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The virtual world of recruiting

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Virtual worldIt is becoming increasingly common to use virtual world technology as a recruitment tool, but is this really going to be the recruitment platform of tomorrow? Heidi Innes explains.


The use of virtual worlds as a recruitment tool has been much hyped of late – TMP hosted the UK’s first ever ‘virtual world’ careers fair last year; Kelly Services launched its own island in Second Life; and GCHQ, the government intelligence organisation, has been advertising in online gaming to tempt web-savvy graduates to become spies.

But how is it possible and what does it mean to use virtual worlds as a recruitment tool? Is this wave of technology really going to dwarf social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace? Is it merely an over-hyped media gimmick or the next evolution of the web?

“The key benefit to going virtual is that employers can afford to encourage their managers to spend time networking with potential candidates.”

To the less technologically savvy, the idea that virtual worlds could be used as a recruitment platform may seem a strange and surreal proposition restricted to the realm of the computer geek, but employers – including RBS, Yell, KPMG and IBM – are discovering that it can be a highly effective medium to interact with candidates.

Virtual worlds like Second Life – which has almost 9m registered users – are essentially an extension of chatrooms, but provide a content-rich environment, immersing the user in a three-dimensional interactive world and enabling recruiters to interact far more holistically with candidates.

James Bowmer, country manager of Kelly Services, says: “Second Life provides us a platform to communicate globally with customers and job seekers using interactive relationships.”

Matthew Whitbourne, senior inventor at IBM, which has been using virtual worlds in recruitment for 18 months, agrees, claiming that virtual worlds “allow IBM to engage with candidates and talk about careers in a unique and powerful way”.

IBM uses virtual worlds as an extension of its existing recruitment efforts, hosting pre-scheduled events on Second Life and inviting specified groups of graduates to meet hiring managers, experts and senior business figures in this space, and talk about their careers.

A virtual careers fair

The idea is very much like a virtual version of the careers fair. But unlike careers fairs, which are often staffed by the HR department because key managers can not afford to take time out of the office, the key benefit to going virtual is that employers can afford to encourage their managers to spend time networking with potential candidates.

Whitbourne claims: “This gives the candidates real role models, staff already working in their chosen field, who really know their stuff and are able to engage with them, on their level.”

Another advantage of virtual is that it is possible to review at length, the ‘conversations’ that candidates and managers have had. Furthermore, as Whitbourne suggests, the anonymity and freedom of virtual environments can actually be a real positive.

“The anonymity and freedom of virtual environments can actually be a real positive.”

“Our virtual world recruitment events get people interacting – and through virtual environments candidates are often more willing to be interactive and ask honest questions which results in far more effective matching between candidate and recruiter,” says Whitbourne.

But is this innovative recruitment concept consigned to the technology sector? Whitbourne thinks not: “Naturally, the technology sector is the early adopter of this approach, but the generation coming through have grown up with this technology – multi-player gaming, social networking and chatrooms are a core part of their online activities so they are very comfortable in this environment and it is very intuitive to them.”

So how do employers begin to tap into this technology? IBM has hosted online events, online interviews and has also trialled ‘drop-in clinics’ on Second Life.

Whitbourne explains that Second Life is one of many virtual world platforms, but the key to success is running and promoting the session as you would a live event, to a targeted audience: “Just as you wouldn’t turn up in a town square and start targeting passers-by to come and work for you, it is important that your ‘event’ is in the right space and aimed at and promoted to your target audience.”


The Online Recruitment Conference, at the QEII Conference Centre in London, is taking place on 3 June 2008. The event will give you more tips on how to run your own recruitment events in virtual worlds, and advise on what other online technologies can do for your recruitment strategy.

Reader offer!

Tickets to the above event are normally £395, but we are delighted to offer HRZone.co.uk members a discounted rate of £350 – simply mention ‘HRZone’ when booking. Call Wendy on 0870 766 8530; email [email protected] or register online at www.onrec.com

One Response

  1. Recruiting in Second Life
    I am very interested in pitching a recruitment strategy to my internal team utilising Second Life. The recruitment dollar only goes so far, and there are already other proven methods of recruiting new staff, vying for the dollar. Does anyone have any suggestions about how I might best go about formulating a strategy, with the intention of gaining a budget to develop an in-world presence? I would be interested to hear about the experiences of others, particfularly those who faced initial resistance from internal colleagues.

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