TECHNOLOGY

Dallas Startup TerraTal Plays Matchmaker For Job Seekers, Employers

By Sheryl Jean
The Dallas Morning News.

Imagine finding a job online the same way you might connect with someone for a Saturday night date.

A Dallas-based startup is playing Cupid online for job seekers and employers. TerraTal aims to kill the traditional job search, saving many hours and dollars looking for the perfect match between job seekers and employers.

It’s part of a growing trend to simplify and improve job searches and hiring by using sophisticated technology that removes emotion and adds math to the method. Even online dating sites are getting in on the action.

TerraTal’s four partners started the company about a year ago, testing their technology and hiring staff before the website went live last month. Terra means earth, reflecting today’s global job market, and Tal is short for talent.

The job market is huge. TerraTal co-founder Aaron Hoffman estimates the career matchmaking market at $100 million in the Dallas area and up to $2 billion globally.

As the economy and employment have improved over the last six years, competition has risen and the cost and time it takes to woo employees has increased.

The average cost of a new hire rose nearly 50 percent from 2009 to $3,420 in 2014, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Employers took an average of 42 days to fill a position, up from 36 days in 2013.

Three of TerraTal’s four partners worked together in the human resources field and two — Hoffman and Brent Ruge — were colleagues at the global management consulting firm Hay Group in Dallas. Two of the partners are silent.

“We heard from our clients all the time about these problems — how to find, recruit and keep the right employees,” said Hoffman, 36, who was a market media analyst for J.C. Penney. “We looked at our own experiences … and thought there has to be a better way — to make it easier for both sides.”

Although TerraTal can’t claim a confirmed hire yet through its site, more than 750 professionals and nearly 40 organizations have joined the network. It lists about 80 job openings.

One of those professionals is Colin Eddy, 35, a marketing operations manager for a North Texas company.

“I’m always interested in what opportunities are out there,” said the Farmers Branch resident. “Am I in the best job possible? I’m at a point where I can be really selective.”

TerraTal matched Eddy with several jobs, such as a product-based job at an automotive company, a supply chain management job in logistics and a bank management job. He hasn’t pursued any but loved the service so much that he recommended it to family and friends.

Brave new job market
The Internet began transforming the employment market in the late 1990s. The latest trend began a few years ago when the professional networking site LinkedIn created endorsements that let job recruiters identify skills wanted in potential employees.

In addition to TerraTal, LinkedIn, eHarmony, ZipRecruiter and Beyond.com have been developing technology to better match people’s skills to jobs.

Last year, LinkedIn enhanced its 3 million job listings by buying Bright, a company that uses data analytics and matching technology for jobs. LinkedIn wouldn’t say how many people have been hired though its site or discuss its technology, but said it keeps an eye on the competition.

Dallas-based Match.com, which pioneered online dating in 1995, said it’s not expanding into careers.

Its rival eHarmony is. The California-based online Cupid recently began testing a job matchmaking site called Elevated Careers by eHarmony but has not announced a launch date. It’s part of the company’s plan to move beyond romance to focus on all kinds of relationships, matching people with jobs, babysitters and friends.

eHarmony plans to apply what it has learned from 600,000 marriages to jobs, using computer algorithms and other tools to match job seekers’ skills and personality with the right corporate culture, boss and colleagues. Its CEO has said career matchmaking dwarfs the marriage market.

TerraTal’s co-founders think its technology is more sophisticated than that of the competition.

“Every company we have seen in this space uses a very rudimentary matching system that doesn’t account for much beyond location, job level and job title keywords,” said Ruge, 53, the business analytics and statistics expert who created the matchmaking algorithms. “Our algorithms enable employers to control which factors are the most important. If salary expectations and required skills are more important than education and willingness to relocate, then the employer can give more weight in the equation to those factors.”

LinkedIn’s system focuses on technical skills, eHarmony’s on personality traits, and TerraTal’s combines both, said Rajiv Garg, assistant professor of information management at the University of Texas at Austin. Profile questions and keyword scoring by eHarmony and TerraTal will try to capture what a person wants and whether that person is happy, he said.

“Companies want to have people who are motivated, driven and happy,” Garg said. “That happiness comes from not only what skills they have, but from personality.”

Instant results
Job seekers can spend hours “trolling job boards and writing cover letters that likely won’t be read” and companies can “monitor job boards where there are thousands of people who aren’t even close to who you’d want to hire,” Hoffman said. That amounts to a lot of wasted time and frustration on both sides, he said.

TerraTal’s computer algorithms instantly find the best matches between people and employers based on detailed profiles they’ve uploaded to the system. It’s free, but employers pay to contact each person they like.

So far, companies have bought 120 candidate profiles, Hoffman said. Some of the outfits using TerraTal as an additional recruiting tool are Irving-based construction giant Fluor Corp., Hunt Oil Co. in Dallas, Health Care Data Partners in Chicago and the city of Plano.

Rena Frackt is using TerraTal to hire two employees — a website designer and a salesperson — for her Dallas-based women’s apparel startup called Jackie n Jill. Twenty people matched, she interviewed four people, made one job offer and is awaiting an answer.

“I was really amazed at how successful it was so quickly,” Frackt said. She said she has used other online job services that “don’t necessarily give you the best pool of candidates, just a large pool of people.”

While TerraTal is courting the Dallas market, it has bigger plans. The startup hopes to offer other services within a year to generate new revenue streams and Philippines-based Ruge is leading TerraTal’s global expansion in Asia.

Hoffman estimates TerraTal will generate revenue of $1 million next year, with profits, as employers and job seekers look for an edge.

UT’s Garg expects technology to continue evolving to better match people and jobs.

“The direction this is going to match people for a job is really cool,” he said. “Everybody cares about retention. Hiring costs a lot of money. As we add more keywords to describe a person and a job, the matching will get better and better.”

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