Online Recruitment – how it’s changed

My thoughts today in this piece are directly linked to my work as a CV writer since 99% of that work either is or involves online activity. It is both interesting and ever-more pertinent to be aware of the growth and change of that online CV and recruitment activity. Why? Because it helps me to understand both what recruiters and jobseekers need and expect from each other, and also what the likely – inasmuch as it’s possible to forecast – CV and recruitment trends are likely to be. The better I can fathom that, the more likely I am to remain employed.

So, if you’re a CV writer or recruiter, see what you make of this exposition: all thoughts are always welcome.

With Google, in November 2017, I can find 500,000 pages of “CVs for software engineers with C++”. That may not sound so remarkable until you consider how many of those are a mixture of named individuals, many it seems not actively looking for new jobs; those available via overlapping job boards or agencies; those who have posted their own LinkedIn profiles; and CV / resume templates. The CVs, samples or actual, and jobs just happen to be available online—if you know where to look for them – i.e. Google. Recruiters can find thousands of CVs and can even “flip the URL,” following links in CVs back into company intranets, where there are troves of corporate directories and other information about employees.

In 20 years, the internet has brought radical change to corporate recruiting. In the past, the pools of candidates from which companies could choose were limited. You could hire the active jobseekers, many of whom might have been unhappy or incompetent at their old jobs, or you could compete for entry-level workers. To fill high-level posts, you often had to bring in expensive headhunters. By the mid / late-1990s, this had all changed forever (did we realise at that stage it was not only recruitment that changed forever but that the internet as a whole would change our lives totally?). By logging onto the internet, recruiters could suddenly find vast numbers of qualified candidates for jobs at every level, screen them in minutes, and contact the most promising ones immediately. The Internet Society would suggest this occurred towards the end of the ‘90s (https://www.internetsociety.org/internet/history-internet/brief-history-internet/).

It was widely recognised early on that the payoffs of internet recruiting could be enormous. Early estimates suggested that it cost about one-twentieth as much to hire someone online as to hire that same person through traditional means. And the time savings quickly became equally great. It was no wonder that by 2000, reportedly 90% of U.S. companies were recruiting via the internet.

That said, I’ve discovered that there is, at least to an extent, a disconnect between online recruitment and the perception of online recruitment. 2 totally different things. The internet is seen as the only place to go for recruiters and jobseekers. In fact, that’s not so. Referral, word of mouth, adverts – yes, remember those? – are still used widely. The changes which took place in recruitment were deep and far-reaching, and to be successful, managers had to rethink the way they went about hiring—and retaining—talent. There was a move on, not away, from the traditional means: this continues today.

It became obvious to both sides that the use of the internet was a double-edged sword – or, perhaps better, a two-way street: yes, recruiters could search for more people in more locations more rapidly. But jobseekers could also appraise recruiters, find niche markets, use LinkedIn to hone their search – all almost instantaneously. Arguably, pre-internet recruitment was a one-way street; from around 2000, no longer so.

On a typical Monday, the peak day for job hunts, millions of people search for work on multiple job boards. At the same time, thousands of corporate recruiters are scouring databases of millions of employee profiles and CVs, many for people who aren’t actively seeking new jobs but are simply listed (I know this from speaking to hundreds every year).

The internet saw the labour market become a true market: wide open, uncontrolled by individual companies, and unconstrained by geography. And executives discovered they needed to start treating it like a market. No longer could recruiting be viewed as a reactive, largely clerical function buried in the human resources department. It needed to be refashioned to look much more like the marketing function itself. Recruitment had become nearly indistinguishable from the marketing process. Job candidates today need to be approached in much the same way as prospective customers: carefully identified and targeted, attracted to the company and its brand, and then sold on the job. In an environment with fierce competition for talent, companies that master the art and science of online recruiting will attract and keep the best people.

This has, of course, been so for 15 years and more. But where recruiters often fail now is that, because they view the internet as the only recruitment method, they don’t master it because they don’t feel the need. They become lazy and assume they need to do nothing, rather than fine-tune their advertisements, target markets, candidate types, and so on. They assume candidates will always approach them and – by this unthought definition – nobody else. And as I’ve covered previously, any kind of assumption in recruitment is a dangerous mistake to make.

The online hiring process can be broken down into 3 steps: attracting, sorting, and contacting candidates. A company seeking to improve its hiring capability needs to manage each step, with its evolving techniques and technologies, even more in 2017 than 2000, and more with each passing year.

Online technology and the most current hiring-management-systems software are crucial to companies competing for the best candidates in a high-speed job market. Companies and their recruiters must sell the company’s reputation, product image, online technology, relational marketing, and other methods to draw as many potential applicants as possible.

Companies discovered they needed to employ increasingly sophisticated, standardised online tests to screen candidates, winnowing the applicant pool to a manageable number. They could thus work aggressively and use automated hiring management systems to contact the most desirable candidates very fast, before they were snapped up by another company.

That said, it may surprise you to know that – and this is not scientific, but based on my own large client base – despite the technology we have in our pockets in 2017, companies and recruiters still need to make the phone call, set up the meeting, shake the hand. The human touch, increasingly neglected, remains critical here. We all know this, but we often don’t actively think it. The jobseeker unthinkingly views the recruiter as having the power – “when will they call me?” – and often fails to think about the other side of the coin. As I very often point out to clients: if you didn’t need a job, the recruiter wouldn’t have a job: make them work for their money and you.

Integrating recruiting efforts with overall marketing campaigns is thus the most important thing companies can do to ensure their success in online hiring. Sophisticated companies quickly saw the need to build recognisable human resources brands by tying product ads to online recruiting ads. Promotional items printed with a URL can, even now, drive many people to any organisation’s website, where online recruiting systems operate, and the HR brands are reinforced.

Just as product marketing moved toward relational marketing, so too did the marketing of jobs online. By capitalising on the internet’s enormous power to spread information through informal networking, companies realised they could promote themselves cheaply and effectively. This continues now – it has evolved rather than old models being disrupted by new. Today, as in 2000, by providing content of value to key groups of professionals, companies can promote themselves while collecting information on potential recruits.

Facebook and WhatsApp know all about you and can thus direct you surreptitiously to recruiters, and point recruiters to demographic collections which are likely to include you. Try searching often for many jobs with “engineer” in the title and see what starts to appear in adverts targeted at you.

The recruitment market developed rapidly to one where there were 2 prongs: necessity and usability. They were unconsciously yet inextricably linked. Nobody planned it, it simply happened. More than ever, the jobseeker needed the recruiter but, almost more, the recruiter needed the jobseeker. Each had as much choice as the other and nobody could assume anything. This led, again over time, to the current position where the web is awash – some would say almost drowning; I would agree – with jobs, jobseekers and recruiters. Never before has a focused approach to securing a job or client been more vital. And, to dovetail, never has a properly constructed CV been more important. I am realistic about how many CVs-to-be-plagiarised there are out there, how many templates are available, and how many offer my CV writing services. But I’m also very aware of how much of that soup is filled with rubbish and how required – I believe, more than ever – is the “proper” (read as experienced, cogent, knowledgeable) – CV writer.
So, is online recruitment still, and continuously, double-edged? Absolutely. Indeed, it is now so easy to obtain anything about anyone at any time that everyone involved needs to be careful, selective and self-protectionist.

Companies that administer online tests should be careful because hiring criteria that weed out disproportionate percentages of women, disabled people, workers over 40, or members of minority groups may violate antidiscrimination laws or upset lobbies which some would perceive to be “politically correct”. Screening and testing must be valid in the context of particular positions and their requirements. Discrimination is a serious risk in online recruitment.

Whilst we may argue that, because of Brexit, what regulations apply in the European Union ultimately won’t affect the UK, there are currently tight restrictions on the use of electronic data collected about individuals. It is also, recently and very much increasingly, widely reported that there is disquiet about the collection of such data. The world of online recruitment is so totally different than that of the early 2000s that there are real ethical questions which recruiters are being forced to review and address.
Previously, directives from the EU prohibited employers, in many cases, from moving data from online job applications across national boundaries, as multinational companies with centralised databases routinely did. Also, such data could not be used for anything other than the explicit purpose for which the candidate submitted it; even the common practice of holding an application in a database and considering it for a subsequent job violated EU directives. This still applies now but the lines are very blurred, this in itself driven by the ease of data transfer and the negligible risk of being caught. That is not to say recruiters or jobseekers deliberately violate everything; rather that all communication, application, security, connection is so easy, there is no longer a definitive black and white. On paper, yes. In practice, not so much.

Many companies apart from, for example sole traders or very small organisations, adopt online screening (“Applicant Tracking System” – ATS). It is ever-more incumbent that they ensure that the criteria truly predict job performance. Whether in 2000 or 2017, tests and other screening methods based on attitudes and personality have historically been inadequate at predicting performance. It’s fashionable, especially in the high-tech industry, for companies to hire the smartest applicants they can find, with academic achievement or aptitude being the measure of smarts.

Probably the best predictor of job performance is information about a candidate’s previous work experiences – in that regard we are back again to the trusty CV. But, of course, the devil is in the details of how particular experiences are scored.

Online recruitment has meant that once a good candidate is identified, speed is essential. With so much employer competition, the first company to make contact often gains a huge advantage. Traditionally, human resources functions tended to reside within bureaucratic cultures—slow and methodical—this would be totally ineffective in today’s hiring climate. Recruiters must act with the speed, flexibility, and creativity of marketers.

As a CV writer with 15 years’ experience, if you had asked me even 12 months ago, I would have said that traditional recruitment was dead, everything was online. I’m now not so sure. I work increasingly with clients who find the net so bloated with “stuff” that they have no idea even where to start. I am used as much to sift, dig, advise, and direct their whole search as to write the underpin that is the CV.

I am increasingly of the view that the revolution in recruiting has only just begun. As vendors rush in, advancing technology will allow companies to further shorten the hiring cycle by becoming more efficient at hunting for new people and sorting applicants. I have no idea even now how this will be done, nor have I found a soothsayer. I go largely by how much CV writing and its link to the ever-evolving recruitment sector has changed. If any of us mortals had been asked in, say, 2001, to imagine the next big communications breakthrough, I doubt many of us would have thought of the Blackberry concept.

Written by

Nigel Benson is a professional career sector specialist with over 12 years' experience writing executive level CVs and expertise in recruitment, job interviews and training.

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