Former ERE Award Winners Must Innovate Even More in Tight Labor Market

These are the times that try recruiters’ souls. Even the best of them.

With corporate recruiting activity continuing to surge, many corporate recruiters say they are busy keeping up with their organizations’ robust recruiting objectives, let alone working to fill the jobs that were the most difficult to staff over the summer months, and which may remain unfilled.

The challenge of recruiting in a seemingly buoyant economy — driven perhaps by the continued growth of corporate earnings, the retreat of oil prices from record highs, and modest inflation — remains a balancing act as corporate recruiters take their messages to a labor market emboldened by the increasing availability of good-paying jobs.

To gauge what some of corporate America’s best recruiters are doing to compete for top talent, ERE recently revisited a handful of former ERE Recruiting Excellence Award winners to see how they’re handling today’s tough recruiting challenges and what they’re doing to extend the best practices that earned them awards for best employer brand, best corporate careers website, and other key recruitment benchmarks:

  • Sherri L. Bliss, account manager, Recruitment Services, UnitedHealthcare Pacific and Southwest, Legacy PacifiCare
  • Frank Wittenauer, global eRecruitment leader, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu
  • Trudy Knoepke-Campbell, director, Workforce Planning, HealthEast Care System


Since being recognized for establishing the Best Employer Brand in early 2006, the recruitment and workplace branding environment at PacifiCare have completely changed. PacifiCare was acquired by UnitedHealthcare in December 2005, and the PacifiCare team fully transitioned to the UnitedHealthcare recruitment model in March 2006.

In addition, the PacifiCare brand has transitioned over to UnitedHealthcare’s during the past seven months, and at this point, only PacifiCare’s legacy line of products continue to be marketed and branded with the PacifiCare name.

Sherri L. Bliss, account manager for recruitment services with UnitedHealthcare Pacific and Southwest, says she is currently assigned to the account management team in recruitment services, so it’s her group’s responsibility to assure service delivery of recruitment services as well as to manage the overall suite of recruitment products and services to the company’s hiring managers and top leaders.

In general, Bliss says, “We are always working on simplifying our recruitment process, as UnitedHealthcare recruitment services supports almost 19,000 employees and hiring is very high-volume.” She says her team is working on process elements, including better understanding the cycle time around UnitedHealthcare’s recruitment process and how it can improve that cycle time. “Our team is also working on an employment branding campaign which is very exciting considering the recognition PacifiCare received earlier this year for our employment branding efforts,” she adds.

The employment branding campaign at UnitedHealthcare is comprehensive in scope and has targeted branding planned all the way to specific job levels, which Bliss believes has high-impact potential.

The campaign will include resources for recruiters and hiring managers so that the company and its jobs are consistently and clearly marketed relative to what motivated current employees to take jobs as well as stay with the company, Bliss says.

United is also working on a suite of workshops for hiring managers to better enable them to function as an extension of the recruitment services group, Bliss adds. That includes a workshop entitled “Everyone is a Recruiter” and what that means for hiring managers taking advantage of their networks to recruit top talent, as well as workshops on effective job profiling and interviewing.

Within the areas that Bliss supports, the clinical personnel and underwriters/actuaries continue to be the most difficult jobs to fill. “Nothing has changed with regard to availability of any of those categories of personnel,” she says. “Some of our senior-level network positions and sales positions are becoming increasingly difficult, as well as candidates [coming] to the table with multiple offers.”

The company’s top four sources for hires in the first two quarters of 2006 were internal candidates, referrals, the UnitedHealth Group website, and other job sites. The latter, Bliss explains, “have become catch-alls for candidates who may have been exposed to UnitedHealthcare marketing or branding through several channels but indicate their source as job board or company website because that is the vehicle through which they are applying.”

When it comes to getting the top passive candidates into the company, she adds, “We would like to see direct sourcing increase and are spending more time assuring our source tracking is cleaned up to accurately capture the right source for every hire so we know with a high degree of accuracy what is working for us.”

So how does the UnitedHealthcare recruiting team measure success? In many ways, Bliss says, it is based on company performance. “For example,” she explains, “retention of key accounts within specific regions and market segments can be highly attributed to our internal talent and success in product development, network management, sales, customer support, claims processing, and I am sure a plethora of other internal functions.”

Account retention as well as membership growth are important measures for the company’s success and are based on having the right internal talent to create the right products for the right price with the right service backing up the delivery and administration.

“We have a Human Capital team that was created specifically to implement human capital and recruitment initiatives targeted to account retention that is unique to UnitedHealthcare and very exciting,” Bliss says. “It all really comes down to the talent you have on board to deliver on your consumer commitments and continuous improvement to what you are able to offer in your consumer marketplace. In addition, recruiters are evaluated on cycle time, direct sourcing, hiring manager feedback, and soon-to-be-implemented new hire feedback.”

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu

Frank Wittenauer, global eRecruitment leader, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, which was recognized by ERE in 2006 for having the Best Corporate Careers Website, says he has seen some big changes in the recruiting market since then.

“We’re definitely seeing more people out there. Our candidate volume seems to be high, but there’s a lot more focus on quality, whereas in years past, it was about getting on the big job boards and driving candidate volume,” Wittenauer says.

He says Deloitte has changed its careers website so that country managers across its global consulting operations can “localize” the content. “We have a platform and we execute that locally,” he says.

One new tool Deloitte expects to roll out soon revolves around the notion of how to “find your fit,” which will include questions that will lead applicants toward the consulting opportunities that best match their skills, experience, and education. That module on the company’s website will help translate its internal terminology to candidate-facing messages. That means whether or not a visitor enters “enterprise risk services group” on the Deloitte site, their answers to questions found there may just point them to that team even if they weren’t specifically looking to find opportunities with that team in the first place.

Wittenauer says Deloitte is also planning the launch of some brief, approximately 90-second videos to help support the mission of its careers website. But the intended outcome of the workplace-oriented videos is different than in previous years when the Deloitte team was most interested in keeping the site “sticky” and keeping visitors on the site for as long as possible.

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Now, he says, it’s all about providing job seekers with pertinent information in as few mouse clicks as possible. “We want people to come in, get their information, and go,” Wittenauer explains.

“We’re also just on the cusp of doing hiring manager surveys. We’re going to be measuring four areas of quality in recruiting, and those are hiring manager satisfaction, retention, performance, and utilization,” Wittenauer says. Those hiring manager surveys, he adds, will be conducted 90 days after a new employee is hired to determine “how the person is working out.”

Wittenauer says the Deloitte team is also working to increase the number of employee referrals it gets each year and also to sort through the tax implications of providing employee referral bonuses in numerous countries around the world for both the company and the individual.

Employee referrals already account for between 35% to 40% of all of Deloitte’s experienced hires, and it wants to lift such referrals as a percentage of new hires from about 15% to the 30% range in the United Kingdom, for example, and to as much as 50% of new hires in places like Australia.

“We have no doubt that employee referral is where the quality is,” Wittenauer says.

HealthEast Care System

Trudy Knoepke Campbell says she and her colleagues at HealthEast Care System in Minnesota have spent much of the past few months working through the launch of a new applicant tracking system (VirtualEdge) that will take the institution “from a paper-based system to non-paper” and moving more recruiting resources online.

The healthcare system, which employs 6,900 people in four St. Paul-area hospitals as well as in clinics, home care, and other settings, expects to debut its new career website on November 15.??

But that’s just part of what Knoepke-Campbell’s metrics-oriented workforce planning efforts are focused on these days. “We’re looking at all of our processes and constantly looking to improve what we do,” she says. “We keep pushing the envelope. That’s part of what our function does.”

Knoepke-Campbell says the healthcare system “did some pretty significant branding” of its workplace experience during the first three months of this year. “We’re still seeing some residuals from that, which include an 89% increase in our RN applicants. We’ve hired probably our highest number of RNs this year,” she says.

“We put on a pretty big push for new registered nurse graduates. That’s our pipeline,” Knoepke-Campbell says, noting that it has hired 100 new RNs over the past 12 months to help offset the nursing shortage.

“We’re doing a lot of college recruiting events,” Knoepke-Campbell adds, and HealthEast is also working hard to retain its student interns.

She says 91% of recent hires had searched the healthcare system’s careers website, so her team felt that creating a new website was a wise investment to boost its recruiting effectiveness and also to convey what it’s like to work there.

Knoepke-Campbell says one of the biggest paybacks the healthcare system has seen was from its decision to have both the nurse manager and human resources jointly interview candidates. That way, she says, “both people hear the same thing from the applicant.” The recruiting process is also more efficient because of the use of behavioral interviewing techniques that are “driving more at performance in the interview questions,” she adds.

So what’s on the horizon? Knoepke-Campbell says her group will conduct user surveys to assess the effectiveness of the VirtualEdge applicant tracking system, continue to keep its eye on employee retention, and focus on recruiting in-demand healthcare professionals like pharmacists and physical therapists.

“We’re going to get hit with heavy demand for healthcare services at a time when the bulk of our workforce will be leaving [for retirement],” she says, so HealthEast Care System expects to be competing for the best talent for years to come.