HR’s struggle with Web 2.0

February 15, 2008

They’re born at a seemingly nonstop pace: Web start-ups offering new ways for businesses to connect with people. Companies large and small are furiously developing MySpace pages and Facebook applications, and hoping that the masses will beat paths straight to their doors.Some companies have leveraged the parade of Internet hot shots to their advantage, and many are still trying to find a way. They understand the value of connecting with people as customers. But when it comes to using the Internet to connect with people as potential recruits, it’s a different story.

Read at www.unitedBIT.com


What’s Next: The Monster Dilemma

November 20, 2007

By David H. Freedman

For business owners plagued by a dearth of candidates for key job openings, the Web was supposed to provide an ideal solution. Job-search sites like Monster.com (NASDAQ:MNST) can put postings in front of millions of applicants instantly. And newer business-oriented social networking sites like LinkedIn provide similarly fertile recruiting territory, supplying access to the contacts of thousands of people. On the other hand, anyone who’s actually tried to hire someone through the Web knows the truth: You post an ad and are immediately flooded with hundreds of resumés, many from people whose backgrounds are wildly inappropriate. So much for the Web making things easier. It’s enough to make you long for the days of print newspaper ads and snail mail.

But just as technology created the problem, newer technology aims to solve it. A new generation of hiring tools promises to screen out inappropriate applicants, allow the suitable ones to put their best foot forward, and even hunt down good candidates who haven’t applied. As these new services get better at these tasks, they may well change the balance of power in the job-recruiting industry and could even redefine the way we think about jobs.

A shot at diverting a river of weak applicants is the chief advantage offered to employers by Protuo, a Woodstock, Georgia-based start-up that launched its service in January. Protuo isn’t only a job-listing site; it also forwards its clients’ listings to some 270 established job-listing sites, including Monster. But applicants can’t respond to a Protuo posting unless they spend seven minutes or so filling out a survey that asks about experience, skills, workstyles, and job preferences. Employers can customize the survey by choosing from a wide field of prepared questions or by adding their own, and they specify which responses get a candidate’s resumé past the screen. Has the candidate managed a technical project? Is he or she willing to move? The approach is modeled, to some extent, on the sort of compatibility gauging one encounters on a matchmaking site like eHarmony, notes Jennifer Gerlach, Protuo’s co-founder and vice president of marketing. Gerlach went through the dating process on eHarmony just to research the technique. “I learned a lot,” she says. “And I met some very, very nice people.”

With online job postings sometimes pulling in more than a thousand applicants, the ability to winnow the flood could mean the difference between being able to retain control of the hiring process and having to bring in a professional recruiter–at a typical cost of $30,000 for a midlevel hire. The time and expense of dealing with a huge influx of resumés is all the more frustrating because much of the flow comes from online applicants who indiscriminately bombard hirers with resumés. You can try a keyword search on the resumés to narrow things down, but applicants have learned to load their resumés with them, often by pasting in phrases from the job posting. Even LinkedIn has suffered from inflation, as many users aggressively build networks of people they don’t really know in order to make themselves appear better connected. “There’s no value in a lot of these contacts,” says LinkedIn user Chris Knudsen, who heads business development for podcasting company Podango in Salt Lake City. “It can just be someone whose card you got at a trade show.” (A LinkedIn spokesperson commented via e-mail: “Anyone can join the LinkedIn network; however, the quality of your own personal LinkedIn network is the responsibility of each individual.”) But a well-designed survey, contends Gerlach, allows users to skim the cream.

Fred Donovan, who runs Donovan Networks, a seven-employee computer network security firm, has been flooded with applicants responding to previous postings to Monster.com and other online job boards. He is currently conducting a Protuo search and likes what he’s seen so far. “I can specify that I want to see only resumés from people who say they have 10 years’ experience in negotiating sales and are familiar with the software development process,” he says. “I’m seeing a small, better-qualified subset of the applicants.” There must be something to the idea. Other hiring sites, including Market10, Jobster, and Taleo (NASDAQ:TLEO), are introducing their own approaches to automated candidate screening. And Monster is doing the same, making available–for a fee that adds about 20 percent to the cost of posting a job–the ability to direct applicants to a questionnaire designed to rank the suitability of candidates.

Sure, candidates can try to game these surveys by being less than truthful. But Gerlach insists that surveys can be designed to stymie such people by asking questions that don’t have an obviously right answer–such as whether the person prefers to work independently or in groups–and by warning candidates that they can be rated as overqualified. Protuo, which costs hirers $44 to $295 a month depending on the number of jobs they’re posting and is currently free to job seekers, also offers applicants a chance to do more than post a resumé. The firm invites users to create online portfolios that can include whatever documents, photos, videos, or other material that best represents that person’s career to date. (Monster is currently testing a similar capability.)

ZoomInfo, in Waltham, Massachusetts, takes a different approach. It assembles profiles of potential job candidates from all available online data, whether or not they’re looking for jobs. Starting with the same techniques that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) uses to gather Web data associated with a person’s name, ZoomInfo adds the significant additional step of crunching the results to pull out the most relevant information, weed out data referring to other people of the same name, and assemble a professional profile. ZoomInfo has an R&D team of 35 working on the technology. So far, the company has assembled some 34 million profiles, and as far as I can tell, most of them are fairly informative and accurate. (Check out your own name to put it to the test.)

But somebody has to pay for all those scientists, and that somebody is you. The company charges $5,000 a user per year for the ability to dig up personnel profiles by company or industry. It sounds like a lot, but ZoomInfo’s COO, Bryan Burdick, notes that if you get the right candidate for a single vacancy, the price is one-sixth that of using a recruiting firm. The company also offers less expensive, more limited searching capabilities aimed at smaller companies, as well as free access to searches on individuals. Many major executive search firms, along with some 500 other corporations, already use ZoomInfo, claims Burdick. “I can find personal information, professional backgrounds–and, sometimes, damning evidence–on tens of millions of people without having to go through 1.5 million Google hits on each one,” says John Boehmer, managing partner at executive search firm Barlow Group in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Boehmer is quick to point out that as ZoomInfo-like services get better, and more companies get comfortable using them, corporate hirers won’t need professional recruiting firms like his to turn up candidates. “It’s commoditizing the front end of what we do,” he says. “Eventually, everyone will know where everyone is and how to get hold of them, so we won’t be able to charge for identifying and contacting candidates.” Search firms will still be valuable for assessing candidates, he contends, though he acknowledges that new e-hiring systems could eventually eat into that end of the business as they get smarter and have more online data to work with.

For that matter, it’s easy to imagine the not-all-that-distant day when online tools make it so easy to find people to fill a specific slot that the notion of permanent jobs becomes irrelevant for many positions. Why hire a manager for years when you can find a new one with exactly the skill set needed for the precise tasks at hand? That’s not necessarily bad for employees: Think of an economy where top employees are constantly being sought out and bid over by companies that recognize them from their Web trails as the perfect short-term solution. And talented employees would be just as smart about whom they choose to work for–using similar services to weed out companies that aren’t good matches for them. You’ll want to treat those people well. If you don’t, and they post that fact online, it could haunt you for a long, long time.

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Investing: The Net Wisdom of Peers

November 19, 2007

By Deborah Perelman
Historically, recruiting has not been a particularly transparent process. Organizations looking to hire put a job description out on a Web board such as Monster, CareerBuilder or Dice, and candidates apply on that limited information alone. The vast majority are rejected without ever knowing why. “In effect, corporations are basically screening people out. Candidates don’t feel like they’re being recruited into organizations, or being made to feel wanted,” Zach Thomas, an analyst with Forrester Research, told eWEEK.Though Web 1.0 recruiting technologies such as big job boards and vendor-powered ATS (application tracking systems) on corporate career sites have been effective in increasing efficiency and driving down recruiting costs, in the Web 2.0 world, candidates want more texture in the recruiting process—transparency, unedited content, answers to user-submitted questions and communication that is not only top-down. “It makes the whole process a lot more transparent. It puts the community in control of the information out there, versus the traditional ‘here is the position and we will tell you what it is all about,’ where the candidate can’t ask questions or see for themselves,” Thomas said.Organizations that limit their recruiting efforts to outdated processes will lose out in the long run, Thomas said, as a younger generation of job seekers wants more transparency in the recruiting process. Furthermore, the passive majority of candidates—those who may not even know they are looking until presented with the right offer—are increasingly “out there” in social networks but are not being approached.The answer is for organizations to start taking advantage of social computing, something colleges have long done to meet students where they are, but that has yet to move into corporate culture.

“I get a lot of questions from customers about how to engage with this new work force and what they’re looking for. There’s a lot of room for innovation out there, and innovation tends to start in the consumer market and move into the corporate one,” Thomas said.

The profile of those who use social computing speaks for itself. Forrester found in an Oct. 25 report that the biggest users of social technologies were highly paid professionals, well-educated individuals, and new entrants to the work force. The first group was the most active but also the hardest to recruit. In the latter group—new entrants—70 percent of Generation Y were found to be engaged in social networks and are expected to replace today’s business leaders at a relatively younger age.

“We are also in an environment where people are not working for GE for 25 years and then retiring, but switching jobs at a rapid pace. Learning experiences are very important to them, as is the ability to immediately contribute to the organization and not be weighed down by bureaucratic processes,” Thomas said.

Organizations often don’t know how or where to start using social technologies to recruit. Some may fear the level of transparency that accompanies a two-way conversation, and others have internal policies that prevent the use of social networks.

“I tell organizations to start doing this to the degree they are comfortable, and as they see the results, get it more and more ingrained in their culture,” Thomas said. “But if you express your corporate culture to be something it is not, you’ll get hung.”

While recruiters tend to agree that social technologies can be useful in locating professionals and making an initial contact, most caution against relying on them too heavily.

“Social networking sites and tools represent just one early step in a company’s overall hiring and recruiting process,” John Estes, vice president of Robert Half Technology, in Menlo Park, Calif., told eWEEK.

It still takes recruiters and hiring managers a lot of time to bring someone on board after that initial contact is made.

“There is no substitute for a real-life connection with a job seeker,” said Estes.

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Zapoint starts as demand to automate hiring grows

November 16, 2007

by Christopher Calnan

Last week’s launch of a Brookline firm with software that converts resumes into charts for job recruiters is the latest regional entrant into an automated hiring software market that’s growing 22 percent a year.

The growth is being fueled by fierce competition to find qualified workers more efficiently, and New England firms are taking notice and carving niches.

Zapoint Inc. fired up operations with five employees and market-ready software that applies algorithms to information on resumes, to help employers compare job candidates.

“We call it a two-second resume,” said Chris Twyman, founder and CEO of Zapoint.

Zapoint’s software was developed with the help of a $250,000 angel investment, said Twyman, former senior director of solutions marketing for New York-based CA Inc. And while some companies, such as Zapoint, are focused on specific recruiter applications, others such as Chelmsford-based Kronos Inc. already offer a wide range of work force and human capital software suites. Kronos added to its arsenal this week with the purchase of Deploy Solutions Inc., a Newton-based firm that makes employee selection and hiring software.

The technologies being spun out of these companies look to effectively manage the avalanche of information the Internet has made readily available. Databases and online job boards have collected resumes beyond the point of manageability, said Art Papas, who co-founded online recruitment software company Bullhorn Inc. in 1999.

“It’s total overload,” he said. “And recruiters need tools to help them make sense of it.”

Boston-based Bullhorn now generates $8 million in annual revenue and employs 95 workers, Papas said.

Spending in the United States on automated hiring software is expected to rise from an estimated $750 million in 2006 to $2 billion by 2011, according to Lisa Rowan, program manager for human resources and talent management services at Framingham research firm IDC.

Twyman, who also helped launch UrbanFox, a United Kingdom-based online trading solution for telecommunication carriers, said Zapoint is approaching 1,000 members (users who submit resumes) after one week of operations. Revenue comes from fees paid by recruiters, which range from $2,000 to $5,000. Posting resumes is free, and workers who are selected by employers receive a $1,000 reward, Twyman said.

Zapoint’s plans include raising a $3 million to $4 million Series A round of venture capital next year.

Competition among automated hiring software companies in New England, however, is growing. Last year, Ireland-based recruitment software maker, Candidate Manager Ltd., opened a North American headquarters in Boston. And in 2005, H Three Inc., opened for business in Cambridge with a referral reward payment software system.

Other New England competitors include Zoom Information Inc., BrassRing LLC and Authoria Inc., all based in Waltham. Wayland’s Softscape Inc. and Auburndale’s Deploy Solutions Inc., also develop human resource software, including recruiting.

Nationally, the recruitment software space includes Pennsylvania-based Kenexa Corp., which bought BrassRing for $115 million last year, and PeopleSoft Inc., which was bought by Oracle Corp. in 2005.

Source:MassHightech.Biz


More Jobs Being Found Online, but That Doesn’t Mean It’s Easy

November 14, 2007

By BARBARA WHITAKER

One of the first things Brooke Christiansen did as college graduation neared last spring was post her résumé on three of the largest Internet job boards: Monster, CareerBuilder and HotJobs.

For the most part, she said, it was an exercise in frustration.

“You get piles and piles of jobs that no matter what you type in, come up with every single search,” she said. “It’s very hard and very time-consuming to find something you’re actually interested in.”

In addition, she said, it is rare to hear back when applying for jobs found on the sites.

Mary Riley Dikel, creator of The Riley Guide, a directory of employment and career resources on the Internet, said: “One job seeker told me, ‘I think I’d be more successful distributing my résumé by opening my window and throwing it out.’ You do feel like you’re going into a black hole.”

To that frustration, add the risk that identity thieves may steal information from résumés posted on job sites – and to estimates that only 3 percent to 5 percent of job seekers find employment through the sites – and it is reasonable to ask, Why bother?

Recruiters and career counselors typically turn the question around and ask, Why not? Applicants, they say, need to recognize that job boards are but one tool among many that can be used to find work.

“The Internet is an absolutely necessary tool in your job search arsenal, but it’s not your only tool,” Ms. Dikel said. “Use Monster and professional associations and local and state job boards and other things that target what you want. But if you’re spending more than 15 minutes on the Internet, you’re lost.”

A proliferation of new sites – many capitalizing on search engine technology to provide job offerings from across the Internet – are giving job seekers some new alternatives to explore.

Among them are JobCentral.com, a site developed for major corporations that carries their listings as well as direct links to the companies’ Web sites to apply for jobs. The
board was created after executives from corporations like I.B.M., Hewlett-Packard and Intel began exploring ways to deal with the ever-escalating fees charged by the largest job boards.

Initially, 18 companies put in $60,000 each to finance the board. Now companies pay $12,500 a year to post all their jobs, or $25 a job (compared with as much as $400 a job on a major board), said Bill Warren, executive director of the DirectEmployers Association, the corporate group behind JobCentral. It now has 182 member companies. The site also acts as a search engine, scavenging job listings from about 1,400 nonmember companies.

Taking a slightly different tack are sites like Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com, which rely on search engines to aggregate a vast array of listings from newspaper classified ads, job boards, corporate sites and trade associations.

The field will expand again tomorrow, when JobCentral, Indeed, SimplyHired and Google Base, a database recently introduced by the search engine company, are to announce that they are teaming up to create a national labor exchange at JobCentral.com. The site, which has about 340,000 jobs posted, will incorporate jobs found by its partners and provide the technology to let those sites link to its information. Mr. Warren, creator of the job site that later became Monster, said the alliance would result in the amassing of information on about 4.5 million jobs.

“The benefit to the job applicant is that they can go to one place and basically see all the jobs on the Internet,” Mr. Warren said.

How that will affect the three major job boards – and the state of finding jobs on the Internet – remains to be seen.

Mark Mehler, a co-founder of CareerXroads, a New Jersey company that advises companies on using technology in recruiting, said the traditional job boards might find themselves at a disadvantage. It has become expensive for companies to post employment ads on the major boards, and the number of résumés posted can be overwhelming.

At the same time, he said, it remains to be seen how useful and reliable the sites that pull job listings from across the Web will be.

They key is freshness and where the job is being taken from,” he said. Despite such problems, studies indicate that an increasing number of people are being hired through Web postings and employee referrals, rather than through traditional methods like printed want ads.

In 2004, a study by CareerXroads found that 61 percent of hires by the companies surveyed came from referrals or the Internet, up from 50 percent two years earlier. According to the study findings, Monster, CareerBuilder and HotJobs accounted for 22.8 percent of the hires attributed to the Internet; corporations also reported that a high percentages of employees were hired after filing applications on corporate sites.

Eric Muller, a recruiting manager with the Southern Company, an energy company based in Atlanta, says his company initially began using  JobCentral because it allowed the company to post all its jobs at a lower cost and because it provided a direct link to the company’s site. While the company still uses big boards like Monster and CareerBuilder, he said, they do so more strategically – if, for instance, a job needs to be filled immediately. “We have to have a mix,” he said. “I can’t have all my eggs in one basket.”

The same holds true for job seekers, although there are increasing questions about the wisdom of posting résumés on the Internet.

“Putting a résumé on an online job site is not the smartest way to go about getting a job,” said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit group that educates consumers about technology and privacy.

The forum put hundreds of résumés on job sites and tracked them for a year. Ms. Dixon said many were stolen by either criminals or unethical recruiters.

One common ruse preys on midcareer professionals whose résumé history can be combined with a Social Security number, resulting in identity theft.

“The more detailed your résumé, the easier it is to do,” Ms. Dixon said.

Job seekers who posted online said they had also had problems with employment consultants seeking to solicit business. After arranging an interview, the consultants begin making a pitch for their services, which can cost as much as $10,000.

Ultimately, Ms. Christiansen found exactly what she was looking for – a human resources job near Chicago – using JobCentral. She said the site helped her narrow her search, and after that she found a job quickly. “It can work,” she said, “if you know exactly what you’re looking for and you can find a place that will have it.”

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Listing Top Jobs but Charging Candidates to Seek Them

November 14, 2007

By BOB TEDESCHI

RECRUITERS with six-figure jobs to fill know better than to post them online and start a stampede of marginally qualified job seekers. But they also know that the Web is the easiest way to find applicants.

The Web’s surprising answer to the problem? Charge them to look.

A growing number of niche sites devoted to high-end jobs are finding that applicants are willing to shell out a few dollars — or a few hundred, in some cases — for the chance to get access to job ads. The strategy will not help the big online job boards find more applicants for entry-level positions, but analysts say it is ideal for sites like TheLadders.com, ExecuNet and others seeking the senior executive crowd.

It turns out that having the job candidates pay is a great screener, and employers love it,” said Charlene Li, an Internet analyst with Forrester Research.

Ms. Li said that the online employment category, which is dominated by Monster, CareerBuilder and Yahoo’s HotJobs, is expected to generate about $1.9 billion in revenue this year, up from about $1.6 billion last year. But she said that the category in recent years has undergone an explosion in the number of job boards that serve specific niches. (Industry executives say that there are roughly 40,000 job boards online.)

The upper-level jobs niche has been slower to develop, though, because companies typically hand off such jobs to corporate recruiting firms. Those firms, like DHR International and Korn/Ferry International, set up their own Web sites, but those sites are used mainly to market the firms’ offline services instead of connecting applicants with companies online.

To fill that void, several former HotJobs executives introduced TheLadders.com in 2003, with the mission of posting only those jobs with annual salaries of $100,000 or more. At the time, the company made an odd bet — that it could attract more applicants if it charged them a monthly entry fee of $30.

That is precisely the opposite of the approach used by mass-market employment sites, which charge applicants nothing but charge companies varying fees to post job openings.

In its early years, TheLadders.com was slow to grow, partly because it did not attract enough job postings to justify the site’s cost. But as employers and corporate recruiters learned that they could find qualified applicants for nothing, the number of job postings jumped.

Now, according to Marc Cenedella, the chief executive of TheLadders.com, the site listed 70,000 jobs last week and is on pace to exceed $30 million in sales this year from about 1.4 million subscribers. And the site now counts Microsoft and the EMC Corporation as clients.

“We’re doing the same thing that’s done in national parks: put a price on it so you get the right number of people,” Mr. Cenedella said.

Mr. Cenedella said that the company is not yet profitable, but is “cash flow positive.” The number of subscribers who hear about the site from word of mouth, he said, has nearly doubled, to 34 percent, in the last three years.

Mr. Cenedella, who was a senior vice president at HotJobs when the company was acquired by Yahoo, said TheLadders would expand in the coming months to include jobs with annual salaries of $75,000 or more. (Only about 10 percent of the roughly 150 million workers in the country earn $100,000 or more, he said, while 20 million earn from $75,000 to $100,000.) Even that lower salary threshold, however, is high enough to attract job candidates who will pay to see the listings.

Ms. Li, of Forrester, said that TheLadders and other fee-based online job boards could face difficult times as baby boomers retire and the job market opens up.

“Companies say they’re going to lose 30 percent of their forces over the next five years, and those will all be upper-echelon jobs,” she said. “So if you’re paying to look for jobs, in some ways it’s signaling that you’re not a very good candidate.”

Heather Hamilton, a staffing manager at Microsoft who uses the site to fill marketing positions, disagreed. “If you’re not serious, you’re not going to pay the money,” she said. “That’s a big part of why we’ve found TheLadders to be more fruitful than other job boards.”

Some of the big online job boards have also tried to aim at the highest-paying jobs. In 2000, Monster started ChiefMonster.com, which screened prospective job seekers to ensure that they were worthy of the best jobs, but the service failed to attract a following and Monster shut it down.

Other sites devoted to six-figure salaries and senior executives say that they, too, are thriving. ExecuNet, a service based in Norwalk, Conn., charges about $400 annually, or $39 monthly, for its online networking, industry data and job listings, among other things.

According to David B. Opton, the company’s chief executive, the business has about 25,000 subscribers, but their average income is $221,000 and the average age is 48. Job postings have increased about 30 percent over the last year, he said, and, perhaps as a result, ExecuNet’s membership has risen 15 percent.

Networking sites have become an increasingly important tool for companies looking to fill senior positions. LinkedIn, in particular, has emerged as a favorite trolling ground for corporate recruiters across the spectrum of job levels.

The online market for high-priced talent extends beyond full-time workers. Take HotGigs, for example. The company, which is based in Minneapolis, provides job listings for contract workers. In the three years since its debut, its customer base has grown to nearly 70,000 consultants who pay $100 yearly for the right to answer job listings
from about 19,000 companies and recruiters.

Doug Berg, the company’s chief executive, says the idea of paying to apply for a job is foreign to some people.

“We get a lot of people who e-mail us and say they shouldn’t have to pay for a job,” he said. “Our thing is, if you’re a professional consultant, you have to learn how to market yourself. Besides, if I didn’t charge, every wannabe in the world would come in.”

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Computer says: ‘You’re hired’

November 14, 2007

By JESSICA TWENTYMAN

Edgars Consolidated Stores (Edcon) is something of a national institution in South Africa. Since 1929, the chain of department stores has supplied generations of South Africans with clothing and footwear, from school shoes to funeral suits.

Naturally, keeping a network of more than 1,000 stores in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho fully staffed is a big challenge for the company’s human resources department, which oversees a workforce of 20,000 people – especially in the busy run-up to Christmas, when its headcount doubles.

Widespread unemployment in South Africa, meanwhile, means that for every position the company advertises, it receives approximately 100 applications, according to executive HR manager, Andrea Wiehahin.

“We’re very aware of the need to handle those applications sensitively,” she says. “Our job applicants are our customers as well, and even unsuccessful candidates need to be treated with respect, so that they go away from the experience with a positive feeling about the Edcon brand.”

To compound the issue, she adds, economic and political transformation in South Africa means that the company needs to demonstrate compliance with a complex web of government-mandated employment equity policies.

That is a big challenge, but Edcon is evidently handling it well. In a 2005 survey conducted by management consultancy Deloitte, it was named one of the 15 best companies to work for in South Africa and the best company to work for in the retail market.

Edcon makes sure it has the internet on its side. When a store manager has a vacancy to fill, they enter the details of the position on the company’s new Softscape Apex HR system. It is automatically forwarded to the relevant senior manager for approval, and from there, it is posted on the career section of the company’s website ( www.edcon.co.za  ), as well as online job boards, such as Career Junction (  www.careerjunction.co.za  ).

The e-recruitment process does not end there. Job seekers submit their applications over the internet via the website, and those applications are subsequently held and managed in the Softscape system.Around three-quarters of all applications Edcon receives are now made over the internet, says Leon Vermaak, Edcon’s business integration manager.

The system’s talent acquisition tools, meanwhile, enable managers to search applications, retrieve details for prospective employees, contact them and organise interviews, explains Alex Bart-feld, Softscape’s director for the EMEA region.

Not only that, the system also holds a wealth of information about the company’s recruitment processes, adds Ms Wiehahin, enabling the HR team to report on metrics relating to ethnic diversity in the workforce, as well as calculating the time and cost involved in bringing new hires on board.

Like Edcon, organisations around the world are finding that the internet provides the perfect platform for attracting recruits and streamlining their applications. In fact, it is critical in a world where the job of finding, attracting, selecting and securing top talent
has never been more important, according to Peter Cheese, managing partner of management consultancy firm Accenture’s 3,500-strong Human Performance practice.

“The thing that’s driving attention on recruitment is a general shortfall of skills,” he says. “The demographics of developed countries are against us, and that’s put a great deal of pressure on how companies attract and retain talent,” he says.

Certainly, things have come a long way from the days when job seekers would frequently find that the careers section of a company’s website offered no more information than a generic e-mail address for the HR department. “A whole host of developments are fuelling e-recruitment right now: internet-enabled HR systems, e-mail, online job boards, social networking sites, virtual worlds, and so on. As a term, e-recruitment covers a huge array of tools, but they have one thing in common: the internet,” says Mr Cheese.

Take KPMG, the management consultancy, for example, or the Royal Bank of Scotland, or data storage giant EMC – all three have held careers fairs in Second Life, the online “virtual world”. And in a recent survey of IT recruiters by the Association of Technology
Staffing Companies (ATSCo), 58 per cent said that social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace are more useful for recruitment than print advertisements. Eighty-three per cent, meanwhile, said they used those sites to trawl for potential job candidates.

“Sites such as LinkedIn are an incredibly powerful form of recruitment, as it puts the power in both parties’ hands – the recruiter in identifying the right candidate and the individual in deciding whether or not to engage in an offer,” says Dan Nye, CEO of LinkedIn.

“Some people are connected to hundreds of professionals across industries and borders, which in turn are connected to thousands more. This immediately places a well-connected recruiter in touch with a large number of possible candidates.”

But it is those organizations that have tightly integrated their e-recruitment tools with their back-end HR systems that have achieved the most notable successes – and that is true whether those back-end systems are hosted in-house or by a third party specialist, under the software-as-a-service (Saas) model, according to Colin Tenwick, chief executive of hosted talent management software specialist Stepstone, a company that offers both options.

“An all-encompassing e-recruitment tool won’t just post vacancies to a website and capture applications,” he says. “It will provide a robust framework for all the processes that surround bringing new recruits on board, and then managing their performance for as long as they work for you,” he says.

Such systems need to be capable of doing some pretty heavy lifting. Mobile services operator Orange, for example, uses Stepstone’s i-Grasp system to process about 80 per cent of the 5,000 applications it receives each year and currently holds 50,000 CVs, says David Roberts, Orange’s employer brand manager.

I-Grasp enables Orange’s 200-strong HR team to promote the company culture to applicants from the first contact, he says, primarily the company’s careers portal, www.orange.co.uk/jobs  , as well as a number of retail recruitment microsites.

It also helps to ensure that applicants are kept informed of the progress of their application, via e-mail and text message – and that was certainly welcome to Elly Hallwood, who joined Orange’s in-house legal team as senior counsel in August this year, after applying for the job via the portal.

“I was kept informed all the way down the line,” she says. “Moving from a law firm to an in-house legal department can be quite a transition, but the amount of information that I received from Orange regarding my application made the whole process much less stressful.”

The biggest benefits of effective e-recruitment, however, are encapsulated in two key metrics: time to hire and cost to hire. At Hyatt Hotels, for example, a hosted talent management system from Taleo has cut the process of hiring a front desk employee from four weeks to five days, according to Randy Goldberg, Hyatt’s executive director of
recruiting. And hotels that have moved both managerial and hourly  positions online have reported a 50 per cent reduction in recruitment advertising spending.

But above all, it is quality of candidates that really counts, says Michael Gregoire, CEO of Taleo. “If e-recruitment means you get people on board quickly and at a lower cost, then that’s great, but what companies really need to know is whether they’re hiring the kinds of people that have a material positive impact on their organisation,” he says.

That kind of insight, he adds, can only be achieved with a robust set of HR tools that enable companies to manage their ongoing performance in attracting and retaining talent.

Or as Mr Bartfeld of Softscape puts it: “The story doesn’t end when you click on the ‘hire’ button.”

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