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Online recruitment: A perfect match? By Annie Hayes

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E-hiring claims to do it all, whatever level or sector you’re aiming for. Annie Hayes investigates whether the perfect recruitment solution is online.


The trends:
According to the CIPD’s Recruitment, Retention and Turnover Survey released in June 2006, almost two thirds (64 percent) of organisations now use e-recruitment, with 75 percent reporting that they use their corporate websites to attract applicants, compared to just 67 percent last year.

This recruitment behavioural change is also being borne out by the fortunes of the jobsites who have seen their profits grow at an impressive pace. Colin Minto, Managing Director of RE-source.uk.com Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Recruitment Employment Confederation (REC), says last year a whopping £177 million was spent on recruitment advertising online whilst in excess of a million jobs were posted by the recruitment industry. And the figures are predicted to increase year on year. By 2009 Minto expects recruiters to spend £500m on online jobs advertising.

So why is this? Just as few people would contemplate booking a holiday face-to-face with their local travel agent neither would they envisage their next job’s move to involve a dalliance with the local careers office, or much time-consuming scouring of their nearest and dearest trade journal, regional paper or favoured broadsheet.

There has been a remarkable change in the way workers approach finding jobs. Mark Gilbertson, the Royal Mail’s head of recruitment, says he himself found his last three jobs online and believes that it’s a total fallacy that those for whom English isn’t their first language, work in manual fields or whose understanding of a ‘mouse’ is confined to the small and furry kind are excluded from searching and securing a job online. Indeed, he believes that the days of thinking the only e-job seekers out there are of the IT variety are long gone.

In nine months Gilbertson has changed his recruitment strategy beyond all recognition. In April the move towards online recruitment as the principle means of sourcing staff began. With the aim of dramatically cutting the current £3 million a year recruitment spend Gilbertson believes that employing what he terms a ‘direct recruitment strategy’ in which staff are sourced via technology solutions will not only improve the bottom line but also boost the quality of candidates.

Suitable for all?
So is it suitable for all job types and all industries? Theresa McHenry, Senior HR Manager for Microsoft, says whilst IT was indeed one of the first sectors to embrace e-recruitment, it has now permeated jobseekers across the board.

“Over the last 12 months the numbers of staff that we hire using online means has doubled,” she explains. Recently they have partnered with Monster, a top ten recruitment job site, and rated by Nielsen NetRatings as having accrued over a million visits in the three months to April 2006.

McHenry adds that whilst they’re highly successful at securing staff with IT capabilities online they’ve also attracted a diverse talent pool from marketing professionals to senior managers using technology solutions.

Alan Townsend, Monster UK’s Chief Operating Officer, says e-recruitment is a recruitment panacaea: “You can find just about anyone you’re looking for, from fishing industry experts to finance directors. All types of jobs work online.”

Underpinning this phenomenal change in the trend of jobseekers to search online is the spread of broadband in the home and access to the internet in general.

According to Minto, 30.6 million adults had internet access in the UK in 2005 while 16.8 million looked for a job and 3.6 million plus got one online. By 2010 he expects 41.5 million adults to access the internet and 30.9 million to use it to find a job.

“Revenues for jobs boards have superseded revenues for classified job posting adverts, that’s a massive swing,” says Minto and seemingly a clear indicator that online hiring has gone beyond being the future of recruitment and stepped into being the present.

Gilbertson himself now sources his operational staff that is postal workers and drivers online. Tasked with finding 40,000 staff each year, made up of 20,000 permanent workers and 20,000 Christmas casuals Gilbertson has an impressive challenge but is excited that not only can he recruit predominantly online but that it also cuts his workload considerably.

“Using e-recruitment I can cut out 80 percent of people in twenty minutes. Our solution includes online assessment. So a postmen for example would have to complete a sorting test online before they’re even seen by us and a driver a route recognition test,” all this means that not only is short listing a lot quicker, it’s also highly efficient at ensuring that only the most capable candidates are seen at the interview stage.

And says Minto it ensures an element of equality by treating every application the same. Tired recruiters who may disregard the last 10 applications at the bottom of the pile because of fatigue are no longer part of the equation.

A stand-alone solution?
“The one thing you can’t do online is communicate with a candidate and build a human relationship,” says Minto who believes that the jobsites that will be the most successful are those that begin to offer the services that the traditional recruitment agent currently can.

Norrie Johnston, founder and Managing Director of Executives Online, an interim management agency and one of the UK’s leading permanent recruitment firms, says the job boards can’t currently replace the services recruitment agencies offer particularly those that go beyond the mere matching stage.

The recruitment agency industry is currently worth £3 billion and doesn’t appear to be subsiding, he said.

“End-users, that’s the corporate clients, are currently complacent about what’s available online. Many of them have long-established relationships in place with head hunters and are happy to trundle along with their trusted methods.”

But with vast placement fees equating to roughly ten to twenty percent of the starting salary of a new starter, why would any employer watching the pennies want to use a recruitment agency? Johnston tells me that for using his service, employers for example are ensured of an REC vetted outfit with experienced recruiters and a database of existing talent that is ready and willing to work.

McHenry tells me that Microsoft doesn’t solely use online solutions either. “We use a mixture of recruitment channels including staff referrals, partnerships with key Universities to place our graduates, networks such as the Aurora women’s network to attract more females, newspapers and recruitment agencies.”

Many recruiters are now using traditional print and recruitment agencies for branding exercises too rather then sourcing particular jobs. McHenry tells me that the business advertises in the Sunday Times as a way of promoting the Microsoft brand.

Jenneh Thomas, Human Resources Director for Mondial UK, comments that, for her, recruitment is very much about networking and knowing people within the industry: “If I know someone I will approach them. I’ve used a local Croydon-based recruitment agency for some time, Catherine Johnstone. They’re a smaller organisation and I’d use them over and above the larger players such as Joslin Rowe or Frazer Jones any time.

“I find that you can build up a better relationship with the smaller businesses. There are just too many consultants involved in the large ones. If you compare recruiting via an agency to advertising in the trade press I think you get a better deal too. With press advertising you only have one shot, with the agencies they keep going until they find the right candidate.”

The e-recruitment challenge
John Salt, Sales Director for Totaljobs, believes, however, that jobs board and e-recruitment solutions provider are starting to meet some of these challenges by moving into second tier functions.

Like many other jobs boards, Totaljobs offers a screening and skills testing functions.

“We’re only just scratching the surface. The potential growth of e-recruitment is huge. The future is delivering jobs information through a variety of technology platforms including personal hand-held devices for example. We’ll start to see organisational cultures demonstrated through podcasts and streaming videos. The recruiters that do this will be the most successful.”

Minto believes that the 850 to 1000 jobs boards available in the UK will have to consolidate as well. Salt says the ones that will survive are those whose statistics are independently audited, have some longevity in the industry, are backed by investors and are trusted by jobseekers.

And newspapers that have begun to see their advertising revenues diminish due to the online phenomena have cottoned onto this. Embracing the changes many of them have acquired the jobs boards. The jewel in the crown for Reed Business Information in many ways is the wealth of online jobs board and platforms that it owns including: Totaljobs, Caterer, Caterer Global, Community Care, Construction Jobs, CWJobs, Electronics Weekly, Flight International, New Scientist, Optician Jobs, Personnel Today, Property Jobs, Retail Choice and Travel Weekly.

Yet they’re not the only ones to want a piece of the job board pie. The Trinity Mirror Group now owns Workthing, Jobsearch and HotRecruit to name just a few, whilst Associated Newspapers Ltd owns Jobsite, Office Recruit, Londonjobs and Cityjobs and the list goes on.

Alex Foster, Classified Sales Director of the Telegraph Group, says: “No one can deny that the internet is playing an increasingly larger part of the recruitment process for employers. But in many ways for recruiters, nothing has changed. The currency they judge their success by is response, regardless of where it has come from. As a result of this recruiters are now complimenting their traditional advertising with that of online recruitment.

“However, we should not forget that as more responses come from online, it is often the shop window of print that has directed candidates there in the first place.

“Nevertheless, we do recognise the increasing importance our clients are placing on the internet and as a result we are investing heavily in our online offerings.”

And so it would seem that internet recruitment is big business and also paying dividends for recruiters. The survival of the traditional recruitment agent, head hunter and classified print advertising would seem to corner upon embracing the web rather then fearing it and the jobs boards that want to convert the traditionalist recruiters will have to demonstrate their worth in replacing the functions previously performed by other mediums. If the jobs boards can do this the good times will surely roll.

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