Tech-savvy recruitment process outsourcing providers have landed solidly in the driver's seat, thanks to the fact that they're the ones who've kept on top of what's new and efficient in recruiting technology during the past three years. As companies emerge from the economic downturn, they're generally turning to RPOs whose expertise never lagged, rather than try to play catch-up with a technology that has been changing at a mind-boggling speed. But it has hardly been a walk in the park, even for companies with their fingers planted firmly on the technology pulse. Almost full-time vigilance has been necessary, just to keep up with constantly developing sourcing and recruiting technology. RPO leaders with any sort of track record are holding onto their seats, blown away by how rapidly the industry is evolving. “It's amazing to me, and I've been recruiting for 20-plus years, how fast it changes,” says Terry Terhark, CEO of the Findlay, Ohio-based RPO firm the RightThing, which released its system, called the RightThingRecruit, for stand-alone sales in June. “The first 10 years it was all driven by paper. The fax came along, and I thought that was totally reinventing recruiting. Then came the Internet and databasing and all these wonderful things. But over the past couple of years, the speed at which things are changing has been phenomenal.” RPO companies have been quick to separate the wheat from the chaff and embrace new software and devices that allow them to do their jobs better. From adopting platform technologies, such as applicant tracking systems, to getting “liked” on Facebook, they're using the latest to their best advantage. “The RPO industry is all about being efficient and doing more work with less people,” says Robert Schulte, president of myStaffingPro, a Lima, Ohio-based maker of applicant tracking software. “That's how they can drive the prices down, and a big part of that is technology.” For human resources departments today, the most basic technology software comes down to two things: having an applicant tracking system, or ATS, and a customer/candidate relationship management, or CRM, system. Both allow integration with each other and with websites, as well as configurations to suit different sets of goals. “ATS and CRM are really your backbone,” says Jim McCoy, vice president of solutions for ManpowerGroup Solutions, the RPO software division of Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup. ATS has been around since before the Internet, when résumés were manually loaded into a database. Now the software serves multiple purposes, including storehousing information and résumés from applicants and potential candidates, and scheduling interviews and performing follow-up. Hiring information is tracked to comply with Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs regulations or similar rules in other countries. Interactions of any sort are tracked, including topics covered in conversation. Responses to inquiries are immediate and automatic. “With technology and an ATS, it builds a better communication tool,” says Tino Langner, technology director at WorldConcert, a Chicago-based RPO. “People used to complain that they sent in a résumé, and they never heard back. It was just impossible to respond to everybody. With technology you can actually do that.” The purpose of CRM is to launch job postings and job descriptions across multiple job boards and other sites. As a sourcing tool, it scours the Internet, including social media sites, for résumés, and then adds and categorizes résumés and other information to the database. “It makes sure there are no duplications in your database, so you pay for a résumé just once,” says Jeff Weidner, director of sourcing science for Wayne, Pennsylvania-based RPO Kenexa. “It reduces costs by 25 to 30 percent.” “The nice thing about a CRM,” says Zachary Misko, vice president for KellyOCG, the outsourcing and consulting arm of Troy, Michigan-based Kelly Services Inc., “is that it combines or links with any applicant tracking system and any of the websites that are up there today.” The most common scenario today in the world of RPO technology: A company already has an ATS, such as Taleo or Brass Ring, in place, but asks the RPO provider to augment the existing system with tools or modules designed to make it more efficient and effective. Rajesh Ranjan, research director at Everest Group, a Dallas-based consulting firm, says such tools are generally meant to improve sourcing, and sometimes they are proprietary tools created by the RPO provider. Paul Harty, president of Boston-based RPO provider Seven Step Recruiting, notes that the integration is so much better today. “Five years ago, that mix-and-match thing was very difficult to do because you couldn't have ‘How do we find the guy?' in one system and then, ‘What do we do with him once we've started interviewing him?' in another system, and then ‘What do we do with him once we've hired him?' in another system,” he says. “Before, you could never follow that candidate through the life cycle and figure out where you could optimize certain aspects of your process.” In other scenarios, Ranjan says, the RPO provider operates the company's own system as is, or perhaps customizes an existing system to make it better fit the company's goals. Ranjan sees midmarket and smaller companies gravitating to RPO providers now that they have created their own proprietary ATS and can offer it in a pay-as-you-go bundle of services that cost a company less than investing in its own system. RPO firms also are trying to keep pace with rapidly evolving social media sites. LinkedIn, for example, has recently come out with new features for its professional social network that make it even more useful to recruiters. Talent Finder is one of its new premium services. For a price, $40 a month for the basic service or as much as $500 a month for Talent Pro, the service provides advanced database search tools to find job candidates among LinkedIn members. Facebook, meanwhile, which has 750 million users to LinkedIn's 100 million, is not about to forfeit the spoils of the talent wars. To date it has not built its own tool for job seekers and recruiters, but it has allowed two major applications to operate on its network. BranchOut launched in January and immediately attracted a few million users, mostly younger, lower-level professionals. BeKnown, developed by Monster.com, launched on Facebook in June. RPO providers need to find out whether LinkedIn or Facebook is more popular with job seekers in other countries. It's part of their job to know which one to target. Many countries have their own social networking sites, as well. “I think any company that has a website should have a Facebook page,” Langner says. Regular, even daily, updates can share news of the company and list job openings. “A lot of people are feeding their jobs into social networking sites because somebody who's their friend sees those jobs and perhaps applies to them,” Schulte says Another ubiquitous tool whose usefulness is growing is the mobile phone. RightThing's Terhark sees its growth in RPO as slow but steady. Texting, for example, has become an indispensable tool at the RightThing “in order for us to interact with candidates,” Terhark says. “So if there's a schedule change or if there's something we want to share about our client that's exciting, or just to check in with them, we are using texting. We built into our technology platform the ability to text candidates' key messages.” Schulte says he is confident that a new program by myStaffingPro will boost mobile phone use for job applications. The program, released in May, reformats Web pages to make them easy to read on the small screen of a phone. He predicts that, based on current usage, as many as 25 to 30 percent of job applicants will be applying for jobs via mobile devices in the coming few years. But what's really taking off in RPO now is video. McCoy says his company is doing video interviews with job candidates, using a program called Montage. He says it's a scaled-down version of the programs that allow for virtual meetings. “It enables you to get a feel for the candidate.” Video is also being used as a way to educate candidates about jobs. Job previews show real workers on the job talking about their responsibilities. Shaker Consulting Group, an HR consulting group based in Cleveland, offers what it calls Virtual Job Tryout, which puts candidates in simulated job situations. Watching the candidate “on the job,” even in a virtual scenario, allows managers to make a pretty thorough assessment of the candidate's potential, according to McCoy. Several RPO experts also say quick response codes—such as the one at the left-hand side of this page that look something like a square bar code—are coming into play more and more. After downloading an app for a QR code reader, click a photo of it with a smartphone and you're directed to a website, or you've just stored contact information in your address book. McCoy says his company puts them on billboards and uses them in integrated media campaigns. “We put that on our fliers, business cards and banners,” WorldConcert's Langner adds. Workforce Management, August 2011, pgs. 24-26 -- Subscribe Now!