HR Technology Column

Replicating Human Interactions Online

Two companies are trying to replicate human interactions online for social networking and recruiting. They each face enormous competition but have special ideas that could set them apart.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007
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Sometimes it seems the technology industry wants us all to stop talking face to face, physically meeting together or interacting in any way except through the Internet or a wireless device.

Certainly the "Millennial" generation -- young people just now entering the workforce -- have that down pat using Facebook, MySpace or Instant Messaging on their computers or texting on their cell phones to keep in touch with both far-flung friends and those who live across the hall. For them, e-mail is much too slow, though they may write some while doing two or three other things at the same time.

(If you recognize those names and terms, but don't quite understand them yet, two sessions will explain them and show you how they work at the HR Technology Conference® from October 10 to 12 at Chicago's Navy Pier.)

Corporate HR departments are beginning to catch on to the value young workers are getting, and recently two companies briefed me on applications that replicate ordinary human interactions online. And maybe make them better or easier.

One is SelectMinds, a seven-year-old business in New York that started life creating alumni networks for major service firms, especially lawyers and accountants.

Those big firms have long seen the advantage of keeping in touch with their alumni and treating them well. Some come back to work. Some of the younger ones who failed to make partner often get jobs as deputy general counsel or junior controller with potential new clients or, often, with existing clients. And they help promote good will and loyalty to their old firms.

So in addition to the telephone calls and e-mails, a social network tying them to the mother ship made perfect sense.

Now with 60 clients using the system, some globally in the 13 available languages, SelectMinds has expanded its uses to recruiting women, interns, college graduates and retirees, and eventually will include the whole enterprise of employees.

Once everyone is on the network, SelectMinds hopes to substitute for looking over the cubicle wall to ask, "Do you know anything about ... ?" Instead, through a combination of searching and reading the profiles of co-workers and keyword searches, employees can scan the entire company for the people with the knowledge and expertise they need.

Then they can use a series of LinkedIn-type connections or just boldly contact someone directly. Hardly necessary for a small company, but imagine if you worked for IBM (which is a client)!

In August, SelectMinds raised its first venture capital round of $5.5 million from Bessemer Venture Partners in New York.

The other company has the catchy name "itzbig" and is the latest attempt to replace the big job boards for sourcing candidates. Many people keep trying to do that -- CareerBuilder founder Rob McGovern's Market10 comes to mind -- but no one has yet succeeded.

In his own second act, itzbig's Hank Stringer may have a shot. Back in the '90s, he had a vision to allow corporate recruiters to act more like headhunters and embodied it in a company called, subsequently sold to Authoria in Waltham, Mass.

Now, he is back with a sourcing network that automates a lot of the human interactions first enabled by His basic premise, as it's always been, is to give the candidate as much privacy and control over information as corporations traditionally enjoy in the hiring process.

itzbig has $6 million in venture money and has been working for a year to go live in the major cities of Texas, from its base in Austin, with employers such as Raytheon, AMD and Applied Materials.

Basically, here's how it works. Companies post jobs by filling in data fields. Candidates can start with three simple things: what kind of work they want, where they want to work and an e-mail address. The system immediately shows them jobs that match their interests, with a percentage of how well they match.

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Then the fun begins. As candidates flesh out their profiles using the same fields, their match scores change automatically. Of course, recruiters get the same thing: candidates that match and their percentages. And again, in real time, they can see what changing their own job requirements does to the matches and percentages.

Each can call up details on the other (if they haven't chosen to hide them) and, if they both get interested enough, can communicate through various channels, including the system's own internal chat function.

Yes, it's a lot more work than pulling a thousand resumes off Monster. But so much more targeted, and Stringer thinks it will be used by the recruiters' long-sought Holy Grail: the passive candidate or what he prefers to call the "quiet working professional."

He is starting with IT professionals (naturally, since every recruiting system in the last 10 years has used a "java programmer" as its demo example). And plans to hit the big time, Silicon Valley, in November.

Stringer's friends in the recruiting business -- widely known experts such as Kevin Wheeler of Global Learning Resources and Gerry Crispin of CareerXroads -- have declared itzbig the greatest thing since sliced bread: A concept that will fundamentally change the sourcing game.

Pardon the cliché, but only time will tell. After all, two years later, McGovern is still rolling out Market10 across the country, and the cost of attracting candidates to a new online recruiting service is steep. Remember those HotJobs and Monster commercials on the Super Bowl? Six million dollars now may only buy you a minute.

HRE's Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is also co-chairman of the 10th Anniversary HR Technology Conference® & Exposition in Chicago, Oct. 10 through 12. Registration discounts (expiring on Sept. 14) and full program details are available at He can be reached at


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