Online Recruitment: A New World: The Introduction

As promised this is the first in a few posts giving snippets of what is in my recent book, Online Recruitment: A New World. This is the introduction to the book itself and for me the most important way to start a book is by going to the beginning. The beginning of my story and what online recruitment actually means.

Introduction: What is Online Recruitment?

In my late teens I decided I wanted an adventure and to make myself known to the world. So I set off to London where the streets were paved with gold and in Dick Whittington fashion I intrepidly threw myself into the unknown. But I soon realised that the streets of London were far from being paved with gold and in fact were fairly grey, I was fairly poor and I needed a job. This was in the late 90’s and in those days the internet wasn’t the social ubiquitous web that it is today, unsure where to go with only a couple of agencies, no contacts and with only a vague understanding of the job market, I went to the local newsagents in Kew Gardens and looked in the window. I did this every other day along with browsing the local paper and arduously mailing out CVs for any administrative roles I could find. Then one day I saw a plain index card advertising an Administration Assistant’s role at a local signage shop, in fact it was so local it was within walking distance of where I was staying. I applied and within two years was managing accounts for leading property developers across the country.

What this has to do with online recruitment (also referred to as e-recruitment) is everything. My job searching resources were localised, this made them relevant to me. They were accessible, the local newsagents, and well communicated, simple and relevant. In the same way that my job searching activity centralised around a particular geographical area so do online jobseekers who cluster round a virtual ‘place’, be it a job board, corporate careers site, social platform or forum. Just as with the teenager wandering around London, online job seekers congregate around relevant information centres, in my case the newsagent and local papers. It was the information that was relevant and kept me coming back to the newsagent’s window every other day. Similarly on the web people cluster around centres of information. HTML developers are likely to be found conversing (all be it in what seems a foreign language) in the latest HTML5 forum, students are likely to be directed to their University Career’s Centre and bankers may rely on specialist financial industry job boards.

As a job seeker I was in the right place at the right time, not by chance but by a natural progression to a locality, which provided me with what I needed at the time.This ensured that I was in the right place and right mindset for the Administrative Assistant role.

The difficulty today is that those who are in the right time and right mindset who would be best placed for certain roles may not be in the right place on the web due to its size, the competition and its ability to breakdown geographical barriers. The ideal candidate may be operating on an obscure coding forum on the other side of the world who has the perfect skill-set for your development but you can’t find him in your locality and he can’t find you because he is out of your locality – in web speak he isn’t on the platforms you operate across. However this isn’t necessarily a barrier, in fact it opens up an array of opportunities as the talent pool is greatly expanded and targeting is improved.

In 2007 I ambitiously embarked on a new business set-up to address the issues encountered by thousands of temporary administrative workers across the UK. The aim was to provide a digital solution that brought all engagement with companies and agencies into one place thus overcoming the logistical nightmare of visiting dozens of agencies, repeating dozens of tests, and chasing them consistently. My social recruiting solution provided a platform for jobseekers to demonstrate their skills and personality directly to both agencies and companies which avoided any misrepresentation by a third party. Direct communication in a secure logged in area was key to my effective, efficient recruitment solution. This was a long way off my index card in the newsagents and demonstrated not only a shift in jobseeker expectations but also that technical capability was now there to support this social approach to recruitment.

I incorporated a resource centre jam-packed with useful information on temporary recruitment including everything from what tax allowances there are, national insurance contributions, how to prepare for an interview, and how to understand the recruitment process. News pages kept job seekers up to date on latest methods, best interviews, funny video clips and latest HR legislation. I had created an information centre – a locality of interest that provided the jobseekers with what they wanted and added value to their job-hunting experience.

Within a month was proudly boasting hundreds of newly signed up jobseekers and then the credit crunch of 2008 hit, this foreseen but not wholly appreciated market collapse resulted in recruitment freezes across the board, companies weren’t moving, people were leaving offices with cardboard boxes in their droves and my revolutionary social recruiting solution ground to a halt.

“Sorry, we are on a recruitment freeze contact us in a couple of years”“Interesting idea, but we’re not recruiting for the foreseeable future”“No”“We will keep your records on file”“Thanks but won’t be needing that service at the moment”

Months of similar sentiments were received until I could push the company no further and without the necessary funds to sink into large scale marketing campaign, I had to bow out gracefully and stop flogging a dead horse. What this did make me realise very quickly was that the value of e-recruitment as a cost saving, time efficient solution wasn’t recognised within industry. It wasn’t until 2011 that I understood what the barrier was.

For my Masters Degree in 2011 I researched how FTSE100 companies leveraged the networks of the web for personnel resourcing and this research really did open a can of worms. In lifting the lid on the world of e-recruitment I found that few had actually moved on from the late ‘90s and the index card in a newsagents window. There was an appreciation for the perceived benefits of e-recruitment initiatives, however this was rarely seen in practice and in some instances the practice of e-recruitment was increasing costs, taking more time and often producing poorer quality candidates. The first barrier to success was the internal culture of decision makers, employees and industry; this was often reflected in highly restrictive policies that limited online activity for the purpose of e-recruitment. The second barrier was a lack of knowledge, which contributed to the reluctant attitudes. This wasn’t just in terms of what platforms and how to use them but was a fundamental misunderstanding of what e-recruitment is and how to devolve activity effectively from a strategic level in alignment with the overarching business strategy.

This book takes this research and on-the-ground experience to present not just how successful e-recruitment campaigns can be, but why and what needs to be done to future proof activity to maintain or improve the competitive advantage of the business. To start with we need to understand what e-recruitment is.

E-recruitment is a movable feast, one person’s interpretation can differ to another. Similarly differences occur between companies, throughout industries and across countries and it is this lack of definition that can be the first stumbling block. Compare a hurdler – they will know what a hurdling race consists of, the height of the hurdles, the number, the length of the course, number of competitors and type of track – only when they know this will they know what training to do, what strategy to adopt and how to implement tactics. The same applies in business. With this in mind we go back to the drawing board to understand what needs to be done, how and why.

E-recruitment is understood, or more appropriately, misunderstood in its many guises. Some believe (for it is only a belief not a fact based piece of knowledge) that by merely having an electronic database to store candidates either as an excel spreadsheet or tailored software solution, that they are practicing e-recruitment. Others feel that by posting a job on their website they are practicing e-recruitment and others don’t dare make a guess. Although the last group is probably the wisest, none are actually wrong or right. It isn’t about what you do that necessarily defines e-recruitment, it is what e-recruitment is and what it aims to achieve that really sets the scene.

Going back to the starting point for most research today Google points us in the direction of Wikipedia for a definition, which in turn tells us what we already know, that ‘e-recruitment is the process of personnel recruitment using electronic resources in particular the internet’. What this definition does add to the mix is the word ‘process’. This is the first step to truly grasping the breadth of e-recruitment and the subsequent value that can be derived from it. The commonly recognised process of personnel recruitment is the job identification and preparation, advertising, screening and shortlisting, interviewing, decision- making and on-boarding. This typically involves both online and offline tools and more than one electronic tool. The web has been primarily used for the advertising stage however with more advanced capabilities a web solution can encompass the full end-to-end process. This suggests that e-recruitment is only that which uses electronic resources for the whole process, however personnel recruitment, as its name suggests, is about people and people communicate in multiple dimensions not just online. There’s also the telephone and the importance of face to face communication to truly understand the character of an individual and make a virtual asset tangible, the definition must not be restrictive by stating one way over another. Every individual and role differs and the definition needs to act more as a framework that can be flexible and accommodating of the multitude of variations that occur in recruitment. Throughout this book it is reiterated that e-recruitment is about people first and technology second -technology is an enabler not an all-encompassing solution in its own right.

Where electronic tools aid and support the process effectively is when a business can be said to practice e-recruitment. To this end the time and stage of use of electronic resources should not be considered in the definition, e-recruitment is about the dynamic flow of information electronically between a business and jobseekers.

Information is the keystone in network development and around which like-minded individuals congregate. Brown and Duguid (2000) explored the nature of humans to aggregate around information, a simple example is seen with the development of Silicon Valley – although offline these same principles apply to online activity. The microprocessor chip was first developed in the Silicon Valley, this technology paved the way for computing, as we know it today, this innovative development naturally attracted like-minded individuals into the locality to collaborate, learn from and inform key decision makers. This cluster developed and became recognised as an entity in its own right, realised through the attraction of top talent, knowledge, future thinkers and importantly investors.

It is bringing the human element to an electronic process and recognising the value added by technology for the purpose of recruitment. This is namely to engage and develop timely and relevant relationships with jobseekers and ultimately to best inform recruiters of the most suitable candidate to select. One thing that I have heard from HR personnel is that technology is changing us and we must keep up, this is the wrong approach – we use technology for change and technology needs to keep up with what we want it to do.

I mentioned the word ‘relationships’ earlier and this was deliberate; recruitment using an electronic tool (typically the web) means communication with multiple people not just one. These relationships, as in real life, can have far reaching network effects and often the right candidate may not be a first level contact but a secondary referral. This networked web brings a new dynamic to the way recruiters engage on and offline and is best described as an ecosystem. An e-recruitment ecosystem incorporates more than just a database and looks at network effects across different individuals and different electronic platforms from intranets to social media to corporate career sites. The personalised and data rich nature of the web encourages a relationship marketing approach not just blanket mass-marketing, the jobseeker is used to personalised interactions, this is an expected norm on the web. If you’re not meeting these expectations you may be missing out on top talent.

We have identified that e-recruitment is the dynamic flow of information electronically between a business and jobseekers, forming relationships within the ecosystem of an e-recruitment network. However this doesn’t explain what e-recruitment provides and why this matters. The purpose of recruitment is to attract quality talent into the business that will ultimately provide (through efficiencies, increased sales, innovation etc.) increased revenues and maintain competitive advantage. With this as the purpose, e-recruitment can provide access, communication, engagement and management with talent – but without an embedded philosophy of a positive candidate experience a business is less likely to recruit the right talent (see Part 1).

Fundamental to e-recruitment is the fact that it is dealing with humans and as such if they feel that they’re being treated as data through an electronic system (which is the automatic leaning of technology) not only could talent be lost but also the company reputation could be damaged. Those successful at recruiting top talent are those with a positive candidate experience embedded in their strategy and implemented tactically. Research into understanding how technology can be shaped to support the purpose of recruitment through a positive candidate experience can also deliver huge advantages to the HR department, realising the time and cost efficiencies. Again, as with the purpose of engaging quality talent, this can only be realised if the electronic resources are suitably leveraged.

Bringing this together, we can define or frame e-recruitment as:

“E-recruitment is the dynamic flow of e-information between a jobseeker and a business where a positive candidate experience supports the development of relationships within the ecosystem of an e-recruitment network to provide cost effective, time efficient and relevant selection of talent.”

This dissemination has highlighted how e-recruitment is not just about the what, but also the how and why. Once context is provided, understanding can be developed, practices challenged and innovation encouraged. This book aims to challenge, innovate and educate, and bring new insight into e-recruitment and rather than being just a ‘how to’ guide this is a ‘why’ and ‘what’ book aimed at inspiring your e-recruitment activity.

Online Recruitment: A New World is divided into three parts:

  1. The Philosophy addresses the core problems facing e-recruitment today; the quality vs. quantity debate that is often cited by e-recruiters; the major hurdles like lack of fiscal validation, limited insight and no clear models; and challenges attitudes that inhibit the development of e-recruitment today in part by presenting the opportunities. The importance of letting go through cultural changes internally is then addressed; research has shown that one of the main limitations to successful e-recruitment campaigns is internal culture and policies that restrict e-activity. We then give you more of a ‘how to’ – how to get it right not only in terms of your corporate careers site but external digital platforms, employer brands and the whole online journey. This is then brought together to present the philosophy of a positive candidate experience, which is central to successful e-recruitment activity.
  2. The Mindset part of the book takes a more in-depth look at the nature of networks on the web and translates academic theories of networks into plain English to provide a framework for an e-recruitment model. Key to achieving effective e-recruitment is to understand the jobseeker and the market by gathering insight. There is a plethora of data out there and this book looks at what you need, how to understand it and importantly what to do with it and why. Finally we discuss the ecosystem mindset that encourages a global, multi- platform approach to truly leverage the capabilities of the web for e-recruitment.
  3. The Implementation presents a framework for e-recruitment building on from Parts one and two and goes on to advise how to implement the theory discussed so far, what not to do and acknowledges internal capabilities of the company. Finally we take a look at the next steps and challenge you to really understand true innovation in the field of e-recruitment and creatively encourage you to adopt the future thinking mindset required to move e-recruitment into the next century.

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