The IT skills shortage is critical and getting worse. It seems like the top candidates are either already happily employed or else busy being poached by competitors overseas. Worse, the brain drain seems certain to escalate in the next millennium. With estimates Australian employers will be hunting for more than 30,000 information technology workers this year in an economy where unemployment among the skilled and talented is all but non-existent, the skills crisis is forcing top companies and recruiters to turn to cyberspace to reinvent their hiring strategies.
According to The Industry Standard, a US sister publication of CIO, the volume of online job postings has grown by 60 per cent in the space of a single year. All up, analysts estimate around 10 million jobs are now posted each year, and the busiest of the more than 4000 Internet recruitment sites get one million-plus visitors every week. A recent survey by APT Strategies found 23 per cent of Australian Internet users would "probably or definitely" apply for a job online in the next six months. Meanwhile, Australia's largest Internet-only employment advertiser, Seek Communications, announced it hosted more than 336,000 job-seekers on its Internet employment site during July, an increase of 24 per cent from June.
Another statistic: Cisco worldwide now takes more that 160,000 applications a year through the Internet. Already it recruits more than 21 per cent of its staff through its external Web page and a whopping 48.5 per cent more through employee referrals over its intranetMeanwhile, Microsoft in Australia profiles current openings and positions on its own Web site and also advertises on other sources like www.seek.com.au. It says it now recruits more than 10 per cent of its staff via the Internet. Microsoft South Pacific Region human resources director Mark Newton says while there's always a nervousness about competitors knowing what positions Microsoft is hiring for, online recruiting is also a very smart way of getting to the right people. "We've been able to get some positions filled by people who can sit at the privacy of their own desk and peruse the Net and find out what positions are out there, without necessarily flipping through newspapers and making it pretty obvious they're on the market," he says.
"E-cruiting" may not provide all the answers, but going online to attract candidates does give you access to an array of resources to help you locate and communicate with prospective candidates. It makes it easier to hire top people fast --with luck before the competition can get to them; it can be much more cost-efficient; and it makes it far easier to identify and reach passive job seekers, who are typically the most attractive candidates. Done well, it helps the organisation treat applicants with consideration and respect -- so that even if they are not right for the position on offer, they are more likely to apply again when new jobs come up.
And it can make life easier for recruiters in other ways. DMA Recruitment is the biggest advertiser in The Australian newspaper's Tuesday IT section. Managing director Ian Woollett says for more than 10 years the recruitment agency relied on heavy expenditure on print ads and had a business model predicated around print media. All that's changed over the last 18 months. Now DMA's ads in The Australian are mainly used to brand its Web site, and the jobs it displays in print are but a tiny fraction of the jobs it has available for candidates.
"The real message that we're trying to get over is that we have lots of jobs available -- but many, many more available online and, frankly, at your leisure. So rather than looking through heaps and heaps of paper, you can actually do those search mechanisms online and get the exact job that meets your criteria," Woollett says.
Woollett says the Internet had effectively ironed out the bell curve that used to plague IT recruiters like DMA. When ads appeared mainly in Tuesday's Australian, DMA used to see large numbers of candidates on Wednesday and Thursday. Mondays were always quiet. "From our point of view the online medium gives us the ability to have a very even trickle-feed of candidates coming through the door. It does still go up on a Tuesday and a Wednesday, because people happen to see the front page [of The Australian] and see a job that is very attractive, but there's nowhere near this bell curve of the previous 20 years of the company."
The Internet also gives recruiters speed. Woollett says they can run searches on the Internet for candidates who have posted their profile online and react to vacancies within hours, perhaps even minutes. In the past when DMA looked for people with RPG skills (a niche skill on the AS/400 platform), for instance, it would take at least a week to place the ad, attract a suitable candidate and get them to come in for an interview. Now it can be done in minutes, Woollett says.
"So our business cycles have come from weeks -- not to days, now not even to hours, but to minutes. In a very, very competitive market, if you're the first person to go and talk to this candidate about the job, you're extremely likely to place that person," he says.
And according to Australian recruiter Icon Recruitment, Internet recruitment advertising can be a far more cost-effective medium than newspaper advertising. While a display newspaper advertisement in any leading metropolitan or national newspaper costs $2500, the same advertisement on www.employment.com.au would cost just $150. (Then again, Icon says, Employment.com.au's Internet rates are also substantially lower than comparable overseas Internet recruitment sites.)But recruiting online needs more than a Web page. Successful strategies start with offline branding and move into whole new areas of tools and recruiting technology.
The evidence suggests that Internet recruitment can return disappointing results unless it is done well. A February 1999 report by Forrester Research found CIOs who used Internet job boards were unimpressed with the results, despite the boards' popularity. In fact, Internet job boards scored only 3.6 per cent on an effectiveness scale from 1 to 10, even though they were used by 44 per cent of all respondents.
"We've stopped using Internet job boards and newspaper ads. All we got were underqualified candidates. It's tough, because the people we need probably aren't looking for a job," one transportation CIO with 6 per cent open positions and 7 per cent turnover told Forrester. But that may be an argument for making sure you do online recruiting well, rather than not at all. Some companies are achieving spectacular results, because they have the strategies in place and the resources to hand to make the Internet work for them.
Large global organisations with the resources available will probably want to emulate Cisco, which lists every vacancy from all 65 countries in which it operates, on its home page at www.cisco.com. Or they'll emulate Microsoft in Australia, which recruits an increasing number of its staff via the Internet and advertises both on its own Web page, and on those of its own recruiters.
"A lot of companies are going to be using their Web site as a recruitment tool," says Kim Scott, the managing director of JobNet Worldwide (JobNet .com.au). "It's a very powerful tool, particularly for companies that are brand-name companies -- companies that are well known and that are seen as potentially attractive or interesting places to work at. But I think for some small, not very well-known, companies sitting in the background with a Web site, it will be next to useless."
Such smaller companies can opt to sign up with Internet recruiting firms like Monster.com, the flagship product of the interactive division of TMP Worldwide; Seek; or JobNet WorldWide, an Australian IT recruitment Web site with more than 18,000 vacancies listed by more than 330 individual recruitment agency offices.
Whether you're best off outsourcing your e-recruiting or doing it in-house depends on how your company is set up and who you want to partner with, Scott says. Some companies will be happy to go it alone. Some won't want to do all the work themselves and will have good recruitment agency partners they are happy to work with. Some will get their recruitment agency partners to manage all the jobs for them, but also display the postings on their corporate Web site, outsourcing maintenance of job postings, the interviewing, and first-level processing, but using their own Web site as the vehicle to get exposure on those jobs.
However it's done, branding is vitally important. Monster.com advertises its job board on the back of buses and at railway stations. Microsoft advertises its Careers section using banner ads. Many Australian recruitment companies use print media to advertise their Web services. "You've got to brand yourself, because otherwise no one is going to know you're there. The Internet phenomenon is only fantastic so long as someone can find you," DMA's Woollett says.
Getting It Right
Hosting a careers section on your corporate Web site involves much more than simply posting jobs as they arise. It also means keeping listings current and reacting -- fast -- to bites from potential candidates. Woollett says companies often let their job listings get out of date, and rarely respond fast enough to bites.
"If someone reacts to our Web site, we may make a telephone call in minutes. We're totally manning what comes out of that Web site. If somebody hits our company, we get them processed within hours," he says. "It's all about speed. All the Web site can do for you is just attract people in the first place. Then it's up to you to put some processes in place to go and capture them."
Responding to candidates in a timely and effective manner is vital in the interests of leaving people with a positive impression from their interaction with your organisation. "The timeliness and effectiveness of dealing with applications is of paramount importance," says Morgan & Banks Technology (MBT) NSW manager Phil Tuck. "The IT market place is just so competitive you cannot afford to disenfranchise any candidate that could potentially be a future employee," You'll probably need a Webmaster and a team of developers to keep your page current. You may also have to accept that most of the people who respond may be totally unsuitable to the position advertised. Cisco keeps the number of applications handled by its recruiters at manageable numbers by sorting applicants at the front end, says human resources manager David Steinbeck.
Cisco's profiler sorts applicants by country, position, and by their responses to specific questions before the responses are consolidated then sent to an appropriate recruitment officer. The recruitment officer then decides whether to send an automated "thank you for your application, however at this point we don't have a position that suits you" response or to send the application through for further interrogation and assessment.
Cisco also offers an alert service that notifies people who've posted notification of their interest about appropriate vacancies as they arise. By contrast, Microsoft keeps costs down by not having an alert service. Instead, the onus is on those interested in working for Microsoft to keep an eye out for postings and apply for them as appropriate.
One of the most difficult challenges in online recruiting can be the management of client confidentiality. "I think one of the issues that's always arisen is people don't necessarily know what's going to happen to their resume once they've submitted it somewhere," Tuck says. "So I think that's certainly one of the salient reasons why the recruitment industry exists."
He points out that many recruitment agencies are bound by the code of ethics of the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association (RCSA), which has very strict guidelines regarding the way its member organisations deal with candidates.
"If you're dealing with a high-profile organisation, you would like to think confidentiality does prevail when they have those dealings; but some candidates I know are very cautious, particularly the more senior candidates. If you're a senior manager in the IT profession, then you're going to be a little bit more concerned about just applying to an organisation directly, when you're not quite sure what the level of confidentiality will be associated with that application," Tuck says.
Automated resume handling, using software from companies like Resumail and CareerBuilder, can help companies manage the entire recruitment process.
And value-add is an all-important watchword. Many job sites also offer career advice and career-assessment tools, or affinity programs that let candidates check their skills and experience against a database of peers. HotJobs even offers a feature that lets job seekers block out certain companies -- like a current employer -- from ploughing through the site's resume database. If you jam-pack your page with useful information and software you'll stand a better chance of encouraging candidates to keep checking back.
Build a Tickler File or database of passive candidates and check in with them periodically. Use the Net to build personal relationships with good candidates via e-mail newsletters, marketing brochures, product samples, and reports on new technologies.
Above all, never post your vacancies on newsgroups. A lot of the newsgroups, chat forums and special interest groups don't like recruiters or recruitment companies and will see your posting as a big, and unwelcome, intrusion.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.