Workforce.com

Thumbs Up for Staffing Web Sites

October 1, 1997
Scott L. Ofstead is used to hiring temporary help. As human resources director at Minneapolis-based Network Management Services (NMS), he often brings in data-entry workers with extensive knowledge of Microsoft¨ Excel. The job, he explains, requires accuracy and attention to detail about the employee-benefits industry. For example, the temps are required to transfer health-plan performance and financial data from company proposals to comparison spreadsheets. Getting the right temps, therefore, requires finding the right staffing agency. In the past, Ofstead expected to spend hours interviewing various staffing agency account executives. Then along came the Internet.

"More and more, the Internet will become a popular means of streamlining purchasing and other decisions," he says. "That's why I went exploring and found a tremendous amount of information out there in places I hadn't thought to look."

As Ofstead and other human resources managers are discovering, the Internet can be a smart, time-saving assistant. By exploring staffing agencies' Web sites, HR can screen prospective partners and pick up industry forecasts and career development tools along the way. But the information won't be served on a silver platter. You'll still have to "work the Web" with patience and skill, learning how to surf your way through each specific Web site. Some are circular. Others are linear. They also vary in their user-friendliness and emphasis; some target information more to job seekers than to HR staffing professionals. But with persistence, you can learn something from each one-provided you allot the time to reap the benefits.

To help you along, I visited several staffing agency sites. In turn, I asked Ofstead and other HR professionals to do the same. What follows is a summary of our impressions-positive and negative-and some practical tips on getting the most out of your visits. Consider it a practical guide for navigating your way through the contingent-staffing cybermaze. There's plenty of information to help you evaluate which staffing agency is best for you: company histories, news releases, job postings, employee benefits, industry trends, global locators, listings of services provided, corporate alliances and more. At the very least, you can judge the scope of an agency by what it offers on the World Wide Web.

Stop and smell the homepages. Think of the last time you arrived in a new city. All you had in your hand was a map and a cap brimming with curiosity. Even though you're actually sitting at your familiar desk, pretend you're embarking on a journey. The staffing agency's homepage is like the concierge desk of a well-equipped hotel. It's where you first get your bearings. It's also the safest place to return when you get lost. By the way, keep a notebook and pencil handy to jot down useful tidbits and to record your itinerary in cyberspace. Here's a word of caution: Several users have complained that some Web sites were too confusing in that they couldn't remember how they'd hopped from one link to another. Most homepages, however, should provide you with easy-to-read basics. At Milwaukee-based Manpower's Web site (www.man power.com), HR managers can learn about the company by perusing its electronic press releases, which list the agency's awards, a shareholders' report and a list of its corporate alliances. Orange, California-based Volt Information Services Inc. (www.volt.com) also posts shareholders' letters and news about the company's recent acquisitions and other business divisions. Such information can help you evaluate the public credibility and reputation of a particular agency.

At Redwood City, California-based Adecco International's Web homepage (www.adecco.com), you'll be greeted immediately by a friendly image that tells you that Adecco is a global staffing agency. If you're looking for temporary global employees, you'll know you've come to the right place. Most Web site homepages include company backgrounds. At Adecco, one can click the icon called "Corporate History" to learn more about its history. If you're not satisfied with the online version of its corporate history, you have another option. Click the icons called "Annual Report." They'll direct you to information in English, Fran ais and Deutsch. Clearly, this agency recognizes that the Internet can reach customers at any time or place in the world.

In addition, one of Adecco's related links is "Worldwide Locator," from which HR staffing managers can see where the agency has offices around the world. Other staffing agencies may also claim to be global but they don't have as extensive a list of job postings, global locators and information pertaining to countries other than the United States. You needn't write them off. Make a follow-up phone call, fax a letter or e-mail the Web master for more information.

In general, homepages should be simple and appropriately labeled so you can go to the link tailored to your specific interests. Most staffing agencies' Web sites seem to be geared toward job seekers. Few have first-level links that scream "HR." That doesn't mean the site won't be useful to you, so don't sign off yet. It takes time to get used to the content and design of each site.

Visit each link. Get the lay of the land. Although many staffing agencies' Web sites are aimed at the job seeker, HR can still learn a lot by clicking to those pages. For example, at Manpower's site, the agency has created links to explain its process for interviewing, testing and training job seekers. By viewing such information, you can learn what kind of employment standards Manpower applies to its job-seeking clients. In terms of testing, the Web site claims that Manpower is the only staffing and employment service that validates its testing. It does so by establishing the same validity, reliability and fairness standards identified by such organizations as the American Psychological Association, the American Educational Research Association and the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures published by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

At Office Team's site (www.office team.com), you can click to "Career Corner," which is designed to attract job seekers. But once you arrive at that page, you'll be pleased to find useful information for HR professionals as well.

Among the options are: "Career News" (with recent press releases about the temp industry); "Key Findings from a 1997 Salary Guide"; "How To Write a Resume"; and "Career Management Books," such as "Staffing Europe"-clearly beneficial to global staffing managers.

Sometimes, however, a Web site may not include all the information you expect. For example, one reviewer said he was frustrated because the Web site's search engines don't allow the user to search by Canadian cities although they were listed on the electronic page. "In the benefits section, there was no list of Canadian benefits and Canadian discounts." In such situations, I recommend sending an e-mail to the Web master requesting further information.

At Cleveland-based Management Recruiters Inc.'s Web site (www.mrinet.com), you can click onto a section called "ConferView-Video Conferencing Center." There you'll find a list of 250 sites in the United States and England where face-to-face meetings and interviews can be conducted between employers and job seekers.

At the very least, you can use the amount of global Web content to measure how useful an agency might be for your overseas needs. After all, the Internet has no geographical boundaries or time zones. If there's any place for a company to flaunt its global services, it's on the Internet. And again, by sending an e-mail to the Web master, you can help influence and improve the content that's provided to you.

What you see isn't all you get. As you also begin to rely on the Internet for news (see Melville, New York-based Olsten Corporation's Web site at www. olsten.com), research, communication, purchasing and hiring practices, keep one thing in mind: the World Wide Web is in constant flux. What you see today could be gone tomorrow. And what's limited today could be limitless tomorrow.

The bottom line? With less time on your hands and the pressure of finding qualified temporary help, the Internet still can be a time-saving ally. Most staffing agencies with sites on the World Wide Web are just beginning to master the art of marketing their services in this new medium. In most cases, the job seeker is the prime audience. But some agencies, such as Adecco, have begun to address the practical interests of the employer client as well. For example, from the homepage, the user can click to "U.S." and then to "Information for Staffing Professionals," whereby you'll see "Adecco HR Central." Upon entering that page, you can select any of three choices: "HR from A-Z" (for job seekers, employee benefits, HR publications/associations, government, testing/hiring and miscellaneous employment information); "HR Update" (monthly newsletters with laws, trends and tips); and "HR Issues" (articles on "Today's Worker," "Salary News," "Employment Equity" and "Family Support Programs").

Says Ofstead: "Adecco's information for HR professionals is amazing. There's everything from job opportunities to salary surveys and material about how to attract the employee of the '90s. [Visiting staffing agencies' Web sites] was a great learning experience for me. I looked for information that I could use in making a decision about which service to hire."

Clearly, your colleagues and I strongly encourage you to visit these Web sites. What may start out as a frustrating experience is usually a matter of aligning one's expectations and cyberskills with the design of a particular site. Your persistence will pay off.

Workforce, October 1997, Vol. 76, No. 10, pp. 67-72.