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Staffing Management: The Changing Landscape

Stephenie Overman  1/4/2007

Vol. 3, No. 2

Low-cost, high-impact technological tools can reduce the distance between you and the candidate you want.

Methods that employment candidates, especially younger ones, use to communicate with each other also could be used by staffing professionals to find the best prospects for company positions. Technological tools such as instant messaging, blogs and interactive social networking have created "a new landscape" that didn't exist even two years ago, says Maureen Crawford Hentz, manager of talent acquisition for Osram Sylvania Inc., Danvers, Mass.

To find your way in that new landscape "go for the low-cost, high-impact" technology tools first, Crawford Hentz advises. "Start one little bit at a time," such as "using the vernacular" of instant messaging (IM) to contact young candidates. She says some recruiters feel overwhelmed by the real-time capabilities of IM, but "the great thing is you can put an 'away' message on" to indicate that you are not available.

"You don't need to use cutesy messaging lingo such as 'u' for 'you.' I type in regular standard written correspondence, but I don't think badly of students who do not," says Crawford Hentz, a former college career services director who often does presentations for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. "It's different for e-mail; you want students to have the writing skills. I make a distinction. You have to adjust your language expectations."

"All technology can be a time vortex," Crawford Hentz warns. Companies often think they have to create and maintain their own blogs, but a blog is especially time-consuming. Instead, she visits other blogs and posts comments. "I wouldn't go on an engineering blog and say we have lots of jobs. But I would go in, see who's posting and say where I'm from and what we're working on. It builds our employment brand."

Some companies try podcasting-distributing electronic audio and video files over the Internet-to reach potential job candidates. The popularity of YouTube and other free video-sharing web sites highlights the medium's great potential for recruiting purposes.

But the medium isn't effective if the message is boring. "Employers think they should put out a history of the company, but that's not of general interest," Crawford Hentz says. "Podcasts should be the start of a conversation" between the company and the candidate.

Crawford Hentz likes to offer content to college career centers and affinity groups that is aimed at job seekers. "Give insider tips, the kind of advice you would want to get from a friend," she says. "For example, do a podcast on things to think about on the way to an interview" and a candidate can load it into an iPod or similar device and actually listen to it on the way to the interview.

When she did a podcast offering tips on making the most of career fairs, "it got more 'bounce' than placing ads in the paper. The power of podcasting is that you have longer 'dwell time' in the candidate's head. When they hear good solid career information, it transfers over to my company. It's for the good of the order, but it's also a good way to advertise our company."

Newer and Newer Networks

Recruiters continuously look for the latest social networking tools, according to Gary Cluff, recruiting manager for MITRE, a McLean, Va., organization that manages three federally funded research centers.

Traffic to major job boards "is steadily declining," Cluff says, "with older models increasingly using new, more focused tools. A lot are trying to create a community or niches where you don't have to broadcast to the world. People get tired of that."

One of the newer tools is Zoom Information Inc. (zoominfo.com), which describes itself as "the search engine for discovering people, companies and relationships."

"Anyone who has worked in the executive search business has relied on directories. This tool virtually replaces all that," Cluff says.

Another recruiting tool, LinkedIn (linkedin.com), is a professional online network, "a grown-up MySpace," as Cluff describes it. "It's very selective. You select who you give permission to access" your information.

Although companies can post jobs and allow people to respond with "some anonymity in the process," Cluff says he finds the site most effective for connecting with "my own recruiting world when I have questions or need recommendations from my network."

Crawford Hentz agrees that the networking tools keep changing. "I was promoting a social network last year. I don't even use it anymore." She calls LinkedIn "the category killer" today, even though "it wasn't really talked about" until early 2006.

"It's a community where people can subvert the 'old boy' paradigm, in a way. It used to be who you know. This allows you to know a number of people you've never met," she says.

When social networks are used, they should never replace the human interaction, Crawford Hentz adds. "It should be high-tech and high-touch. The purpose of technology is that people can get the personal attention they need. If you only use LinkedIn technology, and don't pick up the phone and build a rapport, you're missing something."

A Grande Internal Network

Starbucks Coffee Co. has created its own internal network: mypartnercareer. Since it launched the site in May 2006, nearly half of its 130,000 employees have signed on, creating personal profiles, asking questions and sharing information.

"It's a technology tool that looks very much like MySpace," says Carmen Hudson, Starbucks' manager of global strategic sourcing. "I'm a big fan of business networking sites. It opens the world of candidates in a way that hasn't existed before."

Starbucks is made up of "tens of thousands of little stores disconnected from other stores," Hudson says, but with computers in each store, employees can connect to one another through the HRIS system.

Now, for example, "if a barista [coffee bartender] in Chicago is interested in joining the corporate office in Seattle, they can find a person at headquarters to network with about how to develop their career" and make the move, Hudson says.

Or, if a Starbucks recruiter is looking for an accountant, he or she might find an employee working as a barista who is finishing up an accounting degree.

"Why advertise when we already have this person? It's 10 percent of our hires; think what that does to the motivation of people in our stores," Hudson says. "It's got huge legs."

She and Cara Beck, manager of internal talent solutions, see the site as a great tool for disseminating information. "It reduces a lot of noise and answers a lot of questions for people," Hudson says.

If employees are curious about a particular job, they can search and find other people in that job and view their career paths, Beck says. "They can reach out and network and can conduct an informational interview."

Starbucks uses the site to "clarify the skills required for each job so employees can make better choices," according to Beck. Department overviews explain what a particular department does within the organization.

"We highlight a few jobs that we have open frequently," she says, usually specialist or manager-level positions. "We talk about the job and give fun facts. We direct a lot of partners there if they are interviewing [in that department]. In some cases, we have a section called 'meet the team' and a typical day on the job."

This also allows Starbucks employees to self-select out of positions that wouldn't suit them, Beck adds. For example, the license group spends about two weeks at new store locations, setting up, training the team and then moving on to the next store.

"It's a great transitional role, but they travel all the time. People would apply for the job, then realize it's traveling all the time," Beck says. "When we first launched the site, it was one of the jobs we profiled. A person [in the position] said 'it's a fun job, but if you can't see yourself on the road five days a week [don't apply]."

Starbucks continues to increase "the functionality of the tool," Hudson says. "We want to create the ability to create communities. We want people who have like interests to be able to join communities. We want to feature folks who host blogs."

The next step, according to Beck and Hudson, is to link mypartnercareer into Starbucks' applicant tracking system.

The next step in hot technological tools is less clear. As Cluff says, "those of us who have been monitoring the evolution of recruiting are waiting with bated breath for the next generation of tools. We don't know what it is or we'd be launching it. Until the next great idea comes along, we're all trying to carve our niche into the general marketplace."

Stephenie Overman is editor of Staffing Management.

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