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How To Recruit Online

by Shannon Peters Talbott

Copyright © Workforce Magazine 1997. All rights reserved.

Everyone's talking about online recruitment. It's simple, right? Just post your openings on the Internet, and wait for resumes to flood in via e-mail. It sounds so easy. But wait -- how do you decide where to post your ads? Which site on the World Wide Web is best for you?

The options are endless: Monster Board, E-Span, Career Magazine, Job-Center, Career Mosaic, plus dozens of others. All of the Web sites offer different services at different prices -- but they all promise to provide the best candidates.

In reality, there's no one right place to do online recruitment. Instead, each organization must design an online recruitment strategy to meet its own needs, then find a service to match. By following the steps below, you'll have a clearer understanding of the selection process, and you'll likely find an option that will provide the best online results for your organization.

Step 1: Familiarize yourself with the Internet

Systems West Computer Resources in Salt Lake City first tried to recruit online in mid-1994, when few companies had moved into this new recruiting arena. Its first attempts weren't particularly successful. In early 1995, however, CEO Nancy Halberson redesigned the company's strategy, and recruitment went back online. Now, Systems West receives approximately 40% of its incoming resumes through e-mail, and the company is finding online recruitment a great source of applicants.

The key, explains Systems West consultant Dave Madsen, is understanding and experimenting with the Internet. For human resources professionals to use the Internet's recruitment services successfully, they first need to learn the basics.

"A lot of HR professionals don't understand the Internet, so they try to delegate it," Madsen says. "[Many] people haven't touched it, yet they try to use it for recruitment and then are frustrated with the results."

It's important not to delegate Internet recruitment. "Go to a class and get comfortable with the technology -- even if it means sitting down with a college student for [several] hours and just learning what the Internet has to offer."

The key is: Don't be afraid to learn the basics. Once you pick up a rudimentary understanding, you'll be able to better use the tools -- and the language -- of the Internet. It's important in forming your online recruitment strategy.

Step 2: Research the Market

Once you've mastered the basics of the Internet, discover what the Web can offer you in terms of recruitment. Most active electronic recruiters suggest you use an online index or directory to find out which recruitment services are available.

A popular directory is Yahoo!, developed by students at Stanford University, in Stanford, California. Other similar resources are Lycos, WebCrawler and a very fast Web search engine called AltaVista. By searching relevant keywords -- such as "jobs," "employment" or "careers" -- HR professionals can find out just what options exist.

Hilary M. Bencini, vice president of Miami-based Uniforce Staffing Services, conducted this type of search before she selected an online service. "We did a generic search to get an up-to-date listing of all the Web sites dealing with employment," she said. "From there, we visited each site to get more information."

Bencini, who does approximately 45% of her recruiting online, recommends this approach to anyone interested in the electronic approach to staffing: "It's essential that recruiters research the various services to obtain specific information on the size and makeup of the candidate pool," she explains. "Also, by doing a generic search and visiting each site -- then calling representatives to get more information about each individual service -- firms can determine whether the services fit their budget and provide the expected results."

Step 3: Define Your Target Audience

To determine whether a specific service will meet your expectations, you must first define your needs. As Bencini notes, an important consideration involves your target audience. Each company has its own unique recruitment needs, and these require exposure to different types -- and numbers -- of applicants.

For some users, the greater the exposure, the better the site. Take, for example, Scott Stevenson, technical recruiter for Federated Systems Group in Atlanta. Because Stevenson isn't looking for employees from a specific geographical region, he selected a service that would give him the most exposure possible. E-Span, one of the online Web sites, maintains a presence on the Web and on four of the major online services (CompuServe, America Online, e-World and GEnie), so when Stevenson posts jobs on the service they're distributed to a larger audience.

"We're primarily looking for folks who have a technical background, but we wanted a site that would reach a lot of potential applicants," he says. "There are many bulletin boards and online services that our ads get dumped onto after we post them. Because our service provides this option, it gives us the exposure we want and helps us find the right people."

Madsen agrees that access to these Internet users is important: "We wanted to see which services were pulling resumes from the large service providers, because more people are using these resume-posting services. This was a consideration when we chose where to post our openings."

Although many recruiters share these concerns, totals may not always be key. In addition to looking at the number of visitors to a site, companies also should try to ascertain who those visitors are. As John Sumser, president of Internet Business Network in Mill Valley, California, notes: "Some services measure their effectiveness in size and volume, and they have databases that are as large as five years' worth of Sunday classifieds. Traffic does matter, and high volume is sometimes a good sign. But, what HR people need to worry about is finding the right traffic every time."

For the most part, this message isn't new. Like newspapers or magazines, most Web sites attract a certain segment of the population. Some are oriented toward a specific industry; others are geared toward college graduates.

Some services reach only a certain limited geographical area -- even though they claim to be national services. For these services, it's usually more a question of penetration than reach -- even though anyone in the world can access those job listings, usually only those interested in jobs in, say, the North East actually do. The important thing is that recruiters identify each service's target market before advertising.

Bencini says to ask for this information when you call the service representative: "If you're trying to recruit someone from Michigan, you shouldn't be spending advertising dollars on a service that targets the New York metropolitan area. It can't hurt to get a geographical breakdown of the candidate pool to determine if applicants come from the area you desire."

Finally, Sumser notes that recruiters are facing an imbedded racial and gender bias when recruiting online -- regardless of which service they select. "The Internet is most commonly used by young, white males," he warns. "In two years, this may not be true, but right now, it's something to think about."

Overall, the message is this: If your advertisement isn't reaching your target audience, you're unlikely to fill your job openings, regardless of the volume of Web users. As Sumser illustrates, "You can run all the ads in the world for nuns in the back of Playboy, but you won't get any applicants, even though the magazine's circulation is huge."

For best results, define your audience, then find a Web site that most closely matches your description. Target industry-specific sites, such as Tech Web for technical experts or the Franklin Search Group for biotech, pharmaceutical and medical professionals. For college recruitment, look into sites such as JobTrak and Job Web. The key to success is narrowing your search. "You have to be sophisticated about the market," Sumser says. "This begins with understanding exactly what candidates you're seeking."

Step 4: Determine Your Search Needs

You can narrow your search further by studying the features offered by each service and selecting one that appeals most to you. Each service works in its own way: Some store resumes in a database, and registered employers perform searches for qualified applicants. Other sites allow employers to create profiles of their companies and post their jobs -- allowing applicants to send resumes directly to the company when positions are of interest to them.

Finally, some services also perform what is called job-matching, storing resumes and job postings online and actively contacting both parties when an applicant looks right for a job. For many recruiters, this latter approach is a major benefit. "Active systems really help with tracking," says Madsen with Systems West. "You can see the activity, because the services send you matches. It's nice to go to your e-mail and know there are seven or eight resumes waiting for you every morning."

Bencini agrees, calling active matching an "invaluable tool." However, she warns: Most often, matching services operate according to keywords, which recruiters use to describe their openings. "Success depends on your ability to identify keywords appropriately," she says. Bencini advises HR professionals to avoid general job titles such as "administrative assistant" or "technical support specialist." Titles mean different things to different people, and you may end up with many resumes you don't need.

"You do want to encompass as many qualified people as possible, but you have to be careful," she warns. "If you list something general like 'computer programmer,' you will get all the resumes with that description, regardless of their experience or the other qualifications you need. Not all of the keywords must be present on a resume for it to be considered a match."

What words are appropriate? Madsen says to use only nouns. "HR people have been trained to write job descriptions in flowery paragraphs," he says. "Forget that, and think in terms of nouns to describe the skills and qualifications needed for the position. This will get you a better bunch of applicants."

Step 5: Compare Costs

With all of these options and different types of services, it's no surprise that the costs vary immensely. In fact, some services are free, while others charge thousands of dollars. When selecting a service, it's important that you ask about the pricing philosophy for each site and stay within your budget. For Bencini, the charges for matching services are worth the investment: "Some services provide free access to posted resumes, but I haven't found them especially useful," she says. "What you will find is that some resumes are posted on spec -- and a candidate may or may not be a serious job hunter." Instead of spending time wading through these free resumes, Bencini prefers to pay a service to perform matches for her. "Passive searching can be a real time waster," she adds.

At present, the greatest problem with the cost of online recruiting is predicting what you may get for your money. "As of now, there aren't any decent effectiveness statistics," says Sumser. "Be prepared to get silence on the other end of the phone if you ask these services questions about their effectiveness. They'll give you lots of numbers and percentages, but 'Does this work effectively?' isn't easily answered."

Step 6: Continue Experimenting

No matter which online service you choose, remember the Internet is constantly changing. According to the Internet Business Network, the Internet is growing at a monthly rate of 12%. And lots of people are logging on. A survey by CommerceNet/Nielsen Internet Demographics tells us that 17% of people aged 16 or older in the United States and Canada (approximately 37 million people) have access to the Internet -- and 11% of the same group have used the Internet in the past three months. Tomorrow, these numbers will be even higher. Because of this rapid growth, human resources professionals should frequently reevaluate their online recruiting choices.

Bencini, at Uniforce Staffing, says she's continually considering new options for her company: "The Internet is growing by leaps and bounds, and a Web site that wasn't successful for you two months ago could be your best option today," Bencini says. "Be sure to return to the search engines often to reassess your approach."

Perhaps the most important fact to remember as you navigate the Net is: There aren't any simple, straightforward answers. Only by thinking through your expectations -- then experimenting with a variety of services -- will you discover the sites that meet your recruitment needs. If you haven't yet joined the Internet revolution, consider testing the water -- "at least with a little toe," says Sumser. Try a few services and track your results, especially before committing to a long-term contract. Over time, you'll find a strategy that works for you.

Copyright © Workforce Magazine 1997. All rights reserved. 1997 Electronic Recruiting Index

(January 20, 1997): Over the past 75 days, we've been slaving over the new edition of the Electronic Recruiting Index. Yesterday, we shipped the finished product to our (very patient) prepublication customers. The book is a wonder to behold in two volumes. It includes:
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  • A solid look at the Recruiting Industry in 1996
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Materials written by John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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