The Staffing Show - Chris Conrad

On this episode of The Staffing Show, Chris Conrad, VP of Sales at Textkernel, talks to David about how Textkernel became the global leader in resume parsing. Conrad dives into how the intentional use of technology can improve work environments as well as how he sees generative AI, such as ChatGPT, shaping the future of the staffing industry. Later, he shares his thoughts on the concept of “silver-medalist” scenarios and how companies handle placing candidates who are strong but not the first choice for certain positions.

David Folwell: Hello everyone. Thank you for joining us for another episode of The Staffing Show. Today I’m super excited to be joined by Chris Conrad, who is the vice president of sales at Textkernel. Chris, excited to have our conversation today. Thanks for joining the show. To kick things off, could you give a little bit of a background on who you are and how you got into staffing?

Chris Conrad: Yeah, thanks for having me on. I feel like, what is the phrase, like “Longtime listener, first-time caller?” Yeah, so I got into the staffing industry back in 2013 when I was a new sales rep for Bullhorn and just haven’t stopped. So since then, coming up on 10 years, I guess, by simple math.

Folwell: Well, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. Tell me a little bit about what you’re doing now. Who is Textkernel? What are you doing with Textkernel today?

Conrad: Yeah, so little known fact, when I joined Textkernel back in 2020, we were actually owned by CareerBuilder. I was brought on to develop a sales team for the North American market because we didn’t have one at that time. We relied on the CareerBuilder sales team. And we knew we were going to get carved out, so the arduous task of being a part of CareerBuilder during that period of time where they were rapidly letting go of headcount and spinning off companies. 

We divested in October of 2020, and so from that point on, we assembled and grew a sales team. And we’re up to — geez, I think for total U.S. headcount — we’re close to about 20 employees now, which is fantastic. Something like almost close to 40% of our revenue comes out of the North American markets. So huge shift for us and a lot of growth we’ve had with Textkernel. And we’ve just been — just honestly — we have a great financial partner that helped us with leaving CareerBuilder, Main Capital. With them, they’ve helped us make some key acquisitions, invest in our product line, invest in our people. It’s been fantastic since.

Folwell: How big is Textkernel overall? Because I know you said 20 in the U.S., but you guys are a much larger organization, right?

Conrad: Yeah, we’re about 200 globally.

Folwell: Awesome. So what is Textkernel? What problem does Textkernel solve?

Conrad: Oh, that’s a good question. So within the staffing sector, we’re primarily the search and match leader. So we are providing technologies that match candidates to jobs, jobs to candidates, but on a high volume. So we really excel when you have really large databases, really large data sets, and really provide a lot of that capability, especially to the top-end of the market. But really, when you look at us as a whole, we’re actually the global leader in resume parsing. We parse something like three billion resumes a year. That’s kind of wild. So most major job boards utilize us. Most major platforms, including Bullhorn, utilize us in all their properties. Do a lot of HR tech. Yeah, it’s wild when you think about it. I was like, “Ah, how many people are in the workforce globally?” And obviously, there’s a lot of duplicates….

Folwell: Yeah, I was going to say, you must parsing some twice, otherwise you’ve got like….

Conrad: Yeah, right? That math don’t make sense, right? Yeah, so we do a lot of that. And so it’s crazy, we’re really a foundational technology when you’re talking about the HR sector. We’re a great search and match technology to incorporate. 

But within staffing, we’re so much more, because obviously the whole business revolves around finding great people and placing jobs, and so we’re so much more of a mission-critical platform within this segmentation. It’s what we love to do.

Folwell:  Awesome. Awesome. I know you had mentioned that you guys also have some automation components and also have made some acquisitions over the last couple years. I’ve known Textkernel for a while. These are some things that are a little bit new to me, and I think might be interesting to the audience as well.

Conrad: Yeah, totally. Our CEO, Gerard, has really kind of had his mission to look for great pieces of technology that we can bring into the company and really expand our…really expand our footprint within different ecosystems. And we recently brought on a fantastic company called Joboti, kind of weird name, but fantastic nonetheless. Yeah, so they’re also based out of Amsterdam, and they’re in the Bullhorn ecosystem. They do candidate engagement automation, and they have a fantastic integration with WhatsApp. Using WhatsApp — not really big over here — but I think something like the penetration in most northern European countries is like 90%. Yeah, so it’s fantastic. We’ve brought them into the fold. It’s been really synergistic. Their owners are just great people, super engaging. And the thing about that, they’re a small company. The speed of innovation, we’re like, “Hey, can you add on SMS? Let’s get some texting going on in here.” And they’re like, “Yeah, give us two months.” We’re like, “All right. Let’s get this thing going.”

Folwell:  That’s amazing.

Conrad: Yeah, yeah. So we’re excited about that. We’ve also acquired a back-office solution, so they do time interpretation, invoicing, the timecards. Actually, correction, not invoicing. They work with general ledgers for invoicing. But time cards, onboarding. And again, just another piece of technology that we see a lot of potential on and the ability to internationalize it. We see it’s cool in this country, we see the building blocks, we’ve done a lot of analysis. We think we can take this thing and say, “Hey, let’s bring it to Germany, let’s bring it to France, let’s bring it to the United States. Let’s bring it to Canada.” You just don’t see that with a lot of technology in our industry. They really kind of stay within their zones. You see them in the U.K., maybe they come to the U.S. They’re in the U.S., maybe they go to the U.K. But not a lot is going to Germany, not a lot is coming from northern Europe and going into the States. So that’s a big thing that we’re focused on.

Folwell: That’s awesome, and I didn’t realize. I mean, I’ve always thought about the resume parsing as kind of your core, and seeing you guys branch out, it sounds like you guys are doing a lot more candidate engagement side of things as well.

Conrad: Yeah. We do a lot in the HR tech side, in that whole arena on the HR side. And what we see is candidate engagement, it’s huge in that segmentation, and it really hasn’t moved as aggressively into staffing as what we’d have thought. I mean, there’s a few players, obviously. Bullhorn Automation does a great job. You have Sense, obviously it does a great job. But beyond that, there’s not a lot else. Staffing Engine, they’re making some great progress at what they do, great people over there. But when you look at the level of innovation, we think that there’s a huge potential to really advance that within staffing. Because so much of the problems that most of the industry has is, if you think about, it’s around engaging with the talent. Whether it’s redeploying them, whether it’s, once you realize you can’t monetize a candidate, that you stay engaged, make them feel that you still care and you’re still looking for positions for them. There’s a lot of challenges that really, when you come down to it, it’s about the ability to stay connected but to add value to the candidate experience.

Folwell: Wow, that’s really great. Just shifting gears a little bit, I’m kind of coming off of the Textkernel. But you and I were having a conversation previously, and we’ve known each other for years and ironically are from the same hometown pretty much….

Conrad: I know, it’s crazy.

Folwell: …which is great. You had brought up this idea of a silver-medalist scenario, and it was a concept that I thought was cool and I thought maybe some of our listeners would be interested in hearing a little bit more about that, the idea, and what that means from your perspective.

Conrad: Yeah, so two cents of it is that, the silver medalist is that candidate that it’s a great individual, they sound great, they’re interested, they’re engaged with you, they want to work with your company, but they just ain’t right for that particular job or maybe the hiring managers didn’t connect. So you want to place them somewhere else. That’s a big workflow or a big use case that we think about at Textkernel. It’s like, “Hey, how do we get that next best person to find a job?” We built a lot of tools, a lot of automations, like, “Hey, let’s serve up, let’s try to find matching jobs,” so then you can say, “Hey, this is a great individual. Here’s all the matching jobs.” And we can take it a couple more steps there. So when we talk about this, and you and I were talking about it, it seems like a no-brainer, right? Of course, why wouldn’t you….

Folwell: Get the second person in line placed?

Conrad: …place a great candidate. Yeah, but there’s so many challenges within organizations in terms of ownership. I was recently working with a firm, and we were talking about employing this kind of workflow step in there, and again, it was one of those things where it’s like, “Oh wait, well, how do we handle ownership of the candidate versus ownership of the job? Who gets split on this, and who gets split on that?” And the technologies get to a point where we can auto-recommend a candidate for these positions. And so it’s a challenge for a lot of firms to successfully implement this because it actually means changing a little bit of how you handle ownership or compensation splits. Because in theory, if you have a great candidate, we can tell you five, 10, 20 jobs are all great matches and then give backgrounds as to why, like, “They’re a great fit because of all these reasons, go ahead and submit them.” It is interesting. It’s a little bit of a challenge for the unexpected reasons.

Folwell:  Yeah. And so basically, the challenge is that the agency doesn’t want to take whoever applied…say you’ve got 20 people that applied for this job. The second person, the runner-up, that recruiter now owns that candidate, and the other job you’re going to be recommending, it might be under a different recruiter. And so the agency is basically like, “Hey, we have a problem with this because that’s going to change the owner of this candidate.” And that recruiter’s going to be…even though it’s a better candidate experience and it’s more revenue for your business, you’re seeing agencies that are holding back on making adjustments or adopting because of their internal processes?

Conrad: Yeah, and I think conceptually, the leadership always understands it, but it’s always the practical of being like, “All right, well, how do we handle this stuff?” Because you can have it where it could be a different delivery team that’s working on it. And at the end of the day, it’s all about compensating people for adding value, but then if the technology makes it too easy, then who is the driving force of it?

It is a curious thing. And I think that as we think about the industry, and I’ve worked with thousands of staffing firms over the last 10 years, and they’re all unique. The concepts are always the same, but the way that they operate, there’s always little nuances of how the business is run, how they handle compensation, all that kind of stuff. And that kind of leads down to, how do you segment the data? You wouldn’t think that a commission structure would be your driving force for how you handle your data structure, but surprisingly it does from time to time. At the end of the day, it’s all about the money, so people are going to do what they’re going to do. It’s an interesting anomaly that you run into from time and time.

Folwell: I always find it amazing, and also sometimes, at different points in my career, I’ve found it frustrating when you see internal processes getting in the way of what’s actually best for the end user or the candidate in this experience. It’s like, what is the best outcome for the candidate? If you focus on that and just focus on that and then try to get everything else out of the way, I think that typically leads to better business outcomes. But so often, you see the businesses get in the way where they’re like, “Hey, well, this is how we do it.” And somebody’s going to get frustrated over here. And it’s like, “Well…”

Conrad: Yeah. I’m sure you’ve experienced that within your own business as you’re a leader. Everyone’s always going to question, “Hey, why are we going left instead of right?” There’s a reason, but sometimes that reason gets lost over time. You’re like, “Oh, well, maybe it’s not the right way to do it anymore. Maybe we should reevaluate that.”

Folwell: Yeah. And one of the areas that we also talked about was expecting technology to solve problems. Like you were saying right here, it’s like, “All right, I’m going to buy this technology, and that’s going to solve the problem that we have.” And that can be the case, but I think the change management component of it is such a key part of that.

Conrad: Oh, yeah.

Folwell: Any lessons learned that you’ve seen over the years or best practices that you would share with the audience?

Conrad: Yeah, change management, someone should teach a course on this one. I think this is the core thing. You and I, we’re always selling our technology, and at the core of our pitch is, “Hey, we’re going to help you be more efficient.” But then after we sign that contract, we’re all happy about it, we always kind of have that collective you hold your breath a little bit being like, “Ooh, I hope they adopt this thing correctly.” And adoption’s a two-way street. I’ve been a firm believer that it really starts at the leadership course. So when you have a customer, or you’re director, VP, CEO, COO, or whoever it is at the staffing firm, it’s about making sure that you have the right processes in place, but then you’re holding people accountable to that, holding yourself accountable to that, and you are making sure that, say, you’re just not trying to solve this problem and moving on to the next. It’s like, “Hey, what’s our 180-day strategy? What are we doing in terms of measuring success? Have we defined what success is?”

I feel like sometimes, you probably experience it yourself, the salesperson tells you what to expect, but you yourself, as the buyer, haven’t really said, “What am I expecting out of this? Is this going to drive the extra placement that this salesperson promised?” Often not the case. And how do you measure that? So those are all the key things I always kind of look at and be like, “All right, well, how can we help our customers go through that process?” And kindly help them, like saying, “Hey, if you’re going to do this, it’s about ownership, and also it’s about leadership.”

Folwell: It might be a broken record on this one with the podcast, but the number of times I’ve seen a CEO get excited about shiny new technology, and I have done this myself, go out and buy it and then hand it to your team and say, “Look,” and the team’s like, “We don’t need another thing. We’re maxed out. That’s not the problem we’re trying to solve today.” I think that the key is, one of many things with the change management is getting buy-in across all levels of the organization and making sure that you have general excitement around it. Because if people don’t want another thing and you’re adding another thing, the adoption might not be quite as good as you want.

Conrad: Yeah, siloed decision-making. I mean, as a salesperson, you love that. You have one buyer, you talk to them.

Folwell: Well, you like the first stage of it, yeah.

Conrad: Yeah. Right. Well, we’re not talking about the adoption part, right? One buyer, that hopefully they buy a really long-term contract you don’t have to remember, forget about it for a while. But no, I was actually just talking to a rep today. My guy was walking me through an evaluation he’s working on. So the buyer, he’s a technical guy. A director of operations. So he’s evaluating it. He’s like, “I love the technology. How do I sell this internally?” It was the kind of strategy I can build with the rep. I was like, “Hey, this is a fantastic opportunity. He’s asking you how do I build consent internally? So this is an opportunity for you to be a real coach and real advisor on how best to be. Because you could just try to strong-arm him into doing a contract and knowing that it’s probably not the right way to go about it.” The right way is, “Let’s build consent. Let’s build an evaluation. Let’s set success criteria, and if he’s willing to listen to you on that, that’s awesome, that’s fantastic.” Then you can set the stage for a successful implementation, set expectations. That’s best-case scenario.

Folwell: Yep.

Conrad: Typically, not the case, right?

Folwell: It’s definitely something that takes practice, and with salespeople, I think especially, who are hungry to get something done, it takes some discipline to step back and make sure that you’re actually validating and vetting things on your end as well as making sure….

Conrad: Yeah, you have the horse blinders on. How often are you in the saddle from a sales perspective these days?

Folwell: Relatively frequently. I….

Conrad: You never got out of it, right?

Folwell: I mean, I don’t know if you ever do. I’m sure at some stage you do, but I’m not sure if you do fully.

Conrad: A lot of founders are that way, they’re like chief salesperson, CEO, CSO, any other hat going on. Gerard, if I asked him to do a demo, he would be on it. He would cancel meetings and get onto it. You got to hold him back. You’re like, “No, you got a board meeting.” But he loves it. You can’t turn that off sometimes. You got to love that.

Folwell: Yep, 100%. The other conversation that you and I had a little bit about that I thought would be relevant for this group is, we were talking about ChatGPT. I know it’s all the rage right now. It’s a big buzzword, but I think there’s a reason why, and you had some really interesting thoughts on how to think about ChatGPT. Honestly, you had a very different perspective than anybody else I’ve talked to about it, and I have this conversation quite a bit.

Conrad: It’s like dinner party conversation now, right?

Folwell: I mean, I bring it up. I talk about it too much, honestly. I’ve been having fun with it. I’m learning about prompt engineers.

Conrad: Oh, there you go.

Folwell: I don’t know, have you heard of that?

Conrad: I have. I have no idea how to do it, but yeah.

Folwell: I have not looked this up, I do not know if this is validated at all, but somebody told me that prompt engineers, people who know how to write good questions and good strategic direction to AI are getting paid like $200,000 to $400,000.

Conrad: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Folwell: Well, with that, let’s jump into, what are some of the ideas that you had? What’s your take on ChatGPT?

Conrad: Yeah, the prompt engineers remind you of the Boolean Black Belts, if you can figure out a really good Boolean.

Folwell: I don’t know. Was that a thing?

Conrad: Oh yeah, Boolean Black Belts? Come on….

Folwell: I didn’t even know that. That’s amazing. That’s what it is. That’s exactly what it is.

Conrad: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s a few people. You probably might find a LinkedIn profile every now and then when someone said that. Boolean, it won’t die. That’s a fact. No. So our company is heavy on R&D. As much as I’d love to say that we’re a 199-person sales team, we’re more like a 20- or 25-person sales team, and then the rest is like R&D and product and whatnot. 

So as ChatGPT started becoming a big thing, obviously, in Q1, we started getting a lot of these questions in the sales process. I had a conversation with our head of research, Mihai. Incredibly bright guy. And the thing about Textkernel is that it’s like the UN. There’s I think 36 different nationalities or some that work at the company. So it’s extremely diverse in that regard, and a lot of PhDs.

And so as we’re going through it, because I’m playing around with it…what do I know? I love it. I’m having it write emails for me. I’m having it work on presentations. I’m like, “This is the best thing ever.” I was like, “So how are we going to start using this thing for parsing, and how are we going to start using it for the skills taxonomies and understanding where the makeups of jobs and candidates?” Which is really at the core of what we do. So as he’s walking me through a bit, one of the great things about generative AI is that it’s creative. You can say you can come up with biography, you can make it sound like a pirate. I think that’s a common thing that I’ve seen a lot of people do. And you’re like, “Okay, great.” Which is fantastic. It’s cool. But the problem is that when you are processing data, especially on volume, there’s a concept, it’s called hallucinations. It’s a real term they use.

Folwell: I don’t know if that was an actual term. I thought you created that. You said, “ChatGPT hallucinates to me,” and I’m like, “Get out of here.”

Conrad: “What?” Yeah, it’s on psychedelics, what can you say?

Folwell: It’s on trend, it’s on there.

Conrad: There you go.

Folwell: It’s finding its inner consciousness.

Conrad: It’s so one with itself. So what it does is that it kind of comes up with something that’s not there. It anticipates or, well, I guess, hallucinates. And so we start seeing it happening with resumes. We’ll do this every now and then. Now, again, it has a high-degree of accuracy, but it does it every now and then. We spotted this even just doing low-volume testing. 

And so as we mentioned in the beginning, we’re doing three billion, with a B, parses. What happens if it’s hallucinating just a fraction of a percent? How do you trust that data? And it’s not about incorrectly or missing something, it’s just fabricating. It’s dangerous in that regard. So it has a way to go from that perspective. But there’s ways of incorporating it to leverage the creative aspects of it. But we can supplement it with industry or domain knowledge and say, “Hey, listen….”

So, for example, things that we’ve tried out with this, we have a very extensive taxonomy…which is a word that I feel like no one outside of my company ever uses, but basically, we understand all the correlations of skills and how they matter. It’s like a word you had in biology class. And we have an ontology, which is another crazy word, but that’s a correlation between professions and skills.

Anyway, so we have all this understanding because we have 15 years of training on this stuff, something like that. And we can incorporate that and say, “Hey, listen, ChatGPT. Fill out a job description, incorporate these known specified skills that are for this job.” And then we know, just how it can talk like a pirate, it can start interweaving in the different skills that are required for that job description without going off on a weird tangent. It’s a way of keeping it in check. But the other thing that we also look at, which you and I were talking about is…because you were talking about how you used it for your checking your marketing material, doing a little legal review, right?

Folwell: Mm-hmm.

Conrad: Hopefully you don’t have developers that are checking code with it, right?

Folwell: I’m asking them not to after our conversation. And anybody listening to this, listen to the next part because I hadn’t thought of this and maybe I should have.

Conrad: I mean, there’s a famous story about Samsung. A bunch of Samsung coders, I guess were using it to check code, which does a fantastic job doing, faster than a human would, but all the information you just gave to ChatGPT and open AI, that’s their information now. And Samsung started finding their code showing up on the internet.

Folwell: That’s crazy.

Conrad: Open AI is not exactly open. So where’s all this data going?

Folwell: It’s not fully open source.

Conrad: Yeah, you provide proprietary information, company information, hell, heaven forbid your own code, that’s their data now. And we haven’t really sorted out that from a legal perspective of who owns it since you’ve really given it away. That’s a tricky one.

Folwell: The example I heard recently of a use case with ChatGPT that is scary, I heard this, and I was like, “Oh, this is cool, maybe something I should look at for different things.” The owner of a software company said, “I want to train my team on this part of our software, but I’m not that great at training. Can you ask me all the questions you need to know about our software so that I can train my team?”

And I was like, “That’s brilliant. That’s a brilliant instance for ChatGPT.” And I’m like, “Oh, that guy just gave out his entire…all of his knowledge.”

Conrad: Very innocuous. Oh, hard could it be? And he’s probably giving up all the documentation, maybe….

Folwell: Yeah, he probably uploaded all of the…. So be careful with using it with proprietary information because now it’s part of the AI.

Conrad: We’re starting to see laws come out. The EU is always ahead on this stuff, so there’s a lot of conversation about PII and how that’s protected within this type of technology. Italy just outright banned it. That’s so Italian. And the U.S. is going to get there. We talked about this before this, New York City came up with a law obviously before this about leveraging AI for matching and matching candidates. And it wasn’t the best run. I think that they’ve delayed putting it into action at least twice now. Because it was supposed to go into effect on January 1, and they punted until April, when I heard it just got delayed again.

And there’s not really any kind of clear direction, how do you enforce this thing? What happens? And then who does it apply to? Is it just New York City? So is it like a speeding ticket? “Do I just ignore this thing because I’m out of state?” But it’s going to change. I think a lot of people are going to start realizing, “Hey, we need to start getting out in front.” I think we’re going to see a lot of legislation coming out of various different states. Probably California first, just knowing them.

Folwell: Yeah. I think we need legislation around it. That said, I don’t know what that is or what it looks like.

Conrad: Well, yeah. Well, don’t worry, the people you elected who are very up on technology will write a law that is clearly tailored. They’ve got this.

Folwell: They got it down.

Conrad: The elected officials got it. Don’t worry.

Folwell: They’ve their finger on the pulse.

Conrad: Yeah. “Oh, yeah, yeah, no, we understand technology.”

Folwell: To check to see if we’re alive.

Conrad: And probably no lobbyists involved in that one either, right? It’s a crazy world we live in where the speed of it is just happening so fast. I was telling you this before, that my analogy as I’m currently now at visiting my folks, the way I kind of describe it to, it’s like a Model T moment. Cars that exist beforehand, that’s nothing new. But just the accessibility of it that everyone can get access to this vehicle, now everyone’s driving it, now you have a lot of cars on the road, how do you handle who’s on what side of the road? Are you going to put stop signs? We need to have laws in place. Speed limits.

So the availability of this stuff, of generative AI, because it’s not just open ads, there’s others, the availability of it…. And the costs are coming down, and just now that you can have it downloaded on your phone app. Your parents can be just typing away in there, asking them questions. It has a lot of implications. I think the accessibility of it is what really necessitates some legal action or some legislation.

Folwell: Well, and also, I don’t know what all it’s going to disrupt yet. I know there’s a lot of people that have thought a lot about that and have the ideas of the order in which it’s going to disrupt things. I wish I could remember the name of the company, but it was an education company or an educational resource, was it?

Conrad: Check, right?

Folwell: Yeah, might be. Was it the one that their revenue is down 50% or something like that?

Conrad: Yeah, it closed up or something like that. Yeah, yeah.

Folwell: Basically, students are going to ChatGPT to get papers written and not to that site anymore, and immediately it’s like a huge impact overnight. And we’re going to see more of those moments. What they are, I don’t know, but it’s interesting.

Conrad: Yeah, I can’t imagine being a high school teacher right now, asking people to make a book report. That’s probably too young. But like a history report or something like that. You’re like, “Oh my God.” How do you tell if it’s plagiarism? That’s the ability of generative AI.

Folwell: Yeah. And then you can ask ChatGPT if it’s plagiarism, but will it? Good luck.

Conrad: Right? Oof. Good luck. Yeah.

Folwell: Yeah. So with that, kind of jumping back, this is a good conversation around the future of AI and where things are going, where do you see the staffing industry heading in the next three to five years? What are some of the major trends that you see happening that are impacting staffing today? With AI, I know we talked about that a little bit, but what are some of the other areas?

Conrad: You were at the SIA conference in March. I want to say, I was talking to someone who was attending the sessions. He made a remark about how there’s still sessions about the digital transformation. They’re still people talking about digital transformation, digitizing records, and getting out of paper. And I’m like, “Really? I remember that from, again, 10 years ago.” The reality is, is that a lot of the industry, the way we see it, we see some really advanced companies that are doing really amazing things. They’re investing heavily in technology, and they’re figuring out new creative ways to automate and different ways of changing their business model, their delivery model.

And then we see a lot of, for lack of a better term, like lifestyle businesses where maybe the owner just doesn’t necessarily want to invest a lot. Their business is doing great, they have a great cash driver, but there really isn’t an incentive to grow it. And so it’s just steady. These guys make money. They’re successful. They might be a local or regional player. So when we look at that, I think we’re going to see that bigger divide where technology is going to play a bigger role in deciding who’s a winner and who’s a loser. And one of the interesting conversations you have is, despite how much recruiters are the foundation of the industry, it seems that there is a desire to remove the recruiter or minimize recruiters as much as…. If I had a dollar every time someone said like, “Oh yeah, we could just… So the recruiter doesn’t have to do that, or the recruiter doesn’t have to engage with that person.” I go, “What are you expecting the recruiter to do?”

I think automation is going to continue to play a role in the sense of reducing workflow, but I think really at its core, what is the recruiter going to do? That’s the question. It’s to have relationships. At the end of the day, there’s going to be candidates that don’t want to interact with a chatbot or they want to be held through the process, they want to be coached and advised on how to land that job. I think that’s the key role. I think everything else in terms of tracking data, screening, onboarding, any kind of financial aspect of the business, that’s all going to be automated, I believe. But truly automated, not just like, “Hey, we’re going to take it from 10 steps down to five steps.” That’s my personal belief, that it’s going to be that slow trend. Even though there’s a lot of cool buzzwords out there, I really don’t think most of the industry’s going to latch onto generative AI just yet. We’ll see. My hunch.

Folwell: Yeah, and I think you’re completely right there. And I feel like the automation trend’s going to continue on the recruiter side of things. It is funny, and it’s funny that when you brought that up that it’s like, all right, well, all these staffing agencies, the core of their business, how they got here was having a great recruiting team that they love and that’s family and that they care about. And then so many staffing agencies are like, “All right, well, how do I automate all of that away?”

Conrad: Yeah, right? And they shut the door. And you’re like, “All right, listen. I love them, but….”

Folwell: I feel like the agencies, you brought up the fact that not everybody’s going to want to chat through open AI. I think the same thing is… It’s like, when you look at the role of recruiters, it’s probably going to evolve into professional consulting. It’s almost like a career coach, a consultant, something where you’re actually giving value beyond answering questions about what job or the salary, and figuring out how do you create that more value there.

And I’m a broken record on this one with the podcast too, but I think so many staffing agencies could really benefit from thinking about segmenting their database or just defining, “Here’s who we want to serve, and here’s how we’re going to serve them.” Because if you look at the travel industry or really any industry, there’s all segments in every industry. There are going to be people who want to have a human relationship that work with your staffing agency, and there’s going to be people who would avoid it at all costs that work with your agency. How do you serve both of those models and let people choose the path that’s best for them without putting insane processes around it?

Conrad: Yeah, I totally agree. It’s funny because we’ve had these questions internally, and we’ve adopted a self-service pathway for customers to buy. This was over a year ago when we made an acquisition with Sovren. They had a great self-service portal. We saw that. We doubled down on it and added a bit to it. And what we learned was, it was really fascinating. Because again, we had this sales process where it’s like, “Hey, high engagement. The standard, ‘Hey, we’re going to high touch. We’re going to walk them through the process.'” And then we had this other one where it’s like self-service.

And we learned that with self-service, to put some context around it, it was the ability to buy the component technology and to develop on it. So if you’re a developer or, let’s say, you’re building an ATS from scratch, you would use these developmental user APIs. You can leverage the parsing, the skills, the search match, you can embed it all. And so we get these developmental partners on here. And so what we learn is that, one, a lot of people don’t want to engage with salespeople, or at least until they’re ready. And so what they do is, especially, and these are developers that we run into, so it’s a personality type… So, the product managers, developers, CTOs, they don’t want to interact with salespeople. They want to play with it first. So we give them access to the APIs, we give documentation, they play with it, and then we interact. We wait for a period of time, and that’s when we can add value. Because what you learn is that they want to touch it first. They want to play with it. “Hey, hands off.”

And I was explaining this in one of our quarterly business reviews with our other department heads, and I was asking our CPO, I was asking him like, “Hey, do you like interacting with salespeople when they’re trying to sell you technology?” And he’s like, “I hate salespeople.” He’s like, “I never want to talk to salespeople. Just give me the APIs.” I’m like, “That’s exactly the type of buyer that we set up with this for. And it works perfectly.” So we have these two different models where if you want self-service, fantastic, go that route. We’re going to figure out ways to add value as a salesperson you have…and that’s a high bar. Not just selling them something, but you have to understand the use case and be able to give them the additional guidance. But then, if they want, for segmentations like staffing, for example, they want to be sold, usually. And so we have to have that track.

I think that that’s going to be something that the staffing industry’s going to have to adopt more, where they have the ability to create a fast lane, if you will, or a low-touch lane, and then a high-touch scenario. And so allow for those different types of candidates. Again, especially if you’re servicing IT versus… Well, I mean, I think travel nursing, I think that’s a low-touch. I have buddy he runs a travel nursing team. They don’t ask a lot of questions, but when they do, you got to be there. You’ll get questions like, “Will we get all our hours?” Weekends and whatnot. Whether that could be automated, I don’t know. But that’s just a reality, some segments need it, some segments probably don’t.

Folwell:  Yeah. But I think even within traveling nursing, there’s going to be some nurses who always want to talk to somebody, and there’s going to be some who never want to and just want to, “Hire me and get me on my way.” Those realities live within each vertical, and figuring out how to manage that is definitely a key thing going forward. With that, we’re going to jump to the personal questions, the speed round at the….

Conrad: Oh, there you go.

Folwell: What advice do you wish you were given before entering the staffing industry?

Conrad: Oh, wow. I feel like I had this conversation a couple years ago when I first came and I was mentoring some people on it. They’re “people” people. Most staffing firms, the owners of staffing firms, they started the company. They’re your classic founder, they’re involved in all aspects of the business, they love being sold. But then also they love to get intelligence about the industry. 

It’s a small world, but when you’re talking to a lot of different staffing firms, you probably have interacted with more of their competitors and counterparts than they ever have. Because not all of them go to conferences, not all of them talk to their competitor, or they don’t have a lot of connection space. And so you can actually add a lot of value just by having conversations about the trends you see, what’s going on in the space, how you can add that value. And most of the CEOs and executives I’ve worked with truly value that, and that’s something that’s really unique. I’ve sold in other sectors, and you just don’t get that in other sectors other than staffing.

Folwell: That’s great. Good insight. And in the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

Conrad: Where’d you get this? Like, a fortune cookie somewhere? A tricky one. Oh my goodness. What have I done in the last five years?

Folwell: That’s the best response I’ve had to that. That is hilarious.

Conrad: Oh, that’s a challenge. I don’t know. I mean, this feels a bit personal. The last five years, that’s probably not exactly fair, but I’m an early riser, so I’m a big fan of getting up at 6:00 AM, getting going. I’m pretty routine-orientated. So I’ll make a breakfast, I’ll make a couple eggs. Everyone always laughs whenever. They’re like, “Oh, what’d you have for breakfast?” And it’s like, sometimes I’ll make grits, sometimes I’ll make pancakes, whatever. But I think having that routine is important, but making time for yourself. I think that the older you get, the more you have on your calendar, I think the more time it’s important to take some time for yourself, but also to think. When I’m talking about taking time for yourself, I probably have my best ideas when I’m walking, so I’ll usually try to carve out some time to go to the gym. It’s like four or five blocks from my house, so a quick walk. So I’ll go.

But on that short walk, I probably have some of the best ideas, or I problem solve or I’m able to think about and digest what’s been going on. Because if you just go, in this world, Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting, it’s hard. You’re not really processing a lot of information. So taking that time, you can start figuring out how to add value as opposed to just being a face on a Zoom. Which is easy. Dude, you’re just back-to-back. You go on the next one, the next one, and you don’t really think about what’d you discuss? What are our action items? What’s really the right way to conduct yourself? What’s our strategy? What’s our three-to -five-year plan here?

Folwell: Yeah, that’s great. Great advice. Yuval Harari who wrote Sapiens, one of his, he says, “The biggest risk to humanity is us not allowing ourselves to be bored and think.”

Conrad: Oh my God. Right? That’s so true. I mean, post-Covid we’re just on Zoom meetings. There’s great guy I work with a lot, and he’s a partner of ours, this guy sets up not hour-long meetings, half-an-hour-long meetings. And he’s most days booked back-to-back. And I’m just like, “Are you okay? That many meetings, I’m just doing math. You’re rapidly moving from task to task. How are you able to process everything you’ve done throughout the day?” And he runs a startup, so he has to. I’m like, “First off, are you okay? Are you all right? Got to spend that time.” You got to take time for yourself.

I feel like it’s taboo in the U.S. But working for a European company, I see the other side where it’s like, there’s a lot of value in taking time off, heaven forbid more than five days. I’m not advocating my team take three-week vacations. That’s a hard pill for me to swallow. But there is value in doing that. You can act so differently recharged. So there’s a blend. I think there’s a way to make the work environment a little bit less toxic.

Folwell: Definitely a better balance than I think what we sort of….

Conrad: Right. Yeah.

Folwell: Last question I’ve got for you. What is the book or books you’ve given most as a gift, and why?

Conrad: The Culture Map.

Folwell: Culture Map. All right.

Conrad: Yeah. Have you heard of this one before?

Folwell: I haven’t.

Conrad: When I joined Textkernel, I found myself routinely on leadership meetings with… and so for context, I lead North American sales, and so I have a counterpart that runs European sales. Stefan, great guy based out of Frankfurt, Germany. But when I first started, we were a little bit more fractured. We had a guy that was head of France, Stefan was head of central Germany and Benelux, and then we had another guy that was in the Netherlands. And so it was a diverse set of voices. And so as an American that’s only worked for Americans, specifically a lot of east coast companies, I had a certain mindset.

And I remember I was talking to a good friend of mine…and I was talking about the challenges of some of these calls and just being like, “I just can’t understand their perspective in some cases.” And he’s like, “I just read a book about this. You got to read this.” And so I read Culture Map. It talks about the different cultures and how it impacts the business climate and their business perspective, and they have a whole section on the Dutch, which is great, a whole section on the French….

Folwell: Accurate?

Conrad: Yeah. It’s really good. And so then you could start figuring like, “Okay, here’s how they see it. Here’s how they see the world. Everyone has their own lens.”

Folwell: It’s a different lens.

Conrad: Right. And once you realize that and you get out of yourself, it was super helpful, and it really helps you. That change of perspective allows you to think differently and say, “Hey, I’m not thinking locally, I’m thinking globally. How can we be a better company? How can we operate? I hear what you’re saying, this is fantastic. Let’s try to incorporate and come up with good shared ideas.” And it was foundational for me. Super helpful.

Folwell: That’s great. That’s a great book recommendation. New one for me. So with that, any closing comments for the audience? Anything else you’d like to share?

Conrad: No, no. Just, small world. I can’t believe we’re both from the same area in….

Folwell: Davenport, Iowa.

Conrad: … Iowa.

Folwell: Both born in Davenport, Iowa. Were you born there as well?

Conrad: Yeah. Yeah. Actually, no, technically, it’s Dubuque.

Folwell: All right.

Conrad: But I moved when I was kid, at like six. So close enough. But I love being on the podcast. Thank you for inviting me on. We’ve been talking about this for, I feel like, forever now. So, hopefully….

Folwell: I think we’re like a year deep on it. So it’s nice to finally connect on it.

Conrad: Schedules, they’re no joke. But yeah, man, excited to be on here. Thank you. And I look forward to seeing you at the next conference.

Folwell: Absolutely.

Conrad: This is where we all get to hang out now as adults, at conferences.

Folwell: That is it. That is it. Have a good one. Thanks so much for joining, really appreciate it.

Conrad: All right. Talk to you soon.