Recruiting on the Run

Mobile recruiting networks offer efficiency, reach and immediacy.

By Jennifer Taylor Arnold Feb 1, 2010
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0210cover.jpgLike hundreds of other employers, Hewitt and Associates had a booth at the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) Exhibition in New Orleans in September 2009. But unlike other recruiters, the Lincolnshire, Ill.-based HR consulting and outsourcing firm took an unusual approach to the typical job fair experience. Instead of collecting business cards and handing out collateral, Hewitt displayed posters prompting attendees to text message "HEWDIVERSITY" to a specified five-digit number. Every texter was entered in a prize drawing—and added to Hewitt’s growing mobile recruiting network.

This network allows Hewitt to communicate with a pool of interested job seekers—wherever they are—as soon as positions become available and results in much higher penetration than other forms of recruitment marketing. It creates "an audience that wants to hear from you," says Michael Marlatt, former Hewitt recruiter and architect of the NBMBAA mobile recruiting campaign.

Few employers realize the potential of mobile recruiting. "It’s cutting-edge," says Chris Hoyt, a recruiter for AT&T and a self-proclaimed "evangelist," but not because it is complicated, expensive or inaccessible. In fact, with the right tools, an employer can create a mobile recruiting presence in days for far less than it typically pays for a newspaper ad or a job board posting.

Reaching Job Seekers

According to CTIA-The Wireless Association, U.S. residents use more than 270 million mobile devices. Considering that the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the population to be at about 304 million, that means roughly 89 percent now have some type of mobile device.

And those devices are used for far more than phone calls. Users send and receive texts—technically referred to as "SMS," or "short messaging service"—browse the web, send and receive e-mail, and more. While professionals still spend hours in front of computers at work and at home, they spend even more time with mobile devices.

Hence, mobile recruiting campaigns make sense. Give job seekers an opportunity to continue to connect with you, advises Marlatt, who launched mobile recruiting campaigns at Microsoft before starting his consultancy, Cloud Recruiting.

That connection goes two ways: Mobile devices also make it convenient for job seekers to reach out to potential employers.

Not Just for Teenagers

Text campaigns, such as the one Hewitt used at the NBMBAA fair, offer several benefits:

Efficiency. For years, employers have used opt-in e-mail lists to distribute information on opportunities. "E-mail marketing has a single-digit open rate," Hoyt explains. In contrast, Hoyt says, SMS has a 92 percent read rate.

Reach. While not all phones allow users to view e-mail, texting capabilities are nearly universal.

Immediacy. While data doesn’t exist yet, Hoyt says it "obviously stands to reason that the time to fill would be shorter."

The first step is ensuring that people opt in to a text list voluntarily. It’s permission-based, says Marlatt: You can’t just grab mobile numbers from LinkedIn pages and send them texts. That’s illegal, and one complaint can cost $11,000. People don’t get charged by their Internet service provider for spam e-mail, but they do get charged for texts. That’s why mobile carriers and Federal Trade Commission officials look at it differently.

Employers can create an opt-in opportunity for job seekers through messages added to advertising, on web sites and on career pages. Send people on existing candidate lists an e-mail inviting them to text a message to a specific short code to join the SMS distribution network. Once job seekers send that first text, the employer captures their mobile numbers and is free to send SMS messages at will. As with e-mail lists, however, recruiters must provide an opportunity for job seekers to opt out of the network.

Depending on the volume of opportunities available, employers may choose to create segmented text prompts. For example, job seekers could text "RETAILJOBS," "TECHJOBS" or "SALESJOBS" to the short code, depending on the types of jobs they are interested in. Hoyt uses this approach at AT&T. "We have separate mobile channels for each of our leadership programs," he says. "This allows a very customized response. It’s very personal." AT&T launched mobile recruiting in February 2009. As of December, the company had 160,000 numbers in its network.

Job seekers who opt in can be sorted and reported by location, allowing for targeted communication. Recently, Hoyt needed to fill a retail sales position in Chicago. By drawing on his opt-in network, he pulled a list of retail job seekers with Chicago-area mobile numbers and sent them a text message about the opportunity. Within threehours, 40 percent of the recipients had responded.

As prospective employees move through the recruitment process, text messaging can be used to schedule interviews and send appointment reminders. In some industries, you sometimes see double-digit no-show rates for interviews, Hoyt says. Texting "will combat this."

Job seekers benefit, too. They may be uncomfortable receiving e-mail or phone calls from prospective employers at their current jobs; text messaging is seen as a confidential way to communicate.

An App for That

A recent flurry of releases provides recruiting applications, or "apps," for the iPhone, Apple’s version of the smart phone. Apps for the iPhone are available for downloading for free or a nominal one-time charge; the iPhone user can then take advantage of the app’s function from that device alone.

Some recruiting apps target job seekers. One example, Real Time Jobs, launched in October 2009, allows users to search and reply to job listings distributed through Twitter or entered by employers on the Real Time Jobs web site. Job seekers can upload resumes, social media profiles or video clips for remote storage "in the cloud" and later attach the files when responding to a job posting. In August 2009, AT&T introduced an iPhone app that users can download to learn about and apply for AT&T jobs; according to Hoyt, it is the first employment-driven app from an employer.

Other apps target recruiters. AutoSearch, an iPhone app introduced in September 2009, allows recruiters to find passive candidates who meet criteria such as geographic location and job title by running keyword searches that turn up social media offerings, online news reports or research. AutoSearch offers a software-as-a-service (SaaS) desktop version as well.

Making Tools Accessible

The other piece of the mobile recruiting puzzle is to ensure that the rest of an employer’s electronic recruiting presence is mobile-friendly. "A lot of people mess up," opines Marlatt. Although many mobile devices now offer web browsing and e-mail reading, the experiences are often less than satisfactory. Web sites and e-mails designed for desktops don’t always translate well to mobile viewing: Load times lengthen, graphics don’t display, text is difficult to read, and click-throughs don’t work.

To ignore this reality is to undercut the medium’s potential. The power of mobile is in immediacy and convenience. To leverage those benefits, users need to be able to go right to the web to learn more about specific opportunities and the company.

"Designing web sites for mobile doesn’t mean just converting the existing desktop site," advises Jon Cooper, chief marketing officer for Philadelphia-based PhindMeMobile, a mobile technology provider whose executives recently announced its acquisition by Movitas, a provider of mobile marketing solutions for the hospitality industry. "It’s a different medium. All the stuff on the desktop doesn’t make sense. It’s not the right stuff for the [mobile] user."

But that doesn’t mean employers have to start from scratch. A site designed for mobile users takes elements from an existing desktop site and presents them in a streamlined format with fewer bells and whistles. In most cases, it isn’t even necessary to create a new URL; a "device detection" function can be built in, directing users to the appropriate site, depending on the entry device.

Many Features, Low Price

SaaS solutions make going mobile easy and affordable for any size business. Vendors offer a range of services for mobile marketing campaigns that can easily be adapted for recruiting. Hoyt and Marlatt use everywhereigo, a mobile campaign solution provided by Movitas; for $30 to $100 a month, users can set up messages or short code combinations, manage contact lists, enable device detection, and create mobile-optimized web sites. Sending texts is an expense, but for most businesses the costs would be negligible.

HR technology companies are starting to get in on the trend, too. For example, Wayne, Pa.-based Kenexa is testing a version of its Recruiter Brass Ring that is optimized for mobile access. This will improve mobile access for job seekers and for HR staff members and managers. Hiring managers and recruiters will be able to view requisitions, review candidate details and move them through the hiring process from a mobile device. "This will provide better workflow and better turnaround times," says Barrett Richardson, director of Kenexa Recruiter Brass Ring product management, who expects this version to be available early in 2010.

It’s still too early to gauge mobile’s full impact on the recruiting industry. These early adoptersacknowledge that mobile isn’t going to completely replace other types of recruiting. "A lot of people want to say job boards are dead," Hoyt says. "They’re not." But he says mobile recruiting is here to stay as part of AT&T’s recruiting mix, adding, "It is now a priority resource for us, as opposed to mass mailings and e-mails."

Before he plans for print media, he goes mobile.

The author is a freelance writer based in Baltimore.

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