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Do You Speak Geek? Meet eTeki

Are Solution Stacks in Your Future? A conversation with Amanda Cole, Director of Operations at eTeki

Amanda Cole, Director of Operation, eTeki -TotalPicture Radio interview with Peter ClaytonAmanda Cole

Indeed recently surveyed over one thousand tech hiring managers and recruiters to better understand how the tech talent shortage is impacting their businesses. Almost 9 in 10 respondents (86%) said they find it challenging to find and hire technical talent, with over a third (36%) saying they find it "very" challenging. No surprise, right?

A short time ago I contacted Mark Willaman, founder and CEO, HRMarketer. I was looking for a someone who's in the trenches every day, with their pulse firmly planted on emerging trends and challenges facing HR technology, with a specific focus on the difficulties every company faces recruiting skilled technical talent.

That someone turned out to be Amanda Cole, Director of Operations at eTeki. Yes, the company is called eTeki - sounds like a perfect fit, doesn't it?

Welcome to a Innovation Channel Podcast on TotalPicture Radio. I'm you intrepid podcast protagonist, Peter Clayton.

Yes it's that time of year. Everyone is writing, blogging, podcasting, periscoping, Tweeting, Webinaring, (you get the idea), regarding 2017. I'm interested in hearing thoughtful, educated, expert opinions regarding Global Human Capital Trends. After all, the annual spend on HR tech is over $10B. And that's a number that will get anyone's attention. So let's get started...


Amanda Cole is director of operations at eTeki, based in Tampa, Florida. Welcome to TotalPicture, Amanda

  • As I stated in my open, finding and hiring tech talent is a real, and serious problem for almost every company with more than a hundred employees. So tell us about eTeki and how your organization fits into the technology recruiting puzzle?
  • As you know, video interviewing platforms have become very popular as a screening tool, however, your approach is quite different -- as you said eTeki is powered by freelance IT specialists offering services to assess each candidate's technical skills in real time. So how does this work?
  • How does eTeki find, and vet freelance specialists to conduct these interviews?
  • Can you share with us some of the most in-demand specialties you're currently screening for?
  • This makes a lot of sense to me, because it eliminates the need for recruiters to chase around trying to find someone in-house qualified to screen tech candidates. Hiring managers certainly don't want to get involved this early in the recruiting process. Quite frankly, it's a waste of their time.
  • When we spoke earlier you mentioned to me that every day starts with a discussion of solution stacks. What's a solution stack and why does it figure so prominently in your business?
  • Your bio states that you are a "fanatic about synergistic business relationships," and we had talked about the fact that there's a natural fit fo eTeki working with RPOs and staffing firms - are you in discussions regarding this?
  • What do you see as some of the key trends, and issues regarding HR tech in 2017?
  • Do you think HR tech alliances will become more prevalent? (Which will make Ward Christman very happy).
  • How can our listeners connect with you, Amanda?

Amanda Cole - TotalPicture Radio Transcript

Today's Innovation Channel podcast with Amanda Cole, Director of Operations at eTeki is sponsored by Jobs in Pods, the cleverest way to advertise your jobs and promote your employment brand.  Jobs in Pods is a podcast, a jobcast, a blog and a YouTube video all on one platform.  Visit jobsinpods.com where real employers talk about their jobs and how to get them.  And employers, mention TPR when you book your first jobcast for a $50 discount.  That's jobsinpods.com.  

Indeed recently surveyed over 1,000 tech hiring managers and recruiters to better understand how the tech talent shortage is impacting their businesses.  Almost 9 in 10 respondents, 86%, said they find it challenging to find and hire tech talent.  With over a third, 36% saying they find it very challenging.  No surprise, right?

Welcome to an Innovation Channel podcast on TotalPicture Radio.  I'm your intrepid podcast protagonist and host Peter Clayton.  

A short time ago, I contacted Mark Willaman, Founder and CEO of HRMarketer.  I was looking for someone who was in the trenches every day, with their pulse firmly planted on emerging trends and challenges facing HR technology, with a specific focus on the challenges every company faces recruiting skilled technical talent.  That someone turned out to be Amanda Cole, Director of Operations at eTeki.  Yes, the company is called eTeki.  It sounds like a perfect fit, doesn't it?

This time of year, everyone is writing, blogging, podcasting, periscoping, tweeting, webinar-ing, you get the idea, regarding 2017.  I'm interested in hearing thoughtful, educated expert opinions regarding global human capital trends.  After all, the annual spend on HR tech is over $10 billion.  And that's a number that will get anyone's attention.  So let's get started.  

Amanda Cole is Director of Operations at eTeki based in Tampa, Florida.  Welcome to TotalPicture Radio, Amanda.  

Amanda:  Thank you so much for having me, Peter.  

Peter:  Okay, so finding and hiring tech talent is a real and serious problem for almost every company today.  So tell us about eTeki and how your organization fits into this technology recruiting puzzle.  

Amanda:  Sure.  So here at eTeki, we help hiring professionals whether that be the recruiter or the hiring manager really fast-track hiring decisions, leveraging eTeki technical interviews.  So we're basically providing a rapid and thorough technical screen using experts who work in IT on a daily basis, to screen the candidates that recruiters are considering forwarding to the hiring manager.  

Peter:  That's a very interesting application.  And as you know, Amanda, video interviewing platforms have become very popular as a screening tool.  However, your approach seems to be quite different.  As you said eTeki is powered by these IT specialists.  So give us some more information on who these people are, how you find them and how this whole thing works.  

Amanda:  So the eTeki technical interviewer network has actually grown organically over the last 12 months, kind of just with standard social media marketing and some career pages on our website.  But I'm proud to say that our network comprises of almost 1500 IT professionals that work at top brands across the globe.  As a matter of fact, we've got interviewers in more than 50 countries.  

Peter:  Wow.  

Amanda:  Yeah.  What's really exciting about these interviewers, and what I enjoy about my work is interacting and getting to know these interviewers, and finding out their team leads, their hiring managers themselves, having anywhere between 10 and 40-plus years of experience as an IT professional.  And they really truly want to change the status quo when it comes to hiring for IT departments.  They want to ensure that only the best and brightest get selected to work in teams because they've all been in challenging situations at work where they wish they've had a team member with better skills.  They're able to actually make a difference, as well as make some extra income by contributing to the hiring decisions that are made by other companies.  

Peter:  This makes a whole lot of sense to me because it eliminates the need for recruiters to chase around, trying to find someone in-house qualified to screen these technical candidates and hiring managers certainly don't want to get involved this early in the recruiting process and quite frankly, most of the time, it's a waste of their time.  

Amanda:  It really could be.  You can't expect a technical recruiter without a technical background to be able to ask the caliber of questions that a hiring manager or an internal tech panel would ask.  But they need to know that the candidate's experience, skills align with the job description in order to determine whether or not it's even appropriate to have a hiring manager talk to them.  

Peter:  So tell us about some of your clients.  Are these mainly companies that recruit heavily for technical talent or is it kind of across the board?

Amanda:  It really is across the board.  There are clients who hire in volumes.  I'm hiring 10 developers in this area.  Or it could be that they're hiring for 300 in this department in the coming year.  Then you have more of tech startups that maybe don't have the bandwidth internally or the capacity internally to screen new IT team members.  But they've got to make sure they get the hire right the first time.  

Peter:  Right.  

Amanda:  Which is equal across every single one of our clients.   It's important to get the right candidate the first go round.  There are so many other fallouts if they don't, that it really is crucial for a business to get the tech guy right.  

Peter:  Absolutely, and I think that's pretty much across the board, isn't it?

Amanda:  It is.  

Peter:  It costs so much to make bad hires.  There was an article in the December issue of HBR where researchers surveyed executives from a broad range of industries around the globe, asking them to estimate the daily cost to their firms of dealing with various people problems.  Guess what?  The number one thing on this list was bad hires, costing companies over $10,000 a day.  

So to your point, Amanda, these bad hires aren't just a source of frustration.  They also are a big hit to profits.  

Amanda:  Right, between delivering projects to customers and bad morale, and unhappy customers and users internally that can't do their job because the technology that they need isn't functioning at the optimal level.  So yeah, it impacts both internal and external stakeholders to a company.  It's just a scenario where you can't afford to make a mistake.  Companies need to differentiate on technology in today's global society, and you've got to have a strong IT team behind that.

Peter:  Okay.  So can you share with us some of the most in-demand specialties you're currently screening for?  I guess you're sort of like the canary in the coal mine, aren't you?

Amanda:  A little bit.  I think for your more traditional positions, ones for legacy technologies, there's kind of an internal process or an existing go-to person within a company to get those type of interviews done.  Where we're really seeing a need for additional screening is in emerging technologies, emerging programming languages.  

But it's not just programmers or software engineers.  It's IT infrastructure.  It's database administrators.  It's architects, whether it'd be for systems, for software.  It runs across the gamut.  So everything from fiber security to infrastructure administrators, to dev-ops, to IT security professionals with fields like Perl, Ruby, Python, Chef and MEAN stack engineers.  The list kind of goes on and on.  

It comes down to each company really needs their own area of specialty that they're looking for and they may not always have the resources, the capacity or the bandwidth internally to screen those new emerging technologies.  

Peter:  And I would imagine, as you mention, cyber security must be a very hot area right now because so many companies have been impacted by data breaches.  

Amanda:  Right, oh yeah, and mobile.  Customer demands are driving mobile so whether it'd be mobile device management or developers that are working on business and enterprise applications for mobile strategies for companies, everything has to be tested.  So you've got a lot of QA and validation professionals, big push in incorporating data into decision making companies so the data science area of expertise is definitely growing.  

Peter:  We spoke earlier and you told me that every Monday at eTeki starts with a discussion of solution stacks.  What's a solution stack and why does it figure so prominently in your business?

Amanda:  A solution stack is really, can be applied to many different types of businesses working collaboratively.  It's essentially a committed team of businesses who have either the same customers or similar ideal client profiles that work together to help clients meet their business objectives.  

And so when it comes to HR tech, it really comes down to finding and leveraging partners who want to support their client's total human resource strategies and put the client need first, and look for partnerships that fulfill a client need, first and foremost.  It certainly requires a commitment from both partners that want to be in the solution stack, or the multiple partners within the solution stack, that they be committed to relationship marketing, referral tracking, and really a philosophy that there's enough business for everybody to be successful.  Even if you have some similar products and services, the market is wide open and we'll all succeed if we work together.  

Peter:  Taking that one step further, Amanda, your bio states that you are "a fanatic about synergistic business relationships".  And we had talked about that there's a natural fit for eTeki working with say RPOs or staffing agencies.  So are you in discussions regarding this?

Amanda:  Yeah.  I would say my desire and my passion to create strong, mutually beneficial business relationships goes back a lot longer than I've been involved with eTeki.  I've been certified as a trainer for specific partnership models that I've done some kind of train the trainers of others, as well as kind of just train groups on...and when it comes down to it, when you're offering non-competitive services to the same client type, there's an opportunity to share referrals.  

So when you share a referral, it's an opportunity for business.  It's not a guarantee and that's where solution stack maybe even takes it a bit further because companies who are part of a solution stack can present the entire stack.  This is how you could engage with our company and others that will help you optimize your technical recruiting process, for instance.Or you can just have my one little piece of the pie and it will give you some improvements in your hiring outcomes.  

But I can say if you put all of these solutions together and make a commitment to improving across many different components of your recruiting cycle, that you'll get the best results and you'll get faster results from a whole and not just tiny pieces of the pie.  

Peter:  Do you think HR technology alliances will become more prevalent, which certainly would make our friend Ward Christman very happy.  

Amanda:  Yeah.  I think that HR tech alliances are going to be essential.  Clients, whether it's RPOs, staffing agencies, direct hire employers, they don't need multiple vendors to manage.  They don't need a lot of different billing cycles.  They don't need confusion to where to put this in my hiring process.  So if you can work together as a partnership, as a solution stack, if you take your partnership to that level, then what you're really doing is streamlining the process for clients.  The easier that you can make it for clients to adopt your solution and other solutions that support those same hiring objectives, the stronger and the more successful all of our HR tech companies will be.  Finding ways to innovate certainly will will into more adoption of HR technology, I believe.  

Peter:  Alright, here is the required question this time of the year by every podcaster out there.  What do you see as some of the key trends and issues regarding HR technology in 2017?

Amanda:  I'd like to start with thinking about when the hiring manager's happy, we're all happy.  When the HR department director, VP director, VP of HR is happy, we're all happy.  So what we should be doing is really looking at how to give solutions and design solutions that help them meet their objectives, which are to attract top talent, source qualified talent, improve the candidate experience, certainly support diversity and inclusion initiatives, add insight into HR analytics that they're using to make interview and hiring decisions, as well as benchmarking employee performance kind of from the beginning.  

I also see that with all of the kind of shake-ups in the job board market over 2016, that job boards who are leveraging partnerships that are already having those conversations with other HR tech companies will certainly have a faster path to remaining relevant because they're evolving versus being consumed by other companies getting into the job board business.  

Personally, the trend that I want to see is that HR tech companies look for ways to create a greater return on interview.  And for me, that return on interview is when the hiring manager only looks at resumes that are 100% qualified for the position, that candidates get a better return on revenue because they're not spending time wondering what's going on, that they get feedback quickly and that feedback is based on decisions that the recruiter and hiring manager can make together with confidence because of the HR tech solutions that are being brought to them to implement.

Peter:  I want to go back to your technical freelancers for a minute and just get a little better understanding of how this whole thing works.  So are these video interviews that they're doing or are these phone screens?

Amanda:  These are primarily video interviews.  We have the capability to do audio if the candidate, for some reason can't do video.  So the way that the high level process works is the recruiter comes to eTeki, gives a job description, gives the candidate's contact details and resume.  They set the time for the interview and then our marketplace does an automatic match to the most qualified technical interviewers that are suited for that particular interviewing assignment.  Then we base the entire interview scheduling around the candidate, so that if the candidate's available today at 2 or tomorrow at 6:30 AM, that's when the interview happens.  So we organize and deliver based on candidate availability so that we can get hiring managers and recruiters faster feedback on what's going on with this particular candidate.  

Peter:  So does the technical interviewer, does that individual interface with your client?  Do you have a dashboard where this whole thing gets managed?

Amanda:  We do have a dashboard where the whole thing is managed.  However, we also facilitate communication between the interviewer and the recruiter.  So whether the recruiter wants to specify certain questions that the hiring manager would like to have asked during the conversation, if they have specific whiteboarding examples or coding snippets that they want captured, then certainly they provide all of those requests at the beginning.  

Our interviewers at times want additional context or have questions about the job description.  So we put them in communication via either forums within the system or via conference call when needed so that they can interact with their recruiter or hiring manger.  

For the most part, freelance interviewers are dealing directly with candidates.  However, the hiring manager, the recruiter and any other decision-maker that wants to join that technical interview via video can come in the discussion either being seen or not seen, either one, so that they can observe the interview first-hand and even offer some additional questions if they had something that they wanted to ask specifically and forgot to share it ahead of time.  

Peter:  That's really cool.  Speaking about the candidate experience, I would imagine that these candidates are thrilled that they're being interviewed by someone who actually knows what the hell they're talking about.  

Amanda:  Yes, most certainly.  

Peter:  So much of this is done by, here's the job req that came out of some database of something that was written 10 years ago by somebody as a template, and some recruiter who knows nothing about whatever this technical qualification is, is just reading these questions off of a template and there's no interaction that happens with that.  So when you've got a situation like what eTeki is doing, there's a real conversation that can take place and I think a much deeper understanding of the qualifications of that particular candidate.  

Amanda:  You're spot on, Peter.  They like - the feedback that we've heard from candidates is they liked how easy it is to connect into the system.  There's nothing to download, no plug-ins, no extensions.  You click, enter your passcode and you're done.  

They like that they are speaking with another technical person.  They can use jargon.  They can use tech speak that a recruiter wouldn't get.  They can also know with confidence that they're going to be challenged.  Just reading off of a question and using non-verbal communication to see is this person speaking coherently and with intelligence about the topic isn't enough.  For a technical position, you've got to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff and it takes an expert to recognize an expert, to ask questions that reveal expertise.  And when it comes down to it, we want to know, is this the pretender or a contender?

Peter:  Right.  Back to the whole solution stack that we talked about a little while ago, to me this just makes so much sense for you to partner with RPOs and staffing agencies who are these very technical, highly sophisticated roles that they're trying to find candidates for for their client.  

Amanda:  Yeah and I would say that when we talk about solution stacks, we're also talking about other assessment companies, not just RPOs and staffing agencies.  

Peter:  Right.  

Amanda:  There are many layers that you can look at, personality, work ethic.  You can look at background screening.  You can look at reference checks.  You can look at many different points of the hiring process and use those filtration steps that the recruiter's using to screen, to narrow down that pool.  And all of those types of companies are ideal partners for us.  It just comes down to, does their client pick their step before ours or after?  

That's where you really talk about do we have a mutual touch point with the client and if so, how do we present this as a unified solution that will help them meet their hiring objectives as opposed to, here's another vendor to talk to.  Now it's about the solution for them.  

Peter:  Right.  And it seems to me - as you know, there are so many of these background checking companies out there now.   It would be a real advantage for them to partner with you because that would give them something very unique that their competitors don't have.  

Amanda:  Most certainly.  Being a part of that return on interview solution stack that they can say no, we're not just giving you a report on where this person has lived in the past and what jobs they've held.  We're giving you an analysis of their skills and their experience.  We're giving you reference check material, automated reference checks that were done as part of the initial screening.  When it comes down to it, we want to be the last data input before the recruiter shares the short list with the hiring manager.  

So any of those automated front-end assessments that help them narrow down the candidate pool are great partners for us, in addition to staffing and RPO companies.  

Peter:  One last question for you, how long has eTeki been around and who are your senior leadership?

Amanda:  We've been serving clients right at about 9 months now.  We were in development for about a year prior to that.  

Peter:  So start-up, you're a real start-up.  

Amanda:  We are.  We're a real start-up.  We're a real start-up that has a very focused vision and we know that the only way to achieve that vision is to bring partners with us in this journey.  It's phenomenal.  The feedback that we're getting from hiring managers about how they are able to accelerate the hiring process because of the data, both qualitative and quantitative that we're able to give them, and as we make our solution stack official with those inked partnership agreements, what hiring managers stand to benefit will be phenomenal and I think it'll make the difference in a sustainable company coming from eTeki, versus just trying to go out there and do it alone.  

And I'd like to think, we serve the tech industry that talks about tech stacks all the time.  And so for us to think about ourselves as part of a screening solution stack or a recruiting solution stack makes a lot of sense.  It will make a lot of sense to IT hiring managers.  

Peter:  Right.  So are you self-funded or do you have venture capital behind you?

Amanda:  We are 100% self-funded and extremely grateful to our Founder and CEO Bala Nemani, an IT solutions and IT staffing executive, that believes in us, put a mandatory step in his staffing company years ago that all candidates had to go through a true tech screen by a true tech professional, and that the scope of that becoming more than the company could bear is really where the concept for eTeki came from.  His leadership and steadfast investment and focus in eTeki has been, made my job easy.  

Peter:  That's great because it's always great when you've got someone who is in a role where they recognize that there is a problem and comes up with a brilliant idea like this or a solution.  

Amanda:  And knows how to build a team around that solution, which you would ask a little bit about our executive team.  It's myself, Imran Baig who's a former IBM Kenexa marketing team member.  We have Surendra Pepakayala who has been phenomenal with our technical interviewing network and helping us to design our own internal screening process for getting to know and vetting the interviewers before we match them with clients.  And then our eTeki architect Shankar has just been phenomenal to work with as well.  We've got an advisory group made up of business advisors and technology advisers who have been very supportive along the way as well.  

Peter:  This has really been fun.  So tell us how our listeners can get in touch with you.  

Amanda:  Come to the eTeki website, eteki.com and connect with us on social media.  Look me up on LinkedIn.  I'm always happy to engage in conversations about how we can help you meet your goals or how we can help your company meet clients that are looking to improve the hiring process while not sacrificing speed of submittal or speed of decisions.  

Peter:  Amanda, thanks so much for taking time to speak with us here on TotalPicture Radio.  This has been a very cool interview.  I think what you guys are doing is really amazing.  

Amanda:  Thank you so much for having me, Peter.  The honor is all mine.  

Peter:  Today's Innovation Channel show was sponsored by Jobs in Pods.  It's a podcast.  It's a jobcast and a YouTube video where real employers and staffing agencies advertise their jobs and tell you how to get them.  

Recruiters, if you're looking for a mobile-first, employment branding and social recruiting marketing solution where your job posting will have a real voice, talk to me about Jobs in Pods.  You'll find us on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud and even YouTube.  Join the conversation on our Facebook page, facebook.com/realjobcasts and follow us on Twitter @jobsinpods.  

This is Peter Clayton reporting.  You'll find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and TotalPicture Radio's Facebook group.  Thanks for listening.  See you next week. {/slide="Interview Transcript"}

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.


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