- On Thursday, the hiring software startup Searchlight announced it raised a $2.5 million seed round led by Accel.
- Searchlight was founded by twin sisters Kerry and Anna Wang, twin sisters who graduated Stanford last year and went to the famed startup incubator Y Combinator this year. They say that employers would sometimes think that their resumes were just too similar.
- The company provides an alternative way of looking at hiring: Rather than rely so much on the resume, Searchlight puts more focus on helping employers vet a job candidate’s references.
- This approach can lead to more diverse teams, because an emphasis on the resume can lead employers to go with “the safer hire,” the Wang sisters say.
- Read more on the Business Insider homepage.
When applying for internships, Kerry and Anna Wang often had trouble distinguishing themselves from one another.
Not only are they twin sisters – they both attended Stanford University for their undergraduate and masters degrees, during which time they both interned at Google and at McKinsey & Company, before they both graduated last year.
While they definitely had different experiences – Kerry Wang specialized in computer interaction design, while Anna Wang focused more on AI and machine learning, and the sisters had different jobs at each internship – their resumes ended up looking almost exactly the same. The thing that helped set them apart in the internship application process, the sisters said, was their references.
With this in mind, they started a company that creates software that makes references a more important part of the hiring process, rather than such a heavy focus on the resume. They believe that this approach can also help companies build a more inclusive and diverse team.
"It really came from us really finding the pain point, which is that the broken interview process that we experienced when we went out on our job searches," Kerry Wang told Business Insider. "We knew this was a pain and struggle for any candidate."
Earlier this year, they took their startup, called Searchlight, through Y Combinator, Silicon Valley's hot startup incubator - famous for growing companies like Dropbox and Airbnb through their earliest stages. Kerry Wang took the title of CEO, while Anna became CTO.
And now on Thursday, Searchlight announced it raised a seed round of $2.5 million, led by Accel Partners and with participation from Founders Fund, Y Combinator, Soma Capital, as well as employees at Stripe, Ironclad, and Front. The Wang sisters say that it reflects the early success of the product.
"We really felt confident after seeing strong initial results which is not only about efficiency but also around diversity and hiring," Kerry Wang said.
Right now, the company is a team of 10 people, with plans to use the seed funding to hire more. In fact, Searchlight uses its own software in the hiring process, giving the team a better sense of the user experience. In addition, Searchlight plans to launch a free starter account so that more companies can try out its software, which it already sees as starting to fulfill its mission.
Still, the results have been strong so far, Kerry Wang says, adding that Searchlight's partner companies have saved four to ten hours in hiring, and 80% of its customers have increased the number of underrepresented minorities they've hired.
"Anna and I, being first-generation Chinese-Americans, we really felt like it was really important for us to not go after those stable jobs and be part of the workforce," Kerry Wang said. "We really felt like a lot of autonomy was within ourselves. We experienced this problem firsthand and we see it as a fixable problem."
'They make the safer hire and not the best hire'
The way companies do reference checks today has to stop, Kerry Wang says. Today, companies usually do reference checks at the end of the interview process - a box to check so hiring managers can say they did it, rather than a real chance to help get a real sense of the candidates' strengths.
"We view that references are a very powerful data set that can help companies hire the top performers, but looking at the way references are done today, this is a completely missed opportunity for employers," Kerry Wang said.
In the view of Kerry and Anna Wang, the fact that hiring managers don't always have time to vet every single candidate can introduce bias into the process.
"This means in those moments, they make the safer hire and not the best hire," Kerry Wang said. "This means that employers will fall back to look at resumes, which means that they're looking at top tier schools and companies. Those signals are what they go back on because they don't have other reliable indicators of a candidate's strength, skill, and behavior."
Searchlight automates the process of sending out questionnaires to references, asking them questions about the candidate's working style and capabilities. This is important, she says, because references have actually worked with the candidate before, and can give more insight than a hiring manager can glean from a single 45-minute job interview.
"When we look at all the tools used in the hiring process today, they're really limited in scope," Kerry Wang said. "There's resumes and interviews. That data is limited to what the candidate says and what the interviewer in the company can interpret. With reference data, we're getting third party information and feedback that can augment hiring panels."