MD Interview – Raphael Mokades

CEO interview with RARE Contextual Recruitment System1

Raphael Mokades is the founder and Managing Director of Rare, a multi award-winning diversity company. He has a first class degree from Oxford University and has written on business, sport and social issues for the Guardian, Times and Financial Times.

Rare employs thirty-seven people globally, and Rare’s Contextual Recruitment System (CRS) has been adopted by 60 top employers on two continents.

But it wasn’t always like this. Raphael started Rare in 2005 on his own, with no experience of recruitment or technology, no candidates, no clients, no systems and little else other than a desk in someone else’s office.

What a success story!

Can you explain how the Rare Contextual Recruitment System (CRS) works?

The Contextual Recruitment System (CRS) is a cutting-edge data service that helps organisations make better hiring decisions. It allows firms to see, at a glance, not just the achievements of candidates, but the context in which those achievements were gained.

The system measures two things; academic outperformance and disadvantage. We have developed an algorithm that measures outperformance and school quality. The algorithm is derived from a number of factors. These include; average grade or score achieved by Year 12 students at the school, the proportion of students meeting the requirements for a senior secondary certificate of education and the proportion of students being accepted to university. This combined with candidates’ responses to questions, asked as part of their application process, allows our clients to make more informed recruitment decisions.

A HSC score of 72 is arguably not a meaningful data point on its own. However, a HSC score of 72 from a school where the average was 47, and from a postcode with high levels of deprivation, clearly is. The contextual questions take into consideration several factors, including, time spent in care, eligibility for Centrelink income and whether or not the candidate grew up in an educationally or financially disadvantaged postcode.

The system helps firms identify gritty, resilient overachievers who despite facing some form of adversity throughout their lives have still managed to achieve fantastic grades. Essentially, the software gives employers an understanding of candidates’ real potential, matching academic achievement against social background and other non-traditional metrics.

What led you to develop this system?

I started Rare in 2005, to help level the playing field for overachievers from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the top jobs. Throughout the years, it became increasingly clear that a number of talented young graduates were failing to get through to interview stage on account of their academic attainment.

UK universities had been successfully contextualising applications for some time and it was a logical next step to move contextual data into the employment sphere. We launched the CRS in 2014, alongside our founding partner, Clifford Chance, to help organisations find those hidden gems that were otherwise being overlooked.

Our mission with the CRS was not just to open access to rewarding careers for people who have surmounted a challenging start in life, but to make their talents and drive accessible to the employers who need them.

Is there evidence to suggest the CRS will create a shift in unconscious bias and diversity in recruitment?

Contextual data can tell us a great deal more about a candidate’s initiative, resilience and intellectual potential than grades alone.

The result is life-changing for candidates: high achievers from disadvantaged backgrounds are 19% less likely than their more privileged peers to apply to top firms but, with the CRS, their chances of success on application increase by 50%.

The advantages of contextual screening are not limited to candidates. Our clients in the UK and Australia devote huge resources to their graduate schemes and the CRS gives them the confidence that they are hiring the most motivated and resilient people.

Jacob Rosenzweig, partner and MD at Boston Consulting Group, for example, is thrilled with the results of the firm’s partnership with Rare. BCG has now more than doubled the number of black graduates it recruits.

What would you say to those who believe corporate diversity is becoming a box-ticking exercise?

We have now been tracking candidates for 13 years and the employment arc of our earliest placements – who are now approaching the mid-career point – shows men and women from less privileged backgrounds forging ahead and demonstrating their value to employers. As the people we placed at the beginning of our history mature in their careers, we see the benefits of our proposition demonstrated again and again.

Employers also frequently comment that our candidates are generally more resilient than those sourced from conventional backgrounds, which is very important when persuading the likes of law firms (which make large upfront investments in their trainees) to recruit in this area.

The CRS does not discriminate against any candidate and simply puts achievement into context. The system helps firms identify the best applicants, whilst ensuring that their selection processes remain rigorous, continue to target excellence and are fair for all.

You launched CRS in the UK in 2014 and here in Australia in 2016. How have they compared?

The UK is arguably more advanced in the conversation on social mobility but Australia is certainly catching up. A barrier is, of course, the sheer size of Australia which makes physical outreach to candidates a challenge for employers. The good news is that many large employers in Australia recognise this and are making significant efforts to combat it.

What is the next step for the Rare CRS?

Contextual screening has been a resounding success, but there is more for us to do. A related area is unconscious bias – a neurological reaction to the unfamiliar.

Research suggests that some parts of the brain register increased activity when people are confronted by people from different backgrounds. We believe that these natural reactions have an impact on recruitment, especially when interviewers conclude that someone “isn’t the right fit”, or make other assumptions about how people seem, rather than how they are.

To combat this, we have a new training product in development, Hemisphere, which involves playing hiring managers a series of videos and voice recordings designed to make them more aware of unconscious bias, and to help them overcome it when they are interviewing. It’s in the testing phase but we are certain that our work to help both candidates and recruiters is about to take an exciting new direction.

If you’d like to find out more about Rare and implementing the CRS, please get in touch with Ayesha Burnett at Rare on