The Uneven Evolution of Corporate Recruiting

May 8, 2008

Much of the hiring process from sourcing to closing to onboarding has changed significantly over the past 20 years. Much hasn’t. And therein lies the problem.

In some cases we’re past Web 2.0, in other cases we’re still using stone-age techniques to find, recruit, and hire top performers.

One could contend that the Internet has been the reason we’ve lost the war for talent. Turnover has certainly increased, requiring companies to build large recruiting teams where only small ones existed before.

More candidates responded to more ads on the big boards, so robust candidate tracking systems needed to be developed to manage the 100-fold increase in applicant flow. Significantly more effort was required to separate the good from the bad, as well as meet legal standards. As the “me” generation emerged and the stigma of changing jobs became a non-issue, job mobility accelerated, adding to the list of challenges.

Collectively, total costs have increased dramatically while cost/hire has probably stayed about the same. And there are probably some less obvious adverse impacts caused by the Internet, but since it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle, we’d better figure what to do with the mess we’re in.

Some solutions are emerging, but in situations like this it’s always best to see the big picture first. At a pretty high level, here are the eight steps most companies use to fill positions and a quick take on what’s changed and what hasn’t:

  1. Open a requisition. Most companies still use traditional job descriptions emphasizing skills and experiences. These are useless for attracting anyone from Gen Y to the oldest of the baby boomers. Other than HR, who would actually market a product or service that emphasized the tech specs rather than the benefits for the customer? Skills- and experience-based job descriptions are like an albatross around your neck. Until you dump these, you’ll never find enough good candidates. (Here’s an article you might want to check out to discover the alternative.)
  2. Source candidates. This has moved from newspaper ads to big job boards to search engine optimization, talent hubs, social networking, and beyond. This is the area where the biggest advance has been seen. Of course, if ads are still boring, the impact of many of these Web 2.0 advances has been compromised. Regardless, companies that have taken full advantage of these new Web sourcing tools have seen a positive impact. They have seen a huge impact if they’ve added in some creative consumer advertising ideas into the mix.
  3. Qualify candidates. Other than adding in a pre-qualification assessment questionnaire, someone still needs to call prospects, qualify them, and get them interested. I’d even go so far as to suggest that the best people with multiple opportunities will eliminate themselves before succumbing to the impersonal online assessment. For example, on a consumer product/service level, how do you feel when you can’t talk with a live person about something, whether it’s important or trivial? Developing relationships up-front with top performers is a critical component of sourcing. Yet, in this area, companies have regressed dramatically as a result of using the Internet.
  4. Manage candidate data. Tracking systems have helped manage the data, but have had little impact on improving quality of hire or recruiter productivity. So on this factor, I’d contend that technology has just kept us even. Barely.
  5. Interview and assess candidates. Nothing has changed here. Most companies still use old-fashioned behavioral interviews that every candidate can fake, or managers still make important hiring decisions on gut feelings and emotions. While there are some new ideas out there, the HR department still seems to want to rely on stuff that was new in the 70s and 80s, but quite a bit outdated today. Here’s information on a unique two-question interviewing approach that can’t be faked.
  6. Recruit and close candidates. It’s a new world out there, with counter-offers now considered appropriate, competitive offers the norm, and maximizing compensation part of the game. Unfortunately, most recruiters are still using old-fashioned transactional or unsophisticated selling techniques, with the candidates now calling the shots. Worse are managers who think selling or charming a candidate still works. As the supply for top candidates declines with increasing demand, more sophisticated solution and consultative selling techniques will be required. Yet most recruiting managers still think hiring a bunch of rookies or seasoned Lone Rangers to do their recruiting can be a scalable business process. Overall, the ability to recruit and close has been a net loss with too many recruiters doing their own thing.
  7. Keep candidates closed. It’s not over until it’s over. Nowadays, it’s critical to maintain a formal bridging process between the time a candidate accepts an offer and the time the person shows up. This period is when buyer’s remorse sets in, the pressure of a counter-offer increases, and other hungry recruiters start poaching your semi-closed candidate. Overall, this is another net loss area. Few companies are addressing this critical in-between period in any formal way, leaving it up to the manager and recruiter to figure it out.
  8. Onboarding new employees. Some positive strides have been made on this front. Whether it’s formal training or clarifying job expectations up-front and tying these to a formal performance management system, companies are recognizing the importance of minimizing turnover and increasing employee satisfaction.

Given this, it’s fair to say that since the dawn of the Internet, overall recruiting and hiring performance has gotten worse rather than better. Some companies have bucked the trend by taking advantage of better sourcing tools to gain a market share and big companies have been able to use the Internet to leverage their employer brand.

But since most companies have not modified their recruiting process in light of these changes, there are still many short-term opportunities available for those who want to quickly recover lost ground.

For example, there is a major shift now underway on how candidates look for jobs, bypassing the big boards and going directly to Google to search for jobs. Getting to the top of the organic and sponsored listings is now the key to sourcing success, and seems to have found the magic formula. They clone a company’s website and search engine optimize each job posting to make sure it can be quickly found. On top of this, Jobs2Web offers RSS feeds and instant messaging to bring some level of relationships back into recruiting.

Another example: job board aggregators like SimplyHired, Indeed, and Juju, which offer candidates one-stop shopping with access to multiple job boards and career sites. Make sure you feed your jobs to these aggregators to increase your exposure, but pay extra to get to the top of the sponsored listings. It’s worth it if you select the right keywords.

SimplyHired seems to be pushing the envelope on positioning, pushing job ads to smaller niche sites and places where people are just starting to look. Juju seems to be going after simplicity and low cost. Timing and ad positioning like this are becoming more important factors in sourcing, so make sure you’re using these aggregators to get your postings found by the right people.

I’d suggest you shift much of your job board ad budget and reallocate it to the aggregators. It will be money well spent.

Few companies are up-to-speed here on some of these latest sourcing ideas, so this offers a great opportunity to quickly find more top performers. Jobs2Web and SimplyHired were both at the last ERE Expo, and if you didn’t connect with them, make sure you do right away.

While these tools will increase your candidate flow, you’ll still need to upgrade the rest of your recruiting processes to take full advantage of these approaches, but we’ll leave that for another day.