Elena Valentine, CEO of Skill Scout talks about the importance of a visual story, and how to empower young people to make the right decisions regarding their job opportunities. She encourages employers to tell their candidates the real story of why people came to work for you. It’s a differentiator in a world where everything is bite-sized and short, she sees this as an opportunity to go deeper and tell a long story and try to make a film that people want to watch.
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Max: Hello. Welcome back to the recruitment hackers podcast.I’m Max your host and today I am delighted to welcome on the show, Elena Valentine from Skill Scouts.
Max: Hi, Elena. Welcome.
Elena: Thank you. I'm glad to be here. 3:30 PM my time and 5:30 AM. Hong Kong time.
Max: Oh, don't embarrass me, come off as this person with social skills.Now, everybody knows I work before everybody wakes up. It's sad, but it's true. So Elena thanks for coming and for taking time off your working hours to share your story with us. I connected with you after hearing your voice on LinkedIn, which by the way, is getting increasingly populated with crazy content.I don't know if that's part of the strategy that you support for your customers. But we've got a lot to cover for today's interview. I'm going to ask Elena how she ended up in the wonderful space of employer branding and production of content for employers. And how to give a talent acquisition team, an edge through content and maybe if we're lucky and then I will sing a little bit for us. I don't know.
Elena: Depends how close we hit to the 20 minute mark.
Max: Perfect. So yeah, Elena, tell us how did you end up in employer branding? Did you grow up dreaming to be in recruitment?
Elena: Not at all. Didn't even realize this.Yeah I didn't grow up as a five-year old wishing I could recruit people to a company. I didn't think that existed, but where my story, you know, does start is I'm a former design researcher that used to work, you know, for design thinking kind of an ideal like environment. And how this really came to be was because of a project that I worked on there as a design researcher that inevitably would change my life and that of my co-founder. And in particularly it was a national kind of challenge here in the U S around, how do we connect 6 million young people to employment? And primarily young people who may not look good on resumes, Maybe they don't have a lot of job experience. Maybe, you know they've had to go through the juvenile justice system. So how do we connect those who are not in school, in the workforce to more meaningful pathways to employment. And that's where, you know, we saw our lives change and what our purpose would be, which was, we were talking to hundreds and hundreds of incredibly talented, young people of workforce development leaders and employers and what we saw loud and clear is that there was a hiring process that was shutting out non-traditional talent. And out of many of the challenges that were there.
One of the things that we saw in particular was that you cannot be what you cannot see. And for young people who have never left their neighborhoods, they lack access and exposure to jobs, so at the essence of what we started to do, even prior to founding, skill scout was just a film jobs. Realistic in a visual way so that young people could kind of see what these jobs were actually like. And it started to work, they started to put their phones down. They started to ask questions, they started to get excited.And that's when we realized that we had something that we could hack for candidates, this opportunity for them to really understand what jobs were like. But inevitably for half companies to hack what it could be to really differentiate themselves to provide more realistic previews for candidates so that they have an opportunity to self screen in our self screen out.And that was really the origin for why we started what we do.
Max: Yeah. Well thank you for reconnecting all of us and me to why we're in this industry. Yes. It's great to help people get to work and find employment and find a place in society and I think whether you went to, you got the best education in the world, or you never graduated from high school it's a real mystery. What goes on in most people's jobs when you're at that age, when you're 20 something when you're starting out, you just don't know what you're getting into job descriptions. They don't tell you anything really. They don't feel real.
Elena: Yeah the whole thing was, that we saw, look, job descriptions don't show what a job is like and resumes don't depict a candidate's skills. And so, you know, look at what we're seeing over the past several years. Of, types of via technologies or approaches like ours, like yours that are really coming into this market to, really helped to de-mystify and provide a bit more transparency, provide a bit more humanity into, you know, how we really care for in our case candidates.
Max: And Elena, how does your business work? Do you typically work with a recruitment marketing team that says we want to run a big, national campaign for our graduate hiring program? Can you make us look good? Is this kind of what kind of agency type of arrangement, or is it more a pay as you go? How does it work?
Elena: It's really any, and all of the above. So inevitably we exist to capture the humanity of work primarily through the power of film. And so we work on behalf of agencies. We work on behalf of companies and employer branding, recruitment marketing leaders, themselves who are looking to infuse content to support via the employee experience and, you know, for our conversation, the candidate experience. And so what that might look like might be. Us, you know, working to produce a job video or a cultural video, or, as we're thinking about the pandemic, we have so many processes that are changing. We have so many approaches to how we might be interviewing and what the candidate needs to expect that, you know, right now we're actually creating a lot of content, new content that needs to be created.So that, hiring managers can ensure that candidates are still having as much of a seamless experience as they can during this time.
Max: Right. And even though. The buzz is remote work, work from home and all that the majority of jobs still require physical presence still require for people to come in and some time put on a uniform and do the things they do.
Elena: So yeah. Yeah, I mean, so especially, so for example,we recently worked with Kohl's. You know they're hiring warehouse, logistics, distribution jobs, like crazy, but even more importantly, they have to show the realities of today because candidates are paying attention to, in addition to everything else. How is that employer going to keep me safe, going to keep me healthy? And so we've certainly been working with, you know, several companies that are having to not just rethink well. Yeah, the world is trying to rethink workplace safety right now as it comes to the pandemic, but even more so, when it comes to the questions that we know that candidates need addressed, how are we ensuring that we're telling the story of safety? and that's a really big one right now that we're seeing within kind of the candidate story cycle.
Max: Do you have a big theme like this for every year you've been in business like this year was masks and gloves and your videos and two years ago it was maybe something else. I don't know.
Elena: No, I like this, you know, it's hard to actually define the trends as close as they are.Now I will say when we started out. Because, you know we had a focus. We primarily had built this business proudly on the shoulders of small to midsize manufacturers in the Midwest. So, you know, we spent two or three good solid years. You know, really working on behalf of the tool and die makers and the CNC, machinist and production operators and engineers. So certainly there's been themes like that in terms of work. Certainly in the beginning, it was around attracting young talent between you know, of a certain age. So that definitely was a huge theme then. So yeah we've definitely seen some of those cycles. I think in part, because, you know, from business owner to business owner, we're kind of pivoting and in thinking through our focus But it's certainly, definitely shifted now.
Max: So I'm thinking maybe it's because I work in talent acquisition, so I'm very exposed. I'm thinking I'm saturated. I'm like safety, safety, safety, safety, safety. I mean, if everybody's talking about safety, then I need to, you know, we need to latch on to a new theme or something else, but maybe that's me, you know, I'm never looking for a job, but I'm always exposed. So I may be a little saturated perhaps for it is still universally a driving force, I guess, for all employer branding campaigns right now to take care of their people. And but you know, I mean I started as an entrepreneur attracted to the kind of ethos of the startup culture of the Air bnbs of the world and the Netflix of the world where it was very performance driven and it was not about safety. I'll say that it was about something else. So I'm just thinking that It must be difficult to differentiate yourself right now, if everybody's talking about the same thing. So maybe that will come back stronger talking about but switching gear a little bit talking about video do you have a position on whether video is better as user generated content from the employees, scruffy and real or polished and you know, manicured.
Elena: There's room for both. I mean, and I think maybe it's worth talking through the considerations of what that is because we've seen it done really well on both ends. And in fact, we work with many companies where they literally leverage both professional video and user-generated video. Sometimes it's a mix. So I don't even necessarily know if it's about one or the other, certainly there is data behind why user generated works. I think in part we're all very used to social media we see this as being most authentic and raw, right. There is data around that, says 55% of candidates see employee generated content as being more trustworthy if you will, you know, but I would say, typically what happens is..
Max: No stock photos for sure.
Elena: No stock photos and no stock photos.
Max: And you still use actors.
Max: No actors. Okay. That's good. No, I mean, if you come to a company, people should be on the lookout for you because it's their chance to be on camera.
Elena: Yeah. Well, clearly you know, getting back to the point of professional user generated typically for example, stories that might not change for a long time, or think about origin stories, founders, stories, you know, kind of missions and values, things that don't change. Often times that's where we might see companies who are investing in more kind of high-level professionally professional quality video, especially because if this might be seen by even more kind of external audiences and communities in sometimes what it is sometimes it's just a capacity issue.
You know, you have a talent acquisition team, employer branding team that is just stretched so thin that their ability to, I think, be able to implement something like a user generated initiative just might be too challenging at the time. And certainly then there's things around budget, but sometimes the reason why companies might go to a professional video versus user-generated is because of marketing and legal, right? Like, and we know these companies where you might have these marketing brand watch dogs, where it just might be just. Next to impossible for, you know, the HR teams to get approved, to be able to use user-generated. So there's definitely some factors that are there for while
Max: that's going away, progressively where the strong hold on, we want to control every piece of media that goes out.I would imagine it's eroding with time, but I mean, these are powerful forces, marketing and legal,
Elena: For sure. No, and certainly I think that Marketing and legal is coming around to it. I think part of that is also a need for control. And so we're kind of constantly seeing the tug of HR and marketing doing that.
Max: There'll be an endless battle really. They'll never, yeah. So continue forever.
Elena: Yeah. And certainly the case for user generated content outside of the, some of the data I shared is. One it's you get to tell more stories more often. If what we're really trying to do is at scale, be able to tell a diversity of stories and experiences.This becomes a great way to do it. And because plus one you're democratizing the tools. You're allowing anyone from any country from anywhere they're sitting to all primarily have access to things that they already have access to. And our big saying is, if you can take videos of your dog, cats and kids, you can take videos of your workplace.And so there's, you know, certainly kind of a level of access that everyone has, but then people are also thinking about a lot. How updatable are these videos? That's the biggest thing is, you know, roles, change events, drastically change.
Max: Oh yes. You're a star employee will become a persona non grata.
Elena: Yeah, exactly. And so that's kind of certainly a case, you know, as we're working with clients, Long-term where, you know, every year we might update that video because it's evolved or maybe in this case, the environment has changed in this manufacturing facility and everyone's wearing masks that they want to be able to kind of provide some freshness to that video while still keeping some of the foundation.So I could go on and on about that. But yeah, those are the key factors.
Max: Yeah that's a question I always had talking about these employees that leave is, what about the content that they filmed before? Are you in trouble? If you didn't get a release form and the right to use their image on your social media maybe, you know the answer.I know you're not a lawyer, but.
Elena: You know, I would say primarily most folks that might be participating in engagements that we work on typically are all signing media releases. And typically there is that language where you know, that employer you know, has kind of rights to that footage.
Max: You guys I'm sure.But if we do like fully user generated content and we just kinda let the.
Elena: Yeah, I think that really depends on the culture of the company. I think so much of that is typically defined by what are kind of the rules already in place for so many other things. And so you kind of get a sense already if that's the company that's like, as soon as that person leaves we're done or inevitably look at that, if that employees still had a great experience and they're in a, you know, a little fraction of a video it may not be the biggest cause for concern.
Max: Yeah, sure. I guess I'm getting my models. My demo models you know, on the cheap and I felt a little bit guilty asking my staff to play out on videos. So maybe that's where it's coming from. And well you see some trends in terms of the way media is being consumed?The rise of TikTok and the new platforms does that affect the production work that you do? Are people I would assume wanting to consume shorter and shorter videos might be one trend. Are there other trends like that?
Elena: Yeah. I mean, well, first of all, more than one, anything, what we're seeing even back from when we started six years ago was that video is no longer a nice to have, it's a must haveso that's certainly kind of becoming even for some of your most traditional HR, unfortunately, maybe a checkoff, the list. You know, certainly some of the big trends we're seeing is that you know, just the need for more and more content. All the time, whether that's around celebrations or a project, right.It's never, here's this one big video initiative and we're pushing it out for this one year. It really all kind of happens over time. And it's a living organism just in the same way that your workforce and your company is a living organism. So we've certainly seen a lot of trends around that. And certainly then the user generated content, which is something that, you know, we've kind of done really all the way from the beginning in terms of offering that at this point now for many companies, it may be the only way, right? You do have folks that are now all kind of working from home and everyone kind of has to figure out how do we still push out, you know, quality content? How long do we wait? So we've definitely seen an uptick in that, but I will actually, you know, at least I pushed back a while.
It is true that candidates are, you know, anyone online is going for shorter and shorter and shorter content. Sometimes it's not just because we have short attention spans sometimes it's because. The content is bad. And so, you know, especially I think the kind of new energy that I want to bring as a leader to skill scout films, is that, you know, look, you could create incredible, beautiful 20 minute documentaries about someone's work and the entire time that person doesn't realize that this might be someone who's really talking about a role. And so that's what I think is really interesting about storytelling is that I would argue
Max: Is that just a story or this movie, are we going to go inside the life of a warehouse operator forklift driver. You can stretch that out.
Elena: Yeah. We just Maya for talking about just kind of you know the changing kind of world of work. Absolutely. But it goes beyond, and I think this is what we're seeing, right. Especially for this generation, Z you know, our personal lives, our work lives are often one in the same, you know, this is no longer separate.And so for me, what I see as being a good film, That people resonate with is because it gets personal is because they, you go behind the scenes of that person outside of their suit. And outside of what you see on zoom and you really helped to kind of understand the context of their lives and even more so really start to see why is it that they do what they do and what does bring them meaning?
Max: I work with a lot of call center companies and so. They're not a consumer brands, so nobody knows about them except in the countries where they hire, they're known as an employer brands, which gives them quite a lot of freedom, actually, because if you have McDonald's or Coca-Cola, maybe you have a much stronger marketing department, you have less room to play.And it was like a beautiful campaign. I remember the exci where. It was a single mother that was talking about how work allowed her to send her daughter to school. You know, these kinds of stories that just lifted everybody's hearts. And I'd like to see more of that really kind of fallen off with it.
Elena: That's what makes it all relatable? You know, like I don't have to know about exactly what you do, right. If I were to see a film, right. About recruitment automation, et cetera, et cetera. Right. Some of that is likely to go over my head, but what won't be right is when I get to see, Hey, like he has this wonderful relationship with his mother or kind of look at who, how he's honoring his mentor.Right. And these are all kinds of life experiences that many of us have, or have a connection to negative or positive, but it allows us to feel something. And that allows me to even better understand how you show up to work as a leader of talk, push.
Max: Okay I'm going to give it a go. The zoom revolution, zoom was maybe the best performing communication platform of 2020 an opportunity for people saying and get-together on group calls. Did you use that medium to create some content last year, or is that just using the generated.You let the other companies handle that without any...
Elena: Oh, this is so I'm a heavy user and fan of Prezi, which is, you know, originally a presentation tool and they've come out with a really great video product. And so, yeah great for presentations, great for training, sales enablement, all that kind of stuff.So it's been a really cool product. I've been really excited to use it more as it just came out last year. Long story short. That is all to say, no, I don't sing on every presentation. If at all ever there typically, never is a reason why I would break out into song during a sales conversation, but a Prezi put out a fun challenge to create a 32nd to video that they could potentially leverage in a real and the winner.Would receive a $1,000 donation to the charity of their choice.
Max: Oh, and did you win ?
Elena: I did !
Max: Did you, did you give it to the Elena Valentine charity fund?
Elena: I gave it to Mezcla media collective, which is a nonprofit that I helped to co-found.
Max: Yeah. Okay, great. And what does this nonprofit do? we might as well, a little bit of advertising for it.
Elena: Yeah. We're a kind of a nonprofit community of femme identifying filmmakers of color, primarily in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. So we started in 2017 and we've grown to well over 600 community members.
Max: Okay, well, what, where can our listeners find out more about the Mezcla media collective and Skill Scouts and what's the best way for them to get a hold of you?
Elena: Be my friend on LinkedIn, let's start there. And however, I can be helpful. Either myself or Skill Scout will always find the right path for you.
Max: We didn't do any singing. I just don't know how to bring that up.
Elena: I haven’t been a part of a band in years.
Max: Where can people log on to listen to you sing.Connect on LinkedIn. And maybe if they asked nicely, you'll send them a little on LinkedIn. You know, you can send a little voice now.Yeah. I hear that's an effective way to do sales these days. If I had your voice, I wouldn't hesitate a second. So thanks for coming on the show and all the best between 21.
Max: Inspiring words from Elena Valentine, CEO of skill scout, who reminded us that there's nothing like a personal story. Tell the story of why the people came to work for you. Their personal story, and maybe as a differentiator in a world where everything is bite-sized and short, maybe this is an opportunity to go deeper and tell a long story and try to make a film that people want to watch.
Hope you enjoyed it. And that you'll come back for more. Follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Please share with your friends. Thanks.
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