Jeff Gibson saw 200,000 service members transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce each year—and he saw an opportunity. Leveraging his own 10 years as a Navy SEAL, 15 years as a government recruiting contractor—and a hefty dose of artificial intelligence technology—the WashU Olin alumnus is streamlining the way veterans match their skills with employers.
Gibson—who received his WashU MBA in 2002 and cofounded the Olin Veterans Association—is one of the entrepreneurs behind Oplign, an online recruiting site that helps vets find prospective opportunities with a few mouse clicks based on regimented data associated with their military training and work assignments.
The company also helps clients such as Verizon—which Gibson says gets 500 applications each day from veterans—sift through the prospects to find candidates who truly match the qualifications for their various openings.
“They have no way of sorting through those in a reasonable manner,” Gibson said. He said their director of military hiring works with 20 recruiters, but they can’t see everybody. “It’s a way for them to improve their applicant experience. They can say why candidates are not qualified— or what they are qualified for.”
Gibson credits his time at Olin for opening the path for where he is today. “Olin led me to one step, which led me to another, which led me to another,
charting his path from the military to a Fortune 500 employer and then back to applying his skills as an entrepreneur focused on hiring vets.
Supply and demand for hiring
On the applicant side, Oplign (“opportunities align”) simplifies the process by inviting job seekers to walk through a few simple screens to enter their service information. For example, with a handful of clicks, a vet can indicate they served eight years in the Marines, achieving the rank of E5, with a “military occupation code” indicating logistics experience.
A few more clicks can highlight a service member’s security clearance, special training opportunities and other pertinent experience. Behind the scenes, Oplign uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to translate that vet’s military experience into the language of civilian employers—highlighting the skills and experience relevant to recruiters. In 60 seconds, the applicant is done. Job openings matching the vet’s skills appear on the screen.
“There are really only about 30 things the labor market thinks are important for accounting,” Gibson said. Meanwhile, Oplign’s algorithm identifies about 15 skills and experiences employers value when looking at HVAC technicians.
On the recruiting side, Oplign scrapes websites for job opportunities—and directly links to client sites such as Verizon, American Electric Power in the Ohio River Basin, Pike Electric, aviation companies such as MAG Aerospace and a small number of government contractors. That’s where Oplign generates its revenue.
“Companies can see instantly whether candidates are qualified,” he said.
Ready to break out in the industry?
Gibson said military hiring represents a $1 billion market—one Oplign is only beginning to tap. In its third year of operation, Gibson and his cofounders have bootstrapped the company, which has $1 million in annual revenue. “The first year, we were proving the tech. The second year, we started getting customers. The third year, we feel we’re about ready to break out,” Gibson said. “We just picked up some pretty big customers who like what we’re doing.”
The focus on military hiring derives from the experience of Gibson and his cofounders, all veterans. After serving as in Navy, he worked three years at 3M and felt the call to return to more direct work with the military after 9/11. He worked for a recruiting firm, fulfilling federal government hiring contracts by filling roles for agencies such as the Department of Defense, State Department, Drug Enforcement Agency and the CIA.
“The military hiring market is a good place for us to prove our system,” he said. “A military resume is even more confusing than a regular resume with all the acronyms.”
And while the resume is the currency job seekers barter for opportunities, Gibson sees it as a barrier his firm’s technology can sweep away.
“We’re trying to get rid of the resume. You spend so much time trying to put the right information there, tailoring it to each job—and leaving out so many other skills,” he said. “We pull information from the individual. We help them build their own online resume—one that’s important to the labor market, not one that they think is important.”
Pictured above: Jeff Gibson, MBA ’02, with his wife, Karen.