The new year is a time when individuals explore new opportunities in the job market and companies recruit to drive new business. This month’s Women On Business interview with Rina Joosten-Rabou, Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer of Seedlink Technologies, discusses how technology can provide unique insights to recruiters and job seekers alike.
Your work focuses on bringing technology to one of the toughest things a company faces – finding the right people. What do you see as some of the ‘must have’ skills, attitudes or capabilities for people about to enter the workforce?
Good question. There is not one answer to it. The thing is, we often talk about skills, attitudes etcetera, in a generic sense. Most companies have competency profiles or they do personality tests. But we found in our research that there is a discrepancy between what people think they need and what is actually leading to success in a company.
It’s important to understand what are the behaviours for success in organisations and often people are not aware of what they actually are. People can often indicate and there is quite some consensus who they think is a high performer, but it is very hard for them to tell you ‘what is it in their behaviours that makes them a great performer in this particular cultural context, in this company’?
What we’ve done in our research is to analyse [behaviour and potential performance] almost on a subconscious level. We do that by analysing someone’s language. The basic concept of the technology is based on the fact that language – how we say something – has a high relation with our behaviours, what we do. Because language is subconsciously produced in our brains, it’s seen as a unique fingerprint of who we are.
So imagine that in a marketing department – instead of asking leadership questions – we ask open-ended questions around culture and values that the company thinks is important to a sub-set of that organisation – from analyst to CMO positions – and we get those answers back on those open ended questions. Now an AI algorithm, deep learning algorithm, can go over the language, the words they used [in the answers], the sentence structures they used, and by comparing good performers, those who are capable of performing – the algorithms can look for the commonalities between those people in the words and the sentences that they use.
By analysing it’s own people first a company can create predictive models and understand what is it exactly that makes a company or a department successful. By applying that to, for example, the new recruits, you can go beyond the obvious.
People are often cautious about the application of technology to personal information. How do you overcome that issue to convince a client that technology is the answer to placement and hiring?
By making it very personal. If you talk with people and if you come from a certain background and you want to make a career switch, and you have 10 years experience in a certain field, it’s super hard because what happens in reality is that people will look at your ‘profile’ – they look at your CV and your LinkedIn profile and say well, you know, well nice that you want to change from marketing to journalism, but what experience do you actually have. But what is actually important is ‘do you have the behaviours of success, the motivation, the key skills for that particular role but also in that particular context, the team you’re going to work in’?
Everyone realises this, whether you’re a job seeker or an employers, everyone has gone through these experiences that were usually bad experiences, and if you are a company it’s the same thing. It often happens that we appoint people from the competition and that may not work out because they really don’t fit our company culture. On an emotional level I think it’s important that people understand how technology can drive the diversity topic.
The other topic to touch upon is to do with sharing of information. You have to feel safe that any information you share is used in the right way, especially when you have the situation where you have information that is so personal being shared with other people. So we take this very seriously and there are global standards. In Europe the privacy requirements are most stringent, and we as a company comply with that and for a good reason. Although we are based in china we work globally to make sure data is anonymised and is stored in a certain way.
You founded and led two companies operating in China. What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions foreign investors may have about establishing a business in China?
The biggest impediment for foreign investors is that it is very difficult to understand from the outside what is happening on the inside in China. That’s difficult. Also a misconception that China is the copy cat of the world. Xi Jinping announced his intention to move China to being a leader in innovation and I can tell you that if China wants that in this political environment I’m sure that they can.
If you look at AI or Virtual Reality, 1/3 of the global market is already here in China. The reason is that Chinese consumers are very forgiving and very technology driven. They like to be the first ones to test certain applications and if it doesn’t work they are very forgiving for companies to give new iterations and to try again. I’ve been working in innovation for my whole career, including many years in Europe, and that is something that is unique and definitely is not the case in Europe. If you look at innovation processes there, it’s much more an inside-out rather than an outside-in approach, so any product or service has to be fully ready to launch and thats a risk because if you launch it and it’s not what people actually want, then you spend all your resources for nothing.
So I think it’s a misconception that China cannot be the innovator of the world. I see so many start-ups, companies that are in this new space and area, and for us it’s also the reason to be here. Consumers are very open to test things, companies are very open to new innovations, so that’s fantastic if you are working on a topic like ours.
Your professional experience includes commercialisation of research and innovation projects. Aside from AI, in which technology or industry do you feel the next big breakthrough will come?
Virtual Reality (VR) is definitely one I would mention, beyond AI. interestingly enough people always first think of gaming [when mentioning VR]. But what’s happening in China is very interesting. There are these new business models that are already being created around VR. Initially people thought VR is a B2C game, but actually it’s also a B2B game here in China. I saw a story recently in The Economist recently about Vanke [a Chinese real estate company] and they already offer Chinese clients the opportunity to travel using VR to London and then being there to have the same kind of experience as if they had travelled to London, but without the jetlag. It’s a very interesting space. if you look at healthcare, in the Netherlands, we don’t have enough people to care for elderly. How will something like VR have an impact on that disparity?
You are a board advisor and mentor to start-ups. What’s your number one advice for someone looking to start a business in Asia?
My first advice would be, just do it! There’s always a number of reasons not to do things, especially in this market – you have to just take the plunge and do it. Things change so rapidly that it’s so hard to try and predict what will happen at the end of the year or even in the next 6 months. Being here physically and its your company is very important, it’s hard to do from the outside. The second thing is to find the right business partners. I’ve always been very lucky to be able to surround myself with people that have been here longer than me – born or raised here – and that is tremendously valuable to have a multi-cultural outlook. I more and more believe that that is also the way to be successful and it makes it more fun! We don’t know what’s going to happen (in business), so we can at least make it a nice ride. So get people around you that you trust. I have with me people that every day push me and the boundaries of my intellectual capabilities and that makes it fun.