Richard Poynder
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How to reap the right rewards

By RICHARD POYNDER

7th March 2001

Despite talk of a global economic downturn, employment surveys continue to underline the dramatic skills shortage confronting developed economies. And as the consequent war for talent has intensified, so it has moved to the web - initially to commercial job boards, but increasingly to companies' own websites.

Job boards still have a role to play, says Yves Lermusiaux, president of San Francisco-based recruitment research company iLogos Research, but they are no longer enough. "Research shows that when people see a vacancy on a job board, around 80 per cent of the time they will go to the employer's website for more information. Moreover, many people know which companies they are interested in, so often prefer to go direct to corporate websites."

US companies tend to be ahead of their European rivals. The Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD) estimates, for instance, that 62 per cent of UK companies post vacancies on their websites. In the US, an iLogos survey found that 89 per cent of Fortune 500 companies now have a section of their corporate website devoted to recruitment.

But Europe is catching up. While BASF, the German chemical company, has long used job boards, it now plans to launch its own recruitment site, too. "We are competing for candidates with better known companies like Chrysler and BT," explains Juergen Lahr, director of management recruiting and personnel development. "So we need to persuade job seekers that we too offer excellent career opportunities. You can do this in brochures, but now you need to do it via your website too."

What makes a good recruitment site? The first step, says iLogos' Mr Lermusiaux, is to attract potential recruits, which means making sure they can find vacancies easily. "There should be a link headed 'jobs' or 'careers' on the corporate home page that takes them directly to the recruitment section. There they should be able to search for jobs by location, by job category, and by keyword. And urgent vacancies should be highlighted, since this increases traffic to jobs you need to fill immediately."

The second step is to convince candidates they should be working for you, rather than a competitor - so it is important to provide compelling information about your company. "This should outline why it has been successful, and how it plans to build on that success in the future," says Thomas Ferrara, chief executive of CareerEngine, a New York-based web recruitment ASP.

"It should also provide a sense of what it is like to work for the company, including the use of employee testimonials." However, cautions Peter Han, president of Seattle-based Hanrick Associates which conducted a two-year survey of online job seekers, while it is important to provide plenty of information, companies "should not sugar-coat it overly with fluffy corporate rhetoric, which will trigger recruits' suspicions."

Applying also needs to be straightforward, says Mr Lermusiaux. "Rather than having to click 20 times on lots of different buttons, applicants should be able to apply with just one click."

The third step is to ensure that the site exploits the potential of the web to capture information on candidates. This is important, says Mr Ferrara, because "when a job seeker comes to your site the odds are that you will not have an appropriate vacancy. Once that person leaves you may have lost them forever, unless you incorporate tools to capture their data."

One such tool is the 'job agent'. If a candidate cannot find a suitable opening, they can specify their requirements, and ask to be e-mailed when a job matching their criteria becomes available.

Creating a candidate database from posted CVs for subsequent mining is another important tool. However, companies need to comply with national laws on data protection, says Jane Amphlett, a partner in the law firm Manches.

"The UK's Data Protection Act, for instance, requires any company setting up a database that includes facts and opinions on individuals to make sure that it has those individuals' consent," she says. "It must also ensure that the information is always relevant, accurate, up-to-date and secure."

Above all, however, companies should use the web as an opportunity to re-engineer their entire recruitment process, says Mr Lermusiaux. "One mistake many companies make is to think of the web as just another medium for receiving applications, much like print advertising. But the corporate recruitment site should be seen as a front-end on a back-end, and a totally new process."

When, for instance, candidates post their CVs or resumes, the data should be automatically captured to the internal candidate database.

"In some cases, companies are asking candidates to apply by e-mail, printing their application out, and then scanning it back into the system," says Mr Lermusiaux. "But if you want the full benefit of the internet, you have to go digital the whole way."

It is important, however, to strike a balance between exploiting the web fully, and appealing to candidates. "One of the key components of the BASF site will be an online application tool," says Mr Lahr.

"Candidates will not be asked to attach their CVs, but to key their data into an online form, which will automatically populate our internal systems."

But completing online forms is not always popular with candidates. "What I most dislike is being unable to submit my CV, but having to fill in all the data field by field," says Jeffrey Baumgartner, an electronic commerce consultant.

Moreover, automation is not without its downside. IBM's US site had more than 320,000 CVs posted by professional candidates alone last year. "We are constantly inundated with resumes," says Ron Thayne, IBM's manager of technical recruiting for experienced professionals in the US.

"People will also submit multiple resumes, each one tweaked in order to apply for four or five different jobs. So my team has to go in and look at each resume to find out if the person is fit for a particular job."

To solve the problem, IBM plans to incorporate pre-screening questionnaires into the application process - an increasingly popular way of automatically filtering out inappropriate applications.

In the future, ever more sophisticated features will be added to corporate recruitment sites, which will become increasingly automated, says Mr Lermusiaux.

Recently MrTed, a European ASP, launched what it claims to be the first multilingual 'candidate supply chain management' system (see company profile, page 12). The solution, MrTed TalentLink, automates the entire recruitment process, including automatically responding to applicants, and setting deadlines and reminders for management actions.

"It can also integrate the company's recruitment website, its intranet and its internal HR systems," says Jerome Ternynck, chief executive and co-founder of MrTed, "resulting in compressed hiring times and greatly reduced costs."

And as the war for talent intensifies, corporate sites will need to add candidate relationship management functionality. IBM is already planning to launch customised e-mail newsletters for job seekers registered with them. "These people are not ready to change jobs today," says Mr Thayne. "But in 18 months, they may be. So we want to keep IBM in their minds by maintaining a connection with them over time. The web will be critical in this."

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