E-cruiting no panacea - yet (Computerworld Special Report)

There seems little doubt the Web is the eventual Promised Land of IT recruiting, but for now employers, recruitment companies and candidates alike remain unimpressed with Internet-based online recruiting services. Sue Bushell reportsEveryone agrees that onlinerecruitment has a great many advantages over offline methods like newspaper ads in attracting potential candidates.

But the below-average quality of jobs, frustratingly inefficient resume tools, and an over-abundance of recruitment sites are together causing substantial headaches.

"The industry is in urgent need of standardisation and skill reform, and the entire IT fraternity will need to work together in implementing real and consistent industry standards," says Gottliebsen Research managing director Colin Gottliebsen, who has been tracking online recruitment for some time.

"Until this is accomplished, online recruitment will continue to be treated as one big worldwide electronic newspaper thrown onto the Web.

"Each individual recruitment company is saying to the market ‘we want you to guess the standard you think we are using'. It just doesn't work," says Gottliebsen, who insists the wider business community is copping the full brunt of the inefficiencies of online recruiting.

For employers there are definitely pluses and minuses associated with Internet-based IT recruiting. On the one hand, receiving resumes electronically can speed up the process dramatically, while posting jobs on the Internet widens the pool of potential talent.

On the other hand, floods of resumes - some from the other side of the world - can seriously dam up the works. Hewlett-Packard reportedly receives more than one million a year.

Gottliebsen says the harsh reality is the online job net is catching too many unwanted species of fish.

"Although the Web has made it easier for candidates to apply for positions, some have attained their knowledge and skill base from reading the latest technical journals or the vendor user manuals. Many of the skilled applicants also don't know what they want, and those that apply from around the other side of the globe often do not have the right credentials."

No panacea

Forrester Research, which interviewed 3000 online consumers and 50 recruiters late last year, concluded that the quality of jobs offered on the Internet is below average, resume databases generate little response and recruiters, buried under a pile of resumes, want solutions to reach a better quality - not quantity - of candidates. "Online recruiting isn't the promised panacea," Forrester says.

It's a conclusion that resonates with Sheryle Moon, a partner with Andersen Contracting. Moon says she's heard significant complaints from both clients and contractors over recent weeks about the viability of electronic recruitment.

She says sorting through floods of resumes is a time-consuming and expensive process, and as yet there's no intelligent agent capable of doing the job.

"For employers the sifting (done by the job boards) is still elementary. Even for agencies the response level is huge, but of course most organisations aren't interested in quantity, they're interested in quality."

Part of the problem, according to Microsoft human resources manager Lorrin Maughn, lies with the fact that it is now so much easier for candidates to submit their applications electronically to multiple prospective employers.

"We are seeing a lot of indiscriminate applications from underqualified or otherwise unsuitable candidates that creates a huge volume of ‘noise' for recruiters to sift through - either manually or leveraging screening or database technology," Maughn says.

Microsoft will shortly introduce a screening process on its own jobs Web site and Maughn says resume builders or screening mechanisms will be necessary to help manage candidate flow.

But that may be difficult. There are currently 1514 ‘live' IT skills in the marketplace, with an average 250 new skills being added each year and an incredible 484 new skills added last year alone. To deal with that level of complexity Moon says, as one possible answer, some software companies and organisations with job boards are looking at software containing multiple nested sorts that require the contractor to enter all their skills in drop-down boxes. The trouble is, she says, few candidates are likely to have the patience for the task.

"Certainly knowing the contractors I know, they're much happier that they send off their resume and the agency does the analysis of their skill sets. They're not going to sit in front of a Web page and enter all of their skills over 25 years against 1500 boxes. That's the job of the agency."

While waiting for the situation to improve Andersen Contracting continues to experiment with all the facilities available, still monitoring the source of all resumes and making advertising decisions based on that data.

"While we're getting lots of resumes through the Internet and even through press advertising, we've just done a whole bunch with The Age which has delivered monumental returns," Moon says. "It was a surprise to us."

Filtration system wanted

To overcome such difficulties some job sites are joining Microsoft in trying to develop better screening processes.

JobNet WorldWide marketing manager Marc Iannacone says the job site is building its own filtration system based on a skills assessment of candidates. It also has its own search engine which uses intelligent alias matching and an encyclopedia of search terms to help locate candidates with desired skills. And it holds a formal review every six weeks of press advertisements and online dictionaries to ensure it incorporates any new terminology.

But he agrees with Moon that with so many new skills hitting the market every day it is very difficult for any jobsite to stay on top of the IT industry skills marketplace.

Iannacone suggests if agencies are being overwhelmed by applications, part of the blame lies with the tendency for some applicants to be overambitious about their skills, but some must also be borne by the recruitment agencies themselves. "I think some have to analyse how they're portraying job specifications online. And if you put up an ambiguous sort of job description like you get in the newspapers, and you don't give the applicant enough information about the job, then sometimes you get a similar quality to what you would get to a two-line ad in the paper."

Morgan & Banks Technology relies on an application called Tomahawk to cut the volume of resumes it receives to manageable size, but e-commerce Internet recruitment consultant Adam Weatherley agrees there will always be unsuitable candidates that slip through.

"From what I gather, roles are being filled via MonsterBoard, Seek, MyCareer, all the time. So yes, you do get some people who are not actually appropriate to those roles but it takes one person to fill a role. If it fills it quickly and effectively it's going to be cost-effective."

It's an approach that works for Cisco Systems Australasia, which finds that sometimes candidates applying for one role which interests them prove to be better suited to another available vacancy. Cisco is therefore creating its own database of potential candidates.

Group human resources manager Alex Bashinsky says Cisco is now providing software to make it easier for candidates without a resume to register online. Like Microsoft, when Cisco runs an ad it routinely refers candidates to its own Web site.

"We're using it more, we're getting a lot more volume in, and we're finding the quality has been surprisingly quite good."

But Gottliebson insists most recruitment companies are suffering as much disadvantage as employers from the huge volume of inappropriate applications.

"Recruitment companies thought the Internet would solve all their problems, but this is proving not to be the case," he says. "The flood of applicants together with the lack of industry standards has further exacerbated their problems resulting in more work in culling the mass volume of applications."


Recent research commissioned by Microsoft on the Australian job market found 76 per cent of those surveyed - IT consultants, account managers and support professionals - still rely on the SMH, (the Sydney Morning Herald), The Australian and The Age as their first point of call when actively looking for a new role.

But since many candidates do visit potential employer Web sites to get information about the company as a prospective employer, Maughn argues that even with this immaturity Microsoft as an employer cannot afford not to be there when candidates do go online in search of jobs.

"The question is really about the value of job boards vs using that budget to drive candidates to the employer's own Web site where you can educate them about other cool things the company does," she says.

For now just under six per cent of Microsoft's external hires are sourced via the Web, while more than 40 come from employee referrals and 20 per cent from agencies.

"I expect Web recruiting to increase as we streamline and improve our use of job boards, and I certainly expect that back-end systems we are working on will help us manage the volume of candidates," Maughn says.

Looking to standards

Recording their skills and searching for preferred jobs undoubtedly presents major problems for candidates, Gottliebsen says, but so does the number and variety of recruitment sites - many of them sub-standard.

"All these sites are totally independent of each other with their own format and structure, but with no consistent industry standards for candidates to follow.

"One of the biggest problems with the Web pages of online recruitment sites is they mainly adopt a freehand text method of recording and searching for skills. With freehand text-based methods, unless the way the candidate records and interprets the spelling of a skill [reflects] that of the advertised position, there simply will not be a successful position/candidate match."

Gottliebsen says that lack of consistent industry standards is hitting the industry the hardest. ITCRA (Information Technology Contract & Recruitment Association), an association of the top IT recruitment companies in Australia, is now tackling the problem head on.

"They are very committed to getting this right and are currently working with Gottliebsen Research in implementing industry-wide IT skill standards," he says.

Standards under review include the GIMA IT Skill standards, which has a broad classification of all 88 IT positions and 1500 IT skills. The main benefit of the GIMA standards is they incorporate a Web based "point and click" validated method of recording and searching for IT skills and positions. Candidates select from a validated skill list as opposed from typing them in freehand.

Meanwhile employers and recruitment agencies can improve their lot by being highly selective about the recruiting sites they use, says Deloitte Re:sources managing director Rob Woolley.

When Deloitte Re:sources found the site it was using was failing to return an adequate number of candidates it embarked on a hit-and-miss process to try to find a more effective job site. The company finally settled on a site that has been returning much better results. Woolley says the difference lies with the way the new site promotes itself.

"The one we've got promotes itself in the print media and on television quite aggressively, and we have noticed that when they haven't done that in the print media the usage has dropped away," he says.

"I think that the important thing from the Web site point of view is they've got to be front of mind. The site itself has got to be really user friendly - it's got to be easy to get into. It's got to be easy for people to find their way around. A lot of these sites I think are what I call ‘tricked up'. And they're ‘tricked-up' to sell them to the company that's going to use them, and they're really not user friendly - they take too long to get in," he says.

Meanwhile Maughn offers the following tip for candidates:

"Think like a marketer putting together a banner ad: what is going to make a recruiter want to open your mail? Use the subject or first couple of lines as a headline that will immediately interest the recruiter (hint - referring to a specific job advertised or that you're aiming for is far more likely to get immediate attention than ‘general enquiry' or ‘resume attached'). Keep in mind that these people often get hundreds of mail messages a week, so you literally have seconds in which to get their attention and keep it long enough for them to double click . . ."

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