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August 12, 2002) -
We got a note from one of our most insightful correspondents. She told us that we were "way off the mark" with our last piece on Applicant Tracking Systems. "When you work for a company that is a well know entity like xxxxxxx, people will gladly take the time to fill in all of the information, even  those with executive level skills."

We're certain that she's right. Recruiting, and Human Capital in general, is vastly different on a company by company basis. There is a combination of the power of a brand and the company's reputation in a given discipline that makes the game easier for some than others. Perhaps it's better said as 'the relative priority of some HR issues is a function of brand strength'.

Of course, McKinsey has little trouble attracting applicants. They might be well advised to use a cumbersome web front end. It would help with the screening. Most companies are not so fortunate. We estimate that there are somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 high profile brands that are powerful enough to allow their Human Capital teams to relax on the issue of attracting talent.

For the other 7.5 Million employers in America, it's a somewhat different story.

We spent last Friday afternoon getting to know Mark Hornung of JWT Specialized Communications a little better. Mark is the West Coast managing partner of this focused agency. He stopped by the Greenhouse for lunch and conversation.

We ended up on this subject, brand power as a factor in Recruitment. He began to describe a tool that JWT has been developing for the past couple of years. "Voltage" is a brand's ability to inspire loyalty in customers. "Voltage" translates directly into perceptions of a brand as a place to work.

In a study that was done before K-Mart filed for bankruptcy, K-Mart had a brand voltage of minus 2.1 while Wal-Mart's voltage was a positive 3.9. The difference between the two is one way of measuring how much harder it is for K-Mart to attract talent than it is for Wal-Mart. (Lord help the local retailer with an even lower voltage.)

JWT believes that Voltage is a way of understanding how much difficulty a firm will have attracting talent that is non industry related. ie, would you rather be in IT at Wal-Mart or K-Mart? If you are choosing amongst big retailers, compare Wal-Mart, K-Mart and the local guys.

We're certain that the difference between voltage directly translates into higher recruiting, retention and related HC costs. Although it is somewhat counter-intuitive, it means that HC is more expensive for lesser known brands. And, the JWT data suggests that the differentials are more than incremental.

A "brand" is marketing shorthand for the complex relationship that exists between an organization and its stakeholders. The "employment brand" begins with the overall company's and expands to include the various 'touchpoints' in relationships between the employer and its network of past, present and future employees. 

What we reaffirmed in our conversation with Mark is that some employers can afford crummy, cumbersome ATS processes. In fact, they my need them to filter a flow that is too large. The rest of us need elegant systems that are precisely 'potential employee friendly'.

As a starting point, 'voltage' is a good way to think about this challenge.

 -John Sumser


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