Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Jasmine Chen.
Jasmine Chen, Founder & CEO of the adaptive cognitive training (ACT) app and workplace wellness solution, Capsule. A former hedge fund investor, Jasmine applies a highly analytical frame to the topics core to work and life. Incorporating hundreds of scientific studies, Capsule takes your moods and provides problem-solving content, helping you manage stress and anxiety, improve work productivity, and build lasting relationships.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me! After Princeton, Harvard Business School, and years of investing, I was working at a hedge fund. My role was to analyze companies and industries to find untapped opportunities.
When I studied the mental health space, I found that what was common today–CBT and meditation–comprised less than 1% of our full wellness picture. We lacked a more holistic toolkit. For example, meditation can’t teach me to become a better partner or show me how to weigh difficult decisions. We were missing critical information on many topics that, if not managed well, all contribute to stress and anxiety.
When I studied the HR space, I saw executive coaching or workshops that were one-off. This created a lack of common language problems: If only some managers were trained, their feedback to untrained colleagues would fall on deaf ears.
Companies did host some company-wide training, but those came mostly in the form of once-a-year retreats. These are fun, but fail to create lasting change. Research shows we lose 80% of what we learn in a matter of days if not retrieved. We lacked consistent practice.
At the same time, I was discovering these problems, I was also experiencing a personal frustration. I and high-achieving peers were wasting precious mind-space on issues that affected performance. The problem seemed to be getting worse, judging by the spike in teen anxiety and depression.
So, I decided to use my hedge fund skill-set to research, analyze, and act on the problems that are core to our lives. At Capsule, we’ve made an app that helps you problem-solve with science, no fluffy platitudes. We also provide a team-based community and a company-wide solution to structurally change the way companies are set up to care for employee well-being.
Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career and what lesson you learned from that?
It’s pretty funny whenever I get compared to Billions character Wendy Rhoades (she’s a hedge fund in-house psychiatrist). I hate to admit that I don’t actually watch the show, but could certainly see how fast-paced professional atmospheres need it. At a hedge fund, you’re constantly being measured and have to keep emotions or mental heuristics from getting the best of you. My response is, “Yes that’s great, but Capsule is meant to make that support scale!”
Wonderful. Now let’s jump into the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill? Please share an example of each idea.
According to a Leadership IQ study done over 3 years involving 5,247 hiring managers, when new hires don’t work out, 89% of those failures are due to a lack of soft skills, not hard skills.
The top 5 ways in which people failed?
26% because they can’t accept feedback
23% because they’re unable to understand and manage emotions
17% because they lack the necessary motivation to excel
15% because they have the wrong temperament for the job
Lack of technical skills came in at #5, affecting only 11% of failures.
So, my tips are as follows.
1. Hire for soft skills.
Would you rather work with a competent jerk or a lovable fool? Amazingly, researchers took all the traits we use to describe personality and discovered a universal dimension of social cognition: that all these traits can be defined on a scale of warmth vs. competence.
Most would agree that jobs require a certain level of competence. So, these findings are situation-dependent. However, in general, research shows that warmth is judged more quickly, contributes more significantly to evaluations, and is perceived as more enduring and accurate. Warmth is weighted more heavily when assessing others, whereas competence is weighted more heavily when assessing ourselves.
I’ve made the mistake of hiring people who looked incredibly competent — great universities, resumes — but lacked these five skills to live up to potential.
2. Hire for those who can accept feedback.
Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman describes four “relationship ruining” attitudes. One of those four is defensiveness. In interviews, it helps to screen for humility and the ability to own one’s actions. In a situational interview, this could be as simple as asking someone about the last time they made a mistake. How did they handle it? If they acknowledged, apologized, and changed their behavior for the better, that’s great. Even the best CEOs have had to apologize to the public for all sorts of mistakes, from data breaches to product recalls. We’re never above taking responsibility.
3. Hire for those who can understand and manage emotions.
This includes being self-aware about how others perceive you. This could be asking, “Tell me about the last time someone was upset with you or vice versa. How did you manage that conflict?” Were they empathetic and understanding of the other person’s viewpoint? Could they calmly explain their point of view? Did they repair the situation?
4. Hire for those committed to your company’s mission.
Ask them why it personally resonates. Research shows that purpose is not only positive for our well-being; it’s actually a precursor for driving engagement and work performance. I’ve made the mistake of hiring people who didn’t quite understand the problem Capsule solves only to find that customer empathy is everything. Those who have experienced the problems we solve firsthand are not only personally dedicated: they can also best build for and sell to our customers.
5. Hire for a growth mindset and self-management skills.
You can’t micromanage every new hire or every ethical dilemma. The ability for employees to take ownership, whether that means researching best practices or anticipating risk, reduces downtime and supercharges progress. You could ask: “What did you do the last time you were given an unclear assignment and you had no idea how to proceed?” Or, see how well they self-manage by asking how they’ve organized and reached personal goals.
I’ve been asked: can you develop a growth mindset? 100%. I believe that’s part of what Capsule aims to do. Our curriculum begins with things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, cognitive distortions, learned helplessness/optimism, and growth mindset in order to prime people for proactive behaviors. However, self-management encompasses even more. We also teach people to manage their goals, values, decisions.
With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?
1. Attract with well-being initiatives for a strong employee net promoter score. 89% of workers at companies that support well-being initiatives are more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work. Most employees will attempt to do their homework before accepting an offer, asking friends or even strangers on LinkedIn what the experience is like on the inside.
2. Engage with internships. At Princeton and Harvard Business School, a handful of names were commonly thrown around. Those that were top of mind had gained name recognition with internships. They came to campus to interview every year for summer-long or even spring break one-week programs, even if offers weren’t ultimately given. They used interviews to showcase brand and culture.
Offering opportunities also equalizes the playing field for less traditional candidates to gain valuable exposure. Coming from Iowa, I knew I wanted to experience fields and cities that aren’t available in the Midwest. At Princeton, I worked every break and part time role I could find, from DC to NYC. By the time I got to the hedge fund, I’d gotten the lay of the finance landscape.
3. Broaden your search. Some firms that only recruit from certain companies or schools are missing out on an incredible pool of talent in other areas. Perhaps a talented individual accepted a full-ride scholarship to an in-state school instead of taking out loans to attend a brand-name one. Perhaps another wants to work remotely or part-time because they have to care for family members. Consider whether the role you’re looking for requires someone to be in the office or from a certain background. Hire for what you really need.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Capsule’s mission is common emotional literacy and management across generations and geographies. Get Capsule when you’re 18, and prevent a school dropout. One of our college-age users found that our program helped her move from a failing grade in Chemistry to finishing the year with honors. Keep Capsule through your first job, and double productivity with mental fortitude and relationship skills. Teams that use us find that the program not only therapeutic but also helps problem solve on the fly. Use Capsule through parenthood, and receive parenting-specific content. Share Capsule with your spouse, and work through conflicts before they escalate to divorce. Each phase in life, we’re here to grow with and support you.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” — Arthur Ashe
Ashe grew up in a time of segregation. Such institutionalized racism can be age-old and seemingly impossible to change, but as one individual, he did what he could to lead a movement. He made historic wins at the US Open and Wimbledon. And, after being diagnosed with AIDS, he gave what he last could, establishing foundations and institutes for health.
By definition, startups that are trying to put something new into the world face an uphill battle against the status quo. Whoever thought we would be getting into other people’s cars, or staying in other people’s homes? Norms and institutions forbade it, but the uphill battle was won.
At a startup, it can feel like you’re never moving fast enough. You’re keenly aware that you are a blip in the stratosphere compared to blue chip companies. But, it’s key to remember that every single one of those successful companies started from one individual. And those individuals started right where they were: in a dorm room, in a garage, in a rural village. They used what limited funding they had. They did what little they could. I try to keep that fresh perspective when things feel impossible: I’m just doing what I can, with what I have, right here, right now.
We are very blessed to have some of the biggest names in Business, VC, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?
Melinda Gates. She’s a pioneer for women in STEM and I have so much respect for how she’s created a platform for good. I loved reading that her dad was an Apollo-program engineer, and her book titled The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World had to do with the point of spacecraft take-off. What a beautiful tie-in, and one that aligns well with Capsule’s space theme!
Thank you so much for sharing these valuable insights!