Canvas replaces over-the-phone job interviews with texting

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We’ve all been there: You send your spruced-up resume and references to a job recruiter, get a friendly acceptance email from said recruiter, and set up a phone interview. That’s where things get tricky — once you’ve spent days or weeks nailing down a time that fits both of your calendars, you’re stuck with logistical challenges like dodgy cell reception, background noise, and awkward questions that sound much better in an email than over the phone. That’s why Canvas, a new startup, is tackling things from a different angle: Text messaging.

Canvas, the brainchild of Aman Brar, Kelly Lavin, and Jared Adams, takes a “messaging-first” approach to job interviews. Instead of scheduling a phone call with a recruiter, prospective employees text them via a smartphone, PC, or tablet, as if they’re exchanging messages with a friend. Brar compared it to online dating.

“In today’s society, we’re willing to screen a potential spouse with a swipe on an app, but we’re still screening job candidates over the phone,” Brar told Digital Trends. “When you find a match, you don’t call and ask awkward questions about how long they dated their last partner. If texting is a good enough way to find your life partner, it’s more than adequate for recruiting talent.”

A lot goes on behind the scenes. Recruiters contact job applicants through the Canvas dashboard, a PC-optimized web client or a mobile app for iOS and Android. It looks like Slack or Facebook Messenger — recruiters see a list of candidates they’re actively chatting with on the left-hand side, the body of the ongoing conversation in the center, and the candidate’s name, city of origin, phone number, and social media profiles on the right-hand side.

But Canvas is a lot more specialized. Recruiters can “like” and “dislike” responses from candidates, and insert notes during the course of the interview (these are hidden from the candidates). They can embed media, too, like culture videos, job descriptions, applications, and benefits packages, and rate applicant responses on a five-star scale.

What’s most interesting about Canvas, though, is its artificial intelligence features, which tap IBM Watson to serve up questions, links, and documents relevant to the top of conversation. If a candidate asks about a company’s pay scale and 401k, for example, Canvas might helpfully pull up a draft contract and a list of benefits, and even show buttons that sends the documents in a single click.

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When an interview wraps up, Canvas stores the contents for posterity, and generates a one-sheet summary consisting of the candidate’s name, qualitative score (out of five stars), basic profile information, and a two-column outline of “positive” comments and “negative” comments. A built-in sharing function generates a email link to the page, and in the coming weeks will let recruiters mask candidates’ names to protect their privacy.

The real benefit of Canvas, Brar said, is the flexibility it affords. He points out that when it comes to business communication, a vast majority of the 50 million millennials that’ll be hired between now and 2025 — roughly 88 percent — prefer texting to phone calls.

“With Canvas, there’s no need to schedule a phone interview — prospective employees can text questions and responses at the times most convenient to them,” Brar said, “and media embeds save them the trouble of having to dig through websites and company directories to find resources.”

But Brar thinks it’s a boon for enterprise, too. “Most recruiters can only fit four or five phone calls in a day,” he said. “With Canvas, they can interview 40 or 50.”

It’s already gaining traction in the corporate world. Canvas, which launched with $1.7 million in seed funding, has early adopters that span from startups to Fortune 500, companies located in Silicon Valley, and even the Midwest. It counts Scott Day, senior vice president of people and culture for OpenTable and former head of talent strategy for Airbnb, as well as Jeff Perkins, founder of Huntbridge and former vice president of human resources at SpaceX, among the members of its leadership advisory board.

The team’s future plans include a smartphone and web app for candidates, and “richer” experiences for both recruiters and prospective employees — including AI-powered features.

“We think we can do more there — especially with natural language processing,” Brar said, referring to the field in computer science concerned with AI’s ability to interpret words and phrases. “We have ideas for much richer experiences down the line.”

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