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High-Tech Doesn't Replace High-Touch in Recruiting: Why Traditional Methods Still Matter

A blurry image of a group of people crossing a busy street.

Many years ago, recruitment was a very manual process. Companies spent most of their recruitment budgets on placing classified or display ads in local print newspapers or industry trade publications, attending career fairs, and working their personal networks.

Then emerged, disrupting the traditional classified advertising approach to recruitment and introducing HR pros to the world of online recruitment. LinkedIn wasn't far behind and, along the way, various automated platforms emerged to allow organizations to readily connect with candidates around the globe through online channels that quickly grew to include other social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and even Pinterest and Instagram.

But when recruiters rely so heavily on technology, is something lost in the mix? HR pros are well aware of the candidate concerns about online application systems that are cumbersome and their own worries over qualified applicants whose resume may get tossed if it doesn't contain the right keywords.

Are we depending on technology too much in the recruitment process? As goes the push and pull between traditional and digital communication, in general, when it comes to adopting best practices in recruitment, it's not an either/or dichotomy—it's creating the right combination of both that yields efficiencies and appropriately engages and builds relationships with high-quality prospects.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Recruiting Internally and Externally]

We Need Tech

There are important reasons why tech can't be taken out of the recruitment process, said Ernie Paskey, who leads Aon Hewitt's assessment solutions in Washington, D.C.: 

  • Members of the Millennial generation, raised with technology, use their devices to interact with organizations and also when seeking employment.
  • Online channels have increased employers' reach for candidates, meaning that the number of applicants received has grown exponentially. But that's also a "pain point" for recruiters, said Paskey.
  • Using text and chat to communicate with candidates sends a message about the employer's comfort with technology and positions the employer as being innovative and current.

Still, the very technology that can aid the recruitment process can also create bottlenecks, said Susan Hosage, a senior consultant with OneSource HR Solutions, and an executive coach and educator in the Scranton, Pa., area.

"Internet recruitment and applicant tracking systems have attempted to create large pools of suitable applicants [and] reduce the time-consuming human intervention that previously plagued recruitment and selection processes," she said.  However, she added: "Casting these virtual worldwide nets has simply created clutter and noise resulting in qualified applicants getting lost in the deluge of mostly unqualified candidates."

Recruitment Is Personal

Along with advancements in new technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality, people-to-people connections are important. For many employers, Hosage noted, more traditional, localized approaches to recruitment can yield better results. "Employee referral programs, contacts with community organizations, connecting with high school and college guidance counselors, and utilizing the local Department of Labor offices will often result in a better applicant pool."

Recruiters should certainly avail themselves of the tech tools that can help to automate the recruiting process and provide connections to potential employees through the many devices and apps they now use. But they must also continue to engage through traditional channels, said Steve Wolfe, executive vice president of operations and administration at Addison Group, a professional staffing firm headquartered in Chicago.

That means, he said, that "As a recruiter, it's important to continue to speak at schools, join networking groups and professional associations, as well as recruit individuals through career fairs to build a base of referral sources," he said. "Although the Internet and automated responses are vital for speed-to-market, they must be combined with valuable face-to-face encounters or no lasting relationship will be built."

Technology is really just a piece of the process, said Sue Quackenbush, chief human resources officer at Vonage, headquartered in Holmdel, N.J. "While platforms such as LinkedIn and online jobsites drive efficiency in helping to narrow down prospective employees, it's only a small aspect of how we evaluate new hires," she said. "Whether through industry events, job fairs or hackathons sponsored by Vonage, we want to get to know the person."

Tawanda Johnson, president and CEO of RKL Resources, a national HR consulting firm with headquarters in Richmond, Va., said she continues to find success with strategies developed 15 years ago—like placing ads in the newspaper for both exempt and nonexempt positions. "There are lots of passive job seekers who are very computer savvy but don't want to apply for a position online," she said. "If they see a help wanted ad in the newspaper, they will call to inquire to get more information." While Johnson noted that many recruiters no longer post their telephone numbers to avoid being inundated with calls, she recommends posting a telephone number whenever practical. "This allows prospective job seekers to ask questions and gain clarity on the position. Good, old-fashioned networking has proven to be a valuable way to source talent."

Candidates value this kind of personal touch, Wolfe said. "They understand a completely different level of commitment and relationship-building effort on the part of the recruiter when it goes beyond an automated response, or even an e-mail acknowledgement," he said. It's the kind of differentiator that can help organizations stand out in an increasingly competitive job market.

Combine the Best of Both Worlds

Company leaders, Paskey says, should be spending at least 10 percent of their time acting as ambassadors of their brand. "They have to be out there interacting with the public, communicating the face of the organization," he said. "That's something we shouldn't lose focus on."

A balance between technical and personal connections can be struck, pointed out Andre Lavoie, CEO and cofounder of ClearCompany, a talent management software provider. "In today's technological world, it can be difficult to filter through all the noise. That's why it's important to combine the advancements of the social web with traditional hiring resources, like employee referrals," he said. "While employee referrals remain a highly used traditional sourcing tool, using them along with newer hiring technology will help you get the most out of your hiring efforts."

Some organizations are also finding that asking candidates to revert to more traditional means of applying for a job can yield benefits. Geoff Scott is a hiring manager and resume expert at ResumeCompanion, with headquarters in Wilmington, Del. "We ask applicants to send in a physical copy of their resume rather than a digital copy," Scott said. "We assume that candidates willing to do so are more serious, plus we can then evaluate not only the content of their resume, but the style and even the paper they used." Candidates who present an aesthetically pleasing package and a compelling resume, he said, "are well on their way toward employment here."

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.


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