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Dave Lefkow

Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (, a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.

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Good to Great Staffing

by May 24, 2005

Periodically, you read something that shakes the foundation of what you’ve come to believe. This is exactly what happened when I recently read Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Jim Collins. Reading it will make you think very differently about what defines great staffing and what you’re trying to accomplish. “The old adage ‘People are your most important asset’ turns out to be wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.” It is with this simple opening shot that the book delves into what it takes to turn a company from good or mediocre to enduring greatness. Over a five-year period, Collins and his team of researchers meticulously analyzed decades of business history, looking for the identifying characteristics of eleven companies that over 15-year periods beat the market by an average of seven-to-one. What was it that catapulted these companies far beyond their closest competitors? Was it a function of market conditions? Was it innovation? Did radical restructuring play a role? Was it technology? As you’ve probably already guessed, the answer was none of the above; the answer was great talent. And in order to be great, some of our most closely held assumptions about staffing need to be challenged. Great Leadership Executive recruiters take note: The era of the celebrity CEO may be over, according to Collins:

We were surprised, shocked really, to discover the type of leadership required for turning a good company into a great one. Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy ó these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.

keep reading…

Measuring Recruiters on Quality of Hire

by Apr 26, 2005

Cost per hire, the most commonly measured statistic in recruiting, has some unintended consequences. In many cases, it contributes to a perception of recruiting as a cost center or administrative overhead. It also creates a performance metrics for recruiters where they are by necessity more interested in quantity versus quality. Measuring recruiters on quality of hire is the first step towards breaking the cycle. Quantity versus Quality I worked with an organization many years ago that measured their recruiters on two statistics: cost per hire and number of positions filled. The recruiters that looked best? High-volume customer service recruiters who could hire 100 people a month for under $1,000 per hire. The recruiters that looked the worst? Specialized skills recruiters who found five to ten developers and analysts per month at a cost of over $10,000 per hire. According to these statistics, the customer service recruiters were the most efficient, yet the specialized skills recruiters were in fact hiring the people that were most crucial to the development and growth of the business. Your devotion to cost per hire, or even staffing efficiency ratio (cost per hire divided by salary recruited) often costs you something else besides money: respect. If all you are doing is trying to lower costs, you often unknowingly do so at the expense of quality and value. And the next time your company goes into cost-cutting mode, which cost centers do you think show up first? The ones that have demonstrated no relative value to the business or bottom line. Perhaps even worse, cost-based staffing metrics send a very bad message to your recruiting teams: ignore the impact of finding a top performer for a relatively small extra cost and get the cheapest person hired as fast as possible. Quality-of-hire metrics are designed to send the opposite message: get the best person possible for the job. On my blog recently, I hosted a fascinating conversation about the various types of quality-of-hire metrics with people like Heather Hamilton, Rob McIntosh, and Chris Barrick from Microsoft and Jeff Hunter from EA. The conclusion I drew from the dialogue is that although quality of hire sounds like a single statistic on the surface, it is actually many statistics with two major applications: value and efficiency. Value-Based Quality of Hire The first major way that quality of hire is used is to prove the value of human capital initiatives. The ideal statistic to use in this area is profit, but the challenge is that not many positions are directly tied to profit. For instance, a business analyst may perform a vital function in measuring and continually improving a crucial business process, but how do you quantify this in dollar figures? Sales, customer service, general management, retail, and business development roles are the easiest positions to tie to profit. Heads of business units and product lines can often also be measured in this way. For a great primer on how to do this, see Randall Birkwood’s excellent article on metrics for executives. Randall also gave a great talk at the most recent spring ER Expo, where he showed a comparison spreadsheet he uses to measure the relative value of various sources of hires for retail salespeople tied to profit, retention, and productivity. This type of effort paves the way for increased investment in human capital initiatives and helps ensure that your team is not the first to be put on the chopping block when times get tough. Recruiters who source for roles with direct links to revenue can be measured in terms of the number of people they brought in who:

Lessons from Sourcing Leaders

by Mar 22, 2005

Sourcing is the buzzword of the current recruiting generation. Large companies are racing to set up central sourcing models. Smaller and mid-sized companies are examining more logical ways to divide labor among the members of their recruiting team. What have other leading companies learned in their own efforts to do this? What’s worked, what’s failed, and what can you do to ensure success? Hunters Hunt, Farmers Farm Two years ago, I wrote an article entitled Recruiting Redefined: The New Recruiting Models. In it, I highlighted several early adopter companies that were starting to redefine how their staffing model operated. The key learning in all of this was that a few progressive companies were realigning their teams, processes, and, in some cases, technologies to focus on passive and less active talent, in recognition of the unique talents and skill sets of individual recruiters. These companies were dedicating resources towards more proactive recruiting and sourcing ó a variation of the hunter/farmer sales model. Hunters would become great at finding, building, and cultivating talent pools, an approach that has given us top guns like Shally Stackerl, Russ Moon, Jim Stroud, and Eric Jaquith. Farmers would lead the selection process and manage customer expectations. The main difference in this model from past models was that hunters (a.k.a. sourcers) ó who in the past had been limited to entry-level Internet researchers ó were elevated to a level at, or in many cases above, the farmers. Since this article, many of the examples I highlighted have failed or drastically changed, while others are succeeding with variations of the same sourcing-centric approaches. Over the last two months, I’ve talked to several staffing directors about what works, doesn’t work and why. Here’s what I’ve learned. EA EA works in an exploding industry, where the talent they seek is almost always passive. Great game designers and developers have no need to look for work; work finds them. This means that the identification of great talent has traditionally been the most time-consuming task for EA’s recruiting team. This is why Cindy Haugh, EA’s senior director of global talent hiring and resourcing, realigned her recruiting staff in a very unique way in order to build stronger talent pipelines. She has structured her team to work in “pods” consisting of front-line recruiters (farmers), very talented sourcers (hunters), and talent coordinators. Each pod works together on similar job functions across the enterprise, which allows them to build expertise, share candidates, leverage relationship networks, and optimize team productivity. It is this functional model that Cindy believes makes the model work effectively; in many companies there is a tendency to align sourcers by business unit. “It’s a lot to ask one person to manage finding, interviewing, assessing, negotiating, and using technology tools with 30 to 40 requisitions. By dividing the labor to play to each individual’s strengths, we’ve seen client satisfaction rise dramatically; time to fill has been reduced because we’re always building pipelines; and we’ve actually started hiring for quality, not just for requisitions when we find top performers,” says Haugh. While the model saves a significant amount per year in agency fees, the key outcome is the identification of quality talent and relationship building for future talent needs. “We’re positioning ourselves to get the right people in the right place at the right time,” Haugh says. Wachovia Wachovia has a central sourcing model, which in itself is not unique ó except that they’ve had one for the last five years! This is sourcing on a massive scale. Wachovia makes over 28,000 hires per year, of which sourcing assists with 2,800 of the professional openings. While it may be surprising to hear this about a bank, Wachovia represents the gold standard in recruiting. In the beginning, the sourcing function was used for very simple searches. Over time, it has grown to become a critical piece of the organization, resulting in more efficient, more effective, faster, and higher quality recruiting efforts company wide. Through a strategic process of trial and error, Wachovia has learned some valuable lessons that can pave the way for other companies considering a move to this model, including:

  • Role clarification between recruiting consultants (farmers) and sourcers (hunters)
  • keep reading…

Is Your Job Going to India? Part 2

by Feb 17, 2005

Last month, I wrote an article entitled, Is Your Job Going to India? In the wake of that article, I received a flood of responses from staffing directors, managers, and recruiters. The staffing industry’s response to this piece will surprise you ó and recruiting may never be the same again. First I’d like to make something clear. This article on offshoring was more of a question than an answer. The purpose was to bring to light a very real choice that staffing directors are making every day: Can outsourced or offshore labor take over the more administrative pieces of the recruiting process and whose jobs are at risk? The opinions expressed below from staffing directors, recruiters and vendors were selected from the many I received. Out of respect for their authors, I have chosen to keep their names, companies and certain details confidential. Responses From Staffing Directors What surprised me most from the responses I got is that there are not many compelling arguments against offshoring out there among staffing directors. In fact, I had several staffing directors email me asking where they could find some offshore assistance with tasks like resume processing and database mining. Another mentioned that the article would be used as a motivation tool for his recruiting team which, in his opinion, was starting to fall into a very reactionary recruiting mode. Even those who were most reluctant to consider using offshore labor had to admit that there may be some merit to the approach:

As an American I am completely opposed to offshoring jobs. As a business person, however, it’s my fiduciary responsibility to examine all possibilities. Quite a conundrum. Like most recruiters, I bristle when I hear about any outsourcing, as the connotation is that jobs will be lost here. Outsourcing part of the work, laying off more recruiters, and asking the survivors to do more is not going to produce the results one would hope for. But if you outsource the administrative part of the function and allow recruiters to do what they do best ó network, build relationships, sell candidates ó without further reducing staff, then the idea might have some merit, one I have been reluctant to consider.

keep reading…

Is Your Job Going to India?

by Jan 18, 2005

Despite advances in technology, the reactionary recruiting model of old is back in full force. Recruiters in many organizations are still spending a majority of their time sorting through resumes in their inbox or finding the “low-hanging fruit” from resume databases ó in many cases I’ve encountered, over 75% of their time is spent in these areas. On the flip side, smart staffing directors will tell you that they’re focusing on quality. They’ll also tell you that the best people are not often hanging around on job boards or posting their resumes online, and that they’d prefer their recruiters to spend their time sourcing passive candidates and networking with great talent. In fact, they say that they’d rather their recruiting teams spend 60-75% of their time in the passive and less-active candidate world. The writing is on the wall: certain jobs in recruiting are invariably at risk of being outsourced, offshored or eliminated altogether. What would make a director of staffing decide to outsource recruiting jobs to a foreign country? Which positions and people are the most vulnerable? Sample Scenario Pretend for a moment that you are a new Staffing Director at a mythical wireless company called (excuse the writer’s block) Mythical Wireless Company. You’ve been brought in to change recruiting at Mythical from a reactionary administrative function to a proactive strategic business partner. Upon examining the state of your 60-person recruiting team you find:

  • A total of 40 of the 60 recruiters spend almost all of their time on “inbox recruiting,” just waiting for active candidates’ resumes to show up on their doorsteps from job boards and newspaper ads.
  • keep reading…

Emerging Roles in Recruiting

by Dec 14, 2004

A common lament among recruiting professionals has been a lack of opportunities for growth and development. Yet with some of the new and exciting roles in recruiting, it will be tough to view our profession as merely a launch pad for a career in HR. Many of these roles are also indicative of a major shift in how organizations manage, think about, and grow their talent acquisition and management functions. On your worst days, you’ve probably had some of the following thoughts:

The World’s Very Best Employment Websites

by Oct 26, 2004

For many companies, employment websites do much more than just collect resumes: they provide a distinct competitive edge for top talent. But whether you’re in a large or small company, whether you have a big budget or a small one, whether you act as an in-house or agency recruiter, there are many lessons to be learned from those who do it best. So what makes an employment website one of the best? Start by thinking of your best recruiters, who:

  • Find and talk to people who might not have considered or even heard of your organization in the past ó and not just the people with resumes.
  • keep reading…

How and Why To Use Consultants

by Sep 14, 2004

From my past life as a consultant, I can recall some notable occasions in which a company thought better of hiring me for an engagement. There are a few reasons consultants commonly hear for these decisions: to save money, to save face with management, and even to avoid the embarrassment of someone else seeing “how messed up we really are.” The results were often like watching the U.S. men’s basketball team in Athens: hard to keep your eyes off of, yet even harder to watch. Some of these companies decided to go it alone and made some tough choices, like:

  • Choosing an ATS that would go out of business in the next year
  • keep reading…

Unsolved Mysteries in Recruiting

by Aug 10, 2004

There are certain goals in recruiting that always seem unattainable, so much so that they often take on mythic proportions. Critical issues like measuring quality, becoming a strategic partner, and making recruiting a company-wide initiative continue to haunt us as they have throughout what seems like eternity. But until we understand why certain issues continue to torment us, we will never be able to solve them. So, on today’s edition of “Unsolved Mysteries in Recruiting,” we’ll examine those very same issues ó measuring quality, becoming a strategic partner, and making recruiting everyone’s business ó and the barriers to progress in each area. Unsolved Mystery #1: Quality Scott Weston recently called quality the Holy Grail of Recruiting ó and this issue is almost as old as the grail itself. There have been no less than 80 articles posted here on the ERE about this same issue, dating all the way back to Kevin Wheeler’s 1998 article Quality of Hire vs. Cost Per Hire (it’s unfortunate that the picture of Kevin that accompanied this article is no longer around, as it was part of Kevin’s now infamous grunge rock period). Kidding aside, why is it that we never solve this mystery? Some possible clues:

  • Standardized quality metrics do not gain traction. A recent industry report called quality metrics “the biggest opportunity area for the recruiting industry.” Deja vu? Haven’t we been hearing that for years? And doesn’t it seem like each year another quality index is proposed, discussed, and heralded ó only to go nowhere? This begs the question: Are the indexes flawed in construction, or are recruiters unable or unwilling to deploy them? I’d argue that the answer lies somewhere in between. Shortcomings in the “quality indexes” proposed to date include failure to address new hire performance over time, productivity, and results from performance appraisals. At the same time, most recruiters do not have the systems, tools, resources, and time to implement these metrics.
  • keep reading…

Retail and Restaurant Recruiting Goes Online

by Jul 1, 2004

Here’s a riddle: Who is 18-25 on average, the first generation raised on the Internet since childhood, and ó strangely ó one of the last audiences for which companies leverage the Internet to recruit? If you guessed retail workers, buy yourself a ham sandwich! But the successes that some companies are having driving retail candidates to the web signal that the old days of walk-in applications and kiosks are soon coming to an end. In the last several years, companies like the Home Depot, Target, and Blockbuster have been written up in several publications for their use of job kiosks and IVR lines (Integrated Voice Response, i.e. phone lines that allow a menu of options that are then converted into an electronic application) to supplement their recruiting efforts while still realizing the benefits of automation. These efforts have largely paid off: millions in cost savings have been realized; hiring time has been reduced; and new hire quality and retention rates have improved. More importantly, perhaps, these organizations were able to overcome retail management’s fear of losing the ever-important walk-in applicant by taking an intermediate step towards full-scale online recruiting. The new generation of workers ó Generation Y ó represents the most wired generation that has ever lived. Research done by Carat Interactive last year showed that they use the Internet more than they watch TV. And this generation is now the primary target for retail and restaurant recruiting. So is it possible to recruit these individuals only on the web? The answer so far has been a resounding yes. Leaps of Faith Two Northwest retailers recently took their own leaps of faith into online recruiting, using applicant tracking systems that even I was skeptical were up to the task. Some of the common concerns they heard from hiring managers included:

  • “It will take too long for people to fill out the application.”
  • keep reading…

Internal Talent Relationship Management

by May 19, 2004

For the past few years, companies have had a relatively easy time retaining and recruiting employees in less specialized positions in finance, marketing, accounting, and human resources. But suddenly, the sharks are circling in your talent pool! Some of the employees who were so easy to find and retain for the last few years are the very same ones who are now turning over more frequently and who are harder to find than ever ó and it will likely get worse as the economy continues to recover. So what can you do about it? It has been said that retention is essentially the ongoing recruitment of your own employees. Yet recruiting departments, in their current form, are ill equipped to aid in retention. There are too many requisitions and too few recruiters ó with few metrics or incentives built around retaining the best employees. Many industry experts and consultants have advocated a shift to a model in which recruiters also have responsibility for succession planning. But once again, the question of resources emerges. In a more robust economy, it becomes very hard to justify devoting resources to anything but playing requisition catch-up ó even though it can be said that concerted employee retention efforts ultimately reduce recruiting’s workload. As the demand picks up for all types of employees (cue the theme to Jaws), internal talent relationship management ó the process of maintaining proactive talent relationships with your current employees ó can be one of the best forms of shark repellant in your arsenal. TRM Defined Talent relationship management initiatives focus on maintaining relationships with hundreds and even thousands of the best candidates who the recruiting team is not able to proactively manage. These are the highly talented individuals who are probably sitting in your resume database right now with out-of-date information, or who applied for a position that you were just about to fill, only to never hear from you again. They are the individuals who are good potential fits with your company but think of your recruiting process as a resume vortex. They might think twice before taking the time to fill out another profile or cover letter. Using a combination of periodic phone contact, timed and segmented email campaigns, candidate service options, relevant employment website content, job search agent technology, and loyalty programs, some companies are beginning to better manage their talent relationship pipeline. The best of these companies have made this a systematic part of their process, reducing fill time and advertising costs in the process, generating qualified referrals, and elevating and communicating their employer brands. If these techniques work when you’re on the hunt for other companies’ best employees, wouldn’t they also work when your own employees are the prey? Leveraging Your Internal Talent Pool Research has shown that internal candidates experience many of the same frustrations as external candidates:

  • They may not hear back from you regarding internal transfer or advancement opportunities.
  • keep reading…

Is Recruiting an Art or a Science?

by Apr 20, 2004

The recruiting industry has come a long way in the last five years. Companies have shifted from, “Should we recruit online?” to, “How do we use technology to gain a strategic advantage for talent?” And now we stand ready to take the next steps. As scientific selection, online assessment testing and skills screening gain critical mass, we must ask ourselves the question, is recruiting an art or a science? Why Recruiting Is an Art Many recruiters say that recruiting is really a visceral reaction. “Are this person’s competencies and behaviors consistent with what I am looking for? Do I think this person will fit in and contribute? Do I identify with this person?” These are the primary questions that the interview process tries to answer. Anyone who has ever plowed through a stack of resumes or interviewed a group of candidates knows that there are several times when you have to “connect the dots” to find the needle in the haystack. For instance, there are a million ways to write a resume that contains virtually the same experience. Candidates also have multiple versions of their resumes in which they hide some types of information and show others, depending on the job they are applying for or even the company to which they are applying. Job titles can vary from one company to another. Despite our best efforts to make profiles skills-based, you are usually still comparing apples to oranges. In the interview process, probing questions lead us to answers that often surprise us. Experiences or unknown skills emerge during this process that set one candidate above the rest. This cannot be driven by science or automation ó this is pure human interaction at work. Those who argue for recruiting as an art point out also that leadership, creativity, innovation, and adaptability are the watchwords of the new generation of successful knowledge-driven companies ó and there is no formula that shows us who will motivate or even inspire a group of individuals at your company. Many in this group will admit that, in customer service and sales roles ó which are high volume, easily quantifiable, and standardized ó scientific selection has its merits. But take one look at the College Dropouts Alumni Association, and the list below, and you’re reminded of the legalese that accompanies investment opportunities: “past performance is not always an indication of future success.” Some notable “connect the dots” candidates any organization would love to have:

How To Get the Best Work out of Your Advertising Agency

by Mar 23, 2004

In the advertising industry, certain clients consistently drive us to do our best work. You’ve seen this work before in the innovative technology that you decided you had to have immediately, or in the sleek design work that made your jaw drop, or in the words and images that were so powerful it nearly moved you to tears. What do these clients have in common and how are they able to consistently get the best out of those of us in advertising? They get it. Inside the advertising industry ó regardless of the agency or type of industry an agency services ó there is one ultimate compliment that can be paid to a client. At some point during a presentation or strategy meeting, a creative director may turn to another member of his or her team and say something to the effect of, “they get it.” Clients that “get it” don’t always have the most money to spend, the coolest projects to work on, or the toughest recruitment or marketing challenges to solve. But the work that is done for them consistently wins awards and the recognition of their peers, regardless of the scale. They allow their ad agency to create the innovations that other organizations try (and often fail) to duplicate. Some vital principles to “get” that will drive the best work out of your advertising agency include recognizing the importance of the following areas. 1. Truth. At its core, there is a definite promise implied in your advertising efforts. If you say one thing and do another, word will travel very fast. This is especially true in recruiting, with the focus on employee referrals and networking. Some exaggerated but not-too-far-from-true examples of this: You say you have cutting-edge technology to work on, but most employees use an operating system that’s over six years old and a dot-matrix printer that sits in a different building. You say you’re committed to diversity, yet anyone in a management position is a white male. You reference an exciting, collaborative culture ó which turns out to be a cubicle farm with five people to a cube. Employer branding is definitely not a place to “put lace on a pig” (Midwestern-speak for the futility of trying to dress up a bad situation). This is why the best branding consultants speak of “uncovering your brand through research,” not creating it. The more believable your promise is ó backing up your messages with recognition, awards and facts ó the more effective your advertising will be. False or misleading claims may get people in the door, but the door will be revolving if you can’t back your promises up with the actual work experience. 2. Differentiation. What truly sets you apart as an employer? This is often called a unique selling proposition (USP) or “the WIIFM” (What’s in it for me?). Think this through very thoroughly before you meet with your agency to discuss any creative strategy. Here’s a simple test to see if what you think makes you unique really does. Think of your unique selling points as an employer. Was it excellent benefits? A collaborative culture? A team orientation? Now go to your favorite job board or to Google and type in those terms. If you got a million responses back (like all of the selling points above would), you might want to try again. This time, don’t be afraid of taking a risk. This may seem frustrating at first, but it creates a huge opportunity: in a sea of undifferentiated employers, it will be easy to stand apart once you discover what makes you truly different. 3. Checking your assumptions at the door. Very closely related to the point above, target audience research is the most essential element of almost every successful campaign. Why? Because our assumptions about what makes our organizations unique or appealing are very often wrong. Continuing along the lines of the WIIFM concept, your advertising has to appeal and be relevant to a specific target audience that you are probably not part of. You may deal with the target audience every day in your recruiting efforts ó and these experiences are essential to helping drive a creative strategy. But the best judge of whether your audience will like red or blue, polka music or hip-hop, is the target audience themselves. Without research, this judgment may happen too late, as members of your target audience decide your company is not worth pursuing. Ideally, research will simultaneously focus on the challenges you need to overcome and the things about working at your company that would be most appealing to the target audience. 4. Creative freedom. Anyone who has recruited or worked with creative talent will understand this statement: in order to do their best work, creative people need room to play. The creative mindset is one of imagination, of thinking about things in different ways than others. The more this imagination is limited, the less imaginative (read: creative) the end result will be. 5. Passion. If you don’t have a passion for what your company does and what recruiting does for your company, then your branding work will probably never excite or motivate anyone to join you. Your own personal level of enthusiasm about your organization is something that inevitably comes through in your advertising. In general, the best creative is as much a function of the company driving the work as it is of the creative talent that actually follows through on the work. With an understanding of the principles above, some of the most innovative, most creative work you’ve ever seen will flow out of your agency relationship.

(Not So Artificial) Artificial Intelligence

by Feb 3, 2004

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a revolutionary technology tool that has started to change the way that many of us search for and find candidates. If you have an applicant tracking system that does something called “concept searching” or allows you to easily find candidates that have similar levels of experience, you have likely used AI technology. Now get ready for it to change the way that candidates search for and find our openings. AI is poised to create an adaptive, dynamic candidate experience that will have a profound impact on how candidates experience employment websites. Artificial Intelligence: What It Is and How It Works Put simply, artificial intelligence is the science of defining and simulating logic. It is a way of automating the evaluation of information and making decisions based on that evaluation. A great example of AI in action is the Mars Rover project that has been trolling all over the red planet. Thirty-five million miles is a bit too far of a distance for even the best radio-controlled cars to operate, so how do Spirit and Opportunity know to avoid large objects or potholes and how to get around them? Through AI technology. This AI technology starts from ground zero by teaching the Rovers what an obstacle is and then the list of possible techniques to avoid them. The next time it encounters such an obstacle, it has “learned” what to do in that situation. Within today’s applicant tracking systems, AI technology serves a somewhat related purpose. Recruiters who wish to avoid and steer around the unqualified candidates may use AI in their ATS to do so through technology provided by companies like Burning Glass and Engenium. These recruiter-facing AI tools can analyze the content and structure of thousands of resumes (this is called natural language processing), compare them to the resumes of candidates deemed qualified for that position or those that were hired, and return search results of resumes that are ranked, despite not having gone through a pre-screening process. On the surface, this sounds like the ultimate tool for the recruiter who is too busy to create job-specific pre-screening questions or who is not adept at Boolean searches. I would caution, though, that AI is not a substitute for human logic, and that given the diversity of human nature, not all of the best candidates fit into the norm of what you would expect. Always keep in mind that Einstein was a patent clerk and Bill Gates never graduated from college ó yet these are the types of individuals that most companies would love to have working for them. That said, AI can be and is a very helpful tool to weed through large numbers of resumes or to find individuals with similar experiences. Using Artificial Intelligence To Create an Adaptive Experience Just the other day, something absolutely amazing happened. As I was thinking about the crown molding I have to put up in one of the bedrooms of my house, I visited On the front page of, in my Recommendations section, I saw an advertisement for a miter saw that was perfect for cutting crown molding. Of the hundreds of thousands of products Amazon sells, from books and CDs to household appliances and toys, Amazon was recommending the exact product I was interested in at that exact moment. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw it. After a thorough search, I decided that no listening devices had been planted in my office and no chip had been implanted in my brain to read my thoughts. So how did Amazon know that I might be looking for a miter saw? At Amazon, AI is used to analyze a combination of my past purchase data, what items I’ve looked at in the past, and the types of offers to which I’ve responded. This is cross-referenced with customers who have bought similar items own purchasing habits to determine what I am likely to buy and when I am likely to buy it. They use this information to create a highly customized, relevant experience, one that adapts to my individual tastes ó an experience that is so customized that it’s almost scary. Future Applications for Recruiting On a smaller scale, AI has the potential to be used to make candidates’ experiences much more relevant while providing very tangible benefits for the recruiting team. Just as recruiters have a difficult time sorting through hundreds or thousands of resumes, candidates have just as difficult a time sorting through hundreds or thousands of jobs to find the ones for which they are most qualified. Given the diversity of job titles, descriptions and words used to describe them from company to company, keyword and category searching are truly hit or miss. This is part of the reason why so many unqualified candidates apply in the first place ó they can’t find the right position for them. So where does AI fit in to the candidate experience? We can use the same AI technology that we provide to recruiters to allow candidates to perform their own concept searches. We can serve up related jobs to users so they don’t miss other opportunities that they might not have found on their own. We can give candidates a ranked listing of job titles based on their qualifications and experience. We can even adapt the content on our employment sites to match up to individual users’ tastes, experience levels, past application behavior and even where they are in the hiring process. The examples above are only scratching the surface. The potential for candidate-facing AI is only limited by our imagination and initiative.

Get Ready for Talent Swapping!

by Jan 6, 2004

The economy seems to be on the mend lately. The unemployment rate is going back down. Corporate spending is up. And it’s been over a month since we’ve seen a CEO in handcuffs. It’s time for talent swapping! Recently, the FCC gave 152 million U.S. wireless customers the opportunity to port their phone numbers over to another carrier. “Consumers,” says one study, “have not been happy with their service but have felt somewhat stuck.” T-Mobile’s recent TV commercials capitalized on this new regulation by showing consumers shackled to their old phone numbers breaking free. Researchers have estimated that up to 40 million wireless customers will be changing carriers. Many of your employees are in the same boat, just waiting for the shackles of the recession to be lifted before exploring other opportunities. They’ve sat by while we fired hundreds or even thousands of employees by email. They’ve dealt with double-digit productivity increases. They haven’t had a raise in months or even years. Meanwhile, they’ve seen executives buying $6,000 shower curtains ó for the maid’s room! And now they can do something about it, because companies are starting to hire again. It’s the recruiting equivalent of “Bob & Carol and Ted & Alice.” Most Wanted List Recruiters have spent much of their time over the last three years adding value by recruiting top talent away from their competitors. Tools like Eliyon and AIRS SearchStation have helped companies uncover highly specialized passive candidates. Yet some of our most vulnerable employees may be the ones we haven’t had to spend much time recruiting for the last few years. Think of your less specialized employees in finance, HR, and marketing, for instance, the ones with three to five years of experience. It hasn’t taken much to find people for these types of openings for some time. If the job market continues to improve, they will be some of the most mobile employees in 2004. Everyone will be losing and gaining them simultaneously. The wireless industry provides a great example of why this will be more of a talent swap than a talent loss. Researchers forecast that all of the major wireless carriers ó from T-Mobile to Verizon to AT&T Wireless ó could lose 16-45% of their customers. But where would these customers go? To the same set of six carriers. The winner of the portability wars is predicted to be the company that either attracts the most switchers or loses the least. The same goes for the coming talent swap. As candidates start to feel more secure about their prospects, the companies with the most satisfied employees and the most to offer new employees will not necessarily come out ahead, but will lose the least. Preparing for the Talent Swap There are a few possible strategies to deal with the coming talent swap:

  1. Fight it. Focus your employee communications efforts on some of the previously ignored parts of your workforce. Reiterate how you’re trying to make your company a good place to work and how much you value your employees. Give some targeted raises and develop and improve your employee loyalty programs. This may be too little, too late for many of your employees ó but you’re not going down without a fight.
  2. keep reading…

The Branded Hiring Process

by Dec 2, 2003

In my last article, I discussed how technology plays an important role in how your organization is perceived by candidates. An equally important component of building a great employer brand is your hiring process. In today’s employer’s market, this may in fact be the easiest place to gain a competitive advantage. How do you brand an experience? Companies have long been branding experiences and processes to gain competitive advantages. A few notable examples:

  • Nordstrom. When you think Nordstrom, you think of the customer experience the company delivers. It’s the kind of customer experience that follows you around the store and makes sure you find exactly what you’re looking for in the right color and size ó the kind that will take a return even if your cat relieved itself all over your new shirt (trust me on that one!).
  • keep reading…

Technology and Your Brand

by Oct 7, 2003

Recruiting and talent management is more technology-enabled than ever. Technology tools support everything from candidate attraction and assessment to workforce planning and performance management. This means that vendors will interface with a large portion of your candidate and employee populations and will directly impact your brand. Before you make another technology purchase, you’ll want to consider some of the potential impacts they can have on your brand. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Your brand is defined as the target audience’s collective thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of you as a company and a workplace. These perceptions are defined by consumers’ and candidates’ interactions with your brand, including but not limited to your advertising, your on- and offline interactions with the target audience, and past purchases or hiring processes. With each major technology addition, you add another touch point to your brand. Correspondingly, there can be good, bad, and ugly effects on your brand. Despite the fact that the vendor you use may be ultimately responsible for the bad or ugly parts, it remains a direct reflection on you, not the vendor. The net impact can be customers who are more or less willing to purchase your products, candidates who are more or less willing to apply to your openings, and employees who are more or less willing to stay in their jobs. A look at some of the major technology investments demonstrates the effect it can have on your brand. Employment Website Content and Design Good employment website content and design can form the foundation of an employer brand advantage. Consider your employment website as your opportunity to:

  • Create differentiation between your employment offering and the competition’s
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Traditional Advertising Metrics: Why They Don’t Work for Recruiting

by Aug 28, 2003

It seems like all we hear about these days are metrics. Advances in ad hoc reporting have given us applicant tracking systems that can now tell us how many candidates in our database are Hispanic, left-handed, or even chew spearmint gum. But there’s something really, really important that we’re missing: reliable, relevant return on investment data on our advertising. The unique challenges presented by recruiting are beyond what traditional advertising metrics can ever hope to measure. Traditional Advertising Metrics in Consumer Advertising In consumer advertising, metrics play a very important part of the media buying process. Due to the nature of consumer advertising, these metrics seek to measure much different things than recruiting metrics would. For instance, a traditional consumer or B-to-B marketer usually seeks to measure:

  • Impressions: The number of individuals who were exposed to your advertisement.
  • keep reading…

Attack of the HRIS!

by Jul 31, 2003

We interrupt our program of Celine Dion’s greatest love songs to bring you a special bulletin. At twenty minutes before eight, central time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory in Chicago reports observing several Human Resource Information Systems vendors descending very quickly and aggressively on the Applicant Tracking industry. Professor Pierson of the Observatory at Princeton confirms Farrell’s observation, and describes the phenomenon as “like a large, rabid wildebeest jumping on a sleeping kitten.” And now, back to the theme song from Titanic. Unlike Orson Welles’s famous “War of the Worlds” broadcast very loosely paraphrased above, there actually is an invasion going on. Human Resource Information System (HRIS) vendors ó SAP, Peoplesoft, Oracle, Lawson and others ó are working on infiltrating the applicant tracking space as we speak. But before everyone runs to their bomb shelter, breaks out the canned goods, or buries their Britney Spears CDs in a time capsule, there are a few things that make the current invasion much less likely to succeed. 1. The HRIS vendors have a long way to go before they become real recruitment solutions providers. It’s important to note that the HRIS vendors are currently light years behind the applicant tracking system vendors in several areas. Many of the major shortcomings can be seen in the candidate interface. I won’t name the vendor (you know who you are), but I recently spent a couple of hours talking with an HRIS client’s business analysis and implementation team. They asked me to discuss any issues one might encounter with the applicant tracking component of their system. And I found one. A major one. I literally could not figure out how to complete my online application. What I did complete ó much of it likely unusable for the recruiters that would receive it ó took approximately 45 excruciatingly painful minutes. During the process I discovered that it was physically impossible to enter my college correctly in the required field, unless I knew that my school was called “Univ of Iowa” in the system and searched for that exactly. If I were a real job seeker, I would have given up less than a third of the way through the process. The job search interface was quite interesting as well. Imagine a keyword search that only searches the job title text (but doesn’t tell you that). Then imagine job title text that only allows a set number of characters, so few that it necessitates abbreviations in most job titles. Now imagine trying to find a job that is of interest to you in this scenario. Unless you have the foresight to enter “Recrtmt Ops Mgr” in the keyword search field, your search will come up empty. On the recruiter side, a somewhat arbitrary ranking system exists that depends entirely on data collected in the manner above. My overall conclusion was that if this is the best they can do right now, they’ve got a long way to go before they are considered a serious competitor in this space. 2. Most HRIS vendors don’t understand how to deliver an ASP product yet. Traditionally, HRIS vendors have delivered their solutions on client/server platforms where you host the hardware and software and users (clients) download a software program that links them to the servers. Their lack of expertise in the ATS space has become painfully obvious when they have tried to deliver solutions on an ASP (application service provider) platform, in which the vendor hosts all of the hardware and software and users access it through a web browser. One prominent HRIS vendor had a wild ó and short ó ride in the ATS market. After their customers complained of system instability, lack of training, complex requisition creation, character limits on job descriptions, and even a lack of integration with their own HRIS product, they took the ASP version of their product completely off the market. From afar, they thought getting into the ATS space was a great idea, but when they got there they realized that, by implementing a poorly created product, they would only cause harm to their overall reputation as a solutions provider. 3. HRIS vendors are not yet delivering the support recruiting teams expect. Think for a moment of a very, very long food chain. You’ve got your IT department at the top, then some big whales, followed by mid-sized, small and then tiny fish, and then a bunch of very minute plankton. Right below that, you’ll find most recruiting teams. That’s how far down the food chain recruiting is in terms of receiving I.T. support. Most applicant tracking solutions are not at all supported by the IT department, and there is rarely an experienced business analyst who steps in to translate requirements to features in the initial planning stages. In true Darwinian fashion, recruiting teams have adapted and evolved to deal with this harsh environment. Recruiting software providers have also adapted by providing levels of support that client/server vendors typically leave to a company’s IT teams. One ATS consultant refers to it as the difference between “in-sourcing” and “outsourcing.” HRIS vendors are used to helping companies build support teams internally to work with a given software solution and customize it to their needs, while ATS vendors deliver a fully outsourced applicant tracking solution. It is therefore not possible to treat an ATS as a typical “in-sourced” software solution. Throwing out technical support and implementation teams with little to no knowledge of recruiting is a true recipe for disaster. The HRIS vendors are learning this the hard way. Recruiters are loud. They will complain. They will make their IT department painfully aware of the shortcomings of the system. And that will reflect very poorly on the other solutions that vendor has implemented, weakening their overall customer relationships. 4. The HRIS vendors have fewer resources dedicated to product development. You’ve probably heard a lot from Wall Street lately about their desire to see companies refocus on their core competencies. Wall Street reasons that companies have been stretched too thin, trying to do too many things at once and suffering proportionately in their core, more profitable business lines. The enterprise application and HRIS vendors are also stretched very thin. Their solutions range from payroll and benefits administration to customer relationship and even financial management. While the larger enterprise ATSs like, Recruitmax, Recruitsoft, and Deploy Solutions ó the HRIS vendors’ primary competitors ó often have over a hundred developers focused on product development, the HRIS vendors typically struggle to get dedicated resources assigned to their recruiting products. This will make change a very powerful asset to the current crop of ATS vendors. If the pace of change is accelerated, the HRIS vendors will simply not be able to keep up. What Does the Future Hold? This is no time for panic in the ATS industry. For the reasons stated above and many more, the threat posed by the HRIS vendors in the short term is minimal. To date, their appeal has been limited primarily to IT departments that have allowed them to “bundle” their solutions together with many other, much more expensive solutions without doing much due diligence with their recruiting teams. In the long term, the threat of the HRIS vendors taking over the ATS industry is only real if they devote more resources to the task of recruiting automation or purchase a major player already in the space. For now, I’ve got some unsolicited advice to dispense for everyone involved. To recruiting teams: Stand up for the system that will meet your needs. Prepare detailed lists of requirements, and only choose an HRIS vendor’s product if it truly meets those requirements. If you doubt your own ability to come up with a list of requirements and features, enlist the help of someone who can. Don’t back down from an IT department that thinks they know better than you do what your needs are. You will use the system, not the IT department. To the ATS vendors: Don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t panic either; other industries like payroll processing continue to thrive despite the presence of these same vendors. Minimize the long-term threat to your business by evolving quickly and strategically. Put yourself in position to demonstrate and quantify your ROI. Act as a business partner and a solutions provider, not just a software vendor, by delivering more than software. To the HRIS vendors: Do it right or don’t do it at all. Don’t put your existing customer relationships at risk with a poorly designed product. Don’t rely solely on IT teams making ill-advised decisions for the recruiting team. Closely examine if the rewards of an ATS product justify the risks. And beware the wrath of the frustrated recruiter!

Recruiting Redefined: The New Recruitment Models

by Jun 4, 2003

Top-performing, passive job seekers have always been the holy grail of recruiting. But recruiting teams are not always structured to actively recruit top talent, often opting for more passive, reactionary recruiting means. So how are leading companies and recruiting organizations structuring themselves in the future to actively recruit top talent? How are they redefining job descriptions and responsibilities within their teams? The winds of change are already blowing. Recruiting Top Performers Recruiting passive job seekers is not a black-and-white issue and is often prone to overgeneralization. We all know that not everyone who is currently employed is a top performer, and not everyone who is unemployed is an underperformer. So let’s take the active or passive designations out of the picture, and just focus on top performers. We can say a few things about these top performers without hesitation:

  • They are most often not looking for work. If they are, they may have multiple offers to consider.
  • keep reading…