Sonru: Interviews and recruitment for the YouTube age

Edward Hendrick created Sonru based on his own experiences of long journeys for short interviews

Edward Hendrick: “I was travelling from my home in Wexford to Cork and Dublin for interviews that lasted just 20 minutes. That didn’t make sense . . . I had the idea of building a YouTube for the recruitment market.”

Edward Hendrick: “I was travelling from my home in Wexford to Cork and Dublin for interviews that lasted just 20 minutes. That didn’t make sense . . . I had the idea of building a YouTube for the recruitment market.”

Mon, Apr 7, 2014, 01:00

The Innovation Awards saw its own innovation this year with the introduction of a new dimension to the first-round judging process. Entrants were not only offered the opportunity to send in written entries but could also avail of the Sonru online video platform for their applications.

Enniscorthy-based Sonru won the Business Services category award at the 2013 Innovation Awards for its secure, low-cost, remote online interviewing service which offers a faster recruitment process at a significantly lower cost.

Sonru – the name comes from the Irish phrase “bí le sonrú” meaning “to stand out” – was established in 2007 by local man Edward Hendrick. It provides a smart, convenient and economical tool for remotely interviewing people online, focusing on making the interview process very simple and saving employers time and money.

Hendrick’s own job-hunting experiences inspired the invention. “I was travelling from my home in Wexford to Cork and Dublin for interviews that lasted just 20 minutes. That didn’t make sense,” he recalls. “That was around 2005 and Skype and YouTube were really taking off at that time and people were getting record deals as a result of videos they had put up on the web. I had the idea of building a YouTube for the recruitment market.”

The application works by replicating as closely as possible a normal early stage interview. Each employer’s account is tailored to look and feel as much like their own website as possible.

They log in in the same way as they would a Gmail account. After that they can create an interview by adding an introductory text or video giving candidates some background on the organisation and details of the post. They then set a closing date for candidates and add questions.

Applicants can then go online, familiarise themselves with the questions, and record a webcam video giving their responses. The videos can be viewed by the employer at any time and in any location.

The system is already in use by organisations such as Cern, Nestle, Apple, Sage, Schroders, Volvo and Paddy Power. Asda now uses it to recruit of volunteers to work on the British stages of this year’s Tour de France which are being sponsored by the company.

“InterTradeIreland had already used our solution for their Acumen graduate placement programme,” says Hendrick. “Last year they saw that it would make a good fit for the Innovation Awards judging process. Over 80 applicants out of an initial entry of more than 200 opted to complete an online video interview. The feedback afterwards was very positive with more than 70 per cent saying they would prefer an automated video interview to a phone interview in future.”

Positive experience
The judges also found it a positive experience. According to InterTradeIreland strategy and policy director Aidan Gough, it made a real difference to the process.

“It was really good and added a lot. It brings the applications to life. When they are written down on paper, they can appear for cold and technical, but when you see the person on a video it’s much more effective. The web-based interface made it very easy and convenient to use as well.”

He admits to not being convinced about the system before using it. “I have to confess to being a wee bit sceptical at first but it certainly added a lot to the process. You can see the product, the person, their passion and their ambition. You just can’t really get those things across properly on paper.”

Fellow judge and Science Foundation Ireland’s head of post-award programmes Marion Boland agrees that it can be an effective tool for applicants. “For those that did it well it was very effective. Where they planned it out and knew what they were going to say, it was very good. I’d be very much in favour of using the system for judging processes like this. It is a very useful technology for making an elevator pitch. It can really add value to an application.”

Not all applicants make such good use of it, however.

“You have to acknowledge that these are all very busy people trying to make time to put an entry together but that showed in some cases. People need guidance before making a video and they really need to sit back and plan out what they are going to say, where they are going to record it and so on. You can do yourself a great disservice if you don’t do those things, but if you do those things right, it can be a great way of getting a pitch over the line.”