HR Magazine - August 2000: Online and Overwhelmed

By Bill Leonard Aug 1, 2000
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HR Magazine, August 2000

Vol. 45, No. 8

Does using the Internet for recruitiing overwhelm you? Take control by evaluating sites, honing job postings and boosting your searching savvy.

Employers are using the Internet to find qualified applicants for jobs from entry level to CEO and from truck driver to airline pilot. No job is outside the Internet’s reach, it seems. "I never thought that we would ever recruit a receptionist online, but we recently hired an applicant we found by using the Internet," one corporate recruiter recalls.

As the worsening labor shortage in the United States creates an intense recruiting competition, the Internet can provide some excellent weapons to help employers fight for talented and qualified job candidates, recruiters and employers say.

Most employers can start with the many job boards and career sites for posting job openings and searching job-seekers’ online resumes. Employers willing to invest more time and effort in searching the Internet themselves can go even further, using a host of other sites, plus searching tricks, to track potential candidates who aren’t seeking jobs—and who don’t turn up on job boards. (Another option is to get job seekers to come to you by creating a dynamic corporate recruiting web site.)

Organizations that ignore the Internet’s recruiting power risk falling behind their competitors, experts warn. "The demographics of the next few years absolutely dictate that everyone cannot win this war for talent," says Gerry Crispin, co-author of CareerXroads 2000: Where Talent and Opportunity Connect on the Internet (Jist Works, 2000).

An Explosion of Online Postings

In 1998, a survey by J. Walter Thompson in Los Angeles found that 70 percent of the 550 HR professionals it polled used the Internet for recruiting. Compare this to just 21 percent in a similar 1996 study. Some online recruitment experts, such as Crispin, are saying that the percentage of companies recruiting online could now be approaching 80 percent. This dramatic increase in online recruiting activity has led to an equally rapid expansion of the number of web sites where employers can post job openings and where job seekers can place electronic versions of their resumes.

"At least 30,000 web sites are trying to gain a piece of this market," says Crispin. "An estimated 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies are posting jobs on their own sites, and then perhaps a million corporate web sites from the smallest to the largest of companies are posting jobs. The question facing job recruiters and job seekers alike is: ‘How do we sort this all out?’"

"My advice is take it slow at the start and be sure that the web sites you use fit your needs," says Margaret Dikel, a recruitment consultant and creator of the Riley Guide, an Internet recruitment directory (www .rileyguide.com). "The Internet can be a wonderful recruitment tool, but that’s all it is—a tool, a part of the recruiting process. Employers that believe the Internet will cure all their recruiting woes are just setting themselves up for disappointment."

Some places to begin looking for recruitment resources on the web are online directories such as the Riley Guide, www.airsdirectory.com or www.careerxroads.com. Most of these directories are free and provide information about and links to recruitment sites.

Beware of the Hype

All the consultants and recruiters interviewed for this article agreed that posting job openings on the largest and best-known job boards works well. Many of the boards also have excellent resume databases you can search. However, the experts caution that you should assess the sites yourself and not be taken in by claims that a site has the "largest resume database available" or is "the most visited job site on the Internet."

"Almost all the boards are cooking their books to hype their traffic," says Crispin. "Look for sites that disclose the demographics of their [visitor] database. The better web sites will be able to tell you how many times your jobs were seen, and you should be able to measure either with their help."

If you don’t want to base your decisions on job boards’ own claims and statistics, see what recruiters think works best. "The best way to find out which job boards are the most popular is to ask employees, especially new hires," says Gary Cluff, national staffing director at the CIA Recruitment Center in Reston, Va. "I have little or no confidence in the self-proclaimed traffic reports touted by the sites themselves."

Many recruiters say they prefer using Monster.com, citing the board’s ease of use and tracking capabilities. Other job board sites recruiters mention are CareerMosaic.com, Hotjobs.com and CareerPath.com.

If you are recruiting for specialized jobs and worry that you won’t find what you need on large job boards, note that the boards group some occupations into specialized "channels" or "communities" such as health care, technology, HR, finance, public sector and sales. Employers seeking to fill specialized jobs also can turn to smaller, tightly focused boards such as Techies.com, which offers only technology jobs, or the self-explanatory Healthcareers-online.com.

Pretend to Be a Job-Seeker

Dikel says once you have narrowed down your choices through research, then visit the job boards. "Pretend that you’re looking for a job similar to the one that you want to post, and conduct a search for the job by typing in three key qualifications for the job," she suggests. "Then see how many similar-type jobs are listed on the board. You’ll then have a good idea of what the competition will be like for the applicants whom you want to interview."

If the search doesn’t bring up any similar jobs, then most likely, employers have found that applicants qualified for this type of job don’t peruse that particular job board. If the search brings up an extensive list of similar jobs, then you know other employers probably have had some luck using the site, Dikel points out.

After you settle on a board, then you need to customize your job posting so it stands out among the other listings. The same holds true for posting job ads in newspapers, and you can apply some of that experience to job posting on the web, Dikel says.

"You don’t want to make your postings too broad or too narrow," Dikel says. "If it’s too broad, then your posting will be listed with a bunch of jobs with similar or even slightly similar qualifications and will just get lost in the shuffle. If the posting is too narrow, then the job applicants probably won’t be able to find it."

Weighing the Costs

The cost for posting job openings is fairly consistent among the large job boards. Fee-based sites that offer single postings typically charge $100 to $200 per posting.

With most boards, a minimum package allowing 10 postings per month plus access to the resume database might cost $400 to $500 a month. Some larger companies that hire thousands of employees every year have opted for unlimited postings and database access and pay $100,000 or more per year.

The costs compare favorably with placing job ads in newspapers, and in some cases, the job boards may be more cost effective. Some large metropolitan newspapers may charge up to $2,000 to run a display ad that may appear in the paper for one or two days.

"I think that posting ads on an Internet job board is much more cost effective than placing ads in newspapers," says Bill Jahncke, senior HR consultant for Allstate Insurance Corp. in Northbrook, Ill. "I recently placed an ad in the Chicago Tribune and only received two resumes for the ad." Newspapers have received the message, and most now provide their own online job boards.

Stephen Kauffmann, a national recruitment marketing manager at Humana Inc. in Louisville, Ky., says it’s a good idea to use any special deals that a job board might offer. Some web sites offer a free, two- or three-month trial subscription and, as Kauffmann says, "Why not use it if it’s free?"

A trial can help you assess the board’s job-seeker traffic and determine whether you can find good candidates there. Dikel advises employers to rate a job board’s success by the number of qualified candidates they get from postings—not by the number of hires resulting from the postings.

"You may interview several qualified candidates but hire someone that responded to a newspaper ad or was referred to you by another employee," Dikel says. "Does this mean your online posting was a failure? Not at all, because you had several good candidates and could afford to hire the best."

Small Firms Benefit Too

Using job boards isn’t limited to large employers. Many smaller organizations are finding that these sites have something to offer them too.

In the six months Alexa Finkler has worked for Intermet Corp., a manufacturer of cast metal automotive parts, she has used online recruiting to find 90 percent of the 20-plus people she has hired for the Stevensville, Mich., plant. Though Intermet employs about 8,000 people nationwide, the Stevensville plant employs only 140 people, and Finkler, an HR supervisor, recruits solely for that facility.

"Stevensville has a population of about 8,000 people and frankly, to recruit for some of the engineering positions here, I had to expand my searches, sometimes nationwide," Finkler says.

Finkler pushed for online recruiting at Intermet chiefly out of necessity. The Stevensville plant needed workers and just wasn’t getting qualified applicants through traditional means. "Stress is a very useful innovator," she says. "HR professionals who haven’t used the Internet to recruit employees are hampering themselves and missing out on a very useful tool."

Though Finkler says she uses Monster.com and CareerMosaic and has had success with both, she doesn’t just limit her searches for applicants to the major job boards. In fact, Finkler says that large boards are a small part of her online recruiting strategy.

"I use a variety of web sites to post and search for job candidates," says Finkler. "I have found that college job boards are an excellent resource, and most associations have good web sites where you can post jobs and also look for people who are seeking positions."

Finkler says that she has used job boards provided by the state of Michigan with some success. She also uses the web sites of association chapters located in cities such as Detroit and Chicago and says they are excellent sources, especially when you need to confine your search to certain geographic areas.

Finding the Source

While job boards and other career-related sites are resources for locating candidates, they tend to connect recruiters only with people who are actively seeking jobs. How do you find so-called passive candidates—those people who may be perfect fits for your job openings but who aren’t cruising the job boards or posting their resumes on job sites?

Try what the online recruiters call "recruitment sourcing." Sourcing means finding any source of potential candidates, including job boards but also tracking down the names of passive candidates everywhere on the web from personal web pages to association sites.

Many companies have hired source specialists who work with corporate recruiters to find potential candidates. "We have two dedicated source strategists here at Humana who work with our recruiters to locate potential candidates," says Kauffmann.

According to Kauffmann, recruiters provide the strategists with job descriptions and qualifications. The strategists then search the Internet to find sources and lists of potential candidates. This frees the recruiters to do what they do best—recruit and sell the company as a great place to work.

"It’s a completely different skill set to be a source strategist, and, if your organization is serious about Internet recruiting, you need to have at least one or two on staff," Kauffmann recommends.

If your organization isn’t ready to hire a sourcing strategist, you can turn to consulting firms such as Creative Recruitment Solutions (CRS) in Alpharetta, Ga.; Netrecruiter.net in Bethesda, Md.; or Advanced Internet Recruitment Strategies (AIRS) in Hanover, N.H.

AIRS concentrates on training recruiters to use sourcing strategies, while Netrecruiter and CRS will perform searches and compile lists of potential candidates for their clients. Renee Reschenthaler, a project manager with CRS, says that she’s happy to share tips on sourcing strategies "because once recruiters try it and see what kind of work and effort goes into the process, then they’ll be happy to pay for the services of someone like me."

Tricks of the Sourcing Trade

"There’s a lot of junk on the Internet, and a good sourcing strategist can sift through all that junk and find what you’re really looking for," says Kauffmann.

One way to search for passive candidates is simply to use a web search engine. Search engines sift the web for sites in response to user queries. Reschenthaler says she likes to use AltaVista.com, alltheweb.com or surfenginewatch.com. But just knowing the search engine address and typing in a few search parameters probably won’t get the results you want.

"Frankly you’ll probably just end up with a lot of useless junk, if you don’t know what you’re doing. It takes some practice and work to really figure out what works and what doesn’t," says Reschenthaler.

By using well-thought-out searches, recruiters will uncover all sorts of leads.

"For example, if you include resume.htm or resume.html in the search string, you will get a lot of interesting hits," she says. "When people post their resume on their home page, they usually use this file name. So if combined with some key words for job qualifications, you will probably uncover some likely job candidates."

People with personal pages are usually more technically savvy, and sometimes they post information about themselves and their jobs. Reschenthaler says that by using a technique called "flipping," you can find the personal web pages of potential job candidates.

In flipping, you trace links to other web sites. For example, if you were searching for someone with experience at Sprint Communications, you can search for web pages that link to the Sprint home page. Often, people will include links from their personal web sites to their employers’ web sites.

Reschenthaler says that association web pages—especially those with online conference information—are another excellent resource. "We recently pulled a phone list with more than 1,200 names of potential job applicants off a conference attendee list. These kinds of lists can be gold mines," says Reschenthaler, who found the list not by seeking out the association but as a result of a broader search for people with certain experience.

But such information on associations’ web sites may be restricted to members, and associations may prohibit commercial uses by non-members. For example, the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) web site—which does not include conference attendee lists—is run under a policy stating that only members can access SHRM’s online membership rolls. The policy also stipulates that such online information is for members’ personal, non-commercial use only and adds that unauthorized use can result in legal action.

Whatever online tricks they use, businesses will be doing more hunting for passive candidates, says Allstate’s Jahncke. "While we had some good success recruiting online there are still a lot of other ways to find qualified candidates. It’s definitely not the be all and end all for recruiting," he says. "As more employers start moving their recruiting efforts online, we will have to be much more creative and find the passive job candidates—that’s the challenge and will give you the real edge in this business."

Editor’s Note: For more information about technology to help you track and use the information you get from online recruiting, see the technology supplement in the September issue of HR Magazine .

Bill Leonard is senior writer for HR Magazine.

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