Scott Dettman is the CEO of Avenica, an entry-level career-launching company focused on providing a better way to connect high-potential talent to meaningful career roles using data science, psychology, and empathy. We discuss ways to make entry-level hiring more efficient, the death of recruiting, and some controversial thoughts on talent.
Listen to the podcast here
Apply The Bezos Blueprint With Scott Dettman
My guest is Scott Dettman, the CEO of Avenica, an entry-level career-launching company focused on providing a better way to connect high-potential talent to meaningful career roles using data science, psychology, and a little bit of empathy. Scott, thanks for coming to the show.
Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
It is great to have you. Tell me a little bit about your journey. How did you get into recruitment and this whole concept of career launching and becoming the CEO of this company?
It all starts with how I grew up. I grew up in the city of Milwaukee, blue-collar. I had to work hard and find ways to open up doors to opportunity. I ended up playing football in college for a little while and came out of school. I graduated from college in 2009. That was not the best time in the world to be starting your career. I looked out and tried to match up what I had in my arsenal. It was a Political Science degree, with available career opportunities, which were few and far between.
I started applying like crazy and started getting rejected like crazy at the same time. There is a lot of that. I ended up getting one opportunity for an interview. I made my case, and it worked out. I can talk more about that. Through that process, it cemented in me this idea that people were looking at the words on my resume or what my degree said and not giving me a chance to tell my story. I felt like my story was compelling. I had a lot to offer, but I couldn’t get that message through it. It was frustrating. I had so much to say and nowhere to say it.
I am trying to start my career. I had that thought lingering in the back of my head for a while. I ended up going back to school, went to grad school, and started studying Data Science. While I was pursuing a PhD, ManpowerGroup, my largest human capital organization on the planet, reached out to me and said, “We collect all this data on people. We are helping them start careers, but we don’t know what to do with it. What are your thoughts? Come help us.” That introduced me to this world of a career in a formal sense, the human capital arena. That fixation with being able to tell your story and feeling like there were more than the lines on our resume started right after college when I was trying to open doors for myself.
That often happens to entrepreneurs. They realize that there is a need that they have that no one feels, and it turns out it is not. They are not the only ones. There are a lot of people out there. You can turn it into a business opportunity or a leadership opportunity. What happens? Did you join that company? How did you get to run Avenica in the end?
I started working in ManpowerGroup. I took the approach of being a learn-it-all versus a know-it-all. I started going and learning about different parts of the business. I started to work with people that had firsthand knowledge of how that operation worked. I got fascinated by the idea that this company existed to help connect people to economic opportunity. The power of work is compelling. I fell in love with that early on, my data science skills and predictive modeling using big data.
It was rare to be in that organization at that time. I became everybody’s favorite party trick. I got brought into every meeting. Even with things that didn’t apply to me, I got brought into meetings. People would be like, “What do you think? Do you want to add any data perspective, anything we could be looking at?” In launching my career, it was such a great opportunity to be in all of those different meetings and hear all those different perspectives.
I made my mark and had a couple of executives take notice of me. I’m a poor kid who grew up on the Southside of Milwaukee. In some ways, I have used that to my advantage. I don’t back down quickly when challenged. I remember one instance in particular with the COO of ManpowerGroup by the name of Darryl. He challenged me in a meeting. He frequently did this to people. He was intimidating and crazy smart. I stood up to him. I held my ground. He respected that. I caught his attention, and he took me under his wing.
Following that, I got put on this rocket ship where ManpowerGroup would put me in different opportunities, business lines, exposures, and experiences. I did that for the first several years I was there. It was awesome and rewarding. I had a lot of fun, but my real career there started when I left corporate.
I was in this corporate position. I was a part of every meeting and involved in all these strategic projects. It was great. It dawned on me that if I was ever going to do the things I wanted to do and make the impact I wanted to make, I had to get closer to the business. I had to get closer to where the action was happening. I talked to the CEO. The president at the time told them that. They were thrilled, and they were like, “That is exactly the right mindset. You should be thinking that way.”
My wife and I, when she was eight months pregnant at the time, packed up. We moved to Minnesota to take over a region that was struggling and started to try and run the business. It was my first real exposure to that. That was an experience in and of itself. That gave me that first entry into the specific world of launching careers because I had been on the periphery. I had been in these support and strategy roles, transformation roles, and stuff, which was great, but there is no replacing the benefit from getting kicked in the teeth out, in, out in like a field operation, going, selling, and working with candidates.
I did that for a couple of years and had a great deal of success. In doing that, I turned some heads and was identified by a group called University Ventures. They were looking for a CEO to come into an organization they had purchased and build a new organization on top of an existing framework. I wasn’t looking, but I jumped at the opportunity.
What does it mean launching carriers? How is it different from recruiting?
Recruiting operates from a demand perspective. You are a company that wants to add talent to your organization. I’m a recruiter. I go to you and say, “Tell me about the talent you want to add to your organization.” I try and find it. It is demand-oriented. We are going to try and find this individual or these skills. The way that people do that is they search for keywords, scanning resumes, and making cold calls. That is recruiting. That is 99% of people do.
What we do is operate on the inverse side of that. We are a supply-side talent launching platform. We start with the premise that there is potential out there that goes unnoticed. The potential is equally distributed, but the opportunity is not. We try to create this big net and get as many people coming in as possible.Potential is distributed equally, but opportunity is not. Click To Tweet
Through systems of automation, testing, and leveling, we start to do some filtering, matching, and putting the candidate in the driver’s seat. They are driving through the process, but we start with the supply side. Once we have our supply, we go out to the market and say, “What are some roles that these individuals could do? What is a career path? What is a career trajectory? How can we help them launch their careers?”
A lot of the talent we work with is people has a bachelor’s degree. I had Political Science, Philosophy, and English. The world tells them, “You can go to graduate school, or you can write the next great American novel.” They come to us, and they want to launch a career, but they don’t know what to do, where to go, or how to get there. We start there and launch them into hiring partners where they can make an impact. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes. I’m simplifying, but the biggest difference is recruiting is demand-oriented. What we do is supply-oriented.
How is the information different from the recruiter’s information that you gain from these people? Are you able to take their unique attributes into account that people are not looking for and combine them into something that people are looking for? How does it work?
There is a variety of things. At a basic level, if I’m a recruiter and I’m going to take a job description that describes a job that I may not well understand, I may not know what it takes to be successful in job X, Y, Z, but I’m going to take this job description, which is usually poorly written to be honest. I’m going to try and apply this to a set of skills or a type of person. I’m going to search for that person or those skills.
The only way to search for that is for those people that have those “skills” to have them listed on their resume somewhere or for them to be actively applying to the job that you are recruiting for. There is a whole lot of overlap, and luck has to take place for that process to work. It is narrowly tailored to specific words and places at specific times. You are missing 80% of the available population by doing it that way.
Where we differ is we are capturing people that have an interest in launching their careers. We start there. From there, we start to understand what are the themes, characteristics, attributes, and skillsets. We start to look at what are jobs careers people could launch into that have this and that cluster of skills. Sometimes what we find is that people don’t put things on their resume, but they do know how to do certain things.
One of my favorite examples is somebody who kept to the accounting books for a community theater they were part of. They didn’t realize they were doing financial accounting, but they had figured it out because it was important to them with this community theater. They had a History degree. They didn’t think they liked numbers, and they were analytical. They would have never been fit for anything based on the way they were telling their story for anything that was outside of being a historian.
By moving beyond those words in the way we talk about ourselves, or we should talk about ourselves, we open up this huge opportunity to understand people’s stories to get at what is beyond the lines on the resume. As I mentioned at the outset, I was a Political Science major, but I knew I could do more, and I had done more. I didn’t know how to fit that into a coherent one-page resume. Resumes are the worst business tool on the planet. Everyone agrees with that, but nobody is challenging it. That is what we are trying to do.
We first start with that bigger net. One of the keys in the early stages of a career is some basic thing. Unless you are talking about being a nurse, pharmacist, doctor, or engineer, a lot of the roles and jobs require interpersonal skills. They require people to show up on time, be kind, be problem solvers, and be good communicators, but we don’t have great ways to measure these things.
What we are trying to do is, through the process of them applying to work with us, we create these levels where it is microcosm opportunities for them to prove that they can do this. Let’s say we send them a link to a video they need to walk. We can test whether or not they watched the video. Did they watch it in its entirety? From that, we say, “What are the three salient things you learned from this interview?”
Find those and email those here. We measure how well they follow instructions. How well do they follow through? Were they watching closely enough to be able to glean salient points? How do they communicate those points? These are all little things that, taken together with the larger potential. By understanding this person’s story, you can start to paint a picture of their potential. We layer on our own proprietary assessments that help match culture and preference. We take all of that in combination. We get a much richer, better-informed picture of who this person is and what they might do versus what they have done before.
There is a bit fair bit of data science in there, as well as understanding how people present themselves, what they miss, how to glean it out of them, and how to organize this information. We can get a little bit deeper into this and your philosophy of how you are facilitating this process. I like to ask about the framework you have discovered. One of the things you mentioned was The Bezos Blueprint. Can you tell our readers a little bit about what that is and how it applies to your business?
I can’t take too much credit for that. It was a book I read. A big part of the way about my framework for managing a business or leading is all about three key things. It is always starting with people first. It is identifying the right people and seats. Who are the right people? There is a big focus on values and making sure that we are all pulling in the same direction and we believe in the same things.
Everyone is given different gifts. What you do with those gifts matters, and that is where your values shine brightest. How do you operate? If you are going to build a strong team, you need to have value alignment. I’m a data scientist by trade. Everything, for me, comes back to data. A lot of what I do is connected to the scientific method. Thinking about things in terms of, like, “Let’s create a hypothesis. Let’s do some observations. Let’s test and measure. Let’s always be looking for ways to prove ourselves wrong.”
One of the things that people often get wrong when they think about innovation or business is they are looking for the right answer. As a scientist, you find equal value in getting the wrong answer. One of the things that I have been successful at in my career is I have been willing to find the wrong answers until you get to the right one. The scientist in me is willing to celebrate a null finding.
Edison tested different filaments about 3,000 times. Every one of those fair tests stepped nearer to the ultimate goal.
Part of the way that connects back to people and values is not everybody likes to operate that way. You have to have a certain level of grit and tenacity to keep showing up and knowing that you are going to get knocked down. You are going to show up, get it wrong, and fail. I don’t know if it is a little bit crazy or what, but you need people that are not going to give up when it doesn’t succeed the first time.
I don’t believe that you solve any problem by finding the one right solution. Every solution is a combination of lots of failures that paved the way. Being willing to do that and operate that way is key. Part of the scientific method is observing things about the world and constructing an idea around what you are seeing and why it is happening, and being willing to test it, be wrong, and repeat that over.Don't give up when you don't succeed the first time. You can't solve any problem by finding only one solution. Click To Tweet
I observed this frustration of, “I can’t get my story up to the world. I can’t communicate through this vessel of a resume all of the potential that I have.” I applied for 400 jobs when I graduated college. I got one interview. I was 1 for 400. It wasn’t a great batting average, but that was frustrating for me. I was like, “Why is that?” I asked that question, and I created a hypothesis. You go from there but thinking like a scientist is incredibly valuable in business.
I share this experience. I once applied to 300 jobs. I got 2 interviews, but I only attended 1 because they hired me. It is a number game. You need to be willing to fail. It will step up and not despair. I want to ask you something that you told me that you like to ask people. I’m going to throw it back at you. What is the one thing that you disagree with most people on?
I get to ask people that question all the time. I rarely get asked that question myself. The one thing I disagree with most people on is I don’t believe in talent. What I mean by that is I believe we are all given gifts. Anybody that can shoot a basketball, paint a beautiful picture, play an instrument, sing a song, act in a play, or do anything great, anyone who does anything is able to do it because of the hours and hours of work that they have put in. Nobody wakes up one morning and goes and plays hockey in the NHL. It doesn’t happen.
We have romanticized this idea of overnight success, but the reality is there is no such thing as overnight success. What seems luck to other people, the people who are closest to it, identify it for what it is. It is maybe a joy that you get from something or a passion that is connected to a gift that manifests to the world as a talent. People use the word talent like it is something you didn’t have to work for. They were like, “You are talented.” I call nonsense on that.
I had an opportunity once to talk to the coach of Apolo Ohno. He was an Olympic speed skater. He won a bunch of gold medals. I remember asking him this question, “What makes Apolo different? Why does he win so much? Why does he win often?” I remember him saying something to the effect of, “There are hundreds of guys with his genetic composition.” That is part of it. It is hard to be an Olympic speed skater if you are 8 feet tall. It is not going to work that well. There is a gift component, but it is all about what you do with that. There are hundreds or thousands who have a similar genetic makeup, maybe even some that have a better makeup.
At the end of the day, it is the willingness to enjoy or find enjoyment and the pain of getting better. If you can lean into that, get better every day, and be addicted to it, that is what makes talent. From the time I was a little kid, I used to scribble something out in all of my folders and notebooks in school. Talent is an inch in the mile of success. Imagine a seven-year-old. What a weird kid I must have been. In my mind, it was always like, “You are born in certain ways. You got certain things. Stop obsessing about that. Figure out what you want to do, what you want to be, and go be it. Find ways to use your gifts or lack thereof as gifts.”
I have been through some challenging things in my life, but those have all made me better. Are those challenges, hindrances, or gifts in disguise? When we classify things as talent, we are telling the world this lie. There are some people that have it and some people that don’t. That is wrong, and it discourages too many people.
I’m working on a new book. One of the things I found in my research is that most companies develop their advantages by overcoming their constraints. One of the examples is Ingvar Kamprad, who founded IKEA. He lived on a farm. He was in the middle of nowhere. There was no market, nothing. He figured out that he could import some pans from Switzerland and sell it through a sales letter to people because he knew the sentiment. He could compare them to purchasing that stuff.
That sales letter that he started writing by hand and eventually turned into the most published document ever. They printed something like 3 million copies, or 30 million copies of the IKEA catalog eventually became one of the strengths of the company. The whole IKEA story is full of that. Every time there was an obstacle, they tried to fit this table into the car. They were frustrated. They broke off the leg. The frustration said, “Maybe we can make this modular.” They turned into this whole flat-back idea.
Constraints, and overcoming the concept create that competitive advantage that can prop a company forward and can make it unique. How does Avenica help unleash human potential? What do you guys do for people? If I’m looking for a job, is it the individual who is your customer or you are helping individuals, but your customers are the companies that hire those individuals? What do you do for people and how do you do that?
Our customer is the candidate, the job seeker, and the person with the potential. The benefactor of that potential is often a client or a hiring partner. That is who pays the bills. At the end of the day, our focus has to be on the candidate and unleashing their potential because when we unleash their potential, the benefit of that goes to the company that hired them.
The secret behind great companies is always great people. If you have the right people, anything becomes possible. You don’t get discouraged by the leg breaking off when you are trying to pack a table or a desk into a vehicle. Where we come into play is by taking individuals that perceive themselves a certain way. They think they got a skillset. They think they could do this and that.
They have a limited perspective on the world of work and what they might do. Through our scale and access to all different positions, companies, and employers, we can start to understand who is going to be better at one place versus another. You can have two people with similar skill profiles and backgrounds who have slightly different preferences. This is where some of the data science parts come in.
The preferences are what predict fit. The two different candidates have, can lead to either their success or failure at a different organization. If your preference is to be left alone and not have anybody bugging you, you are going to operate well in an organization that functions that way. If your preference is to have somebody checking in and making sure that every detail is right and giving you that constant reinforcement, you are going to want more of a micromanagement culture. You will thrive there. You don’t think of it as micromanagement. You think of it as a caring environment.
These are the things that would never show up on a resume and job description. It is the stuff that makes for a healthy match. If you think about people trying to find a romantic love, it is the little things, values, preferences, quirks, and idiosyncrasies that can make people work well together versus hair color, eye color, height, shoe size, or whatever qualifications you are using. It is those little things in those preferences and quirks that make all the difference. We only show potential by helping them tell it and helping connect them to an opportunity where they can do great things.
If someone would like to learn more, or maybe they are that person that feels like they are not living up to their potential in their job and they want to work with you, where can they reach you? How can they connect with you?
You can always go to Avenica.com. There is an avenue where you can go and reach out to us and connect with us. The secret is out now after I say this, but one of the things that even my team doesn’t always know is that any inbound emails that come from an external source come into our organization, which I have access to because I like to see who is reaching out to us. I like to make sure that we are following up, solving concerns, and responding fast enough. If I see anybody that reaches out to us that wants to learn more or work with us in some way, I check that every single day.
That is one way. We get lots of those. I do check them every day. Otherwise, hit us up on social media. We are active on TikTok and Instagram or connect with me on LinkedIn. I accept any invitation to connect. I’m always happy to learn from new people and meet people that are interested in unleashing their potential.
Scott, I enjoyed talking with you. Scott Dettman CEO of Avenica, an entry-level carrier launching company that helps people find the right job for their potential and, on the other side, helps employers to find those people that will not show up on the radar otherwise. That is awesome. Thanks for joining. Those of you reading, stay tuned because every week, I bring an exciting entrepreneur and CEO who will share some secrets with you.
- University Ventures
- The Bezos Blueprint
- TikTok – Avenica
- Instagram – Avenica
- LinkedIn – Avenica
- Pinnacle: Five Principles that Take Your Business to the Top of the Mountain