I have come to regard ERE’s semi-annual ER Expo conference series as a barometer of what is happening in employment ó and this eighth event may have been the most telling of them all. Many of us have ridden the roller coaster of attendance and interest, and this year’s record number of attendees, surge of vendors, and overall energy are all the proof we need to conclude that talent is back as a big corporate issue. Recruiters attended to find out what best practices were in vogue, what trends were looming, and to gauge where they were in the “great race” for talent. More than 500 people set the San Diego Marriott buzzing. David Manaster, ERE president and ER Expo chief, kicked the event off by hosting an awards dinner to honor the people and organizations who won the first annual awards for recruiting and staffing excellence. Judged by a panel of industry experts, eight organizations were awarded top prizes, including Federated Department Stores, Monster, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, PacifiCare Health Systems, FirstMerit Bank, HealthEast Care Systems, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Plantronics. The highlights of the conference for me: 1. The energy and interest levels. People were packed into the main event room for every presentation. In past shows, after the first few speakers half or more of the people melted into the hotel to do other things. Not this year. The attendees were clearly there to pick up tips and best practices they could implement back at work. Questions flew and the buzz continued in the hallways outside. The vendor exhibits were also busy with recruiters collecting information and digging into new technologies. No one is complacent anymore. All the recruiting managers I met are struggling to get more efficient as fast as they can because they see a steady ramp in hiring demand. They were all on the prowl for better tools and techniques! 2. New, improved, and emerging technologies. Jobster was the star of the show, kicking off the first day with a breakfast and news conference to announce their new product. Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, along with his stellar team, showed the attendees the power of business networking when applied to recruiting. Other entrants to the employee networking space included BranchIT, located in San Francisco; Yorz, which offers a slightly different approach to referral; and LinkedIn, which has reworked its networking product to focus on recruiting. All of these products are worth a good look. Referral, whether employee focused or externally focused, has grown in importance. Most organizations are now saying that referrals provide anywhere from 20% to 50% of their hires and almost always a lower cost than other methods. The tools I have mentioned all take slightly different approaches to expediting the actual practice of delivering a great referral to the recruiters desk. There were many other technology companies at the show, including applicant tracking systems such as Hire.com, Taleo, Peopleclick, and Recruitmax, as well as a new and improved Eliyon, which has changed its name to Zoominfo. Zoominfo makes searching for the names, email addresses, phone numbers and background info on people easier than ever. It also provides key talent market information as competitive intelligence. 3. Great companies and people. This show had some really interesting people and companies attending including Starbucks, T-Mobile, Target, Federated Department Stores (Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s), Ameriquest, Amazon, Microsoft, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, PacifiCare Health, Booz Allen Hamilton, Monster.com, Plantronics, and a host of others. Conversations in the hallways ran from how to improve employee referral programs to how to best measure success. The workshops that Lou Adler, John Sullivan, Mark Mehler and I ran overflowed with participants ó several of whom signed up at the last minute. People are hungry for information, best practices, and useful hints. I was part of a number of in-depth conversations about recruiting strategy and tactics. Everyone was focused on finding out how to build a higher quality recruiting function. I was pleased that the main concern was on quality and performance excellence, and not on whining over requisition loads and lack of staff. I think most recruiting professionals realize that there is little to be gained by hiring a bunch of inefficient recruiters and would rather focus on leveraging technology, finding good sourcers and closers, and in general getting more respect from management. This Expo convinced me that the great race for talent is back on and that only the informed and daring have any hope of winning. I hope to see all of you at the Expo in Boston in late September. What better place to be next fall, where you can attend the ER Expo, engage in some great conversations, see the autumn colors, and catch a Red Sox’s game?