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Ten Years Ago

(December 4, 2006):
(November 25, 1996):
Several weeks back, we wrote a review of E-Span's new interface and services. It was, we thought, a step in a very interesting direction. The design team at E-Span, led by Richard Miles, made a profound effort to integrate information and graphics design into a singularly friendly website. The result is something that you rarely see on the Web...subtlety.

The review prompted a series of conversations that resulted in the following interview with Richard.. In our little industry, there are a small group of players who may be remembered long after this arena has become institutionalized. Richard is one of them. During our conversation, we explored the strategic views behind E-Span. We're betting that you find it illuminating.

As the months roll on, we plan to continue to bring the pioneering members of our industry to your attention.

ERN: Richard, how do you see the role of electronic recruiting changing in the next five years?

RM: The traditional concept of convergence is taking on a new meaning in the Web careers sector. This evolution will have a significant impact on the HR enterprise.

HR professionals are trying to identify where the Internet fits into their business. This is rapidly and radically changing. Information technology developments will continue to strongly influence all sectors of the economy. Broad industry demand for IT professionals will grow. Overall, unemployment will likely remain relatively stable and low. Enterprise computing will move further into Internet. And demand for increased productivity---greater output at lower costs---will increase.

These factors conspire to make electronic recruiting a near-necessity for the highly-competitive enterprise. The pressures will be felt throughout industry regardless of size.

HR managers will increasingly take control of the their fulfillment roles by utilizing the types of electronic tools and database provided by E-Span. Rather than wait for candidates to respond to general circulation print ads, HR managers will be able to scour vast databases for individuals with specific credentials. They will employ intelligent agents, or bots, which will relentlessly search the Web searching for candidates with specific skill sets. They will develop pools of candidates based on staffing "what if" scenarios.

ERN: How do you keep in touch with current trends and technological developments in terms of offering the latest and best services on your site?

Management consultant Tom Peters some years ago devised a new degree for industry leaders who expect to succeed: MBWA Management By Walking Around not only works for a Web manager, it is a must.

Keeping up with current trends, thus creating a compelling Web site, requires balancing net's strengths and weaknesses, which are the same: it's great vastness.

My personal MBWA baseline is understanding that I never have enough information about anything. That means reading---not just subscribing to---a solid array of practical technology publications, highlighting them and stashing those articles in a folder which you actually refer to over time.

My recommended short list of must-reads include: Advertising Age; New Media; Webmaster; The New York Times' CyberTimes; C|Net News; Timecast: The RealAudio Guide; CNET Digital Dispatch; Wired and HotWired; Information Week, HomePC and NetGuide, plus other CMP media; PC Magazine, PCWeek, Inter@ctive Week plus other ZD media; Adobe Magazine; X-Ray by Quark Express; PCTV; and the various industry and trade show Web sites.

These will give you "walking around knowledge," the type of information we used redevelop E-Span and create Career Companion. As you review these media, the user's needs need to always be in the forefront.

ERN: What kind of balance does your company choose with regard to functionality, resources and graphics on your Web site?

RM: On the simple side, the decision might seem balance between form versus function. Actually, the decision is how much technology can we cram in behind the curtain that makes the site fun and functional but doesn't expose its ugly head to the user.

The objective is to deliver a useful, fun, engaging product to two diverse audiences, whose computing histories and needs are quite different.

HR professionals approach the Internet World Wide Web as tools provided [or required] by their employers. They are to be used in accomplishing a specific task: filling a job vacancy.

For consumers, Web access can range from a rewarding fancy to a near-essential passion in their daily lives.

When you examine E-Span and divide capabilities into "fun stuff" and "getting down to business," you will find "the fun stuff" on the consumer oriented spaces. Here is the informational Java crawl and the pulsating Java HotSpot, which features a new and exciting site daily.

Further geared toward the consumer are a wide array of audio files since you are much more likely to find a sound card on the home PC than on the business machine. Nonetheless, these sound resources are focused toward satisfying the business/informational needs of consumers rather their entertainment wishes. [On the business side, we are preparing to use streaming audio in a business-to-business training environment.]

Also behind the scenes are strong, uniquely crafted search engines. These are real business all the way, but remain technology "behind the curtain;" and don't intrude into client or consumer space. [We will further solidify our leadership in early in 1997 when the sector's most capable Oracle database platform will be launched into service.]

If we have a rule of thumb, it is: Make it so well constructed technically that no one knows the engine is even running.

ERN: Do you recommend that HR Professionals utilize both print and online advertising when searching for qualified candidates?

Media selection depends on the demands of the enterprise. For instance, some technology-oriented companies use only online job advertising and see the Internet as their screening tool: No Internet access; no entry.

For most companies, recruiting budgets will continue to be parsed out between print and online media, with the Internet newcomers regularly increasing their share.

Over time, however, the efficiency of this legacy advertising will diminished. This will result from expansion of modem-equipped [or directly connected] computers in HR departments, adoption of the PC as a home necessity, and increasing volumes of mobile computing. All of these changes will be driven by both fundamental business needs and the ever-dropping price of computing.

Practical results this expansion will be enormous efficiencies in the online advertising, an extraordinary immediacy in candidate/recruiter communications, and exciting new capabilities in pre-screening and online candidate evaluation.

ERN: How does E-Span attract qualified candidates to its site?

We have a clear understanding that we have two unique sets of customers---consumers and advertising clients---and an equally clear commitment to satisfying their unique needs.

We also believe that what clients want are consumers for the products---jobs---. Therefore, we put great emphasis on being consumer-driven. That audience we see in three categories: communicators, information seekers, and browsers.

Communicators, about a quarter of our market, are innovators who began using the Internet before the Web was cool and are very comfortable in these spaces. Typically, these consumers reflect the extant Internet demographics: male, well-educated, technologically savvy, middle income, accessing from both home and office.

Information Seekers, another quarter of our audience, are less technologically oriented, include more females and spend much of their online time downloading applications and information, reading online publications and reviewing timely data sources.

Browsers, who approach the 50 percent of our market, are split between male and female, are the least technologically adept and are more interested in general information and e-mail capabilities.

Given this rather wide range of computing abilities and interests, we have designed our site for easy access, yet it is sufficiently rewarding to satisfy all but the most jaded users. Speedy access is a primary concern. While we try to keep information fresh to reward frequent visitors, we also want the site to be familiar to encourage repeat use.

Based on our research, consumers hear about us primarily by recommendation from other site users; second, from having seen traditional print media news coverage or advertising; third, from browsing the Web and search engine use.

ERN: What steps are you taking to help the public (both consumers and advertisers) use the Internet for recruiting online? What sort of educational process is this?

We approach the notion of helping or educating consumers from the perspective of creating an environment that is inviting and minimizes the intimidation factor.

Ample advertising is in all media today about the Web, and corporations are driving their employees to use it. What's next is to help them feel in control once they get online. For the most part, that is where we come in. [However, we do conduct targeted speaking and newsletter programs for HR professionals.]

Our hands-on approach to helping users is based on the KISS theory: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Make moving around the site as intuitive as possible. Doing this requires asking for outside non technophile input, then responding to it positively. To this end, we used 300 Beta testers in developing the Career Companion. We made over 200 changes as a result of their input.

When we see that we have little or no alternative but to require an action that might inspire a question, we put in a "How to" button. We actively solicit "Comments" and provide e-mail forms that facilitate user input.

Beyond basic design, E-Span has always led the industry with its Client Services organization whose sole role in the company is to work with customers to be sure they understand and benefit from their E-Span experience.

Education or training come down to being sensitive to user needs, soliciting their opinions and positive reacting to the input we receive. The bottom line is "If it doesn't please the customer, it doesn't count."

ERN: How do you build traffic to your site?

RM: Two generally accepted means of attracting traffic are, one, having the coolest site [i.e. graphics and applets]; and two, having the best content on the net. Then, you promote it like crazy. That approach, or philosophy, is well-suited to a broad consumer product site like Pepsi.com.

But, when we get down to the business of conducting business on the net for a more focused enterprise. Volume does not substitute well for a targeted, riveted focus on the specific needs of a well-defined market segment.

We seek make each consumer's visit rewarding with a rich array of resources. We also offer a daily HotSpot, which daily gives visitors the benefit of our insight into what we believe is useful and cool the Web.

Further, we customize our site to the individual. For example, in the job search area, a person can specify their job criteria; our systems will internalize and crunch it. Then, we'll e-mail weekly to the consumer a extensive list of available positions which meet those criteria. That HTML-enabled e-mail lands on the user's PC or laptop ready for investigation and follow through. Such an inquiry instantly brings the user back to the site, where he or she is rewarded with new jobs and collateral resources.

In the end, we tend to go for high quality content enabled by applets that support the business mission and are not employed merely because they are cool.

ERN: Thanks for the illuminating look at the inner workings of Espan, Richard.

John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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