Despite nearly a decade of e-recruitment, online hiring has
never lived up to HR’s expectations. But with specialist providers on hand to
take care of all stages of the recruitment process, HR is set to realise the
Net’s full potential. By Sue Weekes
When they first appeared in the mid-1990s, recruitment sites prom-ised the
world and delivered a great deal. Unfortunately, it was in the shape of
hundreds of CVs – many of them inappropriate for the position – proving totally
unmanageable for the poor HR or recruitment manager on the receiving end.
The theory was online recruitment sites would speed up time to hire, reduce
admin and costs by streamlining processes and extend candidate reach. Arguably,
they delivered on the latter but many failed miserably on most other counts.
"We’d put an advertisement in The Grocer and get back something like
800 replies with CVs attached in different formats that we often couldn’t open.
It made it impossible to manage," says Neil Millan, senior HR business
partner at Nestlé.
A major tour operator, meanwhile, received 1,000 letters for a single
position and had to employ a team of temps to send each one a standard
application form, because it was the only way they could deal with the
response. There are also countless stories of recruitment managers wasting
valuable time by printing out their in-boxes full of CVs to take home to read.
Far from moving their role up the value chain and giving them more time to
consider candidates in a strategic way, it actually added to their
But the fault didn’t always lie with the job site in question. Online
recruitment’s unfulfilled potential can largely be attributed to HR and
recruitment professionals’ failure to integrate it into existing hiring systems
and processes. Typically, an online recruitment strategy would comprise signing
up to a handful of jobs sites, complemented by a careers section on the
corporate site. "Keyword searches and CV databases play a valuable role in
Internet-era recruiting", says John Taylor, CEO of Cyber-CV. "But
they can’t wear the mantle of online recruitment any more than printed media
advertising can claim to be anything more than classified advertising."
There are signs, though, that online recruitment could finally live up to
its promise. A study in the US by worldwide research and analysis organisation
IDC, marks a rise in the use of "end-to-end recruiting service
providers" employed by major corporates to get the most out of online recruitment
and integrate the various recruitment channels of corporate sites, job boards,
recruitment agencies and traditional media into one streamlined process.
End-to-end service providers create a software solution that essentially
holds the organisation’s hand through every stage of the recruitment process.
The system will help prepare the job description and post the advertisement to
whatever channels the client wants – from corporate jobs site to traditional
media. It then helps collect the CVs, assess candidates according to the
client’s criteria and carry out skills and behavioural assessments based on
corporate fit. Finally, it facilitates interview scheduling, initiates
background checks, generates and sends offer letters and transfers data into an
existing HR management system upon hire.
Clients can tell the service company what kind of testing they would like
built into the system so it can ultimately rank, say, the top 10 candidates.
The system then delivers a shortlist of people, having taken into account all
relevant criteria such as qualifications and corporate fit. "Ultimately,
all a client should have to do is post a job and wait for the shortlist to
arrive on the computer desktop," says IDC’s senior analyst for recruiting
and staffing services, Christopher Boone. "This is the situation
end-to-end e-recruiting service providers are striving to reach."
Major players in the US include BrassRing, PeopleClick and Recruitsoft
which, via a combination of technology and consultancy, are already proving
that such services can reduce time and cost to hire as well as streamline
processes. In 2000, Hewlett-Packard received between 2,000-3,000 CVs per day
which resulted in 15,000 hires. Its recruitment process had been paperless
since 1993 but this had not meant it was problem-free.
One of the issues it faced, for instance, was that of thousands of duplicate
CVs and its average cost per hire was $10,000. It is currently undergoing
global implementation of Recruitsoft’s Recruiter Web Top software and, while it
is still early days, expects to reduce hiring time by 30-50 per cent and cost
per hire by 25 per cent.
Research has already highlighted a need for similar providers in the UK. A
benchmarking study conducted by Enhance Media on the first day of the IQPC
Online Recruitment Exchange event last autumn found the biggest issue facing
online recruitment in the UK was integrating backend technology. A further 47
per cent of respondents said they were interested in backend technologies aimed
at managing a candidate database but had found it difficult to buy such
This situation should now be rectified, as a number of UK and European
companies have followed the US lead and invested in this kind of system
development. Most closely fitting the US model are Job Partners with
ActiveRecruiter and MrTed with TalentLink. Other major players include i-GRasp
with GlobalSuccessor, and Axiom with JobQ. Expect to see other names joining
the pack, including industry-specific ones like Intagen, which concentrates
solely on IT recruitment. There are also the broader systems integration
companies to consider, such as Pecaso, which has long developed plug-ins that
sit between the job board world and SAP HR management systems.
While each system varies in how it works to some degree, they essentially
fulfil the same brief – that of bringing automation and standardisation to the
recruitment process, typically by software alone or a combination of software
In common with the US, many are application service provider-based models,
which charge a rental or subscription fee.
There are also some hybrid services around such as Cyber-CV which, as well
as candidate management, offers skills matching more akin to that of a
traditional recruitment agency. Its fee structure is similarly based but much
cheaper, charging only 10 per cent of a first-year salary.
In the current recession it may be hard to justify to the finance director
the expense of streamlining the recruitment process. It would be wrong,
however, to view the implementation of an end-to-end recruiting service, or
similar, as a mere efficiency exercise in systems and workflow. For one thing,
online recruitment is unlikely to go away. IDC forecasts that the worldwide
e-recruiting market will rise from $1.6bn in 2000 to $13.4bn by 2005. At a more
local level, research carried out at the IQPC Online Recruitment Exchange event
showed no-one said their online recruitment activity would decrease, while 89
per cent said it would rise in the next 12 months, despite uncertainty
regarding return on investment.
The other single most compelling reason why online recruitment must be
integrated sooner rather than later is that it will serve to move the recruiter
up the value chain, allowing them to be far more strategic and proactive about
the whole business of recruitment. Already a new set of jargon and buzzwords
have entered the recruitment vernacular. These include ‘talent pool’ – the pool
of potential staff and ‘talent supply chain management’ – the flow of talent
into an organisation. It is up to the recruitment management to be proactive
about these and consult with line managers about where such people could fit
With the right system in place, the recruitment manager should also be using
the data available in a strategic way. Many systems offer a two-way link – a
function that allows you to extract data on previous hires and the workforce as
well as import data on the new ones.
IDC’s Boone predicts the two-way interface between recruitment and HRMS
systems will be key in the near future. "You could call up details of your
top 10 performers and find where the applications originated from . This system
could also be linked to a learning management system so you could assess what
training you are going to need for a candidate and how much it will cost in the
It also falls to the recruitment manager to be a custodian of the employer
brand – which is of increasing importance in these times of business to
employee services. In their more haphazard days some jobs boards propagated a
number of bad practices that could potentially tarnish the brand. The sheer
volume of applications brought by job sites often meant rejection letters would
go out weeks after the job was posted, if they went out at all.
"The minute someone applies for a job with your company, they become a
stakeholder in that organisation. It’s critical how they are treated – if they
have a bad experience it will have a negative impact on your employer
brand," explains Bill Shipton, commercial director of Work-thing.com,
which recently acquired the established recruitment site PeopleBank. PeopleBank
has worked with clients such as Nestlé to integrate and streamline their online
Response rates become even more crucial in the light of online buying
experiences delivered by the likes of Amazon – buy a book before 5pm and you’ll
usually have it delivered the next day. The Internet has undoubtedly heightened
our expectancy of response rates, and any website – whether a jobs site or
bookshop – which takes more than a couple of days to send a response isn’t
going to be viewed favourably. Recent research from Axiom found one in three
graduates expects a response to a job application within two weeks and a third
within one week. Only one in six of the study, however, said they had responded
within a week.
Employer brand is vital for a worldwide consultancy such as KPMG, which must
be perceived as leading edge in every way. KPMG experienced a high level of CV
traffic from various sources and was prompted to review the whole of its
recruitment process. It wanted a Web-based system that could form part of its
overall HR processes and opted for i-GRasp’s Global- Successor software, which
links into its PeopleSoft system.
Staff can also work from home on the system, explains James Clark, head of
HR systems: "It meets our needs well. We’ve tidied recruitment up and the
whole process is much faster now."
Although it’s early days, KPMG reports that feedback has shown it to have a
positive effect on how it’s perceived as an employer. "The website
provided a very straightforward and clear process from initial application to
acknowledgement, invitation for interview and regular updates on the progress
of my application," says internal communications manager Sam Hodlin.
"The design of the online application process gave me a real sense that KPMG
was at the cutting edge of using technology for my benefit and not just to
The i-GRasp system is increasingly adding different zones to its system to
cultivate and manage the relationship with a candidate from the early days. An
‘interview zone’ allows candidates to brush up on the company and even read a
profile of their potential interviewer. There is also an ‘offer zone’.
"This allows the recruiter to manage the relationship during that crucial
time when an offer has been made but you could still lose the candidate to
another company. They can access this zone, for instance, and talk to new
joiners," says i-GRasp CEO Andy Randall.
There is a tendency to view the end-to-end recruiter as a systems specialist
rather than a recruitment expert. But while they may essentially be delivering
a software solution, they also bring the benefit of experience with previous
Thomas Otter, director of strategy at Pecaso, says that even obvious areas
like job descriptions don’t always get the due care and attention they deserve,
citing a German multinational which posted a totally different job description
set by a line manager in one site than appeared for the same job from a
different line manager in another plant. "The better the description of
your vacancy, the better match of candidate," says Otter. He explains that
by getting HR to fill out a form about what it wants from which to compile a
series of questions and structured text for the corporate website would
immediately standardise things.
Other examples of inconsistent bad practices stem from not treating internal
recruitment with the same diligence as external recruitment. Many end-to-end
solutions provide an opportunity to integrate both internal and external
recruitment. "If an organisation does external recruitment well and
internal recruitment poorly, it is a demotivator for the workforce," says
Otter. "If you make your external recruitment perform at its best with the
latest system, for instance, and a member of staff finds out about an internal
job on Monster, it’s not very good, is it?"
What has become clear over the past two years is that not even the whizziest
corporate careers site or jobs board can work in isolation and integration is
the key. The good news is there is clearly a sector-wide pull in this same
direction, reinforced by the work of HR-XML (Extensible Mark-up Language)
consortium, which seeks to put standards in place to facilitate the exchange of
Roy Davis, head of communications at psychometric test provider SHL, has
lived through the bad old days of online recruitment and welcomes the migration
to Web-enabled systems and the integration with back-office systems, as well as
the standardisation that end-to-end services bring. But he’s right to stress that
while the Web route is the only route, "the Internet is only a delivery
Improved skills matching
SHL develops psychometric testing products, largely sold for use on
corporate websites and, with a robust and structured online recruitment infrastructure
in place, it will be products like these (such as behavioural and situational
testing, as well as improved skills matching software) which will really move
e-recruitment on a stage and extract yet more value from the process.
"Line managers must be educated to be aware that they’ll be delivered a
job fit score for a candidate rather than a CV to read," says Davis.
This fits with Boone’s view, that ultimately employers will be creating
profiles of key performers and then mapping these against candidates to find
the best fit.
Those recruitment managers worried that they will lose control of the
process and that recruitment will in some way be dehumanised should have no
fears as long as they ensure they are the ones deciding the core competencies
they want mapped, the parameters for corporate fit and appropriate skills and
With end-to-end systems finally removing the burden of administration they
should have every chance of doing so. And for the first time they will be able
to take their rightful place on the value chain.