Putting Online Recruiting to Work

August 1, 1998
In the beginning, online job recruiting burst into our consciousness. It quickly begot an array of Web sites, each serving as a repository for resumes and job listings.

While venturing online seemed like a huge leap in efficiency, many human resources professionals have come to realize that electronic recruiting has done nothing to automate processes. It has simply been another way to link to applicants and mine resumes.

In that respect, online recruitment has been successful. To be sure, online sites such as CareerMosaic, The Monster Board, E.Span and the Online Career Center continue to prove valuable for many HR professionals. In many cases, they connect a company to applicants better than ads in print publications. But they still haven't solved how to reengineer recruiting to become less costly and more efficient. "By nature, recruiting is an incredibly difficult and inefficient process," states Reginald Barefield, executive director of Talent Resources at Humana Inc., a six million-member HMO headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky.

In fact, for many companies, adding an online component means getting buried by electronic resumes -- in addition to the flood of resumes sent via mail or fax. Even using resume scanning capabilities and sophisticated databases, the time and resources required to manage the process often produces only marginal gains.

"Today, companies have to use the Internet to remain competitive in the job market. The problem is that most don't have an integrated strategy," explains John Sumser, CEO of Internet Business Network, which publishes Electronic Recruiting News (

That's beginning to change. Thanks to more sophisticated computer programs, better databases and smart agent software, online recruiting is finally coming of age. Organizations that are able to combine the technological tools with a well-conceived business strategy are finding they're able to reap rewards they couldn't have imagined only a few years ago. Says Diane Tunick Morello, a research director at Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner Group: "The Internet can be a highly effective way to find candidates. Companies that understand the processes and manage them effectively are at an advantage."

But developing the right solution begins with an understanding of the capabilities of various electronic recruitment systems:

  • General Job Sites. All purpose job sites -- a.k.a. resume banks -- have proven a phenomenal success. According to Electronic Recruiting News, over 2,500 Web sites offer job postings. It's also estimated that there's more than 1.5 million resumes online. Many organizations use sites like E.Span, The Monster Board and CareerMosaic to complement existing recruiting strategies because general sites inexpensively and effectively post positions and trawl for resumes. Whereas the Sunday classifieds of the Los Angeles Times or Washington Post can run $1,000 or more per listing, the price online usually costs around $100 per month, per posting.

    Also, the Internet helps companies connect with potential employees. Says Pamela James, senior staffing director at Irvine, California-based Taco Bell Corp.: "The Web can extend your reach to people who didn't know about you or wouldn't normally think about you. It can help you find high quality applicants who almost certainly would have gone elsewhere."

    Yet general job sites do have a downside. High-visibility firms like Ford Motor Co. and The Coca-Cola Co. frequently find themselves inundated with resumes, while relatively unknown medium and small companies often see only minimal response from their job postings. "For many companies, it's a case of receiving resumes you don't want or not getting a volume of resumes to make it all worthwhile," says Sumser. Another problem: the amount of work involved in formatting and managing ads for various sites. "It can devour an HR department's time and resources. You wind up with many of the same inefficiencies of paper online," he points out.

    Some sites and services are beginning to address these problems. Junglee ( now offers the ability to automatically format job listings and content for various Web sites. Meanwhile, Restrac customers can now tap into CareerBuilder Network's ( job-postings and import information directly into a database. Finally, Hot Jobs ( has moved to a subscription-based model called Softshoe, in which the fee is partly based on results. The service offers the ability to add, edit and delete jobs instantly, and Web-based workflow to direct responses to a recruiter. For example, a hiring manager can click a button and view resumes submitted for a particular job, or search across a group of resumes for particular education or skills.

  • Specialized Job Sites. It's hardly surprising that as on-line tools have become more sophisticated, a greater array of offerings have become available. These days, most major newspapers offer classifieds on their Web sites, and in some instances, Web-based ads are offered free to anyone paying for a print ad.

    It doesn't stop there. Different services have popped up to address the needs of specific segments of the market, including temps and university students. For example, JOBTRAK ( is the largest online job listing service for college students. It offers upward of 40,000 listings, and is linked to 750 campuses in the United States. Advertising costs up to $395 for the ad to appear at all 750 career centers.

    "A growing number of sites are addressing specific market niches. It's important to understand which service can pro-vide the largest pool of qualified applicants," says Richard Johnson, president of Hot Jobs.

  • Your Company's Web Site. Listing positions on your company's Web site makes sense. Not only is it a way to publicize various jobs, it reminds those browsing the site that career opportunities exist and that they should keep you in mind. Best of all, there's no fee associated with advertising on your company's site. The downside? Only those who already know about your company are likely to view the job listings. "In many cases, you wind up getting resumes from people you aren't particularly interested in targeting," says Sumser.

  • Banner Ads. An increasingly popular way to attract attention is to purchase banner ads at job banks and recruiting sites on the Web. When a job surfer enters specific terms -- say HRMS or accounting -- your firm's ad pops up. Although it's a way to break through the clutter, it also can be costly. Depending on the site, banner ads can run from a few hundred dollars a month to several thousand, making it an approach more often used to create long-term name recognition rather than a way to fill an open position or two.

  • Smart Agents Searching the Web. It's so leading edge that only a handful of companies are currently using this technique. And unless you have the in-house IT expertise, you can pretty much forget it. However, smart agents -- sophisticated software that automatically search the Web for high-quality resumes and then slot them into a database -- might well represent the future of online recruiting. Some programs can extract e-mail addresses and send a potential job candidate news of an open position. "It saves money, it saves time, it delivers better candidates, and it automates a process that's incredibly inefficient," explains Humana's Barefield, the developer of the company's smart-agent software [see "Humana Takes Online Recruiting to a Hire Level," page 63]. The problem with traditional online recruiting, says Barefield, is that "everyone is hoping the one great resume will pop out of a stack of 50,000 or 100,000 sitting on a particular Web site. You ultimately wind up with recruiters who spend their time handling tasks rather than being proactive and strategic."

    Of course, putting all the pieces together is no easy task. Today, online recruiting involves more than individual tools and components. It's finding more efficient ways to collect resumes, manage data and automate processes. Indeed, how an online recruiting system integrates with an HRMS and with applicant database and workflow systems, such as Resumix, Restrac and Hot Jobs' Softshoe, goes a long way toward determining success. And, increasingly, such tight in-tegration is possible. Yet more than anything else, it's about adopting a well thought out strategy. Says Taco Bell's James: "The online world is merely a complement to traditional methods. The challenge is to tie it all together effectively."

Workforce, August 1998, Vol. 77, No. 8, pp. 73-76.