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The Glaring Failures of Corporate Career Sites

Unqualified candidates keep sending in résumés for jobs they’ll never get. This isn’t all their fault: companies’ career pages are riddled with broken links, unclear information, poor navigation, uninspiring pitches and, in some cases, dishonesty.

November 26, 2003
Related Topics: Internet, Candidate Sourcing, Staffing Management
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Overwhelmed by candidates, many corporate "careers" Web sites are like an old man running a candy store besieged by hungry kid customers. He is so weary of being in demand that he has lost his fear of being cantankerous.

    Such is the state of corporate recruiting sites today: a few companies still do not have any sites, and others hide their jobs behind layers of screens. They choose complexity over candor in their self-descriptions. Or they ignore their candidates altogether.

    "Corporate recruiting sites, like all job sites, struggle between whether to be over- or under-inclusive," says Steven Rothberg, president and founder of Minneapolis-based CollegeRecruiter.com. "They end up receiving a lot of résumés from unqualified candidates." But, he says, it’s a catch-22. "If the site attempts to screen out most and perhaps even all unqualified candidates, then they inevitably lose some and perhaps even many of the qualified candidates."

    Rather than turning off the deluge of résumés, the sites have created what many career counselors and applicants view as a dual reality. The Web site is there. It has information to be gleaned. It has a mechanism to submit an application for a job. But all of that seems to have no more bearing on the actual hiring of workers than if the candidates were stuffing their résumés into a rabbit hole.

The honest message
    These days, most companies do at least have a corporate recruiting site. According to a study by iLogos, only 8 percent of Fortune 500 companies had no career Web site as of 2002, down from 11 percent in 2000. Alice Snell, vice president at iLogos, says having no corporate recruiting site "was acceptable in 1995, not today."

    As the authors of CareerXroads have pointed out, there are still some holdouts--companies with no job listings at all. International Steel Group and Smith & Wesson are two examples. The lack of job listings at the Web site for Interstate Bakeries Corporation does not match its friendly brands, among them Wonder Bread and Hostess Twinkies. None of these companies returned requests for comment.

    Having no jobs posted within an existing Web site is another problem--the state of 9 percent of Fortune 500 companies, according to iLogos. The lack of jobs available is not necessarily surprising given the current economy, the recent drop in unemployment notwithstanding. Still, companies could better serve themselves by being forthright about their problems, says Rothberg. "They could do themselves a favor by going one step further and acknowledging that there’s a hiring freeze or they recently underwent layoffs," he says. "Be honest and open with potential employees."

    Some employers, embarrassed to have no jobs, leave a phantom job on the site, which becomes obvious to people actually hoping to work there. "I don’t really recommend that. I don’t think that’s a good representation of the company," says Dwaine Maltais, a vice president of e-recruiting at Bernard Hodes Group.

    Maltais recommends posting different categories of jobs--even if there are no jobs available--as well as encouraging candidates to leave their résumés for when the right job does come up. Companies have to walk a delicate balance, recruiters realize, because the people they are turning away are often not just potential employees but also potential, if not current, customers. "You can really see how a company is doing [financially] by looking at their job site," says Maltais.

Hunting for lost treasures
    Even companies that have jobs often bury them so deep within a site that they can hardly be found. For two years after Weyerhaeuser combined with Willamette Industries, online job seekers still found a notice saying "Open salaried positions in the U.S. will be posted internally only" even though the company was actually hiring. The jobs listings were there, for those applicants persistent enough to press on past this notice, which was finally removed in late November 2003.

    Concealed job listings remains a problem, but it’s shrinking, according to iLogos: 86 percent of companies have a link to their jobs site on their home page. Another 6 percent have some obstacles in the way--the jobs, for example, are tucked behind innocuous buttons such as "Contact Us" or "About the Company," as they are at Murphy Oil and Harley-Davidson.

    Jakob Nielsen, author of Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity, says, "Sometimes I get the counterargument that ‘we only want to hire people who are smart enough to use the site.’ " Still, he says, "that’s only a reasonable screening criterion if you are looking for IT personnel."

    To find good matches, companies have to talk about their culture and their employees. According to iLogos, three-quarters of companies now offer prospective workers some version of their corporate culture.

    Consider this pitch from one of the 50 largest companies in America:

If you like a fast-paced, high-performance work environment, consider [our company]. You’ll work with a diverse team of employees who value your ideas and are committed to integrity, caring, initiative and innovation. You’ll find growth opportunities, including education, training, and recognition, that will develop your skills so you can be a top performer.

    Integrity is a good thing, as is caring, but nearly every company would boast of such qualities, and the description may not give the candidate a clear picture of what’s unique about working there. The most effective are those that go beyond the corporate-speak about values and offer an honest day-in-the-life description of working at the company, says Maltais. That’s especially important for companies that have many high-turnover entry-level jobs.

    While some workplace descriptions don’t explain what makes the companies unique, experts advise workforce-management executives to make sure their descriptions aren’t so unique that they’re unclear. Mark Hurst, founder and president of Creative Good, a New York consultancy that specializes in improving Web usability, says that some companies lose people by throwing all their internal jargon into the job descriptions. "If the candidate cannot figure out what the job is, the candidate isn’t going to apply," Hurst says. "Companies have not embraced the message of simplicity and clarity. I don’t see it starting to happen, either."

    Some of the most forthright descriptions come from tobacco companies. They know that they have an obstacle to overcome, so they acknowledge it. R.J. Reynolds has a whole page in its career section called "Working for a tobacco company?" as well as this pitch:

We place a high priority on employees achieving a good work/life balance and encourage them to work hard and play hard. Fast-paced, innovative, creative decision-making, coupled with extraordinary employee loyalty and retention, are the hallmarks of our company’s culture. . . . An open-door management policy, extending from first-line supervisors all the way to the CEO, empowers every employee to step forward with ideas and suggestions for improving our products and services.

    Companies that succeed at explaining who they are showcase more than just the executives. Rothberg thinks Microsoft does it best, with portraits of workers in different levels and areas of the company. "You have a feeling of the type of person you’d be working with," Rothberg says. "It gets you excited about your coworkers before you even apply."

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