WisBusiness: HarQen’s ‘Voice Screener’ can save time for job applicants, employers

By Emily Jones

For WisBusiness.com

MILWAUKEE — When a job interview goes poorly, no one comes out happy. Job seekers, understandably, are disappointed that their preparation and anticipation were for nothing. Meanwhile, mediocre interviews are a waste of recruiters’ time – not to mention a waste of money.

That’s why Kelly Fitzsimmons, CEO and cofounder of HarQen, believes her company has created a technology that will make the initial interview process more streamlined and efficient. Voice Screener, one of the audio applications offered by HarQen, allows candidates to record a screening interview on their own time, saving the hassle of a live interview for job seekers and recruiters alike.

“Over the course of the next three to five years, applications like Voice Screener will revolutionize the way certain business processes are done,” Fitzsimmons said.

Looking to the future, Fitzsimmons said she has high hopes for the company.

“Since our technology is done and we’re ramping customers very fast, we’re likely to hit cash flow positive within early next year,” she said. So far, the company has raised $2.1 million in capital, and is seeking an additional $3 million. While right now the goal is to create audio applications that demonstrate the platform’s capabilities, she said that the next step is to eventually create a software development kit that will allow others to create applications themselves. Right now, the technology team is working on this software kit.

“We see a window of time, probably in about 12 to 18 months,” Fitzsimmons said, “where we’ll be able to introduce something to the market that could potentially be very, very game-changing.”

HarQen was one of 40 companies to present at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium in November at Madison’s Monona Terrace Convention Center. Since its start in November 2006, HarQen has specialized in voice-to-audio applications that allow users to upload audio to the internet. Its first application, Comic Wonder, is a platform for users to upload jokes to a website over the phone. However, as economic pressures hampered advertising revenue for Comic Wonder, the company launched Voice Screener in March 2008.

Businesses are starting to take notice of the Voice Screener application. According to Fitzsimmons, HarQen now has close to 30 clients, including the world’s largest staffing and recruiting firm. The firm, she said, adopted Voice Screener as a pilot program, and they believe this technology will increase throughput by 300 percent.

“That’s an example of an application, which happens to be ours, that can change an industry,” Fitzsimmons said.

So how does this technology change the interview process?

For job seekers, Fitzsimmons said, the technology makes candidates feel more empowered. Instead of having to schedule a time convenient for both the employer and the candidate, a prospective employee can set up an appointment on their own time. In addition, candidates can put up more of an “emotional wall,” she said, and gauge whether or not they would like to work with the company based on the questions.

Meanwhile, the technology also offers benefits for employers. The recorded audio interviews are still designed for the spontaneity of a live interview, but tend to be much shorter. In total, a Voice Screener interview lasts only about two and a half to three minutes, saving time for recruiters and allowing them to screen more applicants in one day.

According to Fitzsimmons, this technology is not only useful, but unique in its field.

“We sell to staffing and recruiting, and in staffing and recruiting, there’s nothing like it,” she said of her application. While she said other technologies exist that use video for interviewing, these technologies are more useful later on in the interview process.

HarQen’s audio upload system, meanwhile, is primarily for early screening, so employers can more easily recognize the standout applicants.

— Jones is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communications.