Empowering the Freelance Economy

Seek and Ye Shall Find: The Jobseekrs story with Elsa Zekeng. After tackling Ebola, she thought she’d tackle another epidemic – in the recruitment marketplace

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You know when you meet someone for the first time and you walk away thinking, ‘Damn, they’ve got it together.’ That’s what happened after I had my first encounter with Dr. Elsa Zekeng – the doctor – the Queen’s medal recipient – turned recruitment crusader. Katherine Steiner-Dicks reports.

Dr. Elsa Zekeng is Director of Operations and Talent Engagement at Jobseekrs.co.uk – an unbiased recruitment technology platform and startup that is tackling age, gender, racial and cultural bias head-on – that means the world of medical research has lost one of its own. However, the world of recruitment has gained a rare gem of an entrepreneur, global problem solver and advocate.

While studying and researching her PhD in Infectious Disease and Global Health at the University of Liverpool, Zekeng deployed to Guinea during the biggest Ebola outbreak in West Africa (2014-2016) and later received the “Ebola medal for service in West Africa” from Her Majesty the Queen Elisabeth II.

Elsa Zekeng during her time in Guinea during the West Africa Ebola outbreak

Wait, there’s more…

Nine months into her PhD in 2014, she realised that Academia was “not her preferred career choice”, so as one does with her intelligence and entrepreneurial drive, she started seeking new opportunities.

“I co-founded a Community Interest Company (CIC) called the Northwest Biotech Initiative (NBI), which ran between the University of Liverpool and Manchester. It aimed to interact with industry and to enable budding scientists to build other skills, such as how to ‘spin-out’ their research or interact with local companies, and therefore gain internships, placements and job opportunities,” Zekeng tells The Freelance Informer.

It was during this time, while managing the networking events and panel discussions; promoting the development of early-stage researchers by fostering relationships between academia and the growing local biotech sector, that she found another calling: recruitment, but different.

“Over the course of four years, the NBI ran more than 17 corporate sponsored events.  Through these experiences, I saw various forms of unconscious bias and the frustrating obstacles of the recruitment process, such as both candidate and employer would go through multiple rounds of interviews before realising the company or job role was not a match,” says Zekeng.  

In January 2018, while networking for NBI, the scientist and budding entrepreneur met Jamaal Brathwaite, CEO and Founder of Jobseekrs, and eventually joined the executive team as Director of Operations and Talent Engagement.

“I am extremely passionate about the ethos behind Jobseekrs, which has the purpose to mitigate unconscious bias in the recruitment process thereby giving everyone a chance at all job opportunities; regardless of age, race, name, ethnicity, gender and other factors that influence our individual biases. As we frequently know ‘like hires like‘.  Jobseekrs combines the power of personality, skillset and culture to ensure candidates and employers are aligned for ultimate long-term success,” she says.

Spying an opportunity

In 2019, Brathwaite and Zekeng were accepted to the Manchester-based GCHQ Engineering Accelerator, a collaboration between GCHQ (yes- the spy agency!), Wayra UK (accelerator arm of Telefónica), Cisco and Manchester Science Partnerships.

According to Zekeng, the Jobseekrs team had the rare opportunity to be mentored by some of the UK’s best engineers from GCHQ and commercial contacts through Wayra.

Jobseekrs CEO, Jamaal Brathwaite (left) and Elsa Zekeng in December 2019 at Pitch at Palace Technology 11.0, (Wayra & GCHQ Demo Day ) winning €100,000.

Following the completion of the Accelerator, the company started cracking on with its technology, developing a product that would match candidates and companies without the bias that has clogged up the workforce with gender and racial imbalance for far too long, costing businesses millions in untapped diversified input-based revenues. The objective being both parties should have a clearer picture of what they are going into- saving precious time and resources – creating an equal footing since through the platform, candidates have the opportunity to learn more about the company, its culture and expectations through company videos before even applying.

For the process to work, candidates must complete their profile and respond to 11 carefully calculated culture-fit add questions, whereby an algorithm matches candidates with the evolving culture of a hiring company. Hiring companies and recruitment agencies see the merit of their candidates and select candidates solely for their accomplishments and cultural fit based on a ‘percentage fit score’, yet without the knowledge of their age, gender, ethnicity or religion when applying. This hiring process then eliminates unconscious bias and helps employers immensely given the massive rise in applicants since the start of the COVID lockdown. Built into the app is an interview and video scheduler.

The science of a good interview?

Jobseekrs Founder Brathwaite has experience in video interviewing or rather the telling insights that can come out of them. While Chairman of NextGen Interviewing, a video-based interviewing platform, he analysed candidate videos to understand why sometimes certain candidates would get hired when others did not, despite their CV ticking all the right boxes. He looked at this from a gender, racial and cultural lens. He did this by looking for facial recognition factors, such as expressions that emitted perceptions of self-doubt or lack of confidence, or even cultural gestures that could be misinterpreted by an employer.

The analysis highlighted perhaps why some candidates came off more polished or confident than others. This was particularly the case with gender-based analysis, where male candidates appeared more at ease than their female counterparts. Once candidates have this knowledge they can perfect their presentation skills, yet keeping in mind that their true nature may be their best asset, they just need the quiet confidence to discuss their experiences.    

Brathwaite has looked deeper into the psychological experience of interviewing and its impact on biased hiring processes.

Next steps

The combination of Brathwaite’s recruitment technology background and Zekeng’s scientific insights have proven fruitful. Jobseekrs recently announced that the startup has been chosen for the UK Finals of the Entrepreneurship World Cup. The business will also be looking to raise fresh funding to grow the business and is likely to pitch to the corporate, venture and angel investment communities. Having mentor David Moffatt, who is not only the former CFO of Monster Worldwide, but a seasoned angel investor, as your company Chairman doesn’t hurt either, which Zekeng attests.

The funding will go towards the domestic and international growth of the business, including creating white-label services for hiring company and agency clients. The company has recently applied for a license to trade in the US market, which already has an established player in unbiased recruitment, Blendoor, which was founded in 2015 by Stephanie Lampkin. But the more the merrier, I say, if it means eradicating bias in the hiring process.

Brathwaite, Zekeng with investors (Chairman David Moffatt centre, back row)

FOMO?

When asked if she misses not being part of the medical industry, especially with her background in global health and infectious diseases, Zekeng doesn’t miss a beat and explains how what she is doing now is on another scale since it could potentially help so many people.

“While there will always be a place in my heart for discussions on epidemics and health, given my background, I feel that what I am doing now has been led by my passion for diversity and inclusion. I am now working to open access to all people, and all the better if it reaches to those in research and science.”  

To learn how Jobseekrs’ platform and process works check out this video.

Employer pricing claims to be competitive and flexible, based on the number of hires.

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