Health Technology Company Reducing Big Job Board Spending, Boosting Social Media

A Massachusetts company with about 1,400 employees ended its contract with a large, national job board, and is allocating — as the graphic shows — its time and money to advertising on Indeed, Facebook, LinkedIn, SimplyHired, and more.

Athenahealth is a healthcare IT company, recently mentioned by Barron’s, that provides online services for doctors, such as billing services. It has received a number of honors like the 2011 “Best Place to Work in Massachusetts” by Boston Business Journal and was named to Fast Company’s list of the world’s most innovative companies in 2010.

While turnover is low, and Recruiting Operations Manager Susan Treadway says engagement is very, very high, athenahealth does have its recruiting challenges. Hiring for its critical sales and software jobs is challenging, competing without a big name against two that are quite big and have New England operations: Google and Microsoft.

Treadway’s department reports to an SVP and lies outside of the human resources department. Interestingly, it includes only six people, though it’s adding 400-450 people a year.

In 2009 in particular, it started to believe that its job board spending just wasn’t working well enough: too many applicants, not all qualified, a lot of sifting, too much recruiter time. Athena ultimately wanted not just to fill jobs but to improve hire quality and make sure its recruiting practices brought to athenahealth the innovative, fast-moving types who fit the culture.

It started using Indeed sponsorships at the end of 2009 and ended its contract with Monster in August 2010.

Athenahealth brought on HireClix, a recruitment marketing firm also in New England, in October 2010. HireClix immediately began refining the placement of Indeed ads. As an example, HireClix worked with Indeed to identify cities where salespeople would most likely to be living or traveling, such as Dallas, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, and placed ads in those search results, rather than in a region like “Northwest,” which wasn’t a common way for people to search. Treadway says she hadn’t previously fully understood the Indeed relationship — how to get the most out of the dollars she was spending.

This year, athenahealth has expanded its social media recruiting. Using Facebook and LinkedIn ads, HireClix targets passive candidates by geography, work history, and job title.

Athena and HireClix would, for example, look for people who had experience in the field of healthcare electronic records, and place an ad on their social media profiles. If a competitor was involved in a big layoff, HireClix would put a small ad on the LinkedIn profiles of employees of that company if they had a word like “PHP” or “gaming” in their profiles (the latter not because athenahealth’s a gaming company, but because that might reach the right type of person).

Gaming enthusiasts and software developers were also targeted through ads placed on websites such as G4TV.com and GSN.com.

In search of passive candidates in the sales/business development field, 50-60,000 were targeted through LinkedIn and Facebook ads that generated 3.2 million impressions, stats that cover a period of about five months. This led to 1,300 visits to the athenahealth careers site.

LinkedIn, it’s finding, has generally worked better for sales, Facebook for software developers.

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Athenahealth and HireClix experiment heavily to see what ads, colors, phrasing, and so on work — and then scrap what doesn’t. They’re also using Google, both to place banner ads and to place text ads that show up when people conduct searches.

Treadway doesn’t see Twitter as a big part of her current recruitment advertising. Craigslist, and some niche job boards in the healthcare field, are used some, but Treadway doesn’t see niche board spending as something that’ll grow in the near future.

As for live events, Athenahealth also sponsored a mobile food truck at MIT, where it has had a long relationship. On May 18 of this year, it gave away free food during the breaks between exams during finals week. HireClix used Facebook ads — highly targeted to mention the specific classes people were taking — to get the word out to math and engineering students. The ads targeted 480 students; 191 saw them. Recruiters and software developers, of course, were on hand to schmooze with students.

More than 250-300 students came out in the rain, and the food sold out in three hours.

With all these changes in recruitment ad spending, Treadway is bombarded by excited recruiters wanting to place ads on this or that site, now that they see what’s working and what’s not. “You can throw out a big net in the ocean,” she says, “or you can get to the right fish by putting out the right bait.”

“But,” I asked, “how do you know these really are the right fish?” Right now, there aren’t a lot of metrics as to the quality of the candidates arriving at athenahealth and being hired. Treadway says she’s confident that the quality of candidates is up sharply, based on everything she hears from recruiters and employees (“people here are pumped about this kind of stuff,” she says, “not just the recruiters.”). The company’s moving from SonicRecruit — which was bought by Taleo — to Kenexa 2X BrassRing, which she says will give it a greater ability to generate the metrics and reports it needs to measure how various sources of hires are working out.

The culture at athenahealth is strong: it sees itself as offering disruptive technology, integral to the health care infrastructure of the future. All employees — called athenistas — are considered insiders, who hear quarterly results before Wall Street does. Everyone’s eligible for bonuses. “Transparency is big,” Treadway says. Though 360 reviews are given to everyone, “you better have said it already to them.”

She says the company is aggressive about moving to cutting-edge programs and technologies, even if it’s not sure of the exact outcome, and that this applies to both the company’s medical software as well as its recruiting. “We love taking on and trying new things,” she says, “but we don’t continue to do them if they don’t work.”

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