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Getting Results from Today's New Recruiting Tools

August 1, 1999
Related Topics: Candidate Sourcing, Featured Article
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Given how businesses everywhere increasingly find themselves swept into the online mainstream, it only makes sense that many human resources managers fear becoming floundering dinosaurs of the Information Age if they don’t use the Internet to tap into "deep pools" of qualified job candidates. Internet recruiting has indeed radically transformed the rules of the corporate recruiting game. One industry analyst firm predicts that by Y2K, some 96 percent of all U.S. companies will use the Internet for some or all of their recruiting activities. And in a world run by analyst firms, this might be reason enough for everyone to get connected.

But for all its glory and access speed, the new technology has yet to be fully embraced by every HR manager. In fact, many still cling to such traditional recruiting methods as print advertisements and job fairs, and for legitimate reasons, too—they usually work. And even though these managers are beginning to channel small chunks of money into online employment resources, they’re not always sure why they’re doing it other than because everybody else is doing it.

If you’re feeling creepy in the virtual frontier of banner ads and résumé spidering, you’re not alone. Most HR managers seem both to take the Internet seriously, and to suffer terrible pain over how to use it effectively for recruiting purposes.

Going online.
In the spring of 1999, Irvine, California-based Mazda North American Operations started using a new Internet recruiting strategy to fill jobs ranging from material handlers to accountants. In the past, the company posted openings both in newspaper ads and on Internet job boards, then painstakingly weeded through stacks of résumés to find qualified candidates—a fairly sound and often fruitful technique still used by many HR managers. But after reviewing the cost of print advertising and scrutinizing the quality of résumés from both print and the Net, Mazda decided to spend roughly 25 percent of this year’s recruiting budget on a new Internet recruiting service linked with a corporate Web page.

Although it’s still too early to compare the number and quality of this year’s job candidates to those of 1998, Mazda’s manager of workforce strategies, Allen J. Monicatti, says he’s already learned one thing—that corporate recruiting is rapidly finding a home on the Internet.

"What we found most appealing was its almost paperless process," Monicatti says. "We can put an ad on the Internet and communicate electronically with prospective candidates. It not only saves us time and money, but we’re learning that a lot more people are spending more time on the Internet than any other medium, and that means our turnaround time is much quicker compared to the traditional methods of recruiting."

It’s widely accepted that one of the best things about Internet recruiting is that the entire hiring process can be handled quickly and efficiently. And yes, there’s considerably less messy paperwork. But in real-world time, quicker doesn’t always guarantee better. At Mazda, even though a job posting on the Internet at noon can generate two hits by the end of lunch hour, "it doesn’t always mean the candidates are qualified," admits Marj Dischler, the company’s senior recruiting consultant. "They may lack the necessary job skills. Or they may be from out-of-state, and we’re not looking to relocate people. But at least we know we’re getting people to respond to our online job announcements."

Though Monicatti refuses to drop his entire print advertising budget in favor of the Net, he’s convinced that by Y2K the number of HR departments posting online job announcements will increase significantly—if for no other reason than because everybody else is doing it.

But not everyone is as smitten with the new technology as Monicatti and Dischler.

Brian Langston-Carter, senior vice president of fleet operations for the Los Angeles-based Princess Cruises, would rather hold on to tradition than take a chance on what he feels is still an untested medium. Even though his company recruits across international waters for positions ranging from waiters to blackjack dealers, it has yet to post one single job opening on the Internet.

"Sure, we’re looking at the Internet as an option for recruiting, but we first need to explore all the issues," Langston-Carter says. "You have to be careful about how much information you disseminate because what’s out there on the Internet is read by everyone, and we definitely don’t want to share our employment practices with our competitors."

Turn on, tune in, hire out.
According to "Networking ’98," a national survey conducted by JWT Specialized Communications, based in Los Angeles, human resources professionals perceive several advantages to Internet recruiting, including exposure to a large audience, the ability to target qualified applicants and quick turnaround.

More specifically, online recruiting efforts are perceived as typically less expensive and easier to manage than their print counterparts. They tend to generate faster responses from applicants, which can help shorten the hiring cycle, and databases can be searched with pre-screening options that help you eliminate résumés that clearly don’t fit your job profile. Many of today’s companies also use commercial recruitment sites such as Monster.com, JobOptions, Headhunter.NET and Hot Jobs, which offer faster and handier ways of posting and searching for jobs candidates.

"Internet recruiting is slowly becoming mainstream," says Tim Gibbon, president and CEO of JWT Specialized Communications. "It used to be something people would say, ‘Yeah for the cost I’ll try it.’ Now we’re seeing companies consider the Internet even before the traditional recruiting methods. Given the current state of low unemployment, the faster a company can engage an applicant via the Internet, the better its chances of hiring that person."

If you want average performers, you can place an ad in the newspaper. But the Michael Jordans of the world don't read want ads, and they don't post their resumes on the Internet.

Whether you’re driving traffic to your company’s career Web site or posting job openings with an online recruiting service, everything’s handled with the easy use of a few computer keystrokes and a Web browser. So why the reluctance on the part of some HR professionals to belly up to Internet recruiting? Could it be simply because they’re not up to speed? Or has the new medium, from a recruiter’s standpoint, failed to live up to its billing?

Neither. Both.

Some human resources managers fail to carefully consider what Internet recruiting truly requires before they set about entering the online market with their recruitment dollars. Certainly, recruiting online is a faster and more economical hiring process. Any authorized participant can move at Internet speed to advertise job openings, search résumé databases and schedule interviews.

But the increased volume of job applicants can cause a company headaches if it doesn’t maintain a tracking mechanism. And by the time HR managers weed through the large volume of e-mails and online résumés, "the good candidates have already been picked over. That’s how quickly things move on the Internet," says Dr. John Sullivan, professor of human resources at the College of Business at San Francisco State University (SFU). "Besides, a lot of résumés off the Internet tend to be dated or borrowed from other sources."

And although Internet recruiting is a cost-effective method of tapping a broader selection of applicants and targeting specific applicant groups, there’s still the nagging question of how one finds the "passive" job seeker—the person who’s not actively searching for a job and especially not on the Internet. "Getting people to leave a great job takes a totally different set of tools than what it takes to attract an average performer who’s posting his résumé on the Internet," says SFU’s Sullivan. If you want average performers, the low-hanging fruit, you can place a classified ad in the newspaper. But the Michael Jordans of the world don’t read want ads, and "they don’t post their résumés on the Internet."

Other potential problems with Internet recruiting include privacy and, as Sullivan already mentioned, outdated or over-picked résumés. "What everyone seems to be looking for is a quality service that can deliver candidates to help support a company’s recruiting lifecycle," adds Sullivan. "Yet if you look at the quality of the hire, which most companies don’t do, the really good candidates tend to come not from the Internet, but from employee referrals. The A players tend to know other A players."

Print classified-ad spending will continue to increase into the next century. Meanwhile, recruiters who spend $205 million online last year will spend $1.7 billion in 2003.

Even Tom Flood, vice president of business development for the Indianapolis-based recruiting service JobOptions, admits HR managers shouldn’t raise their expectations too high. "If someone came to me today and said, ‘I want to spend 100 percent of my company’s recruitment dollars on the Internet,’ I’d tell them to go someplace else, because right now you can only reach 10 to 20 percent of your company’s manpower needs."

Yet according to research by Sausalito, California-based Austin Knight Inc., a recruitment and employee communications firm, 93 percent of the companies surveyed say they expect to use the Internet more intensively for recruiting in the future. In another survey, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Forrester Researcher predicts that print-classified-ad spending will continue to increase into the next century, but will begin to drop in 2002. Meanwhile, recruiters who spent $105 million online last year, will spend some $1.7 billion in 2003.

Can 62 million North Americans who use the Internet all be wrong, especially when that number is expected to grow to 150 million by the year 2002? "There’s no other recruiting tool that’s had such a wide-range of opinions," says Joe Piotrowski, vice president of client services for San Pedro, California-based Wentworth Company Inc., a recruiting management firm. "A lot of companies don’t understand how they can use the Internet, or they have misconceptions about its value. You’d be surprised how many HR managers seem to be thirsty for somebody who’ll bring them a successful recruitment strategy, with or without the Internet."

Spawning strategies.
American Express (AE) seems to have found a healthy mix of recruiting strategies, one that has not only tripled the number of résumés received to roughly 3,500 per month, but improved candidate quality as well.

The makeover took place just over a year ago when the company launched a career Web site. Shortly thereafter, AE started tinkering with banners and job wraps, all the while continuing with its print advertising campaign, job fairs, and employee referral and campus recruitment programs. "We learned rather quickly that a lot of people are using the Internet as a potential source for recruitment," says Marietta Cozzi, the company’s vice president of staffing.

And not just for IT jobs, either. Even presidents and vice-presidents of small- to mid-sized companies responded to AE’s Internet recruiting efforts.

The company’s computer software allows it to scan résumés, sort by fields and track the results. For example, a person responding to a specific job requisition number gets shuttled via the digital superhighway to the appropriate recruiter. If a résumé comes in unsolicited, it goes into a database where it can be pulled at any time to fill a job vacancy.

The only glitch in an otherwise seamless mix of recruiting strategies has been pushing the company’s recruiters to get up to speed with the technology. "Some of our recruiters are very much into the Web, and that’s just the nature of who they are and what they do," says Louise Gandert, staffing specialist for American Express. "Others are more comfortable with traditional recruiting methods. As a company, we’re going to continue to use the Internet effectively and without hesitation."

To encourage recruiters to use the Web more consistently, Gandert began a program that rewards employees for making an offer via the Internet. She also mentions those who proffer online offers in the company newsletter, "just to keep their minds on the Internet as an important recruiting tool for the company."

Computer software can be used to compile a database that can be searched according to specifications set by the recruiting specialist, locate superior candidates, and rank them according to how well they meet the search criteria. "Recruiters should look for a system that is more than a résumé database, one that addresses the entire hiring process, starting from online job requisitions to organizational folders to detailed reporting capabilities," says Tom Marsh, director of marketing for the San Mateo, California-based HireSystems, a Web-based hiring management company.

Other ways to enhance use of the Internet include promoting and advertising your corporate Web site. One survey actually found a positive correlation between a company’s effectiveness in using the Internet to recruit, and its use of ads to promote their own Web site.

"You’d have to be a fool not to notice that more people are managing their careers online these days," says Brian Weis, president of RecruitersNetwork.com, a Milwaukee-based association of Internet recruiters. "It won’t be long before the Internet becomes the most powerful tool for recruiters everywhere."

Travel both roads.
Today, most companies that recruit over the Web are still relatively unsophisticated, says Steve Pollock, president of San Francisco-based career research firm WetFeet.com. "Above all else, HR managers and recruiters need to start leveraging the technology more effectively and aggressively to compete in today’s job market," he says.

Of course, the best path to finding qualified candidates is not so much a straight line, as a series of advances and retreats. If you’re not plugged in to the online employment world, make it a priority. No one’s suggesting you replace your current recruiting strategy entirely, but then no one’s suggesting you ignore it, either. It’s best to look beyond today’s trends and fully exploit the value of your own company’s online recruitment dollars, together with traditional recruiting methods.

Of course, recruiting using either traditional methods or the brave new world of online services still requires a human touch, says Margaret Watkins, founder of the Atlanta, Georgia-based Select Resources, an onsite recruitment management company. "Even raw data has to be converted through human intelligence," she points out. "A company’s pool of candidates has to come from somewhere and the Internet may be one source, but even those candidates need to be processed, and that’s difficult to do through an automated system. Most companies just aren’t equipped to handle the sheer overabundance of resources and materials. Most companies tend to forget they still have to convert raw data into developed candidates."

Workforce, August 1999, Vol. 78, No. 8, pp. 76-84.

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