Why You May Never Interview the Best Talent for Your Company with Deeps Ramanathan, Global CMO at Degreed

“We can’t keep pace with technological changes, but we can change the internal practices to view skills as currency.”
– Deeps Ramanathan
Are you exhausted interviewing ordinary people? It might have to do with your hiring process excluding the best talent altogether. What’s becoming more and more true is when you’re focused on managing for efficiency, finding the magic or the outliers within a pool of candidates becomes improbable. On this episode of the On Work and Revolution podcast, Debbie interviews Deeps Ramanathan, the CMO of Degreed, a global marketing executive, edtech founder, board member, and startup advisor. Emphasizing the limitation of the traditional resume-based approach to hiring, this episode highlights the need for a shift in mindset towards skills-based hiring and continuous learning in the face of technological advancements and AI integration.

Debbie & Deeps dig into:

✓ Why traditional degrees often fail to reflect a person’s actual skills and capabilities, leading to a disconnect between qualifications and job roles
✓ Creative ways companies can cast a wider net to find top talent from diverse backgrounds and skill sets
✓ How the future of work that’s augmented by AI is calling for a shift in mindset towards skills-based hiring

About our guest, Deeps Ramanathan:

Deeps Ramanathan is the CMO of Degreed, a global marketing executive, edtech founder, board member, and startup advisor. He’s passionate about building business and marketing strategies that produce exponential value for consumers, companies, and communities. He built and led teams in the US, Asia Pacific, and Europe for 9 years at Google, 8 years at IBM, and 2 years at Twitter. He co-founded a venture and Y Combinator-backed AI and Voice education startup to increase literacy levels called AskMyClass. Deeps’ journey, spanning several decades from engineer to marketer to founder across digital media, advertising, technology, and education verticals, has reinforced his belief that with the right access and support, anyone can reach further. Deeps has an MBA majoring in Marketing & Strategy, MEng, and BEng.

Helpful Links:

Follow Deeps on LinkedIn

Open for Full Episode Transcript

Open for Full Episode Transcript

Debbie Goodman  00:05

Welcome to On Work and Revolution, where we talk about what’s shaking up in the world of work and ed tech. I’m your host, Debbie Goodman and today we have as our guest Deeps Ramanathan, who is the CMO of Degreed and Learn In, a global marketing executive board member and startup advisor. Now, if you’re in the ed tech ecosystem in the US, it’s highly unlikely that you haven’t heard of Degreed. But just in case, I’m here for the PSA announcement. Degreed is a leading online learning pallet platform, offering a really extensive array of educational resources, which are personalized, flexible, curated to the individual and the company and have made a real impact in the workplace learning space in the US and globally. Deeps started out as an engineer, but over his career, he transitioned to the dark side. He became a marketer and startup founder. Counterbalanced to the startup world, he’s also built and lead marketing teams in the US, Asia Pacific and Europe for Google, IBM and Twitter. So he’s got this interesting mix of YC backed ed tech startup and then the biggest of the big tech companies out there. Deeps has an MBA, majoring in marketing and strategy and a Masters of Engineering. He’s originally from Australia, and has a love of cricket and rugby. For those of you who don’t know, Australia and South Africa, which is my home country, are arch rivals in both of these sports, so Deeps, I’m really glad we didn’t get into that on our prep call. But what we did get into and what we’ll be talking about today, is the challenge of spotting exceptional people with the spark and the magic to significantly impact your company and who don’t necessarily fit the job brief or the job description. And who you – meaning an employer or hiring company – might be missing out on. The from left field candidates who you might not even be getting to see. So welcome Deeps.

 

Deeps Ramanathan  02:16

Great to be here, Debbie. Thank you for having us.

 

Debbie Goodman  02:19

Let’s talk a little bit about Degreed and what its unique vision and philosophy is about people and learning. 

 

Deeps Ramanathan  02:30

Well Degreed was born at a time when organization and individuals looked at learning as the development that you have through formal education primarily, right, you know. We’re talking 11, 12, 15 years, 13 years ago and when you think about, you know, how much we have transformed not just as individuals, but also through the technologies that we use every day, what you realize is that learning is core to pretty much everything that we do, right? We access new recipes on a weekly basis, right, to make something new and different. We learn about, you know, we are able to move from learning language A, language B and language C, all within weeks. If we’re not interested in something, we can move from learning something today to something completely different tomorrow, that no previous generation has been able to do. Technology has been the real enabler for that. So I say all that because the core mission of Degreed is founded on this notion of needing to jailbreak the degree. Jailbreaking the degree is really not about saying degrees are bad, that having a degree is bad. It’s really about saying, why do we when you ask someone what their educational qualifications are, even 20 years or 30 years of working, you go back to I have an MBA and Masters and right, because that’s a period of time that’s in a formal education, is equivalent to education, and your skills and your learning and your development. Whereas when you jailbreak the degree, what we’re actually saying is all skills and experiences that you have throughout your career, whether you are listening to this podcast and learning something new from this podcast, should be recognized, irrespective of the method that you learn from right? I could be with a friend in the kitchen, we actually did that over the weekend. You know, a friend came over and we made pasta together and you know, I learned new ways of making pasta. Now I learned a new skill and I actually applied that skill. But I’m not you know, not that I will become a chef in the future. But you know, but it is an interesting thing where I can build these skills, yet not be recognized for that. So Degreed’s ultimate mission is really to be able to help everyone get the recognition they deserve for the skills that they build outside of those times when you have those two to four year sort of degrees.

 

Debbie Goodman  05:04

Just on that, I mean, Jack Hammer, we’re an executive search firm, we take a look at people’s career paths and trajectories for them to get to their sort of executive or leadership level roles. And at one point, I was looking at tracking some data on the correlation between the degree that people have and the work that they end up doing. And there’s almost like no correlation, frankly, I mean, I look at myself or you, I have a law degree, I have never worked a day as a lawyer. But people still look at that as some kind of assessment credential on who I am and how I operate in the world, which is madness, quite frankly.

 

Deeps Ramanathan  05:40

I 100% agree with you, if you introduced me, as you know, an engineer, but I probably spent, you know, less than a year doing anything related to technology engineering, I quickly figured out that my strength was talking about the technology instead of actually building the technology. And so that became a, you know, self recognition and self reflection. And I found that through following those interests. I think what companies have the opportunity to do is, when you look at not only building the talent pipeline, you also need to look at the way in which talent needs to transform inside the organization as well. You have a lot of organizations that traditionally look at roles and job career paths and competencies that you follow. And, you know, I think in certain industries, that’s a necessity, right, you need to have certain qualifications, maybe it’s a heavy technical industry. But a lot of industries, you may find talent at, you know, different stages in their own career and development, but also throughout the organization, that may be willing to try something different, new and new, yet, you’re not able to understand whether or not that individual, for example, shows interest, is interested or give them an opportunity to put their hand up and say, hey, you know, I’m working sort of in a product team, but I’m really interested in being in sales, you know. How can I find my way into the sales organization. So you know, and that’s where the real talent pipeline, I think, for me, starts to formulate and build, and organizations need to be thinking more about that.

 

Debbie Goodman  07:19

There’s a massive conversation happening now around internal mobility. And because of the skill shortage, and certainly in the US, the fact that there are fewer and fewer accessible resources from a talent perspective. Granted, the’re a lot of layoffs now in the tech industry specifically, but you know, that’s a snapshot in time and still a small, tiny minority of the total working population. And we know that internal mobility training and upskilling is a key strategy for organizations to retain employees. But let’s switch the conversation to the other very interesting one we were having the other day, which is, on the one hand Degreed and other companies in the workplace learning space, they exist to help employees to grow, develop, fulfill their potential, acquire new skills, be acknowledged and accredited for those skills, so that there’s some kind of verification that they’ve acquired certain skills and capabilities, and can therefore impact the employer or some other new employer. But what about the top of the funnel, the spotting of those exceptional magical people the talent, and the the disservice that many companies do for themselves, in the filtering process, the screening out of talent, because they look at what does success look like too narrowly. So you had an interesting story about somebody that you were interviewing, or an anecdote that really depicted this the situation.

 

Deeps Ramanathan  08:46

People call it non traditional candidates. I just call it candidates, you know, you have candidates for a job. And the way in which you, you know, we’re starting to see a lot more companies start to remove certain requirements, for example, degree requirements, or, you know, I need x number of years for someone to be experienced to take on this role. You know, the effect of that is widens the pool, right, casts a wider net, but you need to be able to think about, you know, why you’re actually making these changes. And those changes are really about three things. One is we can find talent in many different places, but also with many different backgrounds and that diversity is really important to bring into organization. So we can’t underestimate the value of opening up the net, casting a wider net so we can bring that pool in. The second thing that’s interesting is, when you cast a wider net, you will find unique skill sets that you won’t find through those traditional channels. And, you know, I remember, you know, it’s sort of two halves of my life at Google. You know, I spent nine years at Google. And I still remember the first four years we had very stringent hiring practices around not just degree qualifications, but we would rank and rate the university that they went to and based (and with an extremely high bar) and so based on the university, not the program, not the course, not the bachelor’s degree, but the university itself, we would make a decision that this person is, you know, potentially going to be a top performer, a superstar versus, versus not. Firstly, you know, I think in this world that those judgments really don’t fly when you think about people making their way, you know, based on their own strengths, rather than having, you know, that experience in just because they had the chance to go to a top university. And so what we found was, as Google transformed its business towards doing more things around new areas, for example, building phones, or building hardware, we found that the pool of candidates, two things were happening, one, we were coming across the same pool of people over and over again, applying for different jobs across the company. But the second thing that happened was, we just couldn’t find the skills for the new types of strategic initiatives that the business was moving into. And so then you have this challenge, where, you know, what do you do? How do you how do you shift, you know, as an executive team, the call was made to be able to bring in, you know, not look at the degree requirement as a stringent requirement, we basically remove the degree requirement as being for, you know, for a lot of roles and made it more focused on the skill sets that people have had, you know, built over their career. And so, we would find great people, great talent, who’d worked 30 years in, in a particular in, in machining, for example, because we needed that type of skill set to join the workforce at Google. Traditionally, we wouldn’t have even been able to get to those individuals. So it opened up the pool of candidates, it also made the company much more effective and diverse, because we actually, third point, you end up having many different ideas circulating inside the company from different places, that actually makes the company much more successful. You know, that second four years ago was when Google really grew rapidly and accelerated. And I put a lot of that down to opening up, you know, casting that wider net.

 

Debbie Goodman  12:18

That’s a perfect, amazing case study for the transition that you’re speaking about, like dropping unnecessary requirements, because they really aren’t necessarily a measure of any kind of success, other than very specifically. And it’s all very well to look at that say, well, that’s a great example. What was it like from a mindset change, because you’d had all of these hiring managers who had been used to having this measure of this credential, that was one indicator as to whether they should include somebody in the even in the interview process? And kind of hanging on to that, as well. I see this all the time. I see companies that brief with us. And the first requirement on the shopping list of requirements is the degree requirement that has almost no bearing on why I often have to ask them, why does this person need to have this degree? And they often don’t give me very good, good reasons for it, I sometimes think it’s because let’s say for example, they have that type of degree and they rate themselves as being very smart, accomplished and successful. They think that only other people who also have that kind of degree, will be able to be successful, too. But what was it like from a mindset change perspective, within Google, at that time, when all of a sudden this thing that had been so important was now like, okay, that’s not important anymore.

 

Deeps Ramanathan  13:36

There’s a cultural side of this, right, which is, you get into Google, and you feel like, you know, you’re someone special, I’ll be honest with you, and it strokes, the ego, and a lot of people have, you know, this feeling that they are top of the world when they join Google. The issue with that is exactly what you said, which is you try to find people who went to the same alumni, right, the same group of people, you bumping into the same people over and over again. You try to bring people that you know, your connections are very tight based on the schools you went to. So you know, kind of that sort of brings in the same types of people. And we had to transform the entire process of the evaluation process during during interview. So what we did was, and it took us some time to actually recognize that not only changing the requirements to get into the door, and actually applying was important, but you need to change the process. You know, we used at least 7,8,9 interviews at Google, as painful as that is as candidate. It’s also unfair. You know, it’s unfair on, again from a accessibility and inequities and inequity side to that. So we maxed interviews out to 4. And so basically, it was 4 interviews and if we can’t find answers in 4 interviews, we’re not asking the right questions. So let’s go and relook at the questions we’re asking and make sure we shift the questions appropriately to the candidate, right. It’s not about your maybe your qualification as much as your skills and your experiences and speak more to the skill sets that you’ve gained over those years of working. So there’s a real mindset shift. But I think the process and systems need to shift first, to be able to have the mindsets change over time. It’s a closed group, and so the mindsets stay the same. And you end up not being able to sort of activate this new way of thinking. And you even think about, you know, a small story here, you know. I remember going through interviewing for a particular role, it was a product marketing manager role. And I had someone with a completely different background, who actually hadn’t graduated, but had built their own company and had started to build a company, someone very early in their career, but they were just so motivated. And during the interview, my initial impression was, you know, maybe they haven’t got enough experience to join, you know, they had worked in their own company for 3, 4 years, they hadn’t worked elsewhere. It was their own, it was the basically a garage sort of startup that they created. But then as I went through the interview, what I realized was, the individual had to sell for themselves, right, the whole bunch of skills around selling, they had to figure out how to actually package and price and develop the product, they had to understand, you know, what motivated customers what brought them into being able to sell this little product. So while they didn’t have any formal training, they didn’t understand maybe all the strategic frameworks about all the things that we learned at school, you know, what they did understand was real life experience in doing the work. We ended up hiring the individual and, you know and obviously, you know, she performed extremely well. But the truth is, it takes a minute to really undo your own thinking, and actually help yourself look at things from a different point of view and then act to sort of try to activate that across the business.

 

Debbie Goodman  17:12

I can, you know, certainly add to that countless examples of candidates that we managed to get through the initial filtering process, almost like by stroke of luck, because their credentials didn’t necessarily tick all the boxes. And so when our teams are out there scouring the markets for great talent, they are trying to look for certain markers around key requirements, are they likely to have the skills and capabilities to do a job. And what then happens is, you are not necessarily looking for the ancillary magic, the talent, the spark, you’re looking for ticking a few boxes, and so you’re naturally going to only see people who have sort of been a minimum key requirements. And so it’s less likely that you’re going to even at the top of the funnel have access to this potential talent that doesn’t have the bare minimum key criteria. And I’m always wondering, like, just for efficiency purposes, it’s kind of no way to open up any interview process or any screening process entirely. It’s just too unwieldy. And so there has to be some guardrails. Unfortunately, that does mean that the there are going to be some incredible people who are just never going to get in the door. And that’s kind of heartbreaking at times to think about who the gatekeepers are. And it is the gatekeepers, who, for one reason or another, will keep things either very open, or a little ajar or entirely closed. We know that the frontline people who are the very overworked talent managers who are doing this initial filtering, they just don’t have the time or capacity to do anything other than look for hitting the beats those key criteria. And so it takes almost like a stroke of luck, sometimes that to bring somebody who comes from left field into the process. When I used to interview for our company, we often would take people with no recruiting experience whatsoever, because that was you know, we couldn’t actually recruit people from our competitors because of non competes. And so the thing that I would look for was, I wanted to look for people who had this passion and talent for something else that they’d had to apply discipline to, and rigor to, combined with just their excitement about it. And so was usually somebody who had some esoteric hobby and goodness knows what. And it was a pretty good measure of it was a pretty good enough measure of success. Are there any examples that you’ve had of somehow through great luck being able to get somebody from left field into your orbit? Because I think there are listeners who are so frustrated at not being able to get their foot in the door somewhere?

 

Deeps Ramanathan  19:58

Yeah, I was listening the other day about, you know, these big tools that use AI essentially some sort of matching exercise where they find keywords, and they match and they push candidates through. And we know all the platforms there. But what’s interesting about that is someone said, in this in this conversation that was happening, you know, years ago, there used to be the advices, make your resume stand out, make it look different, make maybe printed in different font, or do something unique on the page. But you know, it’s fascinating now that we’ve now the advice is, in fact, do not do that. Because the technology, what makes sense of what you’re presenting, so make it very standard, and make it you know, what everyone else looks like. So this is, so even that just tells you, like, you know, we’re managing for efficiency and systems and not managing for the finding the magic or the, or the outliers, within that pool of candidates. And it’s hard that you, like you said, the bandwidth of people. I have one story that I think is really interesting, I was at Twitter, and we were looking for someone to take on a creative role on the team. So someone who can – a designer, essentially, to join the marketing team. We had been trying to find the right candidate, just skillset wise and you know, a mix of business and consumer background. This was a, it was an interesting role. And out of left field, and I typically don’t do this, but I was at a meetup event. And literally, it was marketing meetup. It wasn’t designed as it wasn’t anything. But this person had basically figured that going to this marketing meetup, which is outside of my particular skill domain, would be interesting just to see who’s there and have the conversations and start to learn more about marketing and all these things. So anyway, I met this person there. And in transit, gave details and, and then a week later, I interviewed her and a month or so later, we ended up hiring her to take on this designer role. Left field for two reasons. One, you know, the person went into a different field, and just put herself out there, right, she was looking for a role, she wanted to explore, she met new people. So I do think there’s a role even now, when everything’s remote, to actually now start to even use forums like conferences and meet ups and other tools to really try to introduce yourself for me. You know, the face to face, still meeting people, making connections, nothing, almost, we have to do more of that now, to be able to find the right talent that we previously because the tools that we’re using, like we said, you know, they’re they’re built for scale, right? They’re not built for actually, you know, true finding individuals. Finding the needle in the haystack, right? As we would say.

 

Debbie Goodman  22:55

Yeah, it’s for just gathering hey. Not to discredit anybody. But yes, they are efficiency tools, they work to a certain degree. But if I were to say to anybody who’s listening and who is at that point of going, Okay, I really want to either make a career change, or I want to get into a new area, or I’m just struggling to get in the door, continuing to just send your resume to companies and be in the pile of resumes that needs to be screened by some AI bot is not the answer here. It’s to do things differently. It’s to get in person at meetups, it’s to get on to webinars, it’s to network vigorously, it’s to leverage everything outside of the traditional way of sending a resume in order to connect with people so that people can actually so that interviewers, hiring managers, people in organizations can get a sense of who you are, because that’s really what we’re saying is how you again, get a sense of who a person is beyond the resume, in order that we can diversify and think differently about the kind of talent we want to bring in.

 

Deeps Ramanathan  23:56

You know, it’s not too dissimilar to internal mobility, right? Like, you know, if you think about it inside a company, you know, if you put yourself out there, you talk to different managers, you talk to different people in different teams, more often than not, they remember you when something’s coming, a role comes up, or they may actually create a role because you’re, you know, they know you. And we can’t do that that well, externally, but I actually believe we can now, but you just need to be patient, right? You need to realize that this could take a year, it could take some time. But you’re more than likely to find something that you’re really excited about and interested in. But, you know, taking these steps that you’re suggesting here, Debbie,

 

Debbie Goodman  24:37

You know, I think since people are working hybrid or remote, certainly that networking cross functionally, the incidental interactions of meeting people at a physical space, those have diminished. We’ve seen that one of the disadvantages of remote and hybrid work is that ability to engage outside of your own immediate team and that has been disadvantages to people who are wanting to move internally. But I think you know, there are certainly organizations who started to figure out ways for people to do that, even when they are remote or working in distributed teams. And people really need to take advantage of that. It’s effort. It’s showing up. It’s, as you say, patience, but those opportunities do exist. And hopefully, I mean, I’m just hoping that more and more leaders, the hiring managers, apply this mindset that you you know, you have probably because you’ve made these kinds of interesting career transitions yourself, where people shouldn’t need to stay in boxes and lanes for their entire lives and careers. Most don’t and how are we going to leverage like the full extent of people’s capabilities and skills and talents, particularly now we’re entering this new era of augmented by AI, that’s right on our doorstep, and things are going to be changing rapidly. So we could have a whole whole different session talking about that, which maybe we should schedule that sometime.

 

Deeps Ramanathan  26:03

Absolutely. I mean, I call it ARIA actually the phase that we’re in, you know, automation, robotics, internet of things and AI. And it’s a good way to remember like all of those pieces, going to dramatically affect pretty much every job that’s out there, every type that we have to do. So what you’re suggesting is just go back to being people, right.

 

Debbie Goodman  26:25

Let’s embrace our humanity while we still can.

 

Deeps Ramanathan  26:30

Absolutely. While we still can. If we look at the engagement stats not to bring it down or into it. But if you look at the engagement stats, when one when we move to fully remote or hybrid work, the employee engagement, there’s a recent poll by Gallup right, only 32% of people are actually engaged, right in fully engaged in their work. And there are actually about 17% that are actively disengaged, so you’re talking about a 50 of company that are actively disengaged, you’re talking another 50%, that are somewhere in the middle, maybe, maybe some days are better than others. And then this is the only by 30% of the company. So the internal mobility piece isn’t just about finding talent, improving productivity or performance, or it’s also about engagement, right? It’s also being able to say, look, we have paths for growth, we’ll give you meaningful development and feedback. And we have mechanisms for you not to have to look elsewhere, but to stay engaged inside of the business. You know, one of the things that when Degreed first launched, the first function that Degreed created was called the lifelong learning profile, and it still exists. And it’s still in use by 9, over 10 million of our users. And essentially, the lifelong learning profile is a place where you have all of the skills and experiences captured on your page. So if you think about the future, right, we have your resume or your CV, your LinkedIn profile, and then your skills profile. And so Degreed would be the place where you would find your skills, all the skills that you’ve developed over time. Why that is important, is when you think about internal mobility, and possibly transferring that profile to other companies, companies can then look at, hey, these, this individual going back to that initial conversation, has a set of skills. And let’s actually do skills based hiring, let’s actually look at people from a skills perspective, we have XYZ project coming up, who can I find inside my org, that can fit the skillsets that we need for that project or initiative. Companies, you know, the changes that we’re all going through, as you know, the world has gone through the last few years is, is putting so much pressure on companies. And then then you add this what I call ARIA, as I mentioned earlier, you know, you add that into it, and you realize that the change, we cannot keep pace with technological changes, but what we can do is change the practices internally around around looking at skills as the currency, rather than looking at defined job roles and hierarchies and some of the old ways that we used to think, and I you know, and so going back to your point around, you know, how do we keep up with all these changes? I think I think we need to really adapt the organization to adjust for it.

 

Debbie Goodman  29:32

Well, I think we probably have a sequel to this conversation coming up. And certainly the the AI piece is, is right on our doorstep right now. Every single conversation I’m having is like what is that going to mean for me for jobs for learning for etcetera. So part two, but for now, thank you so much Deeps. That’s been a fascinating time with you. Thank you for being here, and I’ll speak to you again soon. Bye now. 

 

Deeps Ramanathan  29:58

Thanks Debbie, appreciate it. 

 

Debbie Goodman  30:02

Thanks for hanging around all the way to the end, it would mean the world if you would rate and review On Work and Revolution on your favorite listening app. It helps people know that the show is worth listening to. And so I will really appreciate that. Thank you so much.

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