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Staffing Management: Concocting an Effective Career Web Site

Diane Cadrain  1/1/2006

Staffing Management, Oct - Dec  2005

Vol. 2, No. 1

Lure top-notch candidates by offering a clean design and engaging content.

The facial cleansing cloth as recruitment tool? When Procter & Gamble (P&G) decided that the future of its recruitment strategy lay in enticing motivated applicants to its online career center, it snared them with an interactive contest. P&G’s “Just In Case” online competition gives site visitors a chance to choose a business specialty and work as part of a team, racing against the clock to develop a business plan that takes a company product from initial idea to market launch.

Currently, participants focus on Olay Daily Facials, treating the five-year-old skin-care line as a new product and defending it against competition from “Brand X.” Scott Read, P&G’s senior manager of global talent supply, says the competition is wildly popular with site visitors and is part of the reason P&G gets excellent results from its online recruiting. While the competition is mostly for fun, allowing participants to get to know the company and its products better, two new employees were hired last year after being identified through their participation.

P&G is on to the fact that gaming and simulation are an emerging trend in attracting applicants to career web sites. Labor market demographics make a strong case for employers to start being creative in their online recruitment efforts … really soon.

“The competition for talent is escalating,” says workplace futurist Roger Herman of The Herman Group. “As the labor shortage intensifies, employers have to do creative things.” Enter the corporate career web site.

“Corporate employment sites are critically important to hiring,” says Steven Rothberg, president and founder of CollegeRecruiter.com. “More than any other medium, the web has the ability to effectively and efficiently convey information to candidates.” He notes that many employees who are considering working for a firm will visit its web site to try to learn more about the company’s business, culture and opportunities.

“Candidates who are desperate to be hired will put up with poorly designed or incomplete sites, but those are also the candidates that tend to be the lowest quality and therefore the least desirable. Candidates who are the most highly sought after will not put up with poorly designed or incomplete sites, so employers who want to hire stars must invest time, money and energy into making their sites as good as possible.”

What companies are doing that now?

“General Electric, Procter & Gamble, IBM and Xerox are among the top of the top,” says Gerry Crispin, a partner in the international recruitment consulting firm CareerXRoads and a member of the Society for Human Resource Management panel on Workforce Staffing and Development. “They’re all doing an incredible job to make an experience to which the best candidates would be attracted.”

Crispin also names Bank of America, Exxon Mobil, Federated Department Stores, Fluor, Ford, General Mills, Georgia-Pacific, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Kodak, Lilly, Merck, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Mutual of Omaha, Owens Corning, Principal Group, Robinson (C.H.), Southern Co., Tenet Health, Union Pacific and Yum as companies that have good web sites.

The Right Elements

An effective recruiting site boils down to four strategies, Crispin says: target, engage, inform and respect. Target the right group. “You have to have a clear view of the person you’re interested in and have your site reflect it with appropriate content and visuals,” he says. Home Depot, for example, knows that baby boomers are a potential large hiring pool, so the company career site pictures employees of various ages and avoids tiny fonts. Sprint has a link on its site for people leaving military service for the civilian workforce. P&G, which likes to grow its own talent and promotes from within the company, uses imagery and content geared to its entry-level applicants—college students—including the “Just In Case” online competition.

“When companies think clearly about the future workforce they’ll need, they build a better picture of the people they want to target, and can approach recruiting as a pipeline,” Crispin notes.

Engage the right applicants. To attract the stars and discourage the poorly qualified, employers should focus on the needs and wants of the stellar candidate, Rothberg says. “If all you do is list your own requirements, you’ll turn off the stars and get only the most desperate. Everything else about your career site must be driven by that principle.”

IBM took a systematic approach to giving site visitors the information they wanted. “We surveyed over 1,000 recent hires and conducted focus groups using external job seekers to find the types of content, information and design they prefer in corporate employment sites,” says Ray Schreyer, interactive channels manager for IBM Talent. Based on that data, IBM devised the design, layout and content flow of the company’s main career portal.

P&G, in addition to the “Just In Case” competition, offers free online career courses designed to help entry-level applicants make the transition from the academic world to the workplace. Courses include “The Art of Networking,” “How to Give a Great Presentation,” “Improving Communication” and “Achieving Work/Life Balance.”

Both the competition and the free courses are “equity extensions,” Read says. “They’re an expansion beyond the core of the site to meet candidates’ other needs and connect with them.”

General Electric (GE) connects with applicants by featuring “Our People,” a series of portraits of GE employees who reflect the qualities the company is looking for. One product service engineer for GE Wind, for example, writes about why she thrives on climbing and troubleshooting wind turbines 200 feet above the ground.

“You engage people by answering the questions, ‘Why should I come to work here? Why should I stay?’ ” Crispin says. “The best messages turn off those you least want while driving those you most want to take action.” Give applicants the information they need. The best sites give candidates the information they need to make an informed decision about the company.

“Well-written job postings are like well-written sales documents: They are truthful but speak to the needs and wants of the reader,” Rothberg says. Telling applicants what they can expect to gain from joining the company attracts qualified candidates and “is a perfect way to sell the job.”

It’s especially important for sites to be user-friendly in the way they get the information across, Rothberg says. Corporate career sites should have consistent appearance, with text and links maintaining the same style throughout the site. Consistent presentation allows visitors to transfer information from page to page instead of stopping to locate items every time they access a new page. Once they learn the relative location of an item on one page, they’ll quickly find the same or similar items on all the site’s other pages. When a career site isn’t designed for consistent appearance and page names, seekers become irritated because they can’t easily find the information they’re looking for, Rothberg notes.

“We do usability testing,” says Doreen Collins, GE’s manager of global staffing quality initiatives. “We have users do tasks on the web site and see how easy or hard it is to find information. It’s invaluable.”

Respect applicants. To Crispin, this is the most important characteristic of a career site—and one of the most difficult aspects to handle. In fact, Crispin’s company, CareerXRoads, is famous for creating fictional applicants to apply for work on the recruitment sites of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For—and writing about the hurdles that these bogus applicants encounter.

“Respecting candidates means acknowledging receipt of their applications, giving them some sense of what’s coming next and eventually letting them know the outcome,” Crispin says. “Most sites just say ‘thank you for your interest; we’ll let you know,’ but don’t say when, how or what will happen. Most corporations are still not at an acceptable standard on this point. Only 2 percent or 3 percent of companies offer information about status.”

Companies say it’s hard to respond adequately to the flood of electronic applications.

“This is a hot topic because electronic recruiting is an open door—anyone can apply,” says Read of P&G. “We might get 2,000 applications for one position. It’s almost impossible to respond to everyone, but we do, and we have tools and capabilities for narrowing the field of candidates. The more potential a person shows, the more involvement they have with P&G people as the process goes on. The process is outlined on our site.”

The acknowledgment process is important enough at Xerox that the company has just put in a new applicant tracking system to allow the company to communicate with applicants about their job status. “We’re seeking to get much, much crisper, so people get a good sense of closure and good communication throughout the process,” says Joe Hammill, director of talent acquisition for Xerox.

Don’t Forget Privacy

Web site privacy policies are critical because they protect applicants while also protecting a company from legal repercussions if candidate data is used in a way the candidate hadn’t anticipated, Rothberg says.

At GE, applicant privacy is critical. “We have Candidate Data Protection Standards, and we take them very seriously,” Collins says. “Before a job seeker applies for a GE job, we ask them to read the standards and provide their consent for us to store and electronically transmit their data within GE. Our standards are a competitive advantage and a visible reminder to our job seekers and employees that we respect them and consider it a privilege that they trust us with their personal information.”

The standards tell job seekers what data the company has and how it is used. The standards “help us in recruiting by letting job seekers know what type of company they’re going to work for—one that operates with integrity and transparency,” Collins says.

Looking at the GE standards, Rothberg notes that privacy protection on a career site is offered on a “take it or leave it” basis. “GE does a great job in documenting candidates’ consent to its privacy policy. Candidates who check ‘no’ can’t apply. But GE loses few if any candidates this way. It’s like the affirmative consent we all provide whenever we install a new piece of software. Has anyone ever checked ‘no’ when going through that process?”

GE’s privacy policy is probably the best in the world, he concludes, because it respects both the privacy rights and interests of job seekers while also protecting the company.

Building a Site

Some companies use internal, dedicated resources. Others, including P&G, use external vendors, in the form of recruitment ad agencies.

“It’s important to have a partnership with someone with expertise,” Hammill says. “You need someone who understands not only the technology, but business principles.” Xerox collaborates with a firm called JWT Employment Communications, and representatives of the two firms meet once a month, constantly tweaking the site.

“We get 5,000 new resumes a month,” Hammill says. “In 2000, 3 percent of our hires came off the Internet. Today, that number is in the double digits. Xerox has almost eliminated all print advertising, he says, in favor of far-less-expensive Internet options.

Other companies are generating a significant number of resumes from online as well.

“We have over half a million visitors a month and a million resumes a year,” says Betty Granata, GE’s project leader in Recruitment Communications.

“IBM welcomes well in excess of a million visitors a year and is the main source of talent flow and hires to the IBM Corp.,” Schreyer says.

Most corporations interviewed declined to say how much their recruitment sites cost to develop and maintain, but Granata and Collins of GE shared a figure readily. “We have $200,000 in the budget for it,” Collins says. “That includes servers and maintenance.”

Integrating with Other Programs

“The recruitment site is a major linchpin of our strategy because everything is funneled through it—online job sites like Monster, print ads and everything else,” Collins says.

Crispin agrees that designing a career web site affects everyone in staffing.

“HRIS is an absolutely integral part of online recruitment,” he says. “Corporations typically take a team approach headed by a senior staffing manager. The team includes HRIS, internal marketing and external consultants.”

Read of P&G notes that the application process starts an electronic data stream. “It triggers everything: getting the person a desk to getting them paid and enrolling them in benefits.”

“Data captured from candidates upon applying to jobs via our applicant tracking system is automatically fed into our HRIS,” says Schreyer of IBM.

The Finishing Touch

Just about everyone acknowledges it’s vital to keep a site fresh and current.

“The average lifespan of a site is three to five years at best,” Hammill says. “We’re renewing ours now.” “You have to constantly retool and reassess,” Collins says. “It’s like your laundry. It’s never done.”

Diane Cadrain is an attorney who has been covering workplace-related legal issues for a variety of publications for more than 20 years. She is a member of the Human Resource Association of Central Connecticut.

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 The Dot-Jobs Option

 

One simple but effective option for corporate career web site design is for companies to create a recruitment site that features the .jobs Internet domain.

In April 2005, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and its Cleveland-based partner, Employ Media LLC, were granted permission by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to create the new top-level Internet domain. Employ began processing applications in June.

Companies must be approved for the .jobs web sites, and, once approved, can set up web pages with their company name followed by .jobs, saving job seekers the time and trouble of going to a company site and hunting for job listings.

The application process was designed to be simple and inexpensive, said officials with SHRM and Employ Media. Applicants will be asked to select from a list of participating Internet site registration companies. Employ Media serves as the wholesaler of the .jobs operation, while SHRM's role is largely to ensure that the service meets the best interests of the recruiting community.

At the Employ Media web site ( www.employmedia.com), employers can learn how to apply for a dot-jobs domain and can access a list of frequently asked questions.

 

 Expert Advice

 

Steven Rothberg, president and founder of CollegeRecruiter.com, lists some factors considered most crucial for a career web site:

Easy access to job link from home page.
Easy-to-find job postings.
Easy-to-understand web pages.
Privacy concerns addressed.
E-mail-a-friend feature.
No login or registration required.
Easy access to job postings.
Easy-to-use job posting search engine.
Engaging and targeted job postings.
Feedback from the employer.
Communications.
Good manners.

 

 Best Practices

 

Sid Simon, director of Product Strategy for Unum Provident: “If you want to keep applicants informed about their status, look at the practices of retail vendors on the Internet. Look at the routing information they give you. That’s extremely valuable information. It’s not thinking outside the box; it’s looking in someone else’s box.”

Scott Read of P&G: “Make sure the site speaks to your target audience. Make it as transparent and clear as it can be. Make it easy to navigate, with not too many steps. If you design it to be clear and transparent, and tune it to their needs, and have a clear process, it will be a success.”

Betty Granata of GE: “Make the career section of your corporate site easy to find and easy to use. Use plain English. Use words and phrases people understand.”

Ray Schreyer of IBM: “Use clear, concise messaging that speaks in the language of the job seeker. Make the site uncluttered and simple to understand. Incorporate a search agent to e-mail job notices to applicants when they become available.”

Joe Hammill of Xerox: “If your company has a strong brand, build a strong relationship between your recruitment site and your corporate marketing people. The corporate marketing site and the career site should have similar language and a similar look and feel.”