‘The biggest mistake was setting an unrealistic timeline – it was an epic fail’

18 Feb 2020

Jennifer Sethre. Image: Intry

Jennifer Sethre of Intry discusses the world of HR tech, starting her own business, and how rushing a product launch taught her a valuable lesson.

Jennifer Sethre is the founder and CEO of Texas-based business Intry, which has created a CV optimisation site that uses cognitive AI to aid in the hiring process.

Sethre has held roles as president, VP and CEO of multiple technology and consumer product companies prior to launching Intry.

‘We exposed a lot of cracks in the hiring process that I’ve faced when running companies’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am the founder and CEO of Intry, an HR tech start-up that bridges the gap between the job seeker and the employer. We want to make the process of applying for jobs easier by helping candidates navigate through ATS [applicant tracking software] systems.

We know that ATS systems can filter out qualified candidates, so our platform helps job seekers get their applications through and makes sure they apply for jobs that are a good fit.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I try to tackle the items that I don’t want to deal with first. If I do that, then the rest of my day has a better, stronger, more positive energy to it. And honestly, I’m much more productive when I get the items I’m dreading out of the way, rather than trying to ignore them.

I also try to remember that not everything is an emergency and not everything has to happen right away. I’ll admit that as a person with a high bias to action, this is something I work to improve every day because I’ve found that my unnecessary urgency can sometimes create unintended negative consequences.

Finally, I try to take five to 10 minutes each day to breathe, to be grateful for where I am, and to feel the joy and the freedom that comes from building a company from the ground up.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector, and how are you tackling them?

Most people have no idea what they are up against when they start looking for a job. They may be the best person for the job, but if they make common mistakes in their resumé, then the applicant tracking systems will kick them out before a hiring manager even knows they exist.

We teach them how to avoid those pitfalls and help make those changes, but the learning process requires changes from both sides.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

There are three:

  1. People looking for jobs but can’t get an interview
  2. People who have jobs but aren’t happy
  3. Companies who assist people in their search for a job
What set you on the road to where you are now?

This journey started when an intern working on his senior thesis asked for my help. In the process of helping him work out the business he wanted to build, we exposed a lot of cracks in the hiring process that I’ve faced when running companies.

I have always tried to hire people that would fit in with the company culture. If they didn’t, it usually ended poorly, causing internal communication issues, missed deadlines and fractured, inefficient teamwork. I thought if we could connect skills with culture, it would be a huge win.

Together with the intern, I uncovered the issues people face when putting resumés together, which, to be honest, before that time, I had no idea existed. We realised qualified candidates didn’t always (or even often) get their resumés read. These conversations essentially led to the birth of Intry.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

The biggest mistake was setting an unrealistic timeline in the beginning and pushing people to deliver the impossible. We missed deadlines, beta-launched a sub-par product and it was an epic fail. Never again.

I learned to slow down, take my time with the product, and that it’s worth delivering something truly incredibly – even if it takes longer.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Lead by example. And, no matter what, be positive even when things are looking dark. Part of being a leader is finding your way out of challenging situations and bringing your team with you.

I would also add that it’s really important to know the people you hire. Take the time to get to know people, understand their strengths and weaknesses, ask what they value in life and at work, and acknowledge when they’ve done something well, not only when they make a mistake or things go sideways.

Your team is the heartbeat of your company. One person can’t do it alone indefinitely. And lastly, be kind.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

There are two answers to that question. I think in the HR space in corporate America, there is a good representation of women in leadership positions. However, in the entrepreneurship area of HR technology, I don’t think there are as many women. It’s a tough space.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

I have been blessed to have many mentors, and I don’t know anyone who has risen in life or their careers without standing on the shoulders of others. Much of success is a result of others lending a hand, giving advice, a job or a promotion, or telling you what you don’t want to hear.

Early on in my career, I was selling television advertising and going to school full time. I was 19, my dad had pancreatic cancer, I had zero idea what I was doing, and I needed a job because there was no more money to pay for college.

When I asked why I got the job, my boss laughed and said: ‘“Because you had no fear. You did the research, you came in prepared.”

So now, when I face some tough times or difficult decisions, I think, what would my 19-year-old self do? And then I do that!

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Books are truly my salvation and I read almost a book a week. It gives my brain a chance to slow down and reflect on challenges and opportunities.

The non-fiction books I’d recommend are:

  • How Life Imitates Chess [Garry Kasparov]
  • Crucial Conversations [Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler]
  • The Invisible Thread [Alex Tresniowski and Laura Schroff]

And fiction:

  • The Lost Letter [Jillian Cantor]
  • American Dirt [Jeanine Cummins]
  • The Guest Book [Sarah Blake]
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

An amazing team. Closely followed by a whiteboard, Slack, Intercom, LogRocket and email.

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