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Look before you leap into Web recruitment

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Look before you leap into Web recruitment
You can waste lots of time and money if you don’t organize your approach to Internet recruiting.
By Mary Brandel

June 1999

In this article:
Lessons learned about Internet recruiting

When I was in high school, my parents owned two cars: a station wagon and a stick-shift Plymouth Volare. One afternoon, after just a couple of preliminary lessons on driving a manual gearshift, I decided to take the Volare out solo. I coasted down the driveway, bucked my way up the hill, struggled with the sticky second gear, and prayed that all traffic lights would stay green for me. Somehow I made it to my destination and back, and I don’t think I worsened the condition of the car (can anything be worse than a Plymouth Volare?). But I certainly didn’t drive it properly or take advantage of the control one gains with a manual shift.

I’m reminded of that afternoon drive when I hear about recruiters jumping into the Internet in a blind search for IT talent. They picture job sites just dripping with prized applicants who can be plucked with no expensive agency fees. (No wonder 59% of companies post jobs electronically, according to the American Management Association in New York City!) And they hear tales of foraging through chat sites to find the most elusive species of all: the passive job candidate.

One company’s Web recruitment effort resulted in the firm’s 100 recruiters receiving 7,000 resumes in a month.

But once they make the leap, recruiters quickly discover it’s not that easy. Job sites attract lots of IT talent–and lots of IT wannabes. Posting a job online attracts lots of responses–even more than you can handle. And you can haunt IT hangouts from dawn until dusk, but it’s going to take some training and lots of time before those efforts turn into a hire. The fact is, unless your company has an organized approach to Internet recruiting–and even a dedicated Internet team–you can waste a lot of time and money.

The web of the Web

“A black hole”–that’s what Steve Sellers calls the Internet. Sellers is staffing manager at Tellabs Operations Inc., one of the world’s top manufacturers of telecommunications equipment in Lisle, Ill. He started playing around with the Internet two years ago. “My primary focus was decreasing time-to-hire, and I thought it might give us more direct candidate sourcing than more traditional means like job fairs and our own internal database,” he says.

Very quickly, however, “we became lost in the Internet web,” he says. “The more you got in, the more time it required. Sometimes you got lost in there.” Sellers quickly realized he needed some direction on how to pull information off the Web in a timely manner, and how to discern which information was valid. “Unless you’ve got some dedicated people with the power to address those issues, the Internet becomes a big black hole,” he says.

Sellers certainly didn’t have time to fool around with black holes. Two years ago, Tellabs was hiring people at a rate of 500 employees a year, about 70% of whom were techie types. This year, it plans to hire 1,100 new people, the majority in hardware and software engineering.

So, in addition to building some vendor alliances, Sellers also hired two full-time Internet recruiters. “I have convinced management to invest in the Internet, and so far, they’ve come up with the money for me to do it.”

Fine-tune your strategy

Sellers has taken the most important first step: developing an overall strategy and approach to Internet recruiting. “What is your goal–to save money or find people you wouldn’t find otherwise?” says Kevin Wheeler, principal consultant for Global Learning Systems, a recruitment consulting firm in Oakland, Calif. “You really need to narrow that down, and that drives what you do.”

For instance, Wheeler says, if you’re simply trying to save money on search fees, focus on the job boards such as,, and In addition, make sure your corporate Web page attracts candidates to the recruiting section of the page–perhaps even start a print campaign to draw people there.

But be careful what you wish for–you might get inundated with replies. And just like in the traditional recruiting field, only 10% of the responses you receive will result in a hire. You need to be sure you have a system in place to deal with the flood of resumes you’ll undoubtedly receive.

Lessons learned about Internet recruiting

Here are a few tips from the experts to get you started:

The Internet is better for filling ongoing, repetitive hires than for filling needed-it-yesterday specialty hires. Expect a 90-day ramp-up time when posting a job before you begin to see a steady flow of resumes, says Carl Kutsmode, president of the Tiburon Group.

Not everything is as it appears to be on the Web. Some job seekers seed the Internet with information about themselves in order to appear to be a happily employed “passive” job candidate rather than a “desperately seeking” one. To avoid being deceived, create a personal Web page and include a sample resume. “An intelligent search agent will find you if you’ve included the right key words,” says Kevin Wheeler, principal consultant for Global Learning Systems.

Be very descriptive when posting jobs on the Web. Be sure the job title clearly identifies the key job responsibilities and location, Kutsmode says. For example, don’t say “Database Specialist.” Say “Sr. Oracle DBA.” You could even include the state abbreviation in front.

Consider advertising on job boards that focus on a particular skill set or profession, such as HTML or Java programmers, Wheeler says. Job boards such as and are starting to go the niche route.

Don’t rely on the Internet to be your only recruiting resource, Kutsmode says. Print advertising, job fairs, and referrals should continue to fill out your comprehensive strategy. Companies with successful Web recruiting efforts claim that an average of 15% to 20% of their total hires are from the Internet, he says.

At one company, a Web recruitment effort resulted in the firm’s 100 recruiters receiving 7,000 resumes a month. “They were scared to open their e-mail,” says Carl Kutsmode, president of the Tiburon Group, a recruitment solutions firm in Chicago. Worse, all the resumes were automatically dropped into the main database with no screening, which lowered the quality of the database. Since then, the company has hired Kutsmode’s firm to manually screen and pre-qualify the resumes before sending them on to recruiters.

Perhaps in addition to saving money, you also want to speed up your hiring process. In that case, think about bulking up the recruitment section of your corporate Web site. That’s what Tellabs did, by partnering with a company called in Austin, Texas.

“We needed an interactive site to help candidates sort through 150 openings we had on the Web,” Sellers says. Before, candidates would have to scroll down the list of openings and then fax or mail in their resume. Now, they type in their preferred location, their discipline level, and several key words. The site responds with a list of positions that meet those criteria, complete with a job description. When candidates click on a particular requisition, their information is automatically sent to the hiring manager and is also added to a central database, which is accessible by anyone at Tellabs. Candidates are also asked a series of prescreening questions, such as willingness to relocate and salary requirements. In one case, a candidate was hired in less than two weeks, from the time he visited the site to the job offer.

“On top of that, it reduced our costs-per-hire because we’re not spending money on agency fees or travel,” Sellers says.

Stalking the passive job candidate

A third common goal of Internet recruitment is capturing the ever-elusive “passive candidates”–people who are highly valued by their current employers and have no reason to actively seek a new job but are open to the right offer. In order to find those people, it takes some advanced Internet searching techniques. “Job boards are low tech–most people can figure that out,” Wheeler says. “Sourcing, though, is becoming more and more of a skill.”

If you want to delve into this area, training is of the utmost importance. A company called Advanced Internet Recruitment Strategies (AIRS) in Hanover, N.H. is well known for its in-depth Internet recruiting seminars. What many companies can’t quite swallow, however, is the time commitment involved. In fact, some recruiters who attend AIRS seminars later find they don’t have the resources to use what they’ve learned, Kutsmode says.

“You can generate a list of 100 people who can do the job, and the quality factor is (very high), but it’s more time-intensive to get the results,” Kutsmode says. “Corporate management has to understand that if they want to employ advanced techniques, they shouldn’t expect them to work miracles within a normal work day.”

Select one or two people to become electronic-sourcing gurus, and let them spend all their time on the Internet, Wheeler says. “Let them have time to play and use their imagination in how they look for people,” he says.

lot of companies may have trouble finding money in the budget to hire dedicated Internet recruiters. But, Kutsmode points out, if you can make one hire without a search firm, that’s $15,000 to $30,000 you’ve just saved in search fees. A good rule of thumb for Internet recruitment budgeting is to set aside $25,000 to $35,000 per office just for the tools, technologies, career-site fees, and training of recruiters, Kutsmode says.

And with the fast pace of change on the Internet, your efforts won’t stop there. According to Wheeler, “the whole world of the Internet as a tool for recruiting is in turmoil.” //

Mary Brandel is a freelance writer in Norfolk, Mass., specializing in business applications of technology. She can be reached at

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