Job hunting in the 21st century

more organisations using online methods to recruit new staff, Caroline Horn
examines the importance of making sure you get your corporate website right

Online recruitment can be a powerful tool in helping companies to reach and
attract the best candidates, but while many companies might claim to be
recruiting online, in reality very few are doing so in any meaningful way.
Effective online recruitment could be as low as 10 per cent in the top
blue-chip corporates.

Bill Shipton, commercial director of and chairman of the
Association of Online Recruiters, says: "Some companies only use the
website to ask candidates to send their CV to the HR department. At the other
end of the scale are the organisations that have really grasped the nettle of
what their corporate website can do for them." These are the ones that are
using online recruitment to make the recruitment process quicker, more
effective and less expensive, and to enhance their employer brand.

For companies planning to recruit online, the main message has to be, get it
right – poor site management can do more harm than good to a company’s image.
Robert Leggett, managing director of Omni IT, says: "When you put job
advertisements online, you might get 200-300 responses within 24 hours and you
have to respond to them all because it will reflect on your company brand. You
also have to keep everything up-to-date."

From the outset, companies have to be clear about what they want their site
to do for them, says Leggett. "Will they be using the site as a marketing
tool to attract candidates, or to manage recruitment and to help build a
company’s talent pool? Do they want to process a certain number of candidates
through the website, or do they just want a web presence? And how much work do
they want it to do for them?"

Maintaining your system

Companies also need to decide who is going to use, manage and maintain the
system – IT, HR and other departments will be involved and their activities
need to be co-ordinated. Tim Elkington, managing director of Enhance Media,
suggests that most recruiters will chose to use an ASP (Application Service
Provider), like i-GRasp, to set up and run the online recruitment system – the
advantages being that the ASP will assist with the technology and system

However, if a company has bespoke requirements, or wants to include more
distinctive tools like videos, it might be better setting up an in-house

Whatever route is chosen, the outcome should be an easy and straightforward
experience for candidates, says Shipton. "The first thing a candidate
wants is to be able to search a job by function, and if they have seen an
individual job advertised, to be able to apply for the job online."

Website features should, therefore, include: a clear, one-click link on the
homepage to the recruitment site; a good search engine, allowing candidates to
highlight their preferences; clear job descriptions and skills requirements; a
clear and concise application process; and an interactive link to an HR contact
– not just a mailing address. Information about the company and its corporate
culture should also be available – companies should be aiming to impress a
potential candidate and to persuade the best that they want to work for them.

Get the basics right

Simple enough, but Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of
Graduate Recruiters (AGR), says that there are many basic things that companies
are still getting wrong.

Students – among the most demanding of candidates – are unimpressed by sites
that put style over substance, and offer their own checklist for recruiters,
which includes: tell it like it is, keep the site simple and easy to work
through, give up-to-date information (things like salary and job vacancies can
date quickly), and keep applicants informed at all stages.

A study by Cambria Consulting, Boston, highlights best practice in web
recruitment. As well as clear navigation tools and information on corporate
culture and career opportunities, the best sites will include a number of
additional functions – tools such as a ‘job cart’ to allow applicants to search
and apply for multiple openings, résumé builders and other supplementary
job-search advice, and personal search engines that allow applicants to create,
and update, personal profiles in a company’s database.

There are other technical issues that companies have to get right –
applicants don’t like being kicked off a site because they answered a question
wrongly, for example, or being cut off mid way through an application without
having had the facility to save the information.

Once applications are in the system, companies should not have to spend
hours perusing every application – the system can filter candidates with
questions ranging from ‘do you have a degree?’ to online questionnaires or more
complex psychometric testing. Leggett points out that HR at Madame Tussauds
managed to reduce its recruitment processes in time terms by two-thirds, having
used the system’s abilities to filter applicants.

i-GRasp has moved towards tailored application forms for specific jobs, not
‘one-size-fits-all’ applications, says managing director Andy Randall, which is
more satisfying for the candidate than a standard set of questions. "You
want the processes to be fast for the applicants, but you also want to ask
questions that show you are interested in their skills and you want to find out
whether they answer your requirements."

Achieving a balance

A company needs to achieve a balance between asking enough information to
satisfy its needs, while not asking so much that the candidate is put off at
the first hurdle. Randall advocates that, initially, a company asks three
screening questions to help candidates know if they are wasting their time by
applying. This could be a simple ‘Do you have an MBA?’ to a more complex, ‘Do
you have five years working in the soft drinks industry?’.

"In other words, a single point that is a key requirement for the
job," says Randall – there is no point in the candidate going any further
if they don’t have that experience.

Once a candidate knows if they have the relevant skills, a company can ask
more open questions, perhaps around the job itself. "If it’s about
marketing in a soft drinks environment, ask what launches have you done in the
soft drinks market in the last three years?" says Randall.

These are application-specific questions to the job and to the type of
individual applying. As well as helping in the decision-making process, it
ensures the candidate feels that the process is more personal, as well as
relevant to the job they are applying for. Further down the line, online
psychometric testing can help screen out those whom the company does not want
to interview.

For those candidates who are offered an interview, companies can help to
keep them interested through a number of electronic tools. i-Grasp, for example,
offers an ‘interview zone’ on the company’s recruitment site to help candidates
prepare and giving them a choice of time and location for interview. A web cam
at the company’s premises gives them an idea of what the building looks like
when they arrive, so they know they’re at the right place.

But while aesthetics are important in online recruitment, so is speed of
response. "A lot of companies have a flash website but then once you’ve
filled in the forms, everything is very slow," says Randall. HR
departments should be able to measure how long every stage of the online
recruitment process takes, so they know how long a candidate has waited for a

Alliance and Leicester, for example, tells applicants that they will get an
initial response to an online application within seven days.

Linking-up to HR

Successful online recruitment also depends on HR departments linking the
web-based recruitment facility to their in-house HR systems, says Elkington.
"The full back-to-front integration, from someone coming to the site,
filling in a form, being interviewed and becoming an employee, is better. It’s
a question of getting all the people involved to work together."

Major players in this area include i-GRasp and Axiom, which use both
software and consultancy to bring automation and standardisation to the

There is also more back end technology available to bridge the gap between
the web face and SAP HR management systems. For example, a new software package
from Snowdrop, called CV Extractor, has been developed to extract key
information (eg, name, address, skills) from a candidate’s CV. It then sends
that information to the recruiter’s HR system, reducing the amount of manual
intervention required by HR.

Companies do not need to bring all the information in-house, however.
Departments using online recruitment to build a ‘talent pool’ can develop their
database in a secure site provided by the ASP and can access that information
when recruiting for future positions.

HR should also keep itself informed about which website and job board is
being successful for which jobs, by using the applications it receives to find
out who is responding to certain advertisements. "Find out the kind of
people it’s attracting so you can check your own strategy," says Leggett.

As well as promising efficiencies and speed, online recruitment is
increasingly being seen as an effective branding and marketing tool for
individual companies and as a good way of attracting people to a corporate

Railtrack, for example, used its recruitment site to challenge
preconceptions of the company, while Scottish Power used a fairly simple quiz
to help applicants find out more about the firm.

With companies now keeping a watchful eye on costs, and keen to extend their
reach, online recruitment is likely to grow in the next few years.

A study by iLogos Research showed that 76 per cent of Euro 500 companies
have developed a careers section on their websites, with all 500 expected to
have careers sections and be accepting online applications by 2004.

And the technology is improving all the time. Just a few years down the
line, says Randall, we could all be using the ad-breaks on television to hop
over to a website on our digital television, and search for a new job.

How do some of the top corporate recruitment sites measure up?

Workthing reviewed the careers sites
of 25 FTSE companies in three key areas: site design, content and
functionality. The study revealed that while sites now present good company
profile information, many still suffer from unclear links, out-of-date jobs and
limited candidate relationship management. Personnel Today looked at five
corporate career sites to see how they rated.

Big Food Group

Where does it rate well?

The site offers good branding reflecting the nature of the
product ranges, sub brands and industry with a depth of company information on
the home page – but it is bland and there is little to differentiate it from

Where does it under-perform?

There is no link to recruitment from the corporate site – a
visitor has to select a sub brand, for example, Iceland, then to select
corporate information to find out about jobs. There is no job search facility
on the group site.


Where does it rate well?

The site has a clear home page with the job section easy to
find and navigate. Jobs can be searched by location, category or key word. It
is also simple to set up a job alert.

Where does it under-perform?

There are very few jobs on the site – only two were available
across all categories, nationwide, although these were clearly presented and
provided good detail on salary, skills needed etc.

Marks & Spencer

Where does it rate well?

The site provides a clear picture of the company’s brand and
why you should want to work for them with the company vision, key facts and
awards displayed. There is ample information on typical roles, benefits, and so

Where does it under-perform?

There were no specific vacancies advertised – although visitors
are told the group has seasonal vacancies, visitors are advised to ‘Find your
local store details’ for more information, or to ‘Watch out for our recruitment
advertisements in the national, regional and specialist press’ for head office


Where does it rate well?

The site has a comprehensive graduate career site with
profiles, details of training and development and working life.

Where does it under-perform?

The only roles advertised are for graduates – and even those
were closed to further applications, ahead of the official closing date of 3


Where does it rate well?

The site provides a lot of company information, production
information, and group financials and there is a comprehensive graduate area.

Where does it under-perform?

The site is aimed at consumers and does not
direct you to the corporate site ( where the jobs are featured.
Little information is given on working culture. While the site
allows you to search for jobs, there are no vacancies advertised on the site.

Take-home points…

1 Companies have to be clear about what they want their online
site to do for them

2 The site should be an easy and straight-forward experience
for candidates

3 Tailored application forms for specific jobs are more
satisfying for the candidate than a standard set of questions

4 As well as promising efficiency and speed, online recruitment
is increasingly being seen as an effective branding and marketing tool

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