By Kristy Wendt
Wisconsin Engineer sits down with computer sciences student Xiaohan Shen to talk about the software he designed for EasyJobs, a one-click Chrome extension that autofills multiple job applications simultaneously.
Q: What gave you the idea to create an automatic way for interns to track job applications? Were you starting as an intern yourself?
A: That’s exactly how it started. Last year around October, Hankel Bao, co-founder and CTO of the company, and I were both looking for a summer internship for our junior year. I had completed an internship as a software engineer at Intel my sophomore year. Though I found the internship really rewarding in terms of improving my professional profile, we found that the process of applying for summer internships was getting harder from year to year. When we were just getting started, we were going to big job sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, Handshake, and applying to relevant openings. Once we applied, we were asked to fill out a long application form. Most of the application forms asked the same questions, but every company asks them in different ways. We ended up filling out what was essentially the same application a hundred times. Finding the opportunities was already hard enough, so this additional process was annoying. Instead of doing another internship, I decided to try to change that.
Q: Do you have success stories of EasyJobs users getting the internship they wanted?
A: Yes, a lot of them actually. In the past week, a little over 9,000 job applications were submitted through EasyJobs. One friend of mine submitted over 330 job applications last year with EasyJobs. Eventually, he secured a software engineer internship at Salesforce. He told me that EasyJobs’ job collections helped him find many relevant job openings on one page, and the autofill was a life-saver: he used to spend 15 minutes just on filling out every job application, and with EasyJobs, he rarely spent over 2 minutes on every job application. He thanked us for making his job search so much easier, and it made our day!
Q. How did you promote EasyJobs?
A: We promoted the site in multiple ways, with LinkedIn posts probably being the most effective. One of the first things we did was simplify the process for applicants using AI technology to classify jobs from multiple sites into job lists that are targeting a smaller group of people, eliminating the need for the applicant to jump between multiple sites when applying for a particular type of job. For example, we built one for the summer of 2023 for software engineer internships, so there’s a list of 300 jobs that are just for software engineer internships in the summer of 2023 for different companies.
Q. I think this is starting to answer a question that I would like you to elaborate more on, in that we’re all wondering what leads to an online application being plucked like a needle from a haystack from what may be hundreds received by an employer? Can AI really solve that?
A: Yes. AI can recognize specific features in the job description and the job title so that it can be targeted to the right people—the people who would find that kind of job interesting. At least in part, it’s the match between features of applicants and employers that increases the probability of an in-person interview. Not to deter from our main selling point for applicants, which is that we’ve built a Chrome extension that can autofill job applications in one click, and we are using AI technology to do that. It’s smart and accurate, which is why our users love us, because we save them time. What used to take 20 minutes takes one minute now.
Q: Yeah, I think what really appeals to me about your company is that for anyone who has applied to things online sight unseen, there’s a strong sense of sending it to an abyss. Your company seemingly puts some power back into the hands of the applicant.
A: Exactly. We know that recruiters use software in the form of application tracking systems (ATS’s) that use AI to look at every single application and the resumé of an applicant. Recruiter AI parses the resumé to tell if it is a good match for the job, but AI isn’t always very accurate in that process. It makes a lot of mistakes, so it filters out good candidates all the time. AI is filtering about ninety percent of the applications, and only about ten percent of online applications are ever making it to the eyes of a recruiter, which is why most of the job applications online nowadays just end up with no response or a rejection email months later. That doesn’t really help.
Q: (Laughing) I think the Badgers reading about this are mainly going to be wondering about how to avoid getting their online applications tossed by the robots.
A: That part is really about how you write your online resumé. Make sure your skills and experiences are an obvious match in your descriptions because AI technology is just scraping your words and comparing them to the key words in the description. It tries to compute similarity, so for example if you see “Python” as a desired skill set, but don’t put “Python” in your resumé, chances are your resumé won’t ever be seen.
Q. Is that part of the process still organic, or can your software help match what is written to what already may pre-exist in a listing somewhere?
A: We are working on that feature, and we have that in mind. Right now, how we solve it is by the numbers. For example, I have a friend who is a very good software engineer. He had two years of experience at ITENSE and he won the SAP Community Coding Challenge Series bronze medal, which makes him a very competitive candidate, and he wrote his resumé very well. Last application season, he sent out a total of 420 job applications. Out of those, only around 50 applications had a response. You can see how sometimes it is not about how you write the resumé. He was an international student, so he requires some kind of visa sponsorship, and a lot of companies don’t like that. What we noticed is that regardless of how good you are, it is really a numbers game. If you hand out a thousand job applications, chances are you will get ten interviews. If you are very good, but you fill out ten applications, you are not going to get ten interviews.
Q: I think that really speaks to the incredible value of what you’ve created. Is this the destination for you, do you think? Has coming up with this permanently altered your career trajectory?
A: It really started as a side project, this dream in mind that we would build a unicorn company. We don’t know that it is going to work out, but after trying very hard for half a year, we were able to fund the company in March from two angel investors, one of which is the current co-founder and ex-CTO of ZipRecruiter. He thinks there’s great potential in the way we are working out. We share that mission, and we are totally going into this, working on this in the next few years, turning this into an IPO company.