How to… Research on the internet

Finding what you want on the net, when you want it

Why it is important?

It is no longer enough for HR professionals to be fully conversant in the
latest health and safety regulations or changes to the Employment Act. These
days, they are also expected to know the projected growth of mobile and
flexible workers, to be able to take an active part in a discussion on the pros
and cons of blended learning, and know exactly how globalisation will impact
their workforce. Infor-mation empowers and the internet is often the quickest,
cheapest and most convenient route to that information. But, even if the
statistics you want to justify next year’s training budget are only a few
clicks away, you still have to find them.

What is my starting point?

Unless you know where to go for the information you want, the best starting
point is one of the internet search engines such as Google, Hotbot or Alta

Search engines attempt to index the web and using one can be an art form in
itself. They respond to keywords input by the user that relate to a subject but
a host of devices can be used to refine searches, including what are called
Boolean operators such as ‘and’, ‘or’ and ‘not’. Keying in salary and survey,
for instance will return pages that have both words in them; keying in salary
or survey will retrieve web pages that have either term; and keying in salary
not survey will exclude pages with the word survey in them.

Sometimes operators can be shortened to ‘+’ for and, ‘-‘ for not. Other
terms you are likely to come across include ‘phrase searching’, where you key
in a string of words that you want to find next to each other in a web page,
such as ‘human capital index’.

You should also take into account that all search engines index web pages in
a slightly different way and have a different way of assessing their relevance
to your search. It is impossible to cover all the vagaries and idiosyncrasies
of search engines in an article of this size and the best advice is to click through
to the Help areas on the sites themselves. Good general sites on searching
techniques include and

The following provides a five-point guide to searching in general:

1. Think carefully about keywords that best describe your search. If you are
looking for information on benchmarking HR functions, ‘HR’ and ‘benchmarking’
are your keywords

2. Remember that some search engines are case sensitive, so if you are
searching for salary statistics for China, use a capital C for china – or
you’ll get a lot of pottery related websites retrieved

3. Click a ‘UK pages only’ option if there is one (and you want only UK
pages) as this will eliminate lots of unwanted US sites

4. Don’t just try one search engine – and spend a few minutes clicking
through to their help or frequently asked questions areas

5. If your search returns too few results, broaden your key words; if you
are swamped by results, narrow your search terms

So it’s a case of becoming a whizz with a search engine?

Well, that’s one aspect of it but you should also spend sometime bookmarking
the various online resources related to your field. We’ve listed our favourites
(see below), but there are many more and each time you find one, add it to
favourites as there’s nothing more annoying that not being able to go back and
find that site a second time. Become a sponge for new web addresses recommended
in journals and newspapers – even if it ends up that the site wasn’t as useful
as you thought it might be, it may have a useful set of links.

Bookmark everything initially as you can always delete it from your list of
favourites later, but try to be organised and remember that Internet Explorer
allows you to store favourites in different folders.

Is it worth tapping into forums and chatrooms?

Most definitely. Being part of a knowledge-sharing community is to give
yourself access to another vast information resource. There are plenty of sites
that can tell you the projected growth for online recruitment by 2006, but it
would be harder to find the average starting salary for a sales executive in
India, for instance. However, post that or a similar question in one of the HR
forums and you may well get your answer within minutes.

Our favourite sites

Good for research data and stats

Good for HR-related news and features

Good for HR forums HR Zone,

Good for internet statistics Net Value,

If you only do five things

1 Learn how to use Google

2 Join an HR forum

3 Sign up to an e-mail newsletter

4 Bookmark five new sites that you think might be useful and

5 organise your favourites into meaningful folders

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