Conference Attendees: What I Learned From Them At The ER Expo!

After attending conferences people always ask me about the speakers and what new insights I gleaned from their presentations. Rarely does anyone ask me what I learned from the attendees. But when I attend a conference, like ER Expo in San Diego, I typically learn as much from the attendees as I do from the speakers. People attend recruiting conferences for different reasons. Some want to hear the industry leaders discuss trends from the 30,000-foot level, so they attend the keynotes. Some want learn about the newest techniques, so they attend the breakout sessions. Some want to research new technology, so they peruse the vendor floor. Others just want to network and party, so they attend the boat cruise, happy hour, and lunch. Then there are those who want to do it all. They burn the candle at both ends. I tend to fall into the latter category. Needless to say I was exhausted by the end of ER Expo. But I met people with all different reasons for attending, and I learned a lot about their diverse views of the industry and their personal recruiting challenges. Overwhelmingly the most prominent issues of interest to the attendees related to recruiting technology, best practices in Internet recruiting, and effectively integrating both into their current recruiting processes. Here’s a summary of some of my conversations at the conference and the key learning. Heard at the Conference: Conversations Related to Recruiting Technology “There are so many software products out there, all touting ‘end to end’ solutions. How do I determine which is the best for my needs?” “I am afraid that once I begin implementing a product, the vendor will go belly up – yet I can’t afford the products offered by the ‘big guys.'” “As soon as I think I’ve finally selected the right software for my company, I talk to someone who either thought the product didn’t work well or found that there were too many hidden costs or had a bad customer support experience. I am running out of software that I like. Is there anyone out there that does it all right?” It was very clear to me that recruiters know the importance of recruiting technology in managing their hiring efforts efficiently and cost-effectively. But there appears to be a general discontentment with most of the current products on the market. Two simultaneously occurring factors seem to be causing the frustration that I noticed at the conference. The first factor lies with the vendors. Many are so anxious to be the first to market with their “unique end-to-end” solutions that they often launch before all the bugs are worked out. When a system has bugs during the implementation phase, the recruiters lose confidence and patience. If they are not ironed out quickly, recruiters don’t want to use the product. No system is ever going to be perfect. Every type of organization and all software has its glitches. But if companies spend the time up front to map out their processes, understand the way their recruiters recruit and test every aspect of the vendor’s products, they will find something that works for their needs. Remember, demos are just that: demonstrations that are meant to sell the product. Companies need to have the recruiters who are in the trenches test each step of the process the software offers to determine if it matches their needs. If there are aspects of the product that do not fit exactly with the way a company recruits, then they need to assess the level of importance of that feature. If it ranks highly, then they should consider another vendor. If it is somewhat minor then they should consider adjusting their process to fit the format of the software. The second factor lies with recruiter expectations. Many recruiters want the products to solve all of their recruiting challenges. While most recruiters inherently know that CMS software is only a tool, they have spent so much time and money in selecting and implementing the product that they want it to perform miracles. The truth is, recruiters recruit – not software. The software helps the recruiter become more efficient so they can recruit better, faster, and ultimately cheaper. My advice to the vendors: releasing a product before it is ready is the kiss of death. Poor customer service is equally as damaging. Recruiters talk. When they have a good experience they tell 2 or 3 people. When they have a bad experience they tell 10 and then write about it in the ER Forum for 30,000 people to see. My advice to the recruiters: ultimately it is better to spend a few extra months up front evaluating the software products than rushing into something that might not be right for your organization’s needs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In the end, you are the one that has to use the product. If you are unhappy, then you’ve wasted your time and money. Ask the vendors about the current bugs of their system, the upgrades that are in the works and the estimated release time of these upgrades. If they immediately say that they don’t have any bugs, I would run, not walk, to the next vendor. They aren’t giving you a straight story. Even Microsoft admits to its software bugs. Conversations related to Internet Recruiting “I post to the major job boards and get inundated with a bunch of crap. I don’t have time to sort through it all. How do I resolve this?” “I hear that the niche boards will produce better results but I don’t know how to tell if they are good or not. How do I figure out which ones to use?” “I’d love to find passive candidates on the Internet but I don’t have time, nor do I know how to do it. Is there an easy way?” “I think we use Monster and Headhunter but I am not exactly sure. Someone in our corporate office handles that.” “I’ve tried those AIRS techniques but I can never get anyone to call me back – so what’s the use?” Whereas the issues with recruiting technology were fairly specific, the issues with Internet recruiting were all over the board. There seems to be a very broad range of knowledge, experience and understanding of how to use the Internet most efficiently to recruit. The good news is that everyone I met was enthusiastic and eager to learn. The bad news (for them) is that there is no magic bullet. Yes, posting to the major job boards will produce a lot of results. The level of “crap” you get back is somewhat proportional to the quality of your job ads. Spend the time upfront writing ads that tells the candidate about your company and the specific position, that sells your opportunity, and that compels them to submit their credentials. Take a look at Lou Adler’s Powerhiring information on writing killer job ads to assist. Compare your ads to your competitor’s ads. Which are better? When you write effective job postings, the percentage of quality responses will increase. Additionally, when posting ads to the general job boards set your expectations accordingly. Don’t expect more than 30-40% to be worth taking a second look at and only about 5-10% will make it to the interview stage. For the niche boards, the percentages should increase to 40-50% and 20%-25% respectively. In absolute numbers both the niche and general boards may produce the same results. Cast your net as wide as possible and cover as many boards as your budget will allow. Consider some of the prescreening tools on the market to help filter the responses. Many of the CMS systems offer them. When used right, they really make a huge difference in managing the results from job postings. Mining the Internet for passive candidates is time consuming, and if you don’t have the benefit of a research team to do it for you, it is best saved for those positions that produce very, very poor results from the job boards. However, I believe that every recruiter should know these techniques and should practice them on a regular basis. Recognizing that this is a very time consuming process, AIRS and some other vendors have developed products to “ease the pain.” heck out AIRS Search Station. It walks you through all the steps of the process of building effective search strings as well as helps you manage the results. Worried about the cost? If you make even 1 hire from the tool it will have more than paid for itself. To summarize, maybe there was some inherent bias by the virtue of the fact that they cared enough to take the time to attend the conference, but I found that the recruiters were eager to learn and were more and more energized about e-Recruiting as the conference progressed. In a rapidly growing company, recruiting is one of the most demanding positions and recruiters are rising to the occasion. They are finally earning the well-deserved respect and recognition from their senior management. I was truly impressed by the quality of the recruiters I met and the questions they asked of the speakers. Hats off to the ERE, the attendees, the speakers and the vendors for creating a fantastic conference! <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

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Karen Osofsky ( is a co-founder of, an e-recruiting consulting firm that provides outsourced recruiting solutions to rapidly growing companies and new ventures. The firm provides a broad range of recruiting consulting, sourcing, screening, and strategy development services to help companies manage the front-end recruiting process. Tiburon Group is a Certified AIRS Solutions Partner.