Tri-City-based company develops tool to find diverse, talented job candidates

A new startup based in the Tri-Cities is seeking to disrupt Seattle’s hiring culture.

WholeStory was cofounded by John Roach, vice president of information and communication technology for TiLite in Pasco, Adam Brault, CEO of &yet in Richland, and Erin Anacker, a design entrepreneur based in Seattle.

The web-based professional network and platform couples job experience with personal narrative, specifically around stress-related growth.

WholeStory developed its flagship WholeStory Helix, a proprietary set of tools designed to elicit more in-depth candidate profiles that include character strengths, leadership traits and interpersonal skills.

Candidates answer a series of questions about challenges they’ve faced in life and how moments of adversity have contributed to personal and professional growth.

In essence it acts as a recruiting platform for employers to find talent based on qualities that can’t be easily listed on a resumé or a LinkedIn profile — like grit, perseverance, resilience, empathy and emotional intelligence.

Stories of stress-related growth can come from many places, whether it’s overcoming adverse challenges and hardships like disabilities, poverty, job loss, addiction or abuse, or being able to bounce back after life-changing events, such as a serious accident or illness, incarceration, or even business failure.

“The same thing that makes us a great person in how we respond to our pain it turns out also makes us great professionals, but the standard job search process doesn’t have any means to harness that. These experiences can be the sources of incredible strength, growth and transformation,” Roach said.


WholeStory begins pilot in Seattle

Although still in its infancy, WholeStory is gaining traction. The product will be piloted with SM Diversity in a Seattle-based boutique contingency recruiting agency that specializes in diversity and inclusion in the technology sector for Fortune 1000 companies and startups.

“I am so in love with this product I want to advocate for it and it has to start with humanizing the hiring process,” said Steven Matley, CEO and founder of SM Diversity. “What WholeStory allows us to do is bring a more nuanced approach to diversity. People should feel comfortable talking about their stress-related growth and companies should embrace people that bring different perspectives.”

WholeStory hopes to build on the partnership with SM Diversity to understand what works and what doesn’t before scaling to the larger market, Roach said.

Matley said he already has some Seattle tech companies interested in using WholeStory as a candidate sourcing tool. “The candidate’s WholeStory profile will be delivered along with the resumé, and we want to follow and track their story and use it as research,” Matley said.


Finding quality candidates

According to a 2013 Gallup report, “State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders,” companies spend more than $125 billion dollars every year to fill open positions with the right candidates. Despite this enormous expenditure, a good match results less than half the time.

Roach said WholeStory works well in mid- to late-career or executive search scenarios when seeking to differentiate between top performing candidates with equivalent skills and education. It also works to identify candidates for jobs that require coherent thinking in the face of uncertainty.

Roach was inspired to launch WholeStory last summer after listening to the stories of people who had been incarcerated.

“I nursed it along and spent a lot of time researching ways to make it happen, but it wasn’t until Adam Brault introduced me to Erin Anacker that things really took off,” he said.

Research into positive psychology touts the value of post-traumatic growth in making people not only stronger, but more creative, authentic, humble, team-oriented, adaptable, dedicated, brave and whole-hearted. Through WholeStory, Roach said he is trying to channel that research into creating a product that would allow users to showcase those skills through the story creation process.

“We’re still in the very early stages and until recently we had been shaping our product and our go-to market strategy. We’ve focused around developing our basic toolset for working with candidates to craft their story, which leads to creation of their profile, which is the primary artifact we used to create connections between businesses and candidates,” he said.


Blind auditions

WholeStory allows users to use pseudonyms to facilitate greater candidate transparency and maintain a safe place for candidates to be honest and open. This creates a “blind audition” scenario and the anonymity helps reduce implicit bias, Roach said.

“The power to have temporary anonymity allows people to be vulnerable enough to share their whole story right alongside their professional experience and then allows people to want to build teams or collaborate to be able to find them based on not only their job experience, but also their life experience,” he said.

The company hopes to adopt a subscription-based business model, where companies pay a subscription fee to have access to WholeStory’s candidate pool, but it needs to reach a critical mass in its user base before it can do that. For now, WholeStory will focus on building relationships with mission-aligned third party recruiting agencies as an early revenue and growth model.

They’re still working through some of the process details, like when it’s OK to disclose the identity of the candidate and how third-party recruiting agencies share candidate information.

“Diversity and inclusion is not what we’re selling. It’s much more than that,” said Roach, “but those qualities emerged very early on as a byproduct by giving people a tool to tell their story this way.”

“We also like to talk about cognitive diversity. There is value from a business standpoint to create teams that include people with different ways of thinking and different ways of solving problems,” said Roach.

Although WholeStory won’t become available in the Tri-Cities for some time, Roach said those same insights have transformed his own hiring practices — with success.

“These pivotal types of experiences are something that should be celebrated and sought after,” he said.

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