On this episode of The Staffing Show, Brian Vesce, CEO and founder of RefAssured, and Mike McSally, a people and operational leader with 30 years of experience in the staffing industry, talk about digging deeper into the practice of reference checking. They talk about how checking references earlier in the hiring process can save time and how automation can provide valuable data points. Vesce and McSally also share how slowing down and listening more have improved their lives.

David Folwell: Hello everyone. Thank you for joining us for another episode of The Staffing Show. Today I am super excited to be joined by Brian Vesce, who is the CEO and founder of RefAssured and Mike McSally, who’s a people and operational leader and has spent 30 years in the staffing industry and just recently retired. Mike and Brian, to kick things off, could each of you share a little bit of your background and also how you got into the staffing industry?

Mike McSally: Sure. Well, welcome everyone. Thanks for having me on. I accidentally got into the business, quite frankly. Got out of school in 1990, the unemployment rate was around 9%, and I wasn’t really quite sure what a degree from Central Connecticut State University was going to do for me. And quite frankly, during the interviewing process it did very little. So I was interviewing for sales jobs and have no idea what recruiting is and there’s no idea what my future is. But I found it incredibly frustrating that I would interview with these sales executives and they’d say, “Hey, we really liked you. We loved your passion. We thought you would be great, but the job we’re hiring for requires two years of experience.” And I’m 21 years old and I’m like, “Well, I mean, what am I missing? You saw I just got out of school in May.” I had no experience other than I’ve been caddying at a private country club for 12 years. So I’m not quite sure what we’re doing here.

So fast forward, I had a really good buddy, ironically, that we grew up in the caddy yard together and our parents were friends at a country club in Connecticut. He said, “Hey, I would love you to come meet with a couple guys in Baltimore.” I had the opportunity to meet with the two founders of, at the time, Aerotek. They offered me the job, I accepted it and could not explain for the life of me when I drove home to Connecticut to my dad what I was going to be doing for a living.

So anyway, right place, right time, and it was a really great run for 30 years.

Folwell: Awesome. It’s a great background. How about you Brian?

Brian Vesce: David, thanks for having me on. Yeah, I haven’t spent as much time in the staffing industry as Mike, but I actually started my career at TEKsystems, which is an Allegis Group company, a little bit after being in the startup world. Spent several years there and just sort of became enamored with the industry. Later, went on to start a staffing business called Cypress HCM that focused in the IT and creative space in the Silicon Valley. During the development of that business, I really became enamored with software specific to the staffing industry and had leverage software to optimize the development and the growth of that business and went on to start a software business called COMPAS Technology. COMPAS was a front-to-middle-office piece of software that competed with, at that time, the Bullhorns, the Erecruits of the world. And we ran that business for eight years before it was acquired by Avionté out of Minnesota. Stayed with Avionté for a brief period of time to help them with the transition to the cloud and COMPAS Technology now is today the flagship product for Avionté, they call AviontéBOLD.

And then took a little time off to recharge the batteries, did some consulting with staffing businesses in areas where they could optimize their business through technology. And my co-founders and I were doing the same, and we actually came together on RefAssured because we just saw reference checking as this really remarkable way to gain insights on talent, but also there’s just a whole laundry list of benefits around reference checking that could really benefit from being optimized through automation. And so we came together on RefAssured earlier this year, built the product, did it several integrations to a few point solutions, and then formally launched at the ASA Staffing World about eight weeks ago in Las Vegas and then again at the SIA Healthcare Summit in Texas. And so we’re sort of off to the races right now talking about all the value propositions RefAssured and automated reference checking can do for staffing agencies.

Folwell: That is awesome. And sounds like we’ve got a wealth of knowledge both from the tech systems, Aerotek building, the front-end ATS for AviontéBOLD. Super excited to have both of you guys here. Today we’re going to be doing a deep dive into the importance of reference checks, be discussing why reference checks matter, how to collect reference checks, what information you should collect on your reference checks, and also how you can use reference checks as a sourcing tool.

To kind of start things off, Brian, I know with RefAssured this is a passion of yours. Could you tell us a little bit just what is a reference check from the definition of it from a basic standpoint to make sure everybody listening is on the same page?

Vesce: Yeah, I mean, plain and simple reference checking is a way to leverage sort of unbiased information or data on candidates, past roles, responsibilities, to really determine if they’re a fit for a new role, which typically involves getting that applicant’s or that candidate’s work histories, their skills and their abilities really through former managers, peers, colleagues, direct reports. And in our view, a well done reference check is one that is backed by data and provides a really strong understanding of that candidate’s strengths and weaknesses ultimately to determine if they’re a good fit for the role and obviously can be used for the staffing agency’s customer to determine how to interview that candidate and ultimately how to onboard.

Folwell: Awesome. What’s the kind of current state of reference checks in the staffing industry?

Vesce: Yeah, I mean I could take the first crack at it. There is a little bit of a chasm between firms that, one, just understand its value, sort of plain and simple, and two, ones that are actually doing them. So it’s a little bit fragmented from the standpoint of understanding, “Hey, should we be doing this? Is it worth the time?” And then what are we ultimately getting from it, not only from a candidate’s perspective but from our customer’s perspective? And then how do we do it so that we can maximize the exhaust from actually going through this process just purely from a standalone, just doing it manually versus doing it from an automated perspective?

So we run into customers that are on both ends of that spectrum. Ones that are doing it, firmly understand the value and have established where within that recruiting life cycle it should be done. And then there are ones that maybe have done it in the past or have sort of dabbled in a process that really establishes a framework to use this and optimize this but aren’t necessarily fully there.

Folwell: That’s great. And Mike, what’s your kind of experience with reference checks?

McSally: Your question there that Brian took a crack at is where is it in the industry? Where is it in just internal HR as well internal recruitment? It’s all over the place. I will start with it’s done way too late in the process. So at the end of the day, if requirements have been open two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine weeks, and you think you have a candidate and you’re hoping that this candidate is a good fit, my research shows, and the research I did for years shows, you’re very, very reluctant to really look for what you need to be looking for. Because at the 11th hour, if this candidate is not right and you’ve been at it for 10, 12, 13 weeks, you got to start all over again. So it’s really a double-edged sword.

But I think the question that really I would ask a lot to anybody and everybody in the industry is, “Hey, how do you know your candidate can do this job?” “Well, I spoke to him.” And I said, “Yeah, okay. Have you ever been a full-stack developer within a financial services organization?” “Well, no.” “So how do you know this person can do the job?” And so really at the end of the day, depending on what year, we are all just benefiting from just a labor market that plays in our favor. There’s going to be a shortage and there’s going to be people moving from one job to the other. A shortage, whether that’s 10, 14 million for the foreseeable future of my time, you don’t have to do that and you can make placements.

But the real question I would ask when I was with my former company was “How do you differentiate yourself from everybody else?” Other than just sending a resume over and calling the client up and saying, “David, do you see anything on the resume you like?” And then I’ll take it one step further and turn it back over to you, David. Research says that about 70 to 72% of resumes received by hiring managers get thrown in the garbage because they catch embellishments and outright lies on there. Now do I think 72% of the work world is a bunch of liars? No, I don’t. I think there’s just a whole host of factors that come into play. Some of them are the average recruiter spends six seconds looking at a resume, the average hiring manager spends 60 seconds. So it’s a little bit all over the place.

The biggest concern for me is you can make placements and you can get lucky if you submit enough people without screening them. But my challenge was always, “Hey, what are we getting paid to do? Are we forcing our clients to do the screening piece or is that what we say we get paid to do?” So I’ll leave it at that for now. I’m sure some more will come up.

Folwell: So I mean essentially you’re saying it’s done too late. Kind of last step is validation, I mean that’s seen it done historically. Where do you recommend staffing agencies put this into place?

McSally: So I’m not a very popular human, quite frankly. There’s a lot of people at Allegis that are happy to see me be where I am. Look, I said it’s pre-submittal. If I, in good conscience, was going to call David and expect to charge him a premium for my service, I need to be able to say, “David, here’s a candidate by the name of so-and-so. Here’s the stability that this person has. These are the organizations they worked at. And when I read your job description that you and I put together, this is what one of your peers, David, not a recruiter that’s never done the job, this is what one of your peers, the VP of apps development or the head of PMO, when I read this job spec, this is what they said about my candidate’s ability to do your job.”

I’m not saying that you would run away and get married to this candidate, but I at least know in good conscience he or she is worthy of 45 minutes of your time. And more importantly what I found is that when done correctly on both ends, and we can get to the candidate, how do you entice the candidate to do that? But the client managers jumped through the roof for you. They’re like, “This was incredible. Thank you so much.” Because all they want is they just don’t want to waste their time. And if you’ve ever seen, and you’ve been in the business and all three of us have been in the business, people say, “I’m dying to get somebody.” You send somebody over and they’re like, “The last thing I want to do is interview another human being.” So something’s really broken. So we have to give them some proof points before the interview.

Folwell: Do you have any data showing how that impacts the likelihood of somebody getting placed on assignment?

McSally: The research through the roof, I will share it in vague numbers with you. But the reality of what we were able to do when we provided two references that were applicable to the job from managerial people in nature, somebody that our candidate reported to, our favorability score was 87% versus when we didn’t do it.

So I send a candidate over to you, a candidate by the name of Brian Vesce, it gets in your inbox, nothing attached to it. I pester you, I pester you, I pester you, I pester you, finally agree to interview Vesce. I call you up and say, “Here’s a guy by the name of Vesce,” I walk you through, “I spoke to two of your peers, this is what they said about them.” And we did our favorability studies 87% versus when we don’t do it, more favorable. So it was through the roof.

Now the proof is in the pudding. I know we’re on a public call, so there’s a lot of fictitious, phony, and embellished references and most of them are from peers. So references aren’t going to solve everything, they’ve got to be legitimate references from the right people with the right skill sets that we talk about. I think Brian’s company, from what I know, is really taking a crack at doing that and automating it as much as you can.

Folwell: And I mean, as you’re talking about this, it makes complete sense from my standpoint, having hired engineers, having worked with staffing agencies to hire engineers, typically going into the situation with, “All right, well I’m not a developer myself.” I’m looking at their resume, I’m having a conversation with them and hoping that what they say is true. If I had the ability to say, “A staffing agency is sending over with references, with quotes saying, here’s what you can expect,” just the trust factor is going to go up. And also knowing that somebody I could reach out to and have a conversation with, which kind of leads me is like, well, why isn’t every staffing agency doing this? If this is how big of an impact it can have, why aren’t staffing agencies all doing it at the submittal stage? Which I imagine, Brian, you probably have an answer to, might come down to resourcing, but maybe you could dig into that a little bit.

Vesce: Yeah, resourcing. Obviously, establishing the value propositions of doing this just period. Forget about automating it. Forget about cross checking if those references actually work at that company at the same time as that candidate and all of those things that really make up a strongly or well-formed reference profile. First and foremost, it’s sort of remarkable that there is no back of a baseball card when you’re presenting talent without it. So you’re providing them with a LinkedIn profile, maybe you’re getting them a resume, which were all written by the candidate and maybe the staffing agency had a hand at adjusting their profile to sort of fit the role.

What’s remarkable is a reference check when done correctly can sort of act as the back of a baseball card for our clients’ clients, the corporate enterprise, when they’re reviewing these candidates and certainly acts as a tool to establish that agency as a differentiator for when they’re reviewing those candidates. Today, I mean it really just comes down to speed and establishing the right process to get this. And so there are certainly firms out there that want to but just need assistance in understanding, “Where in the recruiting funnel should we do it?” Mike already talked about this. If you’re doing it after they’ve said, “Hey, we’re interested in making this candidate an offer,” it’s too late. What happens if something comes up on those reference checks? And then you got to unwind the whole thing and start over.

I think some of that potentially is kind of scary to a firm. This is a new process, we’ve got to establish the right framework and guardrails in order to get this going. And then, gosh, we’re not going to do this manually because it can take days. So really it’s just about educating the customer first on, “This is what the value propositions are, plain and simple. And if you agree with that, we can help you understand where within the recruiting funnel should this be done? How should it be done? And how can automation really assist in not only the speed to submit but also improve the quality of your candidates? Which will ultimately reduce your need to backfill those candidates if they don’t work out.” So the last piece I think I’ll mention is just getting that customer to lean in if they don’t fully understand what references are and helping them understand the value props.

Folwell: So that sounds like step one here is agency needs to be on board. Everybody in the agency needs to believe in it, understand it. And from what I’ve heard you guys have said increases of favorability that the person’s actually going to get interviewed, going to get hired, by the likelihood to get placed, I imagine speed probably helps there as well. What are some of the other areas or benefits of actually putting a standardized reference check process in place?

McSally: Dave, two things you said. So the headwinds that I’m up against on a regular basis or was, people think this slows you down. It’s like, well wait a minute. Again, I make some analogies that may not be appropriate for your podcast or not, but recruitment is dating. Look man, we can rip through Tinder and we can go on a lot of dates depending on what the outcome is and what your desire to be and all that good stuff. But at the end of the day, when you have proof points, when you have proof points that this guy or gal has done this work in the past, people said they can do this job, it actually accelerates movement on the other line, on the other end of the phone. And there’s two things that are the kiss of death and it’s a time suck. The greatest time suck in the staffing industry is when you’re looking for something, when you’re trying to recruit on a requirement and you don’t know enough details, but you’re looking anyway. I’m making it up, but all of a sudden I send three candidates to you and you go, “Well hey, I liked all three that you sent, but none of them had C#.” And I go, “Where was C#… I didn’t know…like C#?” So you start all over. That’s the biggest time suck.

The other time suck is you, because no one in the industry has ever sent you a bad candidate. You send three perfect candidates and you’re just like, “Why can’t I get in touch with him? I mean, why will Folwell not call me back? Where the hell is he? Where the hell is he? Where the hell is he?” So it’s our job as recruiters, there’s a huge gap between sourcing and recruiting. Very, very, very, very, very different. And Brian alluded to it is, we fall victim as an industry to the speed to market. Like, “Ah, if I don’t get this guy over there, the other agencies are going to submit him.” Well, okay, we got to believe that the other agencies really know what they’re doing and they’ve screened the people really well.

So the other thing I will share with you, you asked, you’re like, “Hey, what other positives come from this?” Candidates say the worst thing that could ever happen to them after they’re submitted is they never hear back. So look, if people are willing to do the hard work and we’re willing to accelerate feedback time and interview time and interview time and offer time because we did due diligence, what more could a candidate ask for? I know their job requirements incredibly well. I know the client really well. If you’re the right person, I’m going to get them on the line, present your background with some proof points, and we’re going to move this process pretty darn quickly.

So when done correctly, with discipline, everybody values, everybody is seeing the benefit to it. But again, you just don’t have to. You just don’t have to, to make placements in the environment that we’ve been in for the last 15 years, you can send enough people over and if I don’t fill David’s job, that’s okay because Vesce hired my guy and I get two people for the quarter and I pass go. So to me, it really comes down to the men and women that are running that firm: what are they really going to be known for and what do they consider as standard operating procedures?

Vesce: So just to piggyback on that real quick. We talked about first and foremost establishing when and where we run this. Is it later? Is it earlier? Is it in the middle of the funnel? And I think the jury is out. The sooner you do this, the sooner you’re going to have the ability to understand the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses to move them through that process. I think the next step that we find really helpful is educating the sales and recruiting, the front-office people on best practices on how they need to educate those candidates. So most listeners are probably hearing, “Oh sure, you want me to do this before I submit them? Yeah, fat chance. There’s no way. If I have a blue chip candidate that’s a full-stack developer with fintech experience, they’re never going to engage in this.” And the truth is that is one of the largest headwinds associated with establishing this process.

However, Mike just said himself, a lot of candidates are saying, “I don’t want to be a number, I don’t want to get you my information and then wait forever or worse, never hear back.” So it’s really important that sales and recruiting educates candidates as to the value associated with doing this earlier in the process, creating a very well-formed presentation around that candidate’s strengths, their experiences. Why? So that the end client can look at that, it separates that candidate amongst all the other candidates that just have a LinkedIn profile or a resume out there and helps set them apart. What we’re finding is when you do that, it increases the velocity in which candidates are moving through this process, either through it or out of it. And ultimately, speed to getting an understanding from a client is like 90% of the problem in staffing. And so when you educate the candidate on all the value propositions and have the right messaging to that candidate so that they can lean into the process of establishing an overview for themselves that can be used for those clients is really helpful to them and the overall process.

Folwell: So it kind of sounds like, make sure I understand this correctly, you probably or might increase the time to submittal, which is probably a metric a lot of companies are looking at is time to submittal, but then you are very likely going to reduce the submittal to placement. And that’s actually going to be a big reduction. Ultimately, just as we’re talking about this, and I hadn’t thought about it from this perspective, but you are creating a better candidate experience because they’re going to do fewer interviews, higher likelihood of getting placed, and also on the client side, you are getting to a spot where they have to interview fewer people to get the right person because they’re actually coming through without the possibility of a reference check going wrong. They’re coming through with more validation that they’re the correct person. Is that….

McSally: 100%.

Vesce: Yep.

McSally: It’s not a speed-to-market volume game, it’s just not. There’s not one bit of research and I asked every CIO I ever sat with, “Hey, when you sit around and do your annual workforce planning, I mean, do you talk to your team about hiring people that are grossly underqualified that you can underpay, but as long as they show up really quickly to fill your vacancies,” and they look at me, “What? Are you an idiot? Of course not. We don’t.”

Folwell: Yeah, quality is what matters.

McSally: Every single time. But it’s important to lay it out how it works, what’s in it for them. But if you just think about it, David, if you think about, if I say, “Hey, what do you think about resumes?” It’s rhetorical. You don’t have to answer it. Yeah. I mean it’d be comical the answers you’d get. So everybody knows, “Hey, what do you think about references?” “Well, no one would give a bad reference. My managers don’t even believe in them.” And I’m like, that’s because as an industry we’ve been providing really, really crummy stuff that just checks the box that if we get asked, did you do references? We haven’t shown as an industry the value of it.

I mean there was a book, it’s 100 years old now, but I’m, I’m 140, so I read it when I was 40 and it was Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. But anyway, Bossidy said, “The only thing, the only thing I will never outsource, the only thing I will never outsource” — and this is different for what Brian V. is doing here — he said, “I will not outsource references for executives that I’m hiring onto my team.” Now, he also said, “Look, I’m Larry Bossidy. I’m the CEO of Honeywell so when I call someone to do a reference, I get a call back relatively quickly.” But that’s how important it was to him as he’s building out his executive team when he came over from GE. And so Brian’s trying to do the same thing. If I’m hiring 200, 300, 400, 500, 600 people from my IT shop or whatever it might be, my call center, you don’t have to do what Larry Bossidy did. But you’ve got to have proof points that are going to say, “Okay, this human’s worthy of an interview.” We don’t think much of references, we don’t think they’re any good because they haven’t been forever. Somebody’s going to change that.

Folwell: I mean references that I have done or even coaching from HR, which is sometimes like, “Oh, if somebody calls for a reference check and validates the dates, that’s it.” How do you get past that and actually get the meaningful information or know that you’re going to get more meaningful information then, “Yes, they worked here at this time”?

McSally: Again, I do have to be very careful because of past life, but you have to be able to provide value on both sides. So at the end of the day, especially with the layoffs today in tech, the average IT position, the average opening right now is receiving over 100 resumes. It’s like, so let’s take “The Bachelor,” which I don’t watch by the way, but let’s say instead of 12 contestants, you’re one of 100, right? It’s like, “I hope she picks me to go on a date, let alone get a rose.” It’s like, “Well, how are you going to differentiate yourself from 100 resumes that are getting hit in the inbox?” So without giving the answers to the test, so to speak, Dave, I mean people are smart enough that are listening to your podcast to be able to wordsmith why it’s valuable for the candidate and why it means so much to the client.

Folwell: And so there’s a candidate education component of, “Hey, this is what you are going to get out of it. This is why this is important. We want somebody that will actually talk about your work because it is going to make it so that you can get the job you want.”

McSally: You got it. I’ll ask Brian, and just let’s pretend that we had a relative that wanted a model for the swimsuit issue, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Folwell: I’m just loving these examples by the way.

Vesce: I’m really hoping none of my relatives are in any swimsuit issues….

McSally: You don’t have to publish any of this, Dave, but just here’s the reality. If somebody said, “Hey Uncle Brian, I want to try to be a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model, what’s the first question that Sports Illustrated is going to ask, that want to be the model, what are they going to ask for?

Folwell: Where have you modeled?

McSally: You got to show me headshots, you got to send me some headshots.

Folwell: Show me the proof.

McSally: So at the end of the day everybody does it. Brian’s talking about the baseball card view. It’s not like Costa’s is going to announce the World Series and go, “Here’s Frank,” and that’s it. “Hey Frank’s batting 305 in the playoffs, his on base percentage is this,” etcetera, etcetera. So we as an industry have really, really screwed up asking for references because we didn’t do much with them and we never proved the value. We used them for sales leads, we used them for other things, and the industry’s big enough now, all the candidates know that. So the recruiters out there have to get really, really good at their value message as to what they’re going to do with this and then they’ve got to come through and prove to the candidate that why they asked for what they asked for played out in their benefit.

Vesce: And just on the candidate engagement side, I mean sure, is there going to be friction there doing it earlier in the process? Yes. Do you need to educate the candidate around why it’s important for them and how it’s going to benefit them as it relates to putting together a package of information that’s going to be used to help accelerate them through the process? Absolutely. But it’s also a pretty good measurement of if that candidate is engaging or not. You may have talent that’s out there that’s having lots of conversations with lots of different recruiters and maybe isn’t all that serious about identifying their next career move, which is arguably one of the most important decisions among a few other things that they’re going to make in their life. If they’re not engaging in that process, it is a good measurement of, “Hey, is this person serious about taking on a new role and is this the right candidate to engage with?”

Folwell: That makes complete sense. And I actually can see how, I mean it’s just kind of validating as a recruiter you’re saying, “All right, well if you’re not willing to do that, what are the odds you’re actually going to be going to take a job with one of the people I’m submitting you to because you don’t seem to that intrigued by it.”

When it comes to actual reference checks, what information do you recommend agencies collect throughout this process?

Vesce: Sure. I can start. Obviously, we’ve developed a framework to get references from managers, peers, and coworkers around overall performance and we’ve bucketed these into what we call attributes. So there’s overall performance-related attributes, soft skill rating attributes, team skill rating attributes. And one of the ways that we go about it is we’re asking that reference giver to provide a rating on that individual against other people that they’ve managed and the best ever in each of those attributes. So sometimes you’re asking references in an arbitrary way to provide a reference on someone. So I get on the phone with David and I say, “Hey, how’s Mike’s communication skills? Good, great, or 1 to 10, 1’s the worst, 10’s the best?” It’s very arbitrary. But if I were to ask David, “How’s Mike’s communication skills against the best person on your team associated with communication? Is Mike the best ever or is Mike just okay?”

So if you look at it through the lens of being able to provide those questions, those attribute questions, and then rating them against other people that they’ve managed or that they’ve worked with, it certainly provides, one, stronger data to support strengths and weaknesses. And two, sort of better understanding of how we’re going about measuring that talent’s capabilities.

Folwell: I think that kind of even changes the perspective I have on reference checking, which is just like you’re calling somebody up and saying, “Tell me a little bit about what it was like working with this person.” And you’re having a conversation, no data to back it up, nothing to kind of compare it to. You’re saying actually survey it, have it be something that you can collect and analyze?

Vesce: Well, of course. You get on the phone manually and you say, “Hey David, how’s Mike’s communication skills?” And you go, “Eh, it’s good.” What does the recruiter hear? I heard good. Great to good communication skills.

Folwell: Amazing. Amazing. The best.

Vesce: Okay great. I’m going to write that down. It goes in my overview and then I send that out. So obviously that’s not data that’s very fuzzy, but when you put it in a context around, “This is how ratings associated with attributes should work,” that becomes a lot more valuable to the recipient in understanding those qualities.

Folwell: That makes complete sense. And with that, we’ve talked a lot about the “why” behind reference checks and also what industries, who should be actually thinking about reference checks today and who should care about these the most?

Vesce: Also along the lines of the “why,” I think first and foremost, when done correctly and we’ve talked about some of the right and wrong ways to do them. Number-one on the “why” is that for the staffing agency, it positively impacts all the stakeholders. Front-office recruiting, it helps pre-screening, it helps understand alignment on the job to candidate. Sales, it becomes a new tool for them to separate the talent that they’re providing to the client. Compliance, regardless of the sector within staffing, whether it be IT or healthcare or finance, accounting and operations, a lot of times there is a compliance, especially within healthcare. It positively impacts the candidates, certainly the customers, and then even the executive leadership, you start to get a lot more data around the candidates that you’re representing and how those candidates work out with their customers from a quality of higher perspective. So, first and foremost, it’s something that interfaces with every facet of the staffing agency to include their customers.

And then what sectors of the recruiting world, I think was the second part of your question. So certainly having come from IT and creative, there is a benefit to all IT and creative staffing agencies, healthcare, we’re seeing a lot of not only compliance but also interest in doing this at the top of funnel, finance, accounting and operations. And certainly starting to see a lot of interest in even the light industrial side of this from a lightweight perspective.

Folwell: That makes a ton of sense. And one area you brought up there, which I hadn’t even thought about was, I mean obviously this is going to help rank the candidates for the specific client you’re submitting it to, but then in the long run you’re now kind of building out the ability to have candidate scoring instead of doing algorithmic candidate scoring based off of what’s on their resume, you’re actually doing it based off of references and building it off of data that’s coming from somebody who’s actually worked with them. Is that kind of the path that you see this going as well?

Vesce: There’s certainly a long-term data opportunity attached to this and we’re starting to see this with early access customers today that have been using this in practice against marquee logos within the organization. So they’re starting to see, “Hey, for this particular client, we need to identify talent that has ratings in these attributes in order for them to get to, where? To the interview stage, to the offer stage, and then ultimately to get hired.” And then we can start to track the correlation between those candidates that get hired and how long they’ve been there, if they had fallen off early and the like. So the data associated with this is certainly going to be an enrichment to their existing dataset within their front offices that’s going to enable them to make smarter decisions around how they engage, how they vet, and ultimately how they identify talent for their customers.

Folwell: That makes sense. And how is RefAssured different from other reference checking software that’s out there that exists today?

Vesce: I mean I just talked about it a little bit. The data side of it is going to be uniquely valuable for us and having been operators within the staffing industry and ultimately building software, we’re big believers in leveraging software to enhance not only the candidate’s experience but the client’s experiences. And then if you can layer in technology to automate all that in a really thoughtfully integrated way, which is one of our big differentiators with staffing software systems of record, it provides a pretty powerful connective tissue between this candidate’s past performance and their ability to utilize that information in their front-office systems. So to be more clear about it, we’re taking our technology and integrating it into these front office systems in a much more meaningful way than what we’ve seen available amongst the competitors today.

Folwell: And that kind of leads me to the next area I wanted to talk about, which is the automation of it. I mean, are there agencies that are doing this well with a standard process without automation? Do you think it requires automation for the adoption to happen? Any insights on that?

Vesce: I can go first, Mike, but yeah, I mean there’s certainly agencies out there that have a really well-formed process in this specific area, they’re doing it manually and they’re able to scale. I think doing tasks like this, administrative tasks like this, potentially have limiting returns when you try to scale them out manually. And then there are firms that are just not doing it at all and really probably need to understand the value of doing it manually before even automating it. But it’s clear that automation is going to help them considerably, especially as it relates to taking these manual tasks, eliminating it from the daily activities from the front-office people, and reallocating that time into other revenue generating areas or just making the work-life balance better for those individuals.

McSally: Yeah, I would piggyback a little bit. I think I’ve watched the industry for 30 years and those that knee-jerk react to automating it fully, whatever it is, usually do not do well. So, I would look at a tool and Brian and I have talked quite a bit since launch. I would look at a tool like this as an enabler, something I would rely on very, very heavily to give me quick data points, and many data points, and frequency of data points. And that’s going to be a part of my operating rhythm, my operating rhythm will change. I know this is an automated tool, which I think is great, we’ve talked enough about it. But it’s just another tool to help you collect some data and determine where you’re going to go, who you’re going to prioritize for this opportunity. You may learn some data and realize, “Wow, let me pivot with this candidate because there’s two other opportunities over here I wasn’t even thinking about that he or she could be great for.”

So I mean CareerBuilder, Monster, and Dice, they refused to deal with us. Go back 25 years they said, “We’re absolutely never going to work with a staffing agency, we’re going to put you out of business.” And then LinkedIn came in and said the same thing and then, “Hey, we’re going to automate your job postings and everything along those lines.” I’m a firm believer, again, I did cough up my age, I’m 140, recruitment is a human contact sport, always has been, always will be. Eventually you got to get from out behind Twitter and you got to go show up at the bar or the restaurant. So you use the tool that Brian’s building and other tools out there to accelerate and speed manual processes up that take too long. So I think it could be a fabulous compliment.

Folwell: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of benefits we’ve talked about today and I know we’ve already touched on this a little bit in terms of the benefit to the client or the customer in fact that they’re going to have more data, more information to make a decision on and also higher favorability. Do clients, sounds like they care about them with the favorability score that you shared earlier, but do you have any anecdotes or any stories about the experience that customers have had when you’ve used reference checks?

Vesce: First and foremost, I mean I think the first one came for us during the MVP, like when we were first starting with this concept almost a year ago, which came from a client’s client. And they said, “Wow, this gives us a lot more transparency and is super valuable for us when we interview this person.” When you establish an interview practice, what are the questions you’re going to ask, and you have all these boilerplate questions, but how those relate to the candidate sometimes is a little fuzzy when you’re looking at their resume. But when you get into the interview process and you have something that’s really helping them understand the strengths and weaknesses and that transparency becomes really helpful to that client to help focus on the areas that are important to them where maybe they’re really strong or maybe they have some areas of opportunity or areas for improvement. And then the same piece of feedback held true for onboarding.

So they want to move forward with an offer and they say, “Gosh, we realize nobody’s perfect. And there are a couple areas here that aren’t maybe at the level we want them to, but now we know what we need to do from an onboarding perspective in the first 30, 60, 90 days, regardless if it’s a full-time placement or a contractor. We know what muscles we need to build and this gives us more ammo, more emphasis and how we invest in that talent so that they can be high performing talent for us regardless of where they’re at.” Whether it’s tech, whether it’s finance, accounting, operations, sales, healthcare. Those are some of the value props that really kind of smacked us in the face early on.

McSally: Dave, I’ll share with you. I mean very, very recent research and data from customer feedback. It’s 2023 very soon, and tens of thousands of hiring managers that were interviewed said they are more frustrated with the level of talent that they’re seeing sent to them than ever before in the history of their careers. So at the end of the day, if you think about it, how could that be? Well, when there is a shortage, when there’s seven to 10 to 15 million positions and there’s not enough humans for, you bet your ass the best clients are hanging on to the best people. They have to be enticed, they have to be recruited, we have to meet them where they are in their careers and understand what would be appealing for them to make a move.

So I’m not saying there are not really good people that have been impacted with some of the layoffs over the last 90 days, that’s not my point. My point is, though, that the voice of the customer says, “I’m incredibly frustrated.” Well, that’s all I need to know. Just that one data point to say they’re tired of looking at resumes, they’re tired of people saying they can do things that they can’t do. At the end of the day, the reality is this, if you want to predict the future, study the past.

So the last thing I’ll say on that is I read it mid-summer, either Speaking or Talking to Strangers, it’s Gladwell, and I hear this all the time. You’ve said it, I’ve said it, Vesce, we’ve all said it. “Oh, I’m a pretty good judge of character.” Gladwell’s research says the best, the best of the best, these are FBI profilers, these guys studied for 30 years how to read people, they get it right 54% of the time. It’s a flip of the coin. But everyone’s like, “Just get them to me. I don’t care about the resume. I’ll figure it out in a half-hour interview.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m sure you will.”

Look, at the end of the day, at the beginning of the call you said, hey, invitations are going out, wedding and all that stuff, I’ve got 4, 22, 21 and twins that are 18 and there is not a chance in hell I would let anyone show up in my front door unless I did not vet the ever living daylights out of them. I don’t mean on dates, I meant as babysitters, guys, the dating thing was later, but I meant I would never go on Craigslist to get a babysitter. I don’t know anyone in the right mind that would, people do, but maybe they’re not in the right mind. We’re going to be so careful, we’re going to call everyone in the neighborhood and ask, “Who’s the best? Who’s the most reliable? Who’s the nicest with your kids? Do you have cameras? Have you ever suspected anything?” Now, I’ll probably order an Uber sometime this weekend and put my life in the hands of a complete stranger but anyway, my kids….

Folwell: A well-reviewed one.

McSally: So the reality is we have to treat “strangers” that we’re sending into somebody’s place of employment just like we would if they were coming to babysit our kids. We can find that stuff out. Brian can do it through some automation and there are good people that are willing to speak on other good people’s behalf.

Folwell: That sounds great. And I mean I think just my own hiring experience, it would’ve been really nice to have had a detailed reference check from any of the staffing firms I’ve worked with. I’ve worked with quite a few and every time they’ve been sent over, it’s always you get the resume and that’s it. Resume and you want to interview them, go from there. Any additional information seems like it’d be valuable and help position you better with the client and also get that placement done.

With that, we’re going to jump into the speed questions. We’ve got three questions for you and then we’ll have some closing comments. Question for both of you, usually we have one person on, we’ll just kind of go, Brian, you can kick it off. What advice do you wish you were given before entering the staffing industry?

Vesce: Gosh, that staffing is a lot like baseball. If you’re a 350 career hitter, you’re an all-star and maybe even a hall of famer. So you’re not going to be successful at every turn. I thought I was going to hit the ball out of the park every time when I got into the industry and that’s just not the case.

Folwell: Great advice. How about you Mike?

McSally: The industry, recruitment as a whole, is much like insurance, I mean there’s a lot of industries that are broken right now, bruised and need some help. I mean, recruiting is broken. So I wish someone had said to me, “Look, Mike, at the end of the day, you don’t have to do a whole bunch, too terribly different, but you just have to be incredibly great, do the common things uncommonly well. And if you seek to understand what your candidates are looking for and you seek to understand what your clients are looking for, just be that bridge.” But if you fall into the transactional “I’m just a paper shuffler and I’m just killing you with paper,” I wish someone just said, “Hey man, you’re pretty smart, you’re a good listener, just be that bridge between those two parties and you’ll do really, really well and create value for everybody.”

Folwell: Awesome. In the last five years, what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life? You want to kick it off, Mike?

McSally: Oh shit. Not one that I can share publicly. No. Look, most assumptions are wrong. Most assumptions are wrong. I’m really, really big on setting context. Everybody’s short, everybody’s on edge, everybody’s beeping at you, everybody’s yelling, there’s fights in the grocery store. I’m just really big on setting context. I don’t want to rush into you and tell you what I’m going to do and how I’m going to solve your problem. So for me it’s kind of seek to understand, really figure out what this interaction is all about, try to get some context, try to set some context, then hopefully the two parties can come together. I mean, that’s what I’ve learned. I think the world’s gone a little bit mad right now and everybody’s a little bit short circuited. If we just slow down a little bit to seek to understand and maybe not assume we have all the answers before the guy or gals even spoken I think that serves me well. I’m not great at it, but work in progress.

Vesce: Actually mine’s somewhat similar, it’s just to listen more and talk less. I don’t need to have all the answers and I know I don’t have them all, but unless I listen and go slowly, it creates a lot of problems. So over the last five years I’ve started to do that more and I certainly can get better at it.

Folwell: Great advice. Last question for you two, and I know a couple books have already come up during the conversation, but what is the book or books that you’ve given most as a gift and why?

McSally: Yeah, I got a daughter, she just got into sales, 22, graduated. So I’ve given the book Go-Givers Sell More. I’ve probably sent it to a dozen people in the last 12 months. So it’s really all about creating value when the sale isn’t on the table, and I love it. Bob Burg is the guy’s name and some other guy, but Go-Givers Sell More is something I’ve handed out more than anything else. In my lifetime, if there’s people on the call that ever spent any time, I handed out The Accidental Salesperson, we probably gave a 1,000 of those away to the salespeople at Allegis Group. It was a guy by Chris Lytle, thought he was going to go into politics and woke up and he was selling an advertising space and realized he had no idea what he was doing, so hence the accidental salesperson. And it’s a bunch of life lessons of his that are just fabulous. They’re great.

Folwell: Awesome. I’m putting both those down on my list.

Vesce: Mike, you never sent any of those to me.

McSally: I’ll get them to you. I’ll get them to you.

Vesce: But mine’s an oldie bit of goodie and I received it as a gift and I’ve certainly given it many times. Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma. I think everybody’s probably heard of it, but it talks a lot about how organizations have missed out on new waves of innovation and there’s a lot of nuggets in there that are great.

Folwell: Well thank you guys so much for the advice. Any closing comments to wrap things up?

McSally: No, have a great holiday. Thanks for having us on. I appreciate what you do with the podcast and good cause. I think anybody in recruitment, we owe it to our candidates to do everything in our power to represent them the best way we can and I think the topic we talked about is the key to the kingdom. There’s no other way to represent them unless we really truly understand who they are, the work they can do, and we should sell our hearts out for them with our clients. It’s tough to do without that information. So great topic and happy to be here.

Vesce: Well put. David, thanks for having us on. Mike, as always, a pleasure speaking with you today. Thank you both.

Folwell: Yeah, thank you guys so much. Really enjoyed it, Brian and Mike, appreciate it and I hope you guys have a great day.