Before even hitting 30, Mark Chaffey has co-founded and acts as CEO for a 100+ strong company aimed at helping tech leaders secure the talent they need. We met with Mark to find out more about his journey so far and discuss the so-called “Great Resignation” alongside overcoming bias in AI-driven recruitment…
It’s perhaps safe to say that most students tend to focus solely on their studies and their social life. Not so Mark Chaffey. An entrepreneur from a very young age, Mark has always been driven to try his hand at anything and everything. Before heading off to university, he had already dabbled in organising events at local venues, run a small music studio, and had even sold perfume as his own small business.
“There was all sorts of fun stuff growing up in Southampton, I loved the hustle of it all and the energy of it all, but I always had my eye on London, it was always a place I wanted to live. There was so much more going on, so the best excuse for me to move to London was to go to university there,” said Mark. He got into King’s College on a course that was most suitable for him and his key dream of starting his own business before the age of 21: business management.
Unlike everyone else on his course – generally more interested in becoming investment bankers than starting their own businesses – Mark continued to push himself and graft away. He soon met Raz, hackajob’s co-founder, who was working more directly within the tech sector. Raz had first-hand experience of what recruitment was like in the tech space; a convoluted world where talent could get matched to the wrong roles very easily. Chatting one day between Mark’s second and third years at uni – notably in a Café Nero close to Liverpool Street – they agreed that there must be a better way to connect tech talent with employers. And hackajob was born.
Co-Founder & CEO, hackajob
Mark is the Co-Founder and CEO at hackajob. Previously, he was also COO, where on a day-to-day basis, he managed hackajob’s Platform Management team, ensuring both their clients and candidates got the most out of the hackajob platform.
hackajob reimagines the recruitment process for engineers by, in their own words, “building it around the needs of technical talent and the framework required to engage with them. Thousands of companies such as Sainbury’s, Roku, and Vodafone depend on the hackajob platform to reduce the time to hire, engage with candidates and, most importantly, remove the bias from the recruitment process.”
That’s where the company is now, but back in its beginnings it was just Mark and Raz. For most, juggling a brand-new startup and final year studies would sound like a recipe for non-stop stress. But Mark didn’t see it that way: “It didn’t feel like stress when we were doing it, it just felt so fun that we were creating something. I was 20, and that January when we launched the product, I’ll never forget it: we emailed a tonne of companies and one just signed up and paid us £99 via Swipe. It felt like so much money, and we were having so much fun with it – and managed to squeeze a degree in around it.”
A couple of months later, the budding entrepreneurs entered Tech Stars, a 12-week accelerator program which, if your application is successful, can see you given $120,000 in investment and close mentoring from industry leaders. With at least 1,000 startups applying every year and only 10 places up for grabs, Tech Stars is highly competitive. But in June 2015, hackajob succeeded.
The program ended in a business pitch, at which the prize could be further investment. hackajob managed to secure £400,000 in investment from Founding Ventures, an angel investor who is still a shareholder today. For Mark, he was living his dream.
In the original concept, engineers would apply for jobs by completing coding challenges to help match candidates with the roles most suitable for their skill level and expertise. Mark says they quickly realised this approach was flawed: engineers had to complete coding challenges for every application, but they didn’t need to do that. Instead, hackajob pivoted to ask candidates to complete challenges up front and then they would go on the marketplace already having proven themselves.
This model proved more attractive to both talent and employers. More investment followed, with hackajob securing £5m in the summer of 2018. If that sounds like a quick turn of events, it was. “When you’re in that moment, it just felt completely normal. It’s only now you look back that it feels crazy that we went from Café Nero to half a million of investment in just 15 months. that all normal at the time, precisely because it was happening so fast, he couldn’t stop to think about it.
The Problem with CV Databases
Key to hackajob’s success has been its unique approach to recruitment. “If you look at the traditional recruitment platforms out there,” Mark said, “there are job boards, where an individual can apply to any job they want, and then there are CV databases where companies can go and search for talent. The problem with job boards is that any candidate can apply for any job. Therefore, it creates a lot of noise for the employers; a lot of these people are applying for jobs that they’re simply not a good fit for and won’t hear back from. The challenge for candidates in the CV database is, I’m going to get pestered non-stop with phone calls from companies and recruitment agencies.”
But hackajob offered a different proposition. Its two-sided marketplace allows candidates to find more relevant roles for themselves, and companies to find the most relevant candidates. As engineers are tested on their competencies on sign up, their skills are given top priority instead of keywords in a CV.
“What our two-sided marketplace enabled was using technology and really understanding what the candidates want and what their strengths are: we knew how good they were so we could solve spam problems for employers, and we knew what they were looking for so we could only match them with relevant employers. For companies, they’re desperate to get access to this talent, so they’re always willing to try new tools and our approach enabled them to see relevant and highly engaged talent due to the data we’d been able to create on their technical competencies and their motivations.”
Ensuring both companies and candidates alike enjoy a positive recruiting experience has been central to hackajob’s approach and success. And at a time of constant change, this has proven vital.
Sometimes companies use perks to offset deeper problems, but engineers want to be doing meaningful work.
Mark Chaffey Co-Founder & CEO, hackajob
Changing Dynamics within Recruitment
The pandemic overturned the traditional order of business in ways that we’re still feeling and discovering today. But one of the clearest changes we saw was the move to remote working and it being more readily accepted by business leaders.
At hackajob, Mark said that they have now gone from matching candidates on commute time to match on time zones instead. “You’re competing with candidates from all over the world,” he said. Engineers everywhere can work with your enterprise, connect and deliver to the same extent if not better than someone who happens to live nearby.
What impact has this had on salary, though? Contrary to the established belief that you’ll only get the highest salaries in high-cost areas such as London, Paris, and New York, now candidates everywhere are securing higher salaries as companies compete to attract the best talent. “We’ve seen salaries rise 22% in the last 12 months on our platform, it’s unbelievable how quick pay rises are happening,” said Mark.
He also points out that location has often been an inhibitor of equality. “I don’t think opportunity has been equal up until now,” said Mark. “Where you are born in the world has dramatically impacted your opportunity to live a great life. Hopefully what we’ll see with the rise of remote working is the democratization of opportunities and getting access to them. If we set the problem as global competition for talent and rising salaries and the candidate being in more control, first of all companies need to evolve. If you’re telling your technical team that they need to be in four days a week, all the data we’ve got says you’ll have access to only 10% of the talent pool.”
But it isn’t just about attracting new talent; retention is just as important. What we’re seeing now is companies like “Apple and Amazon are just giving pay rises out of the blue to keep up with the market, because if you don’t, engineers can get a 20-30% pay rise somewhere else,” said Mark.
And they’re also looking at their proposition, rethinking and assessing why they attract engineers: what their work processes are, whether their salary offerings are competitive, what their tech stack is. There’s so much opportunity out there for engineers right now that they can pick and choose a company whose style works for them – so employers need to step up their game to craft a more desirable place to work.
Mark argued that some companies overlook this crucial element. They boost their perk offerings instead of thinking about what the day-to-day is like. But ultimately, candidates don’t go for perks alone – they choose a company based on its value prop, its tech stack, and what and how the company operates. All the perks in the world won’t amount to anything if the work itself isn’t fulfilling. “Sometimes companies use perks to offset deeper problems, but engineers want to be doing meaningful work,” said Mark.
(Though that isn’t to say offering the best monitors for engineers to work more effectively from home would go amiss!)
Reducing Unconscious Bias in Talent Matchmaking
One of hackajob’s key values from the very beginning was the reduction of bias in the recruitment process. They use artificial intelligence (AI) to do that. To some readers, this may sound like a recipe for trouble: reports of unconscious bias seeping into machine learning (ML) algorithms are rife throughout the industry. But hackajob’s early days saw it benefit from expertise in avoiding such bias.
“We were super lucky because one of our angel investors was a very senior data scientist at Facebook,” said Mark. This investor was able to help the hackajob team combat any prejudice in their ML.
“There are three things we’ve done to combat any bias in our process. Firstly, the ML does not take a decision on whether to show a candidate to a company or not. [… Instead,] of all the candidates we’re showing, we’ll show you the most relevant candidates first. It’s not decision making, it’s just a sorting process.”
Secondly, the data the ML is trained in/on is key to combatting bias. “The unique data we’ve got is the technical competency of an individual from the challenges they’ve completed on the platform. And that is inherently unbiased, it’s actually far more meritocratic than a CV because it’s someone’s actual ability. Naturally, the training data we can use helps us spot talent that may have been disregarded.”
“Then the third thing is we’ve got an unbiased hiring module,” concluded Mark. “It will remove any profile pictures, any reference to gender, ethnicity, education, so that they can purely use our skills-based assessment and the work experience to take a decision.”
Bias is certainly something that hackajob is very mindful of as they continue to evolve. It’s making waves within the tech recruitment sector as a result. The company has grown in revenue by 7x in the last 18 months alone and gone from a team of 35 to over 100 in the same period.
The lessons that business leaders can take from hackajob’s success are clear: to attract the right talent, you’re going to need to step up your game. New ways are needed to engage relevant talent and traditional recruiting processes won’t cut it. The question is, how long will business leaders outside of the tech sector be held back before they strike out and try new hiring tools? From our conversation with Mark, and seeing the success of hackajob so far, we wouldn’t be surprised if change isn’t coming to the rest of the world sooner rather than later…
Learn More About hackajob
hackajob was born out of the frustration with the traditional recruitment agency approach and the difficulty of hiring top engineers. Rather than allowing recruitment to be clouded by unconscious bias, hackajob reimagines the process by building it around the needs of technical talent and the framework required to engage with them.
Thousands of companies such as Sainsbury’s, Roku, and Vodafone depend on the hackajob platform to reduce the time to hire, engage with candidates and, most importantly, remove the bias from the recruitment process.