Skill Scout shoots reality TV to optimize recruiting

A NEW POINT OF VIEW: Skill Scout founders Elena Valentine (left) and Abby Cheesman focus their cameras on the reality of today’s jobs, to bring more aligned candidates to jobs in manufacturing and more. Video helps candidates understand job responsibilities in a visual, tangible way, Valentine says. 


CHICAGO—When scouting for talent in the digital age, it’s best to get a visual.

Skill Scout, founded by Elena Valentine and Abby Cheesman in 2014, stakes its claim in the market as the “YouTube of the workplace,” by using video to show real workplaces, and putting new opportunities in front of job seekers who may not realize how valuable their skills are.

For Valentine and Cheesman, former design researchers from Gravity Tank, the idea came from a consulting project, aiming to connect young people to employment. “It was a big challenge,” Valentine says, “with 7 million young adults not in school or in the work force. The question was, how do we connect them to meaningful pathways to employment?

“There were a few things we saw (through the project) that dramatically changed my life,” Valentine remembers. “One is that we were immersing ourselves among some of the most talented young people we’d ever met, but because their resumes didn’t look good, because they’d never left their neighborhoods, they were lacking really important exposure to jobs and careers.”

And two, she says, “We needed to collect these stories to really understand: How do we turn their needs and experiences into insight that we can actually design on?”

Skill Scout addresses the disconnect between traditional employers and a new generation of visually driven, digital-savvy potential employees.

After talking with hundreds of companies, “equally struggling to hire and retain talent, we saw that there was a system that was inherently broken in how companies and candidates miss each other,” Valentine tells FoundersWire in an interview at WeWork Kinzie.

Job descriptions don’t adequately show what the job is like. Resumes don’t nail candidates’ skills. So that was the information gap Skill Scout set out to change. The best solution was storytelling through video, Valentine says, “to really help companies communicate their jobs in a way that broadened the talent, and in turn, give candidates a way to self-screen in or self-screen out.”

“We are bringing the art of storytelling into the hiring process,” she says.

Evolving with the expectations and changing behaviors of a modern work force, the Skill Scout team wanted to prove using video to showcase jobs—what the day-to-day really looked like—would bring in more knowledgeable candidates who would be a good fit. “We captured candidates who had seen a video of a job, and they could talk about the position in a much more tangible way, so that the company was hiring faster and keeping that hire longer, because they could experience their possible position in a different way, ahead of time,” she says.

Skill Scout targeted the manufacturing industry first, because “Manufacturers have incredible stories to tell,” Valentine says. “Video lends itself well to the kind of tangibility of manufacturers, and more importantly, there is a kind of pride they take in their work. You wouldn’t believe the kind of culture that some of these manufacturers have.”

She mentions a local manufacturer that has built a state-of-the-art gym and brings in a trainer twice a week for employees. “He’s not the Google or the Facebook of the world. He’s just an amazing tool and die maker in the middle of Melrose Park, Illinois, but has been hiring and mentoring high school kids in his community for the past 15 to 20 years. Who’s telling that story?”

She finds deep satisfaction in the manufacturers’ pride. “We’d be there (shooting video) for three hours, because these guys would take us to every nook and cranny of their shop, just showcasing. That passion has kept us in the game.”

Skill Scout also has expanded beyond factory behind-the-scenes, adding visuals to job postings for other industries—but the problem they solve doesn’t change, she says.

“The challenges of hiring are universal. There’s retention, there’s the time it takes to hire, attraction, cultural fit. The true future of work is something none of us can predict because the jobs that will exist for our children aren’t even around yet,” she says. “But they will have to know how to solve problems in this overarching way.”

Employer clients can hire Skill Scout pros to shoot and produce job videos, or they can use the do-it-yourself app that puts an employer’s own workers behind the camera to show off their jobs.

Valentine says video technology is integral to Skill Scout’s growth strategy. “How candidates connect to the world of work—that is looking very different. Virtual and augmented reality are going to be the future of this.”

She says Skill Scout’s next offering is going to be an immersive, 360-degree job experience. “It’s about getting that true POV. There’s a ton of new mediums, as a result of changing generations, that are just changing how we connect to the world of work, how we learn about work. And we’re going to change how we frame it.”

No matter what disruption occurs, Valentine hopes one big change will equalize the future work force.

“I’d like to think it will no longer be about where you’ve come from and what school you’ve gone to,” she says. “It’s going to be about: Can you actually do the work?”

#workspacethoughts is an ongoing series made possible by WeWork, featuring the diverse founders building their companies in the Chicago area. WeWork provides workspaces designed for fresh ideas, organic networking and month-to-month flexibility.