technical qualification and technical training, breaking advanced concepts down into 12 simple modules. This allows any non-technical person to internalize, understand and utilize the information for qualification purposes.

A few things we talk about today: How does a recruiter or sourcer get started using TechScreen? What steps should a recruiting team take to utilize the training even in this fast-moving hiring space?

There’s more, of course! Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.

Thanks, William

Show length: 35 minutes

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Mark Knowlton
CEO & Founder TechScreen

It is Mark's mission to create an entire generation of IT recruiters who can engage with hiring managers and developers on a peer level. TechScreen is pioneering a training program that will produce the recruiting industry's only technical certification for recruiters: TechScreen Certified.

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Music:  00:02

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.

William:  00:25

Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you’re listening to the Use Case podcast. Today, we have Mark on the TechScreen. We’re going to be getting the update. He did a use case podcast a while back about a year and a half ago, and we’ve got a new release and I’m really excited to learn. And I know the audience will be excited to learn kind of what’s new at TechScreen. So Mark, do us a favor and introduce both yourself and introduce TechScreen.

Mark:  00:54

All right. Well, thanks William. I appreciate your time. Yes, so TechScreen is a SaaS company that we first introduced one of a kind technical screen platform. We have the only technical evaluation tool in the world that actually empowers the recruiter to conduct documented detailed technical interviews without needing to be technical themselves. And just this week we deployed our 4.0 product, which is going to address the two biggest pain points in technical recruiting. Number one, technical qualification and number two, technical training, because what 4.0 does we’ve embedded our TechScreen certified training, which comes with 12 modules of deep dive technical explanation. So what we do William, is we take advanced technical concepts and we break them down and explain them with coloring book-like simplicity, so a non-technical person can actually internalize the information, understand it at a layman’s level, and then utilize that information for qualification purposes.

Mark:  02:05

And so it actually, even though we talk about solving two problems, in reality, it actually provides six very powerful advantages. So starting with primarily this technical screening platform, but then you combine that with the TechScreen certified training program, and what it does, the third thing it does, it provides what we’re calling conversational competence, right? So a recruiter doesn’t always have enough time that it would take to go and create a custom interview, because we have a library of about 120 IT skills, you can cherry pick questions, make an interview, but not every submittal lends itself to having that much time to first create and then conduct the interview. But at the same time, recruiters are eager to get some level of validation that the person they’re sending in with a good resume, isn’t going to [inaudible 00:03:04] in two minutes with a manager. So by leveraging the training content, they can ask one or two questions.

Mark:  03:12

So they basically can extract a knockout question right from the library, because we illustratively show off, like, “Hey, explain what’s happening during a SQL injection attack?” And when they ask the question, they’re going to have a diagram that shows step one, step two, step three, in a nice diagram. And so, not only can they ask the qualifying question, they don’t have to commit it to memory. And so, and the fourth powerful thing it does, because we capture the interview results inside the system in a PDF, over time, you’re going to build up a repository of well-documented interviews, so you can search for candidates, who’ve already been previously been vetted by you or someone you work with. Then the fifth important thing it does. It gives you a powerful job intake tool that you can use with managers. So when you’re going over a new rec with a manager, instead of just covering a bunch of buzz words, share your screen with the manager, let them cherry pick questions out of the library or add their own knockout questions.

Mark:  04:18

And then the sixth powerful thing, and this is probably more for say someone in the staffing space, who’s interfacing with managers, be able to demonstrate their firm’s capabilities of being able to create custom interviews and say, “Hey, let me show you this tool. Can I show you how it works?” So we’re really excited that this is going to resolutely address two of the biggest pain points that, that we see in the technical recruiting space.

William:  04:47

Yeah. Well, let’s start on the qualification side. One of the things I love about it is, and this is a problem that historically, that even I hired when I hired technical folks, is that the folks that I’m hiring have a base of knowledge that I’m familiar with. Yeah. I’m in the position of hiring them. And I have to hire, I need to hire them. And every day, every hour that I don’t have them on staff is an hour wasted. So, but it’s as a hiring manager, you don’t want to be fraudulent. And as a recruiter, you don’t want to act like you know more than the engineer, or the technician, the technologists that you’re talking to, but you also want to have a good probative conversation. And so, one of the things I love about TechScreen is that helps it helps recruiters. They don’t, they’re not trying to be the Java developer. They’re basically just trying to ask probative questions about Java development.

Mark:  05:49

Exactly. Right.

William:  05:50

Take us into a couple of scenarios where you see that works.

Mark:  05:54

Okay. Well, actually I had a tremendous use case. We had a staffing client that was calling them up saying, “Hey, how’s it going?” And he described a really frustrating situation. His recruiters had submitted 30 candidates who all got shot down in the same month in the coding exercises customer was insisting on. So my client went back to his customer and said, “Look, I think we both agree that the process we’re using is not generating the results that either one of us would like, so what do you say we do this? Now, I get the fact that you’d like to see code. So what if we shared their public GitHub account? So you can look at their code, then you give me some knockout questions that you would ask if you had the time and we’ll screen the candidates and we’ll send you the results.” So after going over 30 with a coding exercise, they screened three new candidates.

Mark:  06:57

First one, little junior, second one, the manager liked say, “Hey, keep this guy warm,” third guy, he read the interview results. He said, “Make them an offer. I don’t even need to talk to him. Just don’t let them get away.” So they went from over 30 and imagine the burn those recruiters felt, 30 candidates from a small team go, in a month, basically one a day, one per calendar day. And then they went one for three and they got a start without even the manager requiring an interview. That’s the kind of impact we can have.

William:  07:27

Well, everybody wins there. The candidates win, because you can have a better conversation, a higher quality conversation with them. And again, you’re not trying to fake it, you’re not trying to act like, you know more than them. You’re just trying to ask kind of probative, intuitive questions, that to get a better understanding of what their skillset, the breadth and depth that’s the usually the analogy I use with technical backgrounds. When someone says, “Python,” well, there’s a breadth to Python and there’s a depth to Python, and as a technical recruiter or sourcer or a hiring manager, you don’t know what that is until you start asking questions. And yeah, skills testing helps, but again, you don’t even know if you need to do that until you’ve had some conversations with folks. So give me a couple more examples on the qualification stuff, and then we’ll move to training.

Mark:  08:25

Okay. So we had our biggest customer been with us since 2016, it’s a staffing firm. And because the recruiters have the ability to end the interview early, if the candidate is say, just falling on their face, or it’s very obvious that they’re just cheating. I mean, they hear silence, then they think they hear faint typing. Sometimes they hear another person speaking. And so, this client between 2016 and 2020, they interviewed where they screened 5,046 candidates. And between withholding candidates who didn’t score well enough, or those candidates where the recruiter just pulled the plug and ended the interview, they were able to shield their clients from 66% of that 5,000 plus pile of candidates. And I bet a lot of money that many of their resumes look like they could have been used to write the job description.

Mark:  09:33

And so, and our second biggest client also happens to be a staffing firm. They screened between 2017 and 2020 they’ve screened over 7,000 candidates and have a 50% knockout ratio. But probably the best example I can give actually came from one of our corporate TA clients. It’s a firm that tends to hire a lot of junior guys. And so, their recruiters were just crushing the managers and their leads with resumes and phone screens. And they were gotten that shop. So they started using our tool. And these were two fairly junior recruiters from what I was told, people with one to two years of industry experience, and they went in and had the team leads use the tool. They cherry picked a set of .NET questions and said, “Hey, listen, if anyone can get through this battery of questions and they do well, we are automatically interested.” So the result of that pilot was those two recruiters, they screened 155 software engineers over a period of two months, and which led to managers doing 40 formal interviews. And they made 28 FTE offers. They had a 70% interview to offer ratio.

Mark:  10:51

And three of the engineering teams at that firm just completely skipped manage a phone screens that the candidate got a 75 or better TechScreen interview, because the team leads the guys who would be hammering these candidates on a regular phone screen, cherry picked the questions and said, “Yeah, put them through this gauntlet. And if they do well, we absolutely want to talk to them.”

William:  11:16

You’re almost getting to a point of if they make it through the gauntlet, just give them an offer letter.

Mark:  11:22

Here’s a funny thing. And this is where I get to eat a little bit of crow. So I built the tool, the pattern after the process, I had employed in my consulting years and I was supporting a large professional services department of a major software company, we’d have monthly interview days and would bring 10 people in per month. And in 2009, I screened, we interviewed a total of 85 candidates in the 11 interview days, and we made 58 FTE offers and every single candidate got the same six questions, five on Java and one on troubleshooting a badly performing database query. And here’s the funny thing. If you do the math, the 58 offers out of 85 candidates was a 68% interview to offer ratio, which is pretty unheard of, yet to junior recruiters using the process I’d employed as a consultant baked into the TechScreen platform, they beat me by two damn points. They got a 70% interview to offer ratio. And I was like, “What the heck’s going on here?”

William:  12:38

Well, you know what? It’s okay. When your client speaks to you, it’s not a bad thing.

Mark:  12:46

Though, just totally ironic though.

William:  12:48

Oh yeah, I know, of course it is, but humbling in a good way. So real quick, where in the workflow do you see that your clients put this? Because I see it out top of funnel, right? So somebody shows some interest, maybe they see a job ad or whatever, and they look at it, it seems interesting. It’s like, boom, I want to hit them with this way out in the, as early in the funnel as humanly possible.

Mark:  13:19

Absolutely right. Absolutely right. You want this to be part of the first conversation. And so, and sometimes you have a process where they insist on like a HackerRank or a Codility. But one of my newest clients who’s facing that with, they deal with, they’re working with a massive system integrator and they insist on having this, I think they use Codility. But what’s happening is he’s doing a quick, probably 10 to 12-minute interview and shedding a lot of people who would otherwise would have gone on to the Codility and probably gets shredded there. So now they’re not having to eat the cost of a bunch of failed coding exercises, people who have good-looking resumes, who they might consider giving a shot, say in a phone screen, but they’re just taking it off the top before the end client, the big integrator even sees a candidate, because he has a high level of competence and he’s telling me, he’s like, “Well, it’s only going to be 10 minutes just to rip through these.”

Mark:  14:26

So instead of asking a bunch of 50,000 foot low value questions like, “What version of Java are you on? Tell me about the tools,” and say, “Hey, walk me through the differences between a hash map and a tree map?” Or, “Just tell me how what’s happening when garbage collection is doing its thing?” And so, the cool thing about our library is that you can have an illustration of a deeply technical process or thing, but have it explained to them in a way that your Aunt Betty would understand it. So for example, I explained garbage collection by comparing it to how the JBM coordinates activity and airport. And I explain the OSI model by comparing it to the steps involved with having a pizza delivered to your house. And so, the explanations are not only going to make sense, but they’re going to resonate.

Mark:  15:25

And the reason I coined the phrase, “Conversational competence,” is that by using this illustrative technical content, as a screening tool, they’re going to retain it more easily, because you’re not always in the tool when you’re having a conversation with a candidate, nor do you necessarily have that much time before you make the submittal. But what I envision happening is it as recruiters go cherry pick through, there’s a module on application architecture on networking, on databases, on QA, on REST, on the cloud, on DevOps, internet of things, cybersecurity, et cetera, big data. And they’re going to find some pet questions that they really like that relates to something in their job, but they can just ask it time after time after time. And they can be on the phone and not in front of the tool, but they’re going to know what question to ask and they’re going to know what to expect in an answer.

Mark:  16:25

And it’s because part of their recollection is going to be the illustration of what happens when you use DNS to try to find a website. They’re going to have that little diagram in their heads when they’re listening to the response. Or how DHCP is used to actually get an IP address for a session. And so, I really think that this is going to help bridge the gap between the recruiters who aren’t technical and quite frankly, don’t wish to be technologists, because ours is the only training material that is number one, used to do your job, but you don’t have to commit the stuff to memory. So I think it’s just going to be absolute powerhouse in terms of just empowering recruiters to have those kinds of conversations, going to set them apart from the peers who just like to play with buzzwords by asking focused, substantive, technical questions, so they get their own confidence in the submittal of the candidate and also that the confidence and the credibility they’re going to gain.

Mark:  17:33

I mean, I was amazed at the feedback I would get over the years before we even built TechScreen, is when I’d ask a candidate to explain, how the generational proposed to garbage collection would optimize performance. And they’d be like, “There’s no way you’re a recruiter.” I say, “Well, yeah, I am.”

William:  17:58

So, so let’s go into, okay. So qualification, we’ve got that on the on TechScreen 4.0. The qualification. I think everyone really fundamentally understands that. And again, technical recruiting, who isn’t doing technical recruiting at this point in their life? The training itself, now let’s get into kind of what you’ve built on that side from a kind of a, I want to say kind of a curriculum and videos and that type perspective.

Mark:  18:27

Absolutely. So you actually access the training modules right inside the tool itself. So when you log on your TechScreen account, there’s a dropdown that just says Training and you scroll and you hit Library. And then it just has all the 12 modules included. In the first two modules, the first one is actually the onboarding for how you actually use the tool. And then, the second one is understanding your audience, just to kind of tee people up to say, “Hey, you need to be aware of, this is sort of how the other side, the engineering managers and the engineers, how they regard recruiters. So you just need to be prepared that a lot of the reasons why you get poor hit rates on your outreach, is because they just don’t have a deep affinity for, or trust for recruiters. But then we break down things like application architecture. What we do is we don’t just explain terms.

Mark:  19:25

I’ve seen other types of training where they just try to explain the definitions of buzzwords. Whereas, we explain the history of where things are. For example, in DevOps, we actually start by doing things. The first thing we do is, okay, the manufacturing industry had it ahead of the software industry by decades, because they introduced things like Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing to really get processes down. And I equate that to how the software industry’s answer was, okay, we have this thing called Waterfall, then Agile replaced that. And Agile was actually the predecessor for DevOps and explain what actually goes on in say, DevOps, or explain say the cloud, and based on the evolution of how technology is advancing, how the cloud was inevitable. And the same thing, the internet of things is inevitable.

Mark:  20:21

And so, they understand not what it is, but why it evolved that way, how it works. And so, they get a deeper appreciation for an understanding of these different things in the same thing, like say databases and big data. And we tell the story of what it is, how it works, what for example, one of the questions I say is, “How come you can’t use Oracle say in a big data scenario?” And so, our users are going to actually understand what that means. They’re not just going to be forced to have recall on a term and what its definition is, because that just doesn’t scale at all, right? And so, this was meant to give the recruiters what I call a really rock solid internal understanding of something that’s technical in nature, but they can grasp it in a way that is intuitive to them. It was broken down and meant to be consumed by a non-technical person.

Mark:  21:24

And that’s what I think is going to make our platform so powerful, because I’ve sort of had one foot in each world say for the last 20 years and drawing upon my first career as a writer, an editor of the newspaper business, I keenly understand how to position a message or explain something in a way that’s intended to connect with the audience based on their knowledge and or expectation. And so I think, the combination of the interview tool and the technical training is going to be an absolutely powerhouse combination that’s going to help elevate the technical insight of recruiters just through the daily use of the tool in concert with leveraging that technical training.

William:  22:14

So we’ll do this with qualification as well. Where do folks get started? So I’m Jane or Joe, technical hiring manager, recruiter, sourcer, et cetera. So we’ll go around the horn. And obviously, maybe just even new to technical recruiting and it could be on the staffing side or corporate side, how do I get started? And we’ll do training first, then we’ll do move to qualification, but how do I get started?

Mark:  22:47

Okay, well just, on our website, we have, And there’s this page that has a web form, if you’re interested in learning more to actually see a webinar that actually explains and illustrates the TechScreen 4.0 platform so they can see for themselves, so they can actually see real screens of it. This is the difference between a library or a framework with diagrams. This is how RESTful web services work. This is how DNS works. And so, we give examples of how we simplify each of the modules. So it’ll be obvious as to why this would be a huge impact to them. And because the certification modules are baked right into the latest version of the product, they can have…

Mark:  23:47

And here’s a cool thing. It doesn’t matter what your personal preference or intention is, but you could use the training, if you just want to create some high level of confidence before submittal and you just cherry pick some questions on the pages, all the content that’s fine. Or if they really interested in self-improvement and do the modules from front to back or go all the way and get the technical certification, they can see what’s in it for them before they even contact us to see, “Hey, we’d like to give this product a try, but the on-demand webinar, they can request, they can get a really good view of what it looks like and how they would apply it to the way they perform their job. And if they’re interested, and they like what they see, great. Form that lets us know that they’d like to have a conversation, but we’d like to share with them, this is what it looks like, this is how it would impact your ability to execute your job. And then, they could decide whether they’d like to take a closer look.

William:  24:56

I love that. Now let’s talk qualification, and it might be similar or it might be different, but if it is, they’re interested in training obviously, because who wouldn’t be, but let’s just say, “Hey, wait a minute, obviously I want to do the training, but I need to, I’m hiring 1,000 DevOps. I need to start cutting through the noise faster.” And some of this is, I think it’s good for the audience to understand this with technical recruiting in particular, the candidates move faster than then the sourcers, recruiters, and hiring managers. And it has been going on for quite a while. They’ve got more opportunities than they know what to do with. By the time fall in love with Jane or Joe, they’ve already got four offers and a job.

William:  25:46

So, we’ve got to move faster so I can see that someone, “Yeah, I want to train and I want to learn, I’m going to want to do all that stuff. However, the immediate need is I’ve got to hire 1,000 DevOps folks. I got a bunch of noise or got a bunch of stuff in my ATS. And I got a bunch of traffic coming in for programmatic ad buying. And I got to cut through the noise fast.” So where do you suggest, when a new client comes to you, where do you suggest like, “Okay, let’s here, let’s just do this. Let’s start here,”?

Mark:  26:23

Yep. And so, one of the things that we do well, first of all, you can create an interview with one click, hang on a second, I’m getting pinged over here. Let me just tell this individual to go away. Pardon me.

William:  26:40

No, you’re fine. That’s a part of technical recruiting right there, see.

Mark:  26:47

Exactly. Right, exactly right. Okay. All right. Let me get back to where it was here. Okay. So we can create an interview immediately with one click of the mouse, or we can work with them to create a custom interview that’s sitting on their landing page. So we will cherry pick a set of questions, it’s on their landing page. So with one click they’re watching an interview, so they could already have a canned set of questions for a specific rec. So when they get a candidate on the phone or in Zoom, one click, they’re launching the interview. So they could be ready to go literally at a moment’s notice. But the other thing that I really love about how the recruiters are going to substantially accelerate the pace at which they can absorb and retain and utilize technical information is by using the training content as the world’s largest technical reference library, curated specifically for non-technical people.

Mark:  28:08

And once they’ve asked the same question, 3, 4, 6, 7 times, they’re really going to own that one. And they’re going to know what a really good answer is. They’re going to know what an okay answer is, then they’re going to know what a lousy answer is. And so, I think that if users are going through and just looking for based on, because they know what their workload is, they know what the typical range of technical profiles that they’re going to be asked to cover. So go in and arm themselves with say four to six, really good questions that would tell them up or down if this person’s for real or not. And so, imagine if, while they get someone on the phone, maybe they’re expecting voicemail, but they actually get the person live.

Mark:  28:52

And because they are armed and they have holster ready question to go for say, they got a DevOps person on the horn and they say like, “Okay, so hey man, talk to me about what are the real critical KPIs you absolutely have to track with the DevOps environment?” They’re going to know instantly if they know what they’re talking about, or if they’ve got a cloud guy on the phone, pleasantly surprised to get this cloud person and they can say, “Hey, listen, what do you have to do to make sure that your system is ready to handle a large-scale event?” And because they have that snapshot in their head over the answer in the illustration, they’re going to be able to retain that. So they’re going to be able to do more and more their technical qualification without even having to rely upon the tool and having the formal interview, because we provide the question and the answers and make it easy for the non-engineer to follow along the explanation and say, “Garbage collection.”

Mark:  29:55

But because they’re going to amass that pet set of questions that are focused on the typical roles that they target, they’re going to be ready to go at the drop of a hat with a couple of well-thought out in specific technical qualifying questions, because they’re going to own those, because they’ve already seen the illustration, for example, are you familiar with, if I said the OWASP top 10?

William:  30:26


Mark:  30:27

Okay. So we have an illustration of all of the OWASP top 10. He has SQL injections. He has cross-site scripting, he has… And everyone, there’s a little picture of a hacker. Number one, is this step, number two, this step number three, this stuff. And then he gets all the session IDs from all these users who click this compromised server, but they’re going to be able to more readily remember and utilize that screening information in a dynamic conversation, because we know that recruiters have a job that I like to call, it’s a steady stream of asynchronous inbounds, right? They never know when their next phone call or email is going to come. And so, by having that walking around confidence and competence in legitimately being able to throw a real qualifying question at a candidate, they’re going to get better results. They’re not going to have to wait on their submittals. And for anyone who’s ever had to line up their candidate with a HackerRank or that some companies use a third-party technical screening services.

Mark:  31:44

Well, I mean, one of our biggest customers had been using a service like that to support their biggest customer. And they were sometimes taken three days to get a submittal, but now their person can get on the phone with the candidate immediately, you have that qualification done on one phone call. And so, your competence level that person’s not going to get crushed is significantly higher than just throwing in the paper and praying.

William:  32:11

Well, and we’ll wrap here. What I love about it is, it’s kind of like Don Henley 101, it’s the heart of the matter. And for hiring managers, this is a way for them to get faster and get that talent to them faster. First, the sourcer’s got to find the talent, recruiter’s got to recruit the talent, hiring manager’s got to hire the talent, but if we can put the right questions in front of those folks to just weed out the noise and get to the heart of the matter, but get to the right folks and do it fast. Now you got quality and speed. Now there’s an efficiency to the system, there’s less waste. I just, I see it as just I love what you’ve done obviously, and I love 4.0, both on the qualification and training side. Mark, thanks for carving out time for us today. Thanks for breaking things down with the new update. And I just think the world of it. So thank you so much.

Mark:  33:16

Well, thank you so much for your time. And I’m just excited. This has been a passion of mine for the longest time, and I really want to help elevate the technical insight of recruiters across the board. And I’ve always been kind of frustrated at how all recruiters just get lumped in this big grimy bushel basket like all recruiters don’t know anything. They don’t add value and all this, and they’re stupid, they couldn’t possibly be taught anything. And I’ve always bristled at that because I mean, I started life as a writer and editor and newspaper racket, I was allergic to math, but I’m proof that you can elevate your insight. I just don’t want people to go through the journey of pain that I went on, just make it easy.

William:  34:04

Do, as I say, don’t do as I do, for the love of everything holy. My brother, thank you so much. I appreciate your time and just appreciate everything that you’re doing. And thanks for coming on the Use Case podcast.

Mark:  34:20

Well, thanks so much, William, and looking forward to connecting down the road.

William:  34:24

Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the Use Case podcast until next time.

Music:  34:29

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The Use Case Podcast

William Tincup

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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