10 Questions with Rob Ellis of NotchUp.com

logo.pngWhen I first found out about NotchUp, a site that pays you to go on (relevant) interviews for potential employers. Seemed a little sketchy, but I set my own pre-conceived notions aside and signed up anyway. And I’m glad I did.

This time around our 10 Questions is with Rob Ellis, co-founder of the site. Enjoy!


1. Who are you and what is NotchUp?
My name is Rob Ellis, and I’m one of the founders of NotchUp. NotchUp is a website that connects hiring companies with professionals that aren’t necessarily looking for a new job. Where NotchUp differs from other job sites is that on NotchUp, professionals set an asking price, and then prospective employers pay professionals to interview.

2. The idea of convincing an employer to pay a candidate for an interview seems like it would take some real convincing. How are you handling this?
When we were designing this, I expected our initial company base would consist almost entirely of startups because the market for talent in that sector is very tight right now and any company that has a burn rate is going to do whatever it takes to hire good people fast. We figured that as we proved the concept, larger technology companies that have a reputation for doing things differently (i.e. Google) would take a risk on us and give it a try.It turns out that we’ve gotten a ton of interest from companies big and small, established and new, from a variety of market sectors (as well as from recruiters) all of who want to use NotchUp. Our model – just pay for interviews – no signup fees, monthly fees or commitments, has been a huge selling point for companies that want flexibility and results from the money they spend sourcing talent.

3. Obviously the biggest concern is going to be fraud (“Sure I’ll interview for a job I’m not interested in! I’m getting $500 to do so!”). How do you deal with this?
Fraud is something we’ve put a lot of thought into. There are three major factors that should help combat fraud on NotchUp.

First, everybody has a stats and feedback module on their profile – it lets prospective employers get a sense for the candidate. What do other companies think of them? How picky are they in accepting interviews? How often do they interview? This lets prospective employers decide who to make offers to, and who to ignore.

Second, we offer a money-back guarantee to the company (in which the candidate also doesn’t get paid) should the candidate lie on their resume, fail to show up for the interview, etc. This should be incentive for people to take every interview they accept seriously – as they won’t get paid if they don’t. Soon, we’ll give companies the option to make offers to interview that are contingent on the candidate passing a background check first.

The third factor has flown under the radar to date, but I think it may be most important – at any interview you take, you’re representing yourself. While you might go into the interview thinking “I’m in this for the money, so who cares about the interview”, you never know when you’ll run across the people sitting on the other side of the table or want to get a job at the company in question. Most communities tend to be small, word gets around, and I don’t know many people who would burn bridges and ruin their professional reputations for several hundred dollars.

4. Tell us about the feedback mechanism… as straightforward as it looks or is there more behind the scenes?
It’s relatively straightforward right now. Rather than make the decision for companies as to whether or not they should interview someone, we want to give them the data and let them decide for themselves.

I would compare our feedback mechanism to eBay’s reputation score – it helps you make a decision as to whether or not you want to do business with the person sitting on the other side of the table, but ultimately that decision lies with you, not eBay.

5. Your registration process has an integration with LinkedIn which makes it very fast to import your existing “online resume” rather than having to key it all in. Despite this great feature, how do you respond to the concerns over using this “external login” process?

To be honest, we’re not exactly trail blazers when it comes to the whole “external login” idea – lots of sites have been doing things like this for a while to great effect (for instance, Facebook lets you externally login to your personal email accounts to find your friends who are currently on the site). But to allay people’s concerns, we don’t store your username or password, and perhaps most importantly, the feature is optional – so for those who aren’t comfortable with it, they can copy and paste their LinkedIn profile into NotchUp without having to enter their LinkedIn username and password into NotchUp.

6. The site currently has little social function beyond the “Invite a Friend” feature. Do you expect/hope this will change over time?
To some extent, I expect it will. We don’t ever envision NotchUp becoming a social network – there are sites out there like Facebook and LinkedIn that have been working in the social networking space for years and do a really great job at it – plus I’m not sure how much demand there is for yet another social network.
That being said, what we really want to do is help people develop and advance their careers, and any social features that help our members do that we certainly will phase in over time.

7. How “protected” is my profile? It seems like my employer could easily find out that I’m looking for a new job.
When it comes to looking for a new job (no matter how passively you may be doing it), your privacy is paramount. That’s why we created NotchUpShield privacy protection, which gives you the tools to control your visibility on NotchUp.

We hide your name and contact details from companies using NotchUp until you accept an offer to interview with them, meaning your name won’t pop up while someone in your current company’s HR department is doing a search on NotchUp.

Of course, we realize that your current boss could probably look at your resume even if it doesn’t have your name on it and recognize it as yours. So we also give you the option to block any companies (including the one you currently work at) from knowing you’re on NotchUp or finding your profile. We carefully screen companies before we let them use NotchUp and link their accounts to their corporate email addresses, meaning you don’t need to worry about your boss signing up for NotchUp using his or her Gmail address and finding you that way.

If you want even more privacy, you can also choose to block third-party recruiters from finding your profile and make details on your profile generic as needed.

In short, you can ratchet your profile visibility up or down as your job status warrants it.

8. In a cluttered space like online job boards, this seems like a real way to add something new to the market. What’s the biggest challenge you face as you get started?

Because this is such a departure from the way things are currently done, there’s bound to be some skepticism as to whether companies will actually pay people to interview.

To date, the results have been incredibly encouraging – we just started letting companies get on the waiting list to join our pilot program one week ago. In the past seven days, well north of 500 companies (including most of the big technology companies) have put themselves on the list.

On the professional side, the results have been overwhelming – just keeping up with the traffic and growth has been our biggest challenge.

9. What do you not see your users doing much that you’d love them to use more often? What feature(s) would you just love to implement, if not for those pesky technology limits?
We’d love to make it so that when you update your profile somewhere else (be it Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, Plaxo or wherever), your NotchUp profile is automatically updated as well. A lot of people I know (myself included) belong to multiple social networks and at least one of their profiles is out of date at any given time. Fortunately, this seems to be what the web is moving towards and we hope it’s something we can add in the next year as we make the necessary deals and the right APIs become available.

10. Any parting words, or new upcoming features you’d like to share?
For parting words, there’s always “sign up for the site” :-).

I’m going to cop out on the new features part – we have a bunch in the pipeline, but we want to make sure they’re ready for prime time before we start hyping them.