HR Magazine - September 2000: Where Did They Go?

By Jim Meade Sep 1, 2000
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HR Magazine, September 2000

Vol. 45, No. 9

New systems help human resources track job applicants.

Earlier this year, Dallas-based Internet marketing company imc2 had 50 employees. Since then, the company's workforce has tripled in size—and it may double again before long. To handle the flood of resumes, imc2 tried to take advantage of some electronic tools, but they only made the resumes stack up more quickly.

When imc2 listed on job boards like Monster.com, the result was a pile of unscreened resumes that had to be sorted manually. Other resumes came in via fax, e-mail, the company web site, internal referrals—even old-fashioned U.S. mail. As a result, the company had hundreds of resumes to process each month.

How did it handle all that work? Recruiters screened e-mails individually and sorted them into folders within Microsoft Outlook. Applicant information went into a spreadsheet. If management wanted a report listing "time to hire," HR would go to the spreadsheet and piece together the report.

Facing exponential growth and intense competition for workers, imc2 decided it needed greater automation. The company selected an applicant tracking system—MyHRIS from NuView Systems in Bedford, Mass. Now imc2 can readily track who has applied; it also can avoid unintentionally interviewing candidates previously interviewed and can ensure that candidates are not called by more than one recruiter.

The issues faced by imc2 are common. Processing applications is a burden for many organizations. "There are so few [qualified] candidates—but so many candidates," says Deb Besemer, president of BrassRing Systems, which offers hiring management systems and is based in Waltham, Mass. And some of the electronic tools available—job boards, the Internet, company intranets, e-mail-simply increase the pile of resumes, she says.

Fortunately, a number of systems are available to help HR professionals tackle, tame and analyze the sometimes burdensome mound of resumes and applications. In general, these systems fall into two groups: applicant tracking systems and hiring management systems (HMS).

Applicant Tracking and HMS

Applicant tracking systems have been around for a while; they grew out of the need for HR to better manage and understand the flow of job applicants. These systems often collect information such as candidates' names, skills, education and EEO information. On the hiring side, these modules might track requisitions, approvals and steps in the hiring process, such as the interview.

HMSs are more recent; they sprang up in response to the needs of online recruiters who use job boards. In general, HMSs tend to focus more on quickly matching candidates with positions and focus less on post-hiring data and reports.

While these generalizations may be helpful, they come with an important caveat: The differences between applicant tracking systems and HMSs are shrinking and may become largely semantic. Both types of systems are evolving so rapidly that they sometimes offer tools that would seem to belong in the other's domain. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to place specific products in one category or another.

Applicant Tracking Features

HR professionals seeking an applicant tracking system will find no shortage of options. Dick Frantzreb, compiler of The HR Demo-ROM/Applicant Tracking 2000 Edition, lists 55 such systems, including such well-known products as askSam Systems, Greentree Systems Inc., Recruitsoft.com, !Trak-It Solutions and others mentioned in this article.

To use an applicant tracking system, such as Abra Applicant from Best Software of St. Petersburg, Fla., you open the module, choose the type of search you want to perform (such as a search by skill or college degree), click to view available jobs and match candidates with positions.

In addition, the programs allow HR to compile any number of reports. Sample Abra reports include "EEO applicant summary" and "applicants by reject reason." Some typical reports from MyHRIS include "applicant interview summary report" and "resume scan for skills by keyword."

Fueled by the Internet and the current shortage of candidates, software providers are adding more capabilities to applicant tracking. For example, Abra has added a self?service capability that allows employees to see which jobs are available without going through HR. According to product manager Mark Sokol, the Abra system now contains alerts that automatically generate e-mails to applicants in response to resumes gathered from the Internet.

iVantage, from Spectrum Human Resources in Denver, provides reports on "time to hire" and "cost of recruitment per hire," says president Jim Spoor. The program also creates reports to help companies analyze the needed future workforce skills.

Hiring Management Systems

A major advantage of an HMS is that it allows your organization to integrate its corporate web site with job boards. That's a weakness of some traditional applicant systems, which "don't do a lot on the Web recruitment side," according to Spoor.

Some of the most commonly mentioned HMSs by those interviewed for this article include Hire.com, Hotjobs.com, Personic, Webhire and BrassRing Systems (formerly Hiresystems.com).

Grant Gingery, spokesman for BrassRing Systems, says his company's HMS allows users to create requisitions and post them either internally or to any of hundreds of job boards. As resumes come in, BrassRing handles all resume processing and places information into a proprietary database. (Company staff members scan or even type data into the database, if needed. Other HMSs also provide such data-input services.) You then can perform sophisticated searches against the information, to report on items such as "time to hire" or even integrate with the company's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

Some HMSs are widening their scope. Icarian eWorkforce of Sunnyvale, Calif., for example, tracks performance and measures hiring success once candidates become employees.

One web site, POWERHiring.com, seeks to offer "all the tools needed to optimize the performance of the job boards—selecting the right job board, assessing competency, finding candidates, writing ads, doing background screening—even negotiating the offer and doing the closing," says company president Lou Adler.

User Results

Whether they use applicant tracking or HMSs, some users have experienced dramatic results.

Jeremy Bono, director of recruiting for Global Network Technology Services Inc. in Rochester, N.H., uses Recruitsoft.com, an applicant tracking system. The system, he says, "helps us identify talent quickly, in a matter of seconds. We get an e-mail right away on whether a person is going to fit, and, in seconds, we can act on a candidate that's hot."

Mark Anderson, director of strategic recruiting for New York Internet advertising agency Doubleclick, uses Softshoe recruiting system, an HMS from Hotjobs.com. Anderson says the company received nearly 10,000 resumes in the first quarter; from these, it hired 500 people. That kind of growth, says Anderson, makes it incredibly important "for the recruiting team to manage the flow of candidates, track accordingly and respond in a timely manner." Softshoe not only helps manage this process, it also helps Doubleclick compile reports on the number of resumes, phone interviews, first and second interviews, offers extended, offers accepted, and offers declined.

Eric Dzwonkowski, internet manager for strategic staffing services of US West in Denver, uses Hire.com—an HMS—for "relationship building" with candidates. Hire.com, he says, "has push technology to match our job postings with job seekers." It also screens candidates with questionnaires and stays in touch with future prospects. The approach enables the company to attract both active and passive job seekers, a common objective in today's tight labor market.

Barbara Daugherty, a senior recruiter with Documentum Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif., uses Personic, another HMS. Previously, Daugherty says, each of the company's recruiters "was literally getting hundreds of e-mails a day." Now, she says, "When we come in every morning we have x number of resumes tagged as fitting our criteria. Instead of looking through 200 resumes, we see a listing that says '10 new hits on this job,' '5 new hits on this.' "

Technical Issues

Just a few years ago, applicant tracking applications were client/server based. That is, your company purchased the software outright and installed it on your company's own client/server network. Today, you have the option of an "application service provider" (ASP)—that is, a rental option whereby the application remains on the provider's network and you access it via the Internet.

While most Internet-based HMSs offer only the ASP (rental) option, you still have the option to buy most traditional applicant tracking systems, such as Spectrum, Best and NuView. One strong Internet?based hiring system—dgStaff from digitalgarden.com of Belle Mead, N.J.—is strictly for sale, not for rent.

Which is best for you—the traditional client/server route or an ASP? It depends.

Marty Fahey, president of Webhire.com, says the ASP solution offers advantages for some HR departments. Human resources, he says, is often "the last to get money, IT talent and IT attention. HR very rarely has the resources to maintain" its hiring system. The rental option allows HR to sidestep these issues and "be up and running quickly ¼ in as little as a week," says Webhire's director of marketing, Greg Mancusi?Ungaro.

The chief concern of the ASP model is security. If you are renting, your data doesn't reside safely within your own company's "firewall."

"Security is the largest impediment to going with an ASP model," concedes Allen Murabayashi, Hotjobs' vice president of engineering. He believes, however, that ASP is still the right choice.

"The ASP model is evolving incredibly fast," says analyst Yves Lermusiaux, co?founder of iLogos Research, owned by Recruitsoft.com. "Is the ASP model the right one? Today there is no question it is the right one for hiring management systems."

But that may change.

"In the short run," says Shafiq Lokhandwala, president of NuView Systems, "I see these [HMS] companies making hay. In a while, though, those same capabilities will be available at a cheap rate [on the client/server model]. Then, users will revert back to the old model, where they have more control over the system and will find it more flexible to adapt to their own needs."

Questions for Vendors

With so much to think about, here are a few questions to keep in mind as you consider applicant tracking and HMS solutions:

What are your needs as a company? Don't rush out and commit to an HMS just because it is new. A small company with modest turnover may well be able to make do with more traditional applicant tracking.

How will the new system work with your existing systems? Have the vendor explain how you would be able to import and export data into your current system. Vendors often promise "integration with your ERP solution." But that integration may come at a cost; in short, you may have to pay the vendor to write additional code. If the vendor talks about implementation consulting, as is likely, get a good idea about costs.

Should you rent or buy? If you have a strong IT department that provides support, you may prefer the control and flexibility of an ASP. If IT support is weak or nonexistent, think seriously about ASP.

What are the costs? Are they justified? Even though ASP costs are small on a "per resume" basis, they can add up quickly, even into thousands of dollars per month—amounts that might allow you to buy your own client/server solutions.

Users find that recouping a single headhunting fee—as much as $30,000—can justify the cost of an applicant tracking or an ASP solution. But does the projected solution truly reduce your headhunting fees or simply add another cost to them? (Lermusiaux points out that Recruitsoft.com offers a "pay per hire" option that eliminates the risk of expending money with no results.)

Also, be sure to consider security questions, the reputation and longevity of the provider and references from users who have tried the product.

Conclusion

With the deluge of resumes from job boards and the pressure to find qualified talent, applicant tracking systems and HMSs are rising to a high profile on the HR landscape. Which will dominate? It may not matter. Either system will provide needed support right now for overworked HR professionals.

As Jim Spoor says, "Administrivia is going away. If that is what HR people view their job as being, they have a short life cycle ahead of them. The real value is analytical, forecasting capabilities, in being part of the core business processes."

Applicant tracking assists HR in moving beyond the administrative tasks of the past, and it may well, indeed, continue to move HR in the direction of e-recruitment as well.

Jim Meade, Ph.D., based in Fairfield, Iowa, is an author and HR software consultant. He is currently preparing The 2001 Guide to HR Software with Harcourt Professional Publishing. Contact him at words@lisco.com.

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