Manage Candidates Right from the Start Vol. 53 No. 10 Auto replies aren’t enough. Recruiters need technology tools—and the human touch—to woo qualified candidates.


By By Bill Roberts Oct 1, 2008

With more than 20 years in marketing communications and public relations, the last seven as a freelancer, Alice Andors began looking for a regular full-time job earlier this year. Her first experience job seeking online has been memorable for the wrong reasons.

By midsummer, she had applied to 10 companies and nonprofits. Of those, just four sent an auto reply thanking her, and only one was the least bit personal. In one case, she applied to an environmental nonprofit twice—and heard nothing back either time. This was particularly galling because she knew of the organization and its good work.

“This nonprofit depends on individuals who believe in [its] cause to write checks,” says Andors, a resident of Arlington, Va. “Having been through this experience twice, and having not been acknowledged, I would not make a charitable donation to this nonprofit, even though I believe in its mission. And I’ve also told many friends about this experience.”

In the Internet era, organizations get swamped with resumes. Applications often spike even higher during a down economy. Too often, a candidate sends an application into a black hole never to get a reply. Whether as a result of arrogance, ignorance or incompetence, companies that ignore job applicants expose their organizations to significant risks.

No. 1: The organization’s brand is tarnished because the job seeker, potential customer, donor and future employee might never again buy, donate or apply.

No. 2: The job seeker tells friends, who might not buy, donate or apply.

No. 3: The organization misses a chance to start a relationship with a viable future candidate.

To avoid these risks, some organizations are adopting candidate relationship management (CRM) practices and software to ensure that job seekers have good experiences on the companies’ web sites and to bolster efforts to build talent pools that can be tapped when the companies are able to hire again.

Communicating Warmly

Unfortunately, many candidates share Andors’ experience. Gerry Crispin, SPHR, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Technology and HR Management Special Expertise Panel and a principal at the consulting firm CareerXroads in Kendall Park, N.J., researches companies’ candidate management practices by applying for jobs under an assumed identity. He says 78 of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For sent him an auto reply this year, making 2008 the best year yet for employer responses. “But what about the other 22? And these 100 are the best of the best, on average better than the entire Fortune 500,” Crispin says. Besides, companies truly dedicated to CRM don’t stop after sending an auto reply; they take it a step further by also letting applicants know when the position has been filled. However, not many of the Fortune 100 fall into this category: “Only 17 of the 100 let you know when they have filled the job,” he says.

An organization at least ought to send an e-mail thanking the job candidate for her interest if she is not qualified. Any recruiting software or applicant tracking system worthy of its name has the capability to automate replies, but often HR professionals don’t turn on the feature and use it. Still, CRM is about much more than sending a cursory “thank you.” Smart HR organizations use technology to support recruiting efforts that help identify candidates they might want to hire in the future and to keep in touch with applicants until the right job opens up.

“CRM is about keeping relationships warm,” says Sean Rehder, principal at CRM consultancy Rehder Talent Logistics in Corona, Calif. “When you have an immediate opportunity to hire someone, a recruiter wants to e-mail that person and have them e-mail right back, or call and get a call back.”

Candidate relationship management systems, says Crispin, can provide information that helps a candidate recognize himself as an employee of the company, creating an “I’d fit there” attitude. Such systems clarify with some specifics—not just “because we’re great”—about why people come and why they remain with the organization.

Above all, a good CRM system shows respect to individuals who connect with the organization by “acknowledging all actions and providing status,” says Crispin.

‘Branding Every Day’

Some companies understand that online job applicants expect to be treated like users of consumer web sites. For these companies, CRM begins with the company’s web site. For example, visit the career sites of Bank of America, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft and Whirlpool. You’ll find rich content that resonates with the younger techno-savvy generation, including interactive features, videos, podcasts and blogs designed to help would-be employees understand the competencies they need and the culture and career paths to expect if hired.

Branding drives these efforts. “We consider every candidate a customer, either current or future,” says Kristen Weirick, director of talent acquisition at Whirlpool Corp., in Benton Harbor, Mich. “The candidate application process is an opportunity to drive customer loyalty. It is a way to extend our brand, to touch candidates and show them what we’re all about.”

Last month, Whirlpool launched a major upgrade to its career site, with features including candid statements by 100 current workers at various levels and in various jobs about what it is like to work at Whirlpool and how to prepare for a job there.

To convince managers to invest in the upgrade, Weirick tied it to customer loyalty, a strategic initiative at Whirlpool. “You have to tie HR initiatives to business strategy,” she advises.

Unlike Whirlpool, Textron Inc., a conglomerate based in Providence, R.I., is not a household name. But it does have two product lines most people know—it builds Cessna and Bell Helicopter aircraft.

Recruiters at Textron want to attract former military personnel and give them a good experience on the career site because many veterans have skills that are transferable to Textron’s defense-related jobs. A feature on the site helps veterans understand how their skills transfer and how to pitch those skills in a resume.

“We talk about branding every day,” says Kelley Hoffman, Textron’s enterprise sourcing specialist. “We leverage technology because the millennial generation leverages technology. If one of them has a bad experience on the Textron web site, that person text-messages 300 of his closest friends that he didn’t like it. We can’t afford that kind of advertising.”

Crispin says Microsoft Corp., based in Redmond, Wash., may have the career site to end all career sites, including several recently launched micro-sites tailored to segments of the general population. For example, one site is dedicated to Microsoft’s inclusion and diversity initiatives.

Building a Talent Pool

Many company leaders seem to better understand the need for good career sites than they do the need for practices to manage the relationship with a candidate after he or she applies. Fortunately, recruiting software and applicant tracking systems increasingly support ongoing CRM in much the same way software helps sales personnel manage customer relations.

In a report this year sizing up e-recruiting software, James Holincheck, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn., concluded that most software vendors are rolling out new CRM features in their products. In a survey he conductedearlier this year of 128 organizations that had adopted recruiting software, 45 percent were already using some kind of CRM and 30 percent said they planned to do so within two years.

Software tools are important, but changing business practices remains key. For example, once a candidate’s resume arrives in an organization’s database, companies can gain advantage by using the database as a resource to tap later, assuming it has been filtered and categorized properly. Rehder knows of clients who pay to post new positions on job boards, only to discover through audits that they had qualified candidates in databases they never searched.

New York-based accounting firm Deloitte LLP has addressed this issue, according to Maribeth Bailey, national director of talent acquisition.

Last year, Deloitte received 316,000 resumes from candidates applying for positions requiring experienced professionals. Its applicant tracking system helps Deloitte recruiters sort candidates by qualifications. Last year, about 21,000 made it to an initial job screening by phone, leading to 11,000 being invited for interviews. Every candidate received an auto reply, those who made it to the initial phone screening but no further received a personal e-mail, and the candidates who came for interviews but did not get job offers were informed through personal phone calls. Unless their qualifications are widely off the mark, candidates not hired remain in the database for future reference, Bailey says.

The next time there’s an opening, Bailey explains, “We have sourcing analysts who mine our own database and match these people to jobs. We also have a sourcing team that is out searching for passive candidates who do not apply to one of our openings, and we build relationships with these people, too.”

Textron recently rolled out a workbench of tools, including mass e-mail features, to help recruiters keep in touch with the highly qualified candidates who did not get the original job they applied for, and with candidates recruiters have mined on their own. In another best practice, Textron also surveys via e-mail every candidate who gets as far as an initial interview to see how the experience went and what could be improved.

Information, Please

Companies are drowning in resumes, yet tools can help employers manage the deluge and keep in contact with candidates who have future potential.

Rehder says some companies are making consistent efforts to use e-mail, the phone, blogs, electronic newsletters and other devices, usually paired with in-person recruiting efforts at job fairs, college campus visits and the like, to develop, maintain and nurture the kind of talent pool a company needs. But most HR professionals are not doing nearly enough, he suspects, noting that CRM allows companies to give candidates as much information as possible at each stage of the selection process. “There are three rules to CRM: give, give, give,” he says.

Crispin agrees that information is a key component of CRM, adding that he sees too few companies taking advantage of assets they have. For example, most companies say they promote from within, and, in fact, most do. But they only tout that generically without providing supporting facts on career sites. “On average, large companies fill one-third of all open positions with internal candidates,” he says. “They do have a story to tell candidates, and they are not telling it.”

Growing evidence shows that CRM initiatives work. During the past three years, Whirlpool had an annual average of more than 28,000 individuals apply for jobs on its career site, of which about 3,000 made it to a phone screening interview. In follow-up online surveys, 96 percent of the 3,000 said they would buy Whirlpool products in the future, and 96 percent would recommend Whirlpool as a potential employer to friends and family.

The author is contributing editor for technology at HR Magazine.

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