Making the most of online recruitment

by 30 Oct 2007

The internet is now a widely used element of recruiting, but getting effective results requires more than just placing a standard job advertisement on a popular site and hoping for the best. Angus Kidman looks at how to make online recruiting more effective and tactics that can help improve outcomes

Placing a job advertisement online requires little more than composing some text, choosing a suitable category and flexing the corporate credit card. The potential audience is also large. Seek, for instance, regularly commands audiences of 2.5 million or more visitors a month, representing a huge potential pool of respondents. The low barrier to entry means, however, that it’s a big challenge to stand out from the crowd, especially in competitive fields.

Companies which have worked out ways of making themselves more visible and maximising their return understandably want to keep such techniques to themselves, especially in a period of record low unemployment. A consistent response from businesses approached by Human Resourcesto discuss online recruitment tactics for this feature was that such information was far too important a source of competitive advantage to be discussed publically – and they may well be right.

Evidence suggests that an innovative approach to recruitment can offer longer-term benefits than just initial job placement. “Innovation plays a huge part in increasing employee retention,” said Tom Dissing, consulting principal for Fujitsu Australiaand New Zealand. Fujitsu recently completed an innovation index survey which identified the importance of innovative behaviour across the board in staff satisfaction. “If staff are focused and involved in innovation, they’re much more likely to remain,” he said, noting that anecdotal evidence also suggests that employee satisfaction is higher in companies which take an innovative approach.

One widely recommended technique is supplementing general advertising with other online activity, taking advantage of newly-emerging technologies such as social networking. “Forward-thinking firms use social networking sites, blogs, and unconventional programs that blend quantitative know-how with a marketing foundation to attract new employees,” Forrester analyst, Christine Spivey Overby, noted in a recent paper.

Such strategies bring their own challenges. Many firms block the use of such sites for general productivity reasons, which can pose a challenge for HR professionals looking to interact with them. However, as a means of promoting the corporate environment and engaging interest from desirable candidates, the hassle of making a case to IT or general management may well be worth it.

The mix for Microsoft

In market segments such as IT where a high degree of technology literacy can be assumed, online strategies play a critical role in acquiring the best staff. That has certainly proved to be the case at software giant Microsoft, which uses a variety of online strategies to meet its local recruitment needs.

“Microsoft is 100 per cent committed to finding the best people therefore we have a dedicated internal recruitment team, led by Andrew Le Lievre,” a spokesperson for the company’s HR department explained. Emphasising the group approach, the HR team opted to answer queries collectively rather than via a single individual.

Having a visible brand can be a major advantage, as Microsoft explains: “Microsoft’s ongoing recruitment strategies heavily revolve around our website: The strength of the Microsoft employment brand automatically traffics active jobseekers to this site, in which we have invested heavily. We find this strategy generally more effective than utilising online recruitment sites like Seek and MyCareer, but they do still play a part in some of our recruitment campaigns when trying to fill a very specific role.”

“By and large we are happy with the results generated from our site but for certain recruitment drives, a multisite campaign is necessary, particularly for very specialised roles. What we would ideally like to see here is the introduction of aggregated job boards similar to those that exist in the US.”

These general tactics are adjusted over time to take advantage of new and emerging market opportunities. “We invest heavily in our website but the current IT skills shortage is forcing us to think outside the box and utilise a number of new technologies to reach out to the Australian IT market,” the spokesperson said.

One strategy used successfully by Microsoft involves online outreach by its existing staff. “A number of our employees are connected to the industry through personal blogs and when specialist positions become available in their areas they are happy to share that information with passive job seekers who can then find more information on our website,” the spokesperson said.

“We are also considering the use of social networking sites to reach generation Y and are paying more attention to making the recruitment section of our site more interactive for job seekers.”

While not every company can enjoy the advantage of being ranked the world’s third-most valuable brand, as Microsoft has, the company believes the broad tactics it applies can be used by others. “Focus on developing a strong website and consider marketing it overseas to attract talent from elsewhere as the demands of the IT market are exceeding the supply. Your site should become a primary search point for job seekers.”

“Also, remember that getting the job ad right is vital as a badly written and executed ad can deter an ideal candidate from applying. Spend time on the look, feel and copy of the ad. Don’t just focus on what you want from the candidate but highlight the value proposition about working at your organisation.”

Enterprising tactics

While it might seem obvious that online recruitment would be important in a technology-focused area such as IT, that doesn’t mean that it can become the dominant element of overall recruitment activity. That’s certainly proved to be the case for Melbourne-based Enterprise Architects, which provides consulting and recruitment services for companies looking to develop their overall IT architecture with the correct mix of suitable staff and appropriate strategies.

“Online recruitment services account for a significant share of our total recruitment activity,” said Enterprise Architects CEO Hugh Evans. “However, IT architecture practitioners are a special breed with a rare combination of business, technology and communication skills. This demands plenty of direct person-to-person engagement on our part to develop an understanding of the qualities and nuances in the equation when assessing fitness for requirements.”

One approach Evans has found useful is to look for other evidence of online activity within the relevant field, suggesting people who are actively involved in their workforce community. “We employ many techniques to access the right people. One of these is using the internet to identify practitioners who invest time researching and contributing to their professional discipline.”

Again, those strategies require frequent adjustment to meet market circumstances. “At Enterprise Architects our online recruitment strategy is constantly evolving in line with the changing nature of the internet,” Evans said. One constant is the need to appear appealing to the target staff. Find ways to engage with the interests of the candidates whom you are looking to attract.