Job Application Rejections Inspire Tech for Social Change

Photo: Jahanzaib Ansari

Written by Angela de Burger


The Adopting Common Measures program is highlighting key social purpose organizations across Canada and showcasing their impact and the progress they are making towards a more sustainable future for Canadians in keeping with Canada’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“How can I solve problems and help more people?” That’s the driving question in Jahanzaib Ansari’s life, the one that motivates him every day, to look at the world with fresh eyes and imagine what is possible.

On a mission for fair and equal opportunity

Jahanzaib is a co-founder and the CEO of Knockri, a social technology company (and pending  B-Corp) that develops software to reduce hiring bias, cut costs for employers and significantly improve a candidate’s experience during the hiring process. 

“I fell into this initially; I wasn’t intending to start a tech startup,” says Jahanzaib. He explains, “I was applying for jobs that I believed I was qualified for but not receiving any callbacks. After discussing the situation with a friend, Maaz Rana, he suggested I anglicise the name on my resume to see if it would make a difference. I tried it, and within six weeks I was offered a job.”

That experience sparked an idea for Jahanzaib, Maaz and another childhood friend of theirs, Faisal Ahmed (Machine Learning Engineer): creating an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered interview assessment tool for HR recruitment that would diminish systemic bias at scale and ensure a more diverse workforce.

After a week on the new job, Jahanzaib quit and this talented trio got together with an industrial organizational psychologist to create Knockri.


Levelling the playing field

They built Knockri from the ground-up with ethical AI and inclusivity in mind and it’s now a recognized leader in the field. The software offers a behavioural-based skills assessment tool for employers that’s deeply rooted in industrial-organisational psychology and machine learning. It can be used at scale, levelling the playing field for thousands of job applicants.

The name “Knockri” was inspired by two elements – the word itself, knockri, means job in Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. They also used it to suggest the concept of an applicant being able to “knock on the door” of a potential employer through this system.

“From Knockri’s earliest days we wanted it to create social impact; we knew that bias as a recruitment issue was a big challenge for people worldwide and we could help,” shares Jahanzaib. “We also have  impact-based investors and our discussions considered how we could affect change. From a global point of view, we are addressing several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – #5 Gender Equality, #8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, and #10 Reduced Inequalities,” he adds.


Metrics measurement and methods 

Determining metrics that allow Knockri to measure, track and assess their effect on global issues as well as their own social impact goals is an evolving process.

“One of the things that makes impact tracking tricky for us – but we’re working on it – is that our assessment sits within a company/organisation’s overall recruitment flow,” explains Jahanzaib. “They typically use an applicant tracking system (ATS) and the element we provide is only one part of their larger system. Since it’s the employer’s proprietary system and there are privacy laws with respect to applicant information, we don’t have full access to data from their system.”

The elements Knockri is working on being able to track (in order to determine their impact) ranges from items they have full control over, to working with employers to understand the effect Knockri’s solution has on the employer’s own key performance indicators. 

  • An item that falls within Knockri’s control, for example, is creating accessible technology and accommodations. They aim for the Knockri system to be accessible to all, ensuring they’re not creating further inequities in the hiring process. This includes factors such as taking into account people who use a screen reader or don’t have the ability to navigate the system with a mouse. The system also needs to be fully compliant with web content accessibility guidelines and any government-mandated accessibility requirements, and they are committed to providing a fully accessible system.
  • Working with employers, they are finding ways to track information such as whether using the Knockri system has reduced the time and cost it takes them to screen applicants, if there is more diversity represented on their candidate short lists, as well as how positively an applicant experiences that part of the hiring process.

The recruitment and selection stages of hiring are their priorities so they want to focus on measuring their impact in those areas; for example, whether BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) candidates are better represented in the hiring process.

“We have to be really clear about what we’re doing and why,” Jahanzaib notes. “Our impact tracking is a combination of local and global social impact, but there has to be a business need we’re addressing as well. Having that aspect in mind is extremely important. Knockri is helping employers reduce bias in the hiring process, lessen the time it takes to screen and shortlist employees for promotions, and plays a role in their succession planning.”

On a quarterly basis the leadership team reports to the board of directors on the results of their work, including the 4.7 out of 5 rating they have received from candidates about their experiences during the hiring process. On the employer side, they have worked with governments and report that the number of women and persons with disabilities candidates under consideration rose substantially through the use of their bias-reducing skills assessment tool.

“This company is here to create real change, solving business needs and social problems at the same time. It challenges us in the best of ways.”


Impacting personal and professional lives

“We’re learning from people all the time and refining our skills assessment tool as a result,” says Jahanzaib, adding, “At one point we heard from a single mother of two children who was trying to complete the assessment but she was regularly interrupted because one of her kids needed her. This was a challenge for her because at that time, the system was set up for an applicant to complete the assessment in one session. Based on her feedback, we added the ability for applicants to pause the session and come back to complete it later.”

“This may seem like a small thing but it’s a game-changer when you are attending to personal life needs and balancing the desire to thoughtfully complete a job application that is important to you,” observes Jahanzaib. “We want to support people in the recruitment process. If an applicant has to leave the session unfinished, it helps no one. With the “pause” option implemented, it’s better for both the applicant and the employer,” he concludes.


An issue for all Canadian social innovators: Patents and intellectual property

Along with technological innovation comes considerations about patents and protecting proprietary intellectual property (IP).

“Knockri owns one system and method patent for its core technology,” says Jahanzaib. “We have submitted a provisional patent application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as well as a Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application (an international patent system). We are currently determining in which countries we will seek protection for our invention and that process will be completed by December 2023.”

To date, Knockri has not leased their patent to others. However, the use of Knockri’s IP is available to customers through their Terms of Service agreements. 

Having their own IP differentiates Knockri from other solutions currently available in the market, helping them stand out when presenting their services to potential customers and investors. 


A community of social changemakers

The team at Knockri has a continuous learner mindset and welcomes the opportunity to partner when possible. They have worked with OCAD University (Ontario College of Art & Design University) in the areas of accessibility and design, as well as created a partnership with the Vector Institute, a not-for-profit that specialises in research on AI, machine and deep learning. The company also offers annual educational credits to staff members so they can upskill their topics of interest.


Every day brings an opportunity to be surprised

Knockri’s system currently operates in English, French and Spanish, but Jahanzaib can envision a day when additional languages will be available and that thought thrills him. “When I think about the impact we’re already having, and the larger impact we can make on a global level by reaching more candidates and employers through their preferred language, it’s exciting.”

He is continually inspired by messages from Knockri users themselves. “I recently read a message from a successful candidate who had applied at a particular company and chose to share their experience online. He said, ‘I chose to work at this company because they care about diversity and they’re showing it by using Knockri.’ That’s powerful. I couldn’t have been happier to read it.”

Jahanzaib and the team at Knockri keep moving forward, discovering where recruitment barriers exist and finding ways to navigate them. As for reaching their social impact goals – they are actively working towards them each and every day.