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Josh Tolan of Spark Hire

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In this episode, we will be speaking with Josh Tolan, the CEO of Spark Hire (www.sparkhire.com).  

Launched in 2012, Spark Hire was developed to end frustrations with the traditional online market.  Spark Hire provides a new way for job seekers and consultants to present themselves more completely to companies.  By coupling innovative video technologies with traditional online job board features, Spark Hire revolutionaizes the application, screening and interviewing process for job seekers, consultants and companies.

We will be discussing various aspects of Spark Hire's genesis including, but not limited to, its inspiration, the development process, and lessons learned.  We will ask Josh to provide his thoughts on the the startup process now that Spark Hire has launched.

For those looking for employment as an employee or consultant, we will ask Josh to explain how Spark Hire can be used to facilitate the job search and tap into the cutting edge of hiring.


0:36 Charles Mudd

This is Startup Radio and this is Charles Mudd as your host today on April 23rd and today, we have Josh Tolan of Spark Hire. Josh Tolan graduated from the University of California in San Diego and has a bachelor's degree in economics. He was Phi Beta Kappa and most recently, he is the CEO and founder of Spark Hire. Josh, welcome to the show.

1:11 Josh Tolan

Thanks for having me Charles. I appreciate it. The first episode is pretty cool.

1:17 Charles Mudd

Well, thanks and thank you again for being here and I guess one of the first questions that I need to ask you is Spark Hire, what is Spark Hire?

1:29 Josh Tolan

So with Spark Hire, what we've really done is we've essentially merge features from traditional job orgs that you see on the internet everyday and a video platform and by video platform really mean I'm interviewing jobseekers have the ability to go on and create a video resume and yet, it's pretty cool, pretty exciting, and really the goal is to enrich interaction between jobseekers and employers.

1:57 Charles Mudd

Where did you come up with the name Spark Hire?

2:01 Josh Tolan

Well, there is, there is really no story behind it. I mean, obviously, with any company, there is something behind the name and really, with us, we just wanted to make sure that we got something with jobs or hiring inside the domain and with Spark, we just thought in was an exciting kind of unique beginning to that name. So Spark Hire, no really great story behind it. We just thought it was a good catchy name, good domain name.

2:28 Charles Mudd

Now, how long have you been live?

2:32 Josh Tolan

We've been live since February so a little over two months now and during that time, we've really just been on a beta phase. So it's been a completely free from employers. I just really try to get lot of good feedback right now.

2:45 Charles Mudd

And have you been receiving feedback? Have you had users join up already?

2:51 Josh Tolan

Yeah. We've got over a thousand jobseekers. We've got jobseekers, all different industries and different levels, a lot of good responses from career centers around the country with their college students signing up and that we have over 100 employers actually signed up so there's been a lot of good feedback there as well.

3:12 Charles Mudd

I mean this it would seem to me that this is an ideal time to launch a program such as yours, a portal such as yours, where individuals can find jobs or I mean with the thousand already and still on beta, that seems a pretty good number.

3:35 Josh Tolan

Yeah. I mean, obviously, it's really on and really like I said, our main goal right now is to get feedback. So we haven't really blown our marketing and advertising efforts out of the water yet like we're going to our first convention later this month to demo in front of some HR professionals. But really, like I said, we're just trying to get good feedback and yeah, over a thousand here, that's great. Our goals are much bigger than that obviously, but it's a good starting spot.

4:03 Charles Mudd

Do you have a projection as to when you're going to move out of beta?

4:08 Josh Tolan

Yeah. I mean, right now, we're really just focused on user experience based on the feedback we've received. All employers have given us really positive feedback and there has been some positive criticism as well, constructive criticism, so we're trying to make some adjustments. Not really have any more bells and whistles because we feel like we've got a lot of those. Right now, like I said, we're focused on user experience and then, I would say within the next 30 to 60 days, employers will start being charged to use the service.

4:39 Charles Mudd

You mentioned marketing and going to conventions and I know that your backgrounds some of your prior or other employment background is in SEO or Search Engine Optimization. Have you been able to bring that in to the planning and marketing of Spark Hire?

4:59 Josh Tolan

Yeah. So that's obviously been one of our efforts. I mean on SEO obviously, it's key getting found throughout the search engines. It's key for keywords, I guess, that you want to show up for. So we've got we've been getting a lot of traffics through SEO efforts, through our blogging and to the content on our website, links we've been getting from other websites pointing to us. So yeah, that's part of our strategy. But, again, this is a multi-angled approach so obviously a lot more than just SEO.

5:28 Charles Mudd

Sure and talking about Startups and just marketing conventions and so forth, it seems that Chicago is emerging as really a location or a hub for the growth of startup companies. Is there any particular reason why you chose to be in Chicago or the Chicago area?

5:56 Josh Tolan

Well, yeah. I mean like you said, I went to school out in California. But growing up in Chicago, the suburb of Chicago, my whole life so well, California was great. I went to school in San Diego so I was living in La Jolla. That was great for a couple of years, but home is home. Like you said, Chicago is __6:13__ up in a text-based so, obviously, I wanted to come back here and start a company out here.

6:19 Charles Mudd

We're glad to have you in the area. Now, let's go back to you know, from my understanding let's go back to the description that you gave of what exactly Spark Hire does or enables to happen. I imagine that it's targeted to anybody seeking a job, but is there a particular demographic or particular jobseeker where this particular portal, using more or less I guess and correct me if I'm wrong, a video conferencing type system where the potential employer and potential employee can come together, meet, and see one another. Is there a particular demographic jobseeker to which Spark Hire is particularly ideal?

7:14 Josh Tolan

Yeah. Well, I think obviously, there is a benefit for all different types of demographics, but one of the demographics that we've gone a lot have good feedback from right now and we're seeing it in use from is the college students or recent graduates and there are several reasons for this. One, obviously, a student or a recent graduate trying to break in at the job market, you've got your paper resume which has your educations, some of your accolades on it. But as far as work experience goes, college students or recent graduates are the disadvantage versus other people looking for jobs in the job market. So by integrating a video, by giving these students and recent grads the ability to go and record a profile video essentially, it's their 60-second video, which is like an elevator pitch to employers. These jobseekers, these students, and these recent grads are really able to standout to employers and they're really able to show some skills that can't be portrayed on paper. So that's really where I see obviously a big benefit for students and recent grads. On top of that I'm sorry, go ahead.

8:20 Charles Mudd

No, no, no. Go ahead Josh.

8:22 Josh Tolan

So really, on top of that, obviously, student and recent grads might be living like I was in San Diego, but home is back in Chicago. Obviously, so having the ability to get in front of employers back home using a video rather than having to fly around and do a lot of travelling saves a student and grab a lot of money.

8:42 Charles Mudd

So let's take a step back. So there are number of other sites out there. We don't necessarily need to mention them, but one site that, as an employer myself that I've used to solicit individual's interests in jobs is LinkedIn. But typically, all that you have on LinkedIn is a text-based environment where somebody might have their background and information they filled all that in. Spark Hire, it seems to me that from what you said, if I'm the jobseeker, the potential employee, let say, college graduate as you just described, I can go on to Spark Hire, create my text-based profile, but also have a more or less video profile for anybody to look at. Now, once I see a job or somebody sees me, then from my understanding, an interview can actually take place through your portal through the website.

9:46 Josh Tolan

Yeah. That's correct and actually, one thing I think I should point out is while you can create your text-based profile in Spark Hire and also what we call the profile video. Others call it a video resume. Some people call it a video profile. Like I said, it is a 60-second video. You just get in front of the webcam and record it. What's really cool is that we give you a link and that link goes to a landing page that will contain your text-based profile and your video. So you mentioned LinkedIn, but one of the cool things that I have seen job seekers using Spark Hire do is actually create their profile and create their video on Spark Hire and then also put that link in the website section on their LinkedIn profile, so essentially turning their LinkedIn profile to you know a Spark Hire profile with a video. So that's one cool thing I have seen. And then you know going off of that as regarding your question about video interviews, we do offer multiple interviewing solutions for employers and this is really convenient for both the job seeker and the employer. The two types of interviews are one way which we call a spotlight and that is really a video interview in which the employer will send the candidate a series of questions and all the candidate has to do is then record video responses and send it right back to the employer. And then other type of online interview is a live interview and that is basically a split screen interview in which the employer can connect face-to-face to the job seeker.

11:03 Charles Mudd

Its phenomenal technology. I am just so amazed as this technology develops and I think that it's really exciting for those that are looking for jobs to have and such an environment you know, to present themselves. Because text can only do so much, right?

11:26 Josh Tolan

Yeah, text can only do so much you know, like I have told others you can write a bullet point on your resume that talks about your communications skills, your great personality, your charisma, but a video actually allows you to show that. So I think that's the key.

11:41 Charles Mudd

Now, to those possible job seekers that are listening today or this episode of Startup Radio will be available on the web afterwards so that people can download and listen to after the scheduled program. For those job seekers that might listen to the program, what can you tell them? What advice do you have for them when they do use your site such as you know, when they create the video resume or video profile?

12:16 Josh Tolan

Well, right now its intended use is really to enhance their current process and that goes for both job seekers and employers. One of the things that we have been preaching is that both the job seekers and employers were not trying to replace their current process, we are just here to help them enhance that and help them to achieve their goals more efficiently. So for job seekers what I would recommend is go to Spark Hire, create a profile, it's free. Create a profile, insert all of your qualifications, record your video via webcam and then as I mentioned before you actually get a link to your video and to your text-based profile where employers can actually visit that landing page and actually schedule an interview with you right from that page. So what I would recommend doing is taking that link and pasting it anywhere you are communicating with employers, so as I mentioned, may be on your LinkedIn profile, in your email signature, on your paper resume one thing that's kind of cool is you paste it on your paper resume and essentially your paper resume has become a video resume because it's a link right to your video. So that's right now are intended use really trying to help job seekers to enhance their current process and by using that video and using that link, they are really able to get themselves in front of employers in a unique way.

13:26 Charles Mudd

Often times and correct me if I am wrong, but often times you know I have used the analogy for somebody looking for a job to a company or individuals marketing effort. I mean, from what you just said, that analogy seems to even carry over even more because as new technologies come out, you don't necessarily supplant your prior marketing with a new methodology. You adapt a new methodology to supplement and accentuate what you are already doing. That's what it sounds like you are telling people to do is do not stop what they have already been doing, but to use Spark Hire to accentuate and enhance their search for a job out in the market place.

14:15 Josh Tolan

Exactly. Because we all know the resumes isn't going anywhere you know, we are not trying to replace the traditional paper resume at all, really what we are trying to do is enhance it.

14:27 Charles Mudd

Have you had any success stories that you can share with me and the listeners?

14:33 Josh Tolan

Yeah. Actually, you know I have had my own success story as far as Spark Hire hiring and some of the other companies that have used as well have had some success stories. You know I heard an intern of Spark Hire what was really cool is they were able to go on and create their profile videos and sent it to me. I was able to watch it and just instantly I knew "Man, this guy is a great cultural fit", really fit in here, great personality, great charisma, great communication skills, everything that we were looking for. I scheduled an interview with him. He went through it you know answer all the questions just like I want them to be answered and then I just invited him into the office to meet him in person and hired him right there. Very quick process, it took him about two days to actually get the job as far as creating his video applying, interviewing and then coming in the office the next day, he got his job. Another success story which is pretty cool is a company using Spark Hire with interviewing for another internship position and one of the awesome things is that because of the video, they were interviewing a girl who is in college, attended college in the Midwest and she was looking for a summer internship. But what was really cool was that she was actually studying abroad in London and the company who was interviewing her didn't even know that until after the interview and so then she landed the internship, when she was coming back for the summer. So that was pretty cool because it really shows you the power of video and breaking down the distance barrier.

16:03 Charles Mudd

Well, it seems logical as the internet and new technologies tend to do that with just communication and the ability to reach out the people across the world. Spark Hire seems a logical implementation of that technology finding new employees. Now, we have talked about employees and employers. Does the site also target you know, lets say that there are individuals that have their own businesses, independent contractors. Is there anything on Spark Hire for them?

16:40 Josh Tolan

Yeah, we do have a consultant model and that's really for like you said independent contractors who might not be looking for a fulltime job, that are really you know looking for a contract position or a quick project. And really what they are able to do is come onto Spark Hire, showcase their portfolio, create a video just like the job seekers and again they are giving a link just like the job seekers where they can share it anywhere. So again, that's a great chance for them you know to make their elevator pitch to potential clients.

17:11 Charles Mudd

Well, in addition to people that are looking for jobs, we have among our audience or potential listeners, people that are having their own start-up, so working with their own start-up companies, and your experience so far with Spark Hire, do have any thoughts or any suggestions that you can provide to those that have their idea out there that have their project that they want to implement?

17:45 Josh Tolan

Yeah. So the first thing obviously is have a vision. You know, that would be obviously a really big piece of advice is have a vision. Don't be so hard-headed about it as far as, you can be a little bit flexible in the beginning but before you start doing any development, obviously you want to make sure that that vision is really tight. You know what you really want to go and whole team knows where you want to go. Off of that speaking about team, really my biggest piece of advice is if you want to surround yourself with talent, one of the things that I have struggled with obviously coming out of school, I got really good grades, knew how to work hard and I felt like I could do everything by myself. But one of the things I have learned is that can't. First of all, there is just not enough time in a day and some people have told me if you are the smartest person in the room and everything, then there is something wrong because then the business stops at you. The advice that I would give is surround yourself with a team, obviously with a start-up, you know you have a tighter budget, but you want to surround yourself with smart people. People that are aligned with your vision and everyone can contribute.

18:57 Charles Mudd

How do you go about finding a team?

19:02 Josh Tolan

Well, you know obviously you got to post positions. You got to out there and do some recruiting. You got to find people who are interested in the space that you are in and then just speak with them, network, use Spark Hire and you will be able to...

19:20 Charles Mudd

There you go. That's a good lead in, right? I mean people that are looking to find that team for their own start-up can actually end up using Spark Hire to find and reach out to the people that might be pushing their own start-ups to the next level. You know, I am going to open it up to questions here from the audience in just a moment and I hope you have a little bit more time with this Josh. But you know one of the things that just popped into my mind, as I was just interviewing an individual that actually ended up hiring and on her resume -- it was the first time that I had seen this, in fact, the only time that I saw this, but she had a QR code on her resume. And as I am sitting here talking with you, it could be -- somebody could have a QR code on their resume that would take somebody to their Spark Hire video profile, correct?

20:21 Josh Tolan

Yeah. And that's actually -- that's a really creative way of doing it. A QR code is essentially -- it's a quick response code so it's essentially just a link and better than a bar code and we have seen people do that. And one of the cool things is we have them on our business card and that goes straight to Spark Hire. We also have a big QR code graphic on our wall in our office that actually goes to our blog. So when people come in and visit our office they can or we hope they scan the barcode and then subscribe to our blog on their way out. So yeah, a QR code is a really creative way of linking the things on the internet and a really good way to link to your Spark Hire profile.

20:58 Charles Mudd

Well Josh, we have some callers here and I am going to open the lines up here in just a moment, but -- and let's see if any of them have any questions. Callers, is there anyone that has a question for Josh Tolan of Spark Hire?

21:17 Mark

Hi Charles. My name is Mark Ideal. When I hear the video resume, the thing that popped into my mind is do you think this is going to help people in the entertainment industry? They can create a 60-second performance piece and try to get jobs in that manner.

21:37 Josh Tolan

Yeah, definitely. I think it's great for the entertainment industry. You know, we have actually had some actors and actresses that did some video commercial for us and I am really excited about the product because they are going to use it when they applied for positions. You know and it's a really great way to become creative. So you know I have seen actors and actresses to get on there. I have seen graphic designers get on there and do create a thing such as flipping through their portfolio, work on their iPad. So the video really allows you to get in front of the camera and do something creative that's going to catch an employer's attention and I think obviously, the entertainment industry is an industry that will catch on with Spark Hire and the video integration.

22:20 Charles Mudd

Thank you Josh and thank you Mark for calling in and participating. Do we have any other questions from our listeners?

22:29 Stephanie

I do. I have one. My name is...

22:31 Charles Mudd

And to whom I am speaking to?

22:32 Stephanie

This is Stephanie. Hi to Josh and to Charles. I have a question about -- the internet in general has traditionally been a pretty informal place to operate. Have you seen, from either direction, applicants' kind of stepping up the formality of the way that they are acting on the internet through your website or even employers being a little more flexible, a little more understanding about how people are communicating on the internet generally? Because you know I would never submit a cover letter the way I write on the internet usually. Have you seen any sort of changes like that?

23:08 Josh Tolan

Oh yeah. Well I think, it comes back to being creative you know, obviously you can get a little bit more personal in a video than you would with you know standard cover letter or a paper resume. As far as a presentation in the video and in interview just like as if you are going to meet in person. You know job seekers from the video that I have seen are dressing up in suits and ties or in professional attire. So it's pretty formal in that sense, but as far as the communication on it's much more personal than you know the traditional process as far as you know text-based communications.

23:44 Charles Mudd

Great. Thank you Stephanie. We have about running out of time because I know Josh has a busy schedule and with any start-up, there is a lot going on and we definitely wish you the best. But I think we may have time if anybody has one last question, is there anybody there?

24:05 Trish

I do. I have one. I have a question.

24:08 Charles Mudd

And your name?

24:09 Trish

My name is Trish.

24:11 Charles Mudd

Go ahead Trish.

24:12 Trish

Okay. Traditionally cover letters are something that are pretty personalized, how would you suggest a kind of tailoring your video on Spark Hire to kind of reach out to a variety of different types of employers?

24:26 Josh Tolan

Well obviously, that's a good question. And obviously, you want to tailor your video, your introduction, your elevator pitch to the type of job you're applying for. So like I said, as far as like I have seen a graphic designer really tailor their video to show off their strength which was their design work and what they are able to do as they flip through on their iPad, actually drew something on camera really quick to show you know how quickly they can make a design. You know as far as you are applying for a different position, you obviously want to tailor that video to the specific position that you are applying for and show off your strengths and that's the biggest thing. The video is there for you to get in front of employers and show off your strengths, so that would be my biggest piece of advice.

25:14 Charles Mudd

Josh, do you have the team with you? It sounds like you have been lucky enough to find a team to come together and help you move this forward, is that the case?

25:26 Josh Tolan

Yeah. We are all in-house. We are a team of about 20 people working in an office in Northbrook, but unfortunately, we are able to secure some investment money so we are running pretty smoothly right now. I got one out of big team by 20 people of really smart individuals and like I said, they are working out of Northbrook.

25:48 Charles Mudd

That sounds great. Now, we are wrapping up here. Where can somebody go online, where is your web address?

25:55 Josh Tolan

Web address is www.sparkhire.com.

26:01 Charles Mudd

Are you on Twitter?

26:02 Josh Tolan

We are in Twitter. The Twitter handle is @SparkHire and on Facebook, it's facebook.com/sparkhire.

26:10 Charles Mudd

And I think I have cut you off, were you about ready to tell them the Facebook link or I hope I didn't miss anything.

26:18 Josh Tolan

Yeah. I was just going to say when you go to sparkhire.com check out some of the videos we have got there. Some pretty creative videos that show off the service. It's completely free right now for both job seekers and employers like we have said eventually we will start charging employers at a very cost effective package. But it's going to forever free for job seekers. So what you are going to do is right when you get to the website just click sign up free, follow the couple of steps and you will be inside in less than a minute.

26:47 Charles Mudd

Well Josh, I want to thank you for the time that you have taken to be on Startup Radio, particularly, this is our initial program and interview. And I think it has gone fantastic. I hope you come back to join us and update us on Spark Hire's success as we are sure its going to have. And you also I hope that you'll be able to bring with you some more success stories from both the employer's side and employees side. So again, thanks for showing up.

27:16 Josh Tolan

Definitely. And thank you so much for having me. It was great.

27:19 Charles Mudd

Alright. Thank you very much everybody. This is Charles Mudd with Startup Radio. I want to thank you all for taking the time to listen whether it's now on April 23 or in the future. This will be available at startupradio.com which is our blog as well as our Blog Talk Radio spot blogtalkradio.com/startupradio. Have a great day and stay well.