For all the talk of unemployment hovering at a historic low of 4 percent, it's still hard to get a decent job in 2017 — especially if you are a recent graduate (last two years) or aged under 25.
This is according to the Accenture Strategy report Gen Z Rising (accenture.com/us-en/insight-gen-z-rising). Workers under 25 are unemployed at more than twice the overall unemployment rate. Only 57 percent of the classes of 2015 and 2016 graduates are employed full-time in their chosen field.
The new problem is sorting through the mountains of jobs that are posted electronically.
"Networking takes time, money and connections," said Kushal Chakrabarti, co-founder and CEO of TalentWorks. "For many, those are out-of-reach luxuries."
TalentWorks (https://talent.works) was founded by former Amazon engineering leaders Kushal Chakrabarti and Ajit Banerjee two years ago. The firm attracted funding from people who also got in early with Uber, Twitter and Airbnb, including Felicis Ventures, Founder's Co-Op and Lowercase Capital. TalentWorks is a subscription service, costing from free to $10 a week, which uses artificial intelligence to scan both resumes and job listings and match the two. The app brings up five relevant jobs per day.
Users' resumes are analyzed and tuned by TalentWorks' algorithm in 37 different dimensions, ranging from education to extracurricular achievements and competition.
After finding compatible jobs the software prepares job applications which subscribers can then submit with one click. This way a jobseeker can submit applications something close to the scale at which they are appearing.
The app can work for any type of job, but so far it has attracted primarily people in the tech field, who are more comfortable doing things entirely digitally.
Gen Z: wake up and smell the algorithm
The team's background is in the "probabalistic model." Chakrabarti's resume is pretty clickable. He led a team of engineers at Amazon's recommendation engine, the algorithm that looks at what you've bought and liked and suggests more things you might like to buy. (His co-founder, Banerjee, is also a former principal engineer at Amazon and Facebook.) He also did that rare thing for a Silicon Valley insider: he ran a nonprofit. Vittana helped students in developing countries get loans.
Chakrabarti told the Business Tribune that people often bury their true qualifications on a resume. And resume-scanning programs often have problems with context.
"The word 'development' means one thing in software engineering, another in real estate and another in nonprofits. 'Professional' is another word like that. That's where AI comes into the picture."
His app is more sensitive to context. "It can say 'I've seen this word in three million applications, and these are the kinds of person who gets this job, show only show this job to these people...'"
They developed the idea of the resume score, which is a bit like a credit score.
"It gives you a view of your resume from an employer's perspective." If your score is low the app encourages you to rephrase it: use action words and show your effectiveness in your last job in percentages instead of vague, general terms.
"We want to be able to say, 'Change these things and you will be X percent more hirable."
He says while Amazon's fundamental metric is how many things you bought, and Google's is did you click on the search linked, "for TalentWorks it's did you get call back, an interview, a job?"
First jobs can be hard to find, easy to do
Of 2 million college graduates this year, only 12 percent have jobs lined up. And 45 percent of college graduates in the last five years are underemployed, that is doing nothing, or doing jobs that don't requite a college degree.
The classic pattern is someone who graduated with four years of college and is tens of thousands of dollars in debt, doing an internship or driving for Uber or working as a barista.
"Our niche is any motivated job seeker, someone who has done everything that was asked of them and is applying for hundreds of jobs."
Vivian Lee of Beaverton (see sidebar) had been looking for six months and had applied for 500 jobs, with no luck. She joined TalentWorks in October 2016 and was set up with a talent advocate, Sarah, to help her with applications and keep her motivated. She got a job within six weeks. (Sarah is a real, remunerated person, not an AI bot.)
"We also see a common pattern, women in general tend to undersell themselves," says Chakrabarti. "They see they have four out of five requirements and think they should not apply. A man might have only two out of five and apply, thinking 'What's the worst that can happen?'"
He adds that many employers use resume-scanning systems, so it is unlikely that human eyes see a resume first time. With TalentWorks a resume might be exposed to 100,000 jobs within a 100-mile radius.
"AI can simplify things. It can say 'Here's the hundred jobs you should think about."
The software fills in the application, except where it gets stuck and flags it for the applicant.
He jokes how modern job market is leaving conventional wisdom behind. "It's like the scene in 'The Graduate' where the older guy gives Dustin Hoffman one-word career advice: 'Plastics.' Recently you had Bill Gates doing the same thing: 'Robots.'
But the world is changing quickly, and the advice you get from an uncle who last looked for a job 30 years ago is not relevant."
Today that one word could also be 'coding.'
"If you're a college graduate maybe you're not going to go back to school for that. Or maybe it's not really right for you. It's a tragedy for the world to have an incredible artist become a programmer."
But is providing personal helpers at $10 a week scalable?
"We are a mission-driven company," he says. His background combines the Amazonian glee at anticipating desires with a nonprofit urge to help people who have potential, but don't have a lot of money.
The talent advocate's job is to check in once a week and help the applicant refocus. "It can be overwhelming and isolating looking for a job. They can help with pivots, and with mock interviews. The support piece is very valuable. I've talked to thousands of jobseekers and there's a pattern: It can feel shameful, you're in debt, your parents are on your case asking why you haven't gotten a job. You feel alone but you're not alone, 50 percent of twenty-somethings are in the same boat as you."
Beaverton resident Vivian Lee, recent college grad, made 700 unsuccessful applications, many of them completely unanswered. She now works at a Silicon Valley startup as a product manager. The Business Tribune asked her how it went.
1. What did you do differently once you were on TalentWorks?
TalentWorks helped me understand how to tailor my job search, rather than "one-click" applying to as many openings I could find. I didn't think about the quality of my resume, assuming my degree would speak for itself. My TalentWorks advisor sought to learn about my background and helped connect the dots between my interests and specific job openings.
2. Did you ever despair?
Yes. It was incredibly lonely to know that all my peers were employed and happy at their jobs. I felt that I was the only one struggling. TalentWorks helped me go from zero responses to one interview per week, and their unwavering support helped me retain my confidence.
3. How did you communicate with your advisor?
We communicated weekly, by video and phone calls. Sometimes we texted and emailed for quick updates.
4. Did you cancel you sub when you got the job?
Yes, I stopped working with TalentWorks once I got a job offer, but still try to keep in touch with my advisor.
5. What is your job now?
I am proud to be working as a product manager for a high-growth startup called Ceqoo.