How do you search for talent intelligently?


Resumes and interviews are two-dimensional and probably the hardest way to find a job

HI-TRAC: The author’s shorthand for Happiness Index, Infrastructure, Talent, Regulations, Access and Capital. The six pillars that make the UAE a great place for a startup. This week’s is about a company in the business of acquiring the best talent in the region and beyond.

Have you heard the term bleisure? Or the more familiar telecommuting?

What if you are traditional HR Manager making a job-offer to a millenial and you were faced with the reality that she’d rather take stock-options and a bean-bag to sit on instead of a salary and a fancy workstation? Welcome to the new world of recruiting in the gig economy. Being an “HR Specialist” today harks back to the 19th century.

Apparently, the National Cash Register (NCR) company was the first to formally have a “Personnel Department”. Not so much for the welfare of the employees but more to break the back of unions. That philosophy endured through till the first part of the 21st century. Well in to this new millennium, it’s clear that top-down iron-fisted approaches do not work. The underlying premise of such approaches is that employees do unfulfilling jobs and need to be forced and coerced because they have no internal motivation to work.


Quoting from a May 30, 2014 article in the New York Times, titled “Why you Hate Work”, the authors describe this phenomenon – “We often ask senior leaders a simple question: If your employees feel more energized, valued, focused and purposeful, do they perform better? Not surprisingly, the answer is almost always “Yes.” Next we ask, “So how much do you invest in meeting those needs?” An uncomfortable silence typically ensues.”

So make way for talent management. A broad term that covers the acquisition (not recruitment), mentoring (not management) and skills enhancement of a very mobile workforce. If the idea is that this is a phenomenon of the developed urban educated elite, think again. Domestic workers and blue-collar workers the world over are getting increasingly aware of opportunities for work and maximization of compensation through ubiquitous tools like WhatsApp and Facebook.

But first some stats. According to IBISWorld, the total Global HR and Recruitment services market is US$638 Billion. Within this, the global market for talent acquisition applications is likely to grow to $4.76 billion by 2021 according to Statista. The Talent Management Software (TMS) Market report by MarketsandMarkets covers the broader eponymous market and it indicates that the total size including Talent Acquisition is about $11.4 billion. These two statistics demonstrate the nascent value of the applications and software market versus the traditional industry.

Let’s zero down on the Talent Acquisition area. A favourite book on the subject of getting a job is What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles. A book that has been published yearly since as far back as I can remember. In each one of the over 10 million copies sold, Bolles reiterates the simple truth – resumes and interviews are two-dimensional and are probably the hardest way to find a job.

Enter Searchie. Sahiqa and Harvey Bennett co-founded the business in February 2018. Searchie is intended to be a talent acquisition platform which cuts down the time and cost to hire. The company aims to “uberize” the recruitment model and add value to the process by running all candidates through an artificial-intelligence (AI) led video assessment. This generates psychometric reports that aim to match candidates with job-specs based on skills, behavior, cultural values and needs. It also encourages diversity by mitigating sub-conscious bias.

The company aims to price approximately 50-80 per cent less than the traditional recruitment agency model. It intends to achieve this by doing away with the usual percentage-of-compensation model and instead it charges a fixed-fee linked to the job band – change the rules instead of competing. By providing incremental value to potential employers and candidates at a fixed transparent price, minus the frills, the platform aids in sharpening the decision-making process. Plus the company collaborates with a global network freelance recruiters.

The flexibility of the platform also allows for acquiring talent that sometimes get shelved e.g. mums, single parents and people with special needs. On the supply side, the current focus of the platform is on candidates with specialized skills, typically in financial services, technology, digital transformation and ecommerce, all over the world.

At the centre of the company’s proposition is the AI-based assessment. Sahiqa says, “I believe that the best employees are the ones who believe in the employer’s vision and strategy. Such employees do not merely follow the instructions but add value.”

Searchie also leverages the gig-economy to reduce some of the traditional expense associated with brick-and-mortar businesses. It produces content-rich referrals to it clients with candidate-level summaries, recorded video assessments, confidence indices, personality summaries based on “big 5” personality traits, cultural values/needs reports as well as overall estimates of the candidates appropriateness for the position. This “digital-first” approach also lends itself to scalability

This value proposition, flexibility and focus have helped the company become fully self-sustaining in a very short time and it has scaled from 2 people to 6 in 3 months.

Sahiqa, CEO, quips, “We were fed up with the sourcing process, we were not impressed with the two-dimensional profiles which were being submitted to employers and we also felt that the experience of the candidate was, more often than not, underwhelming. So we studied the business for four years to understand it thoroughly before building Searchie.” This not the first venture for the couple. They had earlier co-founded a digital transformation agency in Dubai which is currently 50 people strong.

Searchie has a strong core team. Anas Almohammadi with a degree in Computer Science and Economics from Seattle University, USA is the Senior Software Engineer. Jonas Harring Ball is the director of People Analytics & AI is currently doing a PHD from Cambridge University, UK in AI & Human Performance. He used to work in the domain with ENBD.

Acquiring and retaining talent is becoming a very different business.

Sahiqa’s recommended reading is The Secret by Rhonda Byrne because “I think it applies to everything I believe in. You have to visualize and think big.”

The writer is founding partner at BridgeDFS, a bespoke financial advisory firm (

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