You've heard the stories about couples who meet on the internet and live happily ever after. In today's tight labor market, job seekers and corporate recruiters are finding each other by cutting through the resume paper chase and going online. But unlike unplanned whirlwind romances, effective online recruiting requires a well-planned strategy.
Recruiting qualified employees has never been an easy or inexpensive proposition. There are classified ads to place, resumes to sift through, interviews to conduct and paperwork to manage. In fact, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the typical organization spends $8,219 to land an employee. Factor in today's tight labor market, and filling open positions while keeping the lid on costs can seem like a daunting task. "The pressure on finance departments and human resource professionals is enormous," says Jim Condon, CFO for CyberCash Inc., a Reston, Va. company that markets secure electronic payment systems for the Internet.
A growing number of organizations are discovering that the best way to cut through the paper chase and connect to qualified applicants is to venture online. In many cases, they're finding that filling jobs online is faster, cheaper and more effective than using traditional methods. It's a way to gain a competitive advantage and maintain staffing — including a wide array of jobs in finance — with less effort. "The Web is an interactive medium that's perfectly suited to recruiting," states Barb Ruess, director of marketing for E.span, a leading online job placement service. "It's changing the way people think and act."
From the Silicon Valley to Valley Forge, companies are getting the message. According to employee search firm Management Recruiters International Inc. in Cleveland, 37 percent of 4,300 companies surveyed use the Internet as a recruitment tool, compared with 26.5 percent a year-and-a-half ago. Twenty-nine percent of companies are now posting jobs on their Web sites. And, increasingly, the finance department is part of the picture. Not only are many organizations posting finance positions online — from controllers to accountants to financial analysts — they're turning to Web-based recruiting as a way to cut costs and drive improvement.
What makes the Web so attractive is that it cuts through much of the administrative overhead that has traditionally been part of the process. According to James C. Gonyea, author of "The Online Job Search Companion" (McGraw-Hill, 1997) and president of Gonyea & Associates Inc., an online career guidance agency based in New Port Richey, Fla., "It's possible to create job listings and post them within minutes. You have access to millions of people, and it is generally less expensive than conventional methods which require a greater support structure."
Once resumes begin to stream into a company's human resources department, it's possible to use a database tool such as Resumix or Restrac to store the information for future reference. Later, if a finance manager needs to fill a specific position and has special requirements, for example a tax expert fluent in German and English with at least five years experience, it's possible to search for those criteria. It's relatively simple to spot a controller who has an MBA and at least three years experience in Asia working at a technology company.
Online Success Stories
CyberCash is a perfect example of a company that has benefited from online recruiting. Condon, working with human resources, has been able to cut recruiting costs by about 25 percent while reducing the typical hiring period from a few months to two or three weeks. That's allowed HR to use staff more efficiently and helped the company find candidates who are better qualified. "It cuts out a lot of the noise," says Condon. "Anybody with an envelope and a postage stamp can send a resume, whether they are qualified or not. Using the Internet, it's possible to connect to people who have the education and skills necessary for the job. It's also relatively simple to use software tools to filter, store and retrieve incoming resumes."
The advantages of online recruiting extend to job seekers as well. It's possible to access a list of open positions at CyberCash's Web site, but also to search through an extensive database of open positions at CareerBuilder, one of the Web's most popular employment sites. At the employment site, it's possible to obtain detailed information about CyberCash with a click of the mouse, and use a search agent to notify a job seeker via e-mail when an appropriate position is posted from any company that uses the service. "It helps stop resume inflation because people are able to determine up front who we are and whether we're a company that suits their interests and capabilities," Condon explains.
CareerBuilder is one of nearly a dozen sites devoted to streamlining the job search process. Sites like E.span, The Monster Board, Career Mosaic and Hot Jobs typically post thousands of open positions. And while each uses different techniques and tools, the idea is essentially the same: to help job seekers and companies find a match. "Recruiting has evolved into a business-critical issue. As the labor market has grown tighter, staffing has become a more central issue in determining whether a company is able to meet its goals and Wall Street estimates," says Gene Austin, senior vice president of sales and marketing for CareerBuilder Inc.
More than 450 companies now use CareerBuilder — including heavyweights such as Abbott Laboratories, Applied Materials, Bell Atlantic Corp., The Boeing Co., Eastman Kodak Co., Microsoft Corp., Pfizer Inc. and Sprint. In most instances, the cost for an ad runs about $100 per month per posting, compared to $1,000 or more per job listing in a single edition of the Sunday classifieds at a major newspaper such as the "The Washington Post" or "Los Angeles Times." And that, understandably, is pushing a growing amount of traffic into cyberspace. CareerBuilder boasts more than 5,000 jobs and nearly 2 million searches each month.
Although online recruiting hasn't eliminated the need for conventional techniques, it's quickly becoming the preferred method for many companies. Pamela James, senior director of staffing at Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell, sees the online world as a complement to traditional methods. "Newspapers are becoming less cost-effective all the time, but it's still necessary to use recruiters," she says. "A lot of extremely talented people are online and they are using the Internet to find jobs, but some excellent candidates aren't there yet, and you don't want to miss them." James works closely with the finance department at Taco Bell to generate job descriptions and facilitate interviews. The company posts finance positions — as well as other jobs — on CareerBuilder, Hot Jobs and its own Web site.
The upshot? Taco Bell is moving rapidly toward a paperless recruiting function. Candidates respond electronically via e-mail or an electronic form, and the information is stored in a Resumix database until a hiring manager needs to conduct a search. That's allowing the company to save 62 cents per resume vs. paper-based methods, including mail and fax. And with 1,200 electronic resumes streaming in every month compared to 150 on paper, the cost savings and strategic gains are enormous.
Richard Johnson, president of Hot Jobs Inc., sees the transformation from paper to pixels as a huge leap forward. At present, he estimates that about 60 percent of high-level financial professionals are wired, but that the figure should reach 80 percent in two years and 95 percent by the beginning of the next century. Yet, the online recruiting revolution is also affecting the way companies recruit on campus and conduct job fairs. In some cases, it's allowing firms to connect to promising college graduates through their PCs rather than flying a company representative loaded with brochures to universities around the country. A few firms, such as Advanced Micro Devices Inc., go so far as to broadcast specific openings to college job placement officers and key professors around the country.
Yet, the success of online recruiting isn't a given. As Johnson puts it, "A lot of companies have ventured onto the Internet and posted jobs only to be disappointed by the results. Online recruiting is a terrific tool, but it's only as good as the people using it and the processes that exist." Successful recruiting in cyberspace requires attention to five key issues:
- Target the right audience. It's important to understand which job postings are likely to elicit results online. An ad for an entry-level or mid-level accountant has a reasonable chance for success — particularly if it's a job that's typically offered to a recent college graduate who is Net-savvy. However, trying to nab a controller or CFO is less likely; many high-level executives eschew job searches online. What's more, many companies, such as Taco Bell, advertise positions on several sites, as well as their own home page, for maximum exposure. "It's all about creativity and using the tools that exist, including specialized forums and Usenet newsgroups," says Hot Jobs' Johnson.
- Strive for maximum results. It's tempting to label the Web an experimental medium. "That's a mistake," says Austin. "It's producing impressive results for many leading companies." In fact, Taco Bell estimates that 10 percent of all employees hired in 1998 will have come to the company through the Internet. But success doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's up to finance to help drive methods, whether it's activity-based costing or simple spreadsheet analysis, that help an organization measure the effectiveness of different sites and tools. Only then is it possible to determine which sites work best.
- Coordinate efforts with human resources. The Internet can eliminate many of the inefficiencies of newspaper ads and other traditional forms of recruiting, but only if ads are well written and hiring processes are well defined. Although much of the burden falls on HR, finance can play an important role in helping fill finance-related positions. "It's crucial for the finance department to be involved throughout the process. Online recruiting is a team effort," says Taco Bell's James.
- Communicate your company's message. The Web has quickly grown into the world's largest corporate marketing tool. You're competing with hundreds of other companies for the best candidates. Although it might seem like information technology or HR departments should fret over Web site design and content, a successful site requires input from almost every department. Ideally, a job applicant should be able to research your company — its financials, benefits and products — to ensure a good match.
- Use software and systems to automate and reengineer. Online recruiting offers benefits for almost everyone involved. But the biggest gains result from the elimination of paper and work. Missing the opportunity to redesign workflow and processes can result in higher costs and reduced productivity. What's more, "Being able to respond to a resume in minutes rather than weeks means that your company might be extending an offer to an outstanding candidate ahead of the competition," notes Austin.
Make no mistake — online recruiting is here to stay. Some, like Gonyea, believe that it might eventually eliminate newspaper ads and perhaps put some headhunters out of business. "The landscape is changing," he states. "Companies are beginning to realize that they must complement conventional approaches with an online presence. Otherwise, they are likely to miss an important segment of the job market."