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Talent Tools

Companies are gearing up for a recovery by applying some of the latest technological tools to the recruiting function.

Saturday, October 2, 2010
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The second of a three-part series

While reports of the death of the great recession of 2008-09 may be exaggerated (unemployment remains at double digits, after all), employers that slashed their recruiting budgets and staff during the worst of it may finally be peeking out from under the hiring covers.

The question is, while their recruiting efforts went dormant, did HR executives make the best of that downtime by exploring today's emerging technology applications and tools that other companies -- especially those that continued to hire during the recession -- have begun using to bring in the best possible talent? Among the so-called Web 2.0 options (are we at Web 3.0 yet?), that would mean wikis, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, Twitter, online video and other tools and platforms that can streamline, enhance and -- in many cases -- modernize the recruiting process.

"When you think about the kind of information that is now available via social networks, there is a very high level of transparency and willingness of people to have a LinkedIn profile," says Joseph Press, specialist leader in social media, in Deloitte's New York office.

Press says many people put out personal information around experience, education and salary, so recruiters with Internet research skills have a new treasure trove to dig into.

"Now, organizations have increased the potential to have the right resource to get the best possible talent at the right time," he says. "We see a significant use of social-media tools across the board."

In 2008, prior to the recession kicking in, these tools were not taken seriously, Press says. But now, social media and related technology tools can be used across HR for broad talent-management strategy and recruiting, both externally and internally.

"The trends I have seen in the last four to six months are less about the end of the recession and have more to do with what's gone on, generally, during the past two years," he says.

Michael Martin, a principal at New York-based Mercer, says with the recession receding, even slightly, clients continue to report that talent management -- engaging and making the right decisions when it comes to hiring -- continues to top the priority list for business leaders and heads of HR.

"Today, it's a buyer's market, but the more sophisticated the tools for high-volume recruiting, the better it is for employers," Martin says. "HR executives are looking to newer technologies, the Facebooks or LinkedIns, for improved efficiencies in accessing the candidates. And the smarter ones are making sure their recruiters, both internal and external, are tapping into those tools."

With the potential for economic expansion looming, say experts (including Press and Martin), now is an excellent time for HR executives who may have been on the fence to reconsider and reinvigorate their familiarity with recruiting technology -- especially if hiring needs call for younger, more tech-savvy talent. Martin and Press caution that taking a wait-and-see approach now could be very detrimental to the bottom line as the future unfolds -- even with economic conditions only improving slowly.

Facing a New Reality

Those experts will get no argument from Steve Lewis, executive director for talent acquisition at Deluxe Corp., the 95-year-old Minneapolis-based check-printing and small-business and financial-institution services provider.

When it comes to downturns, Lewis says, Deluxe was hit well before 2008, considering the company's prime business of check printing has been taking a hit for the last decade -- seeing a steady 5-percent-to-7-percent decline year after year as paper checks have continued to fall from favor, taken over by electronic payments via the Web.

As a result, Deluxe, which still prints checks, had to adjust its business model in its own private recession, by offering services such as Web hosting and search-engine marketing to small businesses and banks.

Naturally, when you move from being basically a printing company to one that provides web-based services, your talent needs change dramatically too, as do the ways in which you source and acquire that talent. So Lewis has experienced firsthand how it feels to add new tech-based recruiting tools to the Deluxe arsenal.

"We have been living the recession for a decade," says Lewis. "We have been through lots of restructuring and changes. With our new business model and the services we offer, it's caused us to completely retool our talent strategy."

For Deluxe, a $1.34 billion company with around 6,000 employees and 30 locations in the United States, Canada and Ireland, recruiting is not about numbers as much as it's about the type of talent needed. Even with the recession, Deluxe has been hiring, but its main target is people with many of the Web 2.0 skills that drive this new recruiting-technology trend.

"It's been a perfect storm," Lewis says. "The company was changing and needing new skills, and a lot of these skills require knowledge of Web 2.0. Where are those people hanging out? Online is the answer. So we must make sure these new tools are available to recruiters and marketing organizations, so we can get the word out.

"We're known as a check-[printing] company, so why would a person with that type of talent want to work here?" he adds. "We needed to answer that question."

Lewis says there is no better way to inform a lot of people quickly about a new brand and change in the company than with these types of tools. So, in those two regards, things have gone extremely smoothly.

Two additional critical steps, he adds, were to hire a talent-community manager, who focuses specifically on Deluxe's online talent channel, and bring in Jobs2Web, an interactive recruitment marketing firm, also in Minneapolis, that offers a technology platform specifically designed to help employers build a recruiting presence online.

"Jobs2Web gives us a platform to integrate and make sense of these tools," Lewis says, noting that the solution gives Deluxe a base for creating engaged two-way conversations with potential candidates.

"We are able to track advanced analytics through their dashboard, which allows us to target our job board and marketing spend," he says.

Apart from the technology, Lewis says the other key aspect of moving to these new recruiting tools is being authentic and honest, and one of the ways Deluxe does that is by featuring videos on its hiring portal.

"These are not slick, professionally produced videos, but basic videos of the hiring managers talking about the jobs available, what's unique about Deluxe, and why someone would want to work here," he says. "Plus, they get the chance to see their manager ahead of time, before they even apply."

Lewis is adamant that the role of talent community manager, filled at Deluxe by Stacy Van Meter just about eight months ago, is a critical recruiting piece. He describes it as a role that takes some parts of other recruiting jobs from the talent-sourcing function, but it's new in that it really requires someone with "incredible intelligence and curiosity" about the Internet.

"Stacy understands the new things coming out and how to apply them to recruiting," he says. For example, at a recent social media event Deluxe handed out 200 T-shirts printed with a QR code (quick-response, two-dimensional bar code). The QR code allows users with QR app-enabled phones to scan the code and then be sent directly to Deluxe's Facebook career site.

For her part, Van Meter says her job is to "create and evangelize" Deluxe's social-media-recruiting strategy. In many ways, the role requires her to be an integrated marketer, coordinating the elements of the promotional mix -- advertising, public relations, marketing and sales promotion -- to produce a customer-focused message and enhance the Deluxe brand.

"When I was hired, there were only two or three individuals nationwide with the same title and job responsibilities," says Van Meter, who -- in the 1990s -- built the first new media division for UnitedHealthcare Group. "Since coming to Deluxe, I've continually received questions from people who are beginning their journeys in the same type of role.

"Technology is always changing," she says. "My main focus now, literally, is to turn candidates into customers. By that, I mean we engage with them in a much different way than recruiting in the past. At the same time, we are turning employees into evangelists, asking them to share why they enjoy their jobs at Deluxe."

Apart from Van Meter's role on Web and tech-based recruiting tools, each of Deluxe's internal recruiters has social-media-technology skills as well.

"We need someone who is focused, but most of our recruiters are using LinkedIn or social sites," Lewis says "[Nevertheless,] it's more about how you strategically use these tools through an integrated approach. Metrics are also important. I need to show results in using these sources for hires and how it is cutting costs, so it's important to have those numbers."

Regarding numbers, Lewis says, in the past about one-quarter of Deluxe's hires, on average, were initiated through online technologies. However, a survey of the most recent hires showed that 66 percent found Deluxe via the Web.

"I completely believe[d] that 25 percent [could] only go up," he says. "We clearly have an advantage getting in early on these social-networking tools."

Hybrid Hiring

At Pepco Holdings Inc., a Washington-based energy delivery company in the Mid-Atlantic region that serves about 1.9 million customers, Conrad Samuels, the company's manager of talent acquisition, says the firm uses a "hybrid" recruiting model, with both internal recruiters and a vendor (DoubleStar Inc.) in a seamless process.

While the recession hasn't stopped the company's hiring activities, Samuels says, it has slowed them down a bit. But by using social-media technology tools, PHI has at least ensured it's getting its message out as much as possible and branding the organization as an option for any and all job applicants who visit the company's hiring portal.

"Plus, each member of our recruiting team has LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts," he says. "We use social media to post jobs, and to post locations for job fairs or events. For us, it's been a better way of connecting with candidates, especially passive candidates."

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PHI began experimenting with social media and other new technology-based recruiting tools in late 2008, just as the recession was getting under way.

"We were a little ahead of the curve, certainly in the utility and electric industry," Samuels says. "We use the recruiters we have always had, and they have learned how to take advantage of these options. Of course, some of the younger recruiters already had their own Facebook pages or Twitter accounts."

PHI had several recruiting-team members attend webinars and complete in-house training, including one-day recruiter workshop training, where they boned up on utilizing social media in terms of candidate searches and company branding.

Samuels says one critical aspect of moving to these newer tech tools is that, whatever you do, it has to be consistent with the organization's business goals and objectives. And it's also important to have a good applicant-tracking system in place, no matter what you use.

"All of these efforts will be in vain if you don't have the technology to manage the job-candidate flow," he says. "Also, no two companies have the same strategy, so you need to make sure you adopt a strategy that works best for your industry."

When it comes to candidate prospecting or sourcing, says Samuels, his recruiting staff takes the lead. But at last check, PHI had 200 to 300 other management employees who had LinkedIn or Facebook accounts, so in some cases, those managers could become candidate sources.

"While they don't recruit directly, certain professional circles include potential job candidates in our industry, so hiring managers may deliver some good candidates," he says. "But we keep the sourcing, branding and posting in our group."

For PHI, an organization in an industry that has had branding challenges with recent college graduates who may not even know there are opportunities in the energy sector, these new tech tools also allow the company to brand itself via a media platform that's very familiar with many of those specific job seekers.

"This industry faces the challenge of an aging workforce, so this is a great chance to tap into a younger group," he says.

Social Recruiting

Another employer, San Antonio-based Rackspace, a 2,900-employee hosting and cloud-computing provider, has continued to hire throughout the recession and has been consistently growing globally. Yet, according to Michael Long, Rackspace's leading "talent scout," Rackspace sometimes struggles -- as businesses do in most industries -- to find the right talent in the larger pool of potential employees.

To help convey the company culture and attract the best and brightest talent, Rackspace puts a major emphasis on its social-media footprint, using Facebook and Twitter to attract prospects and even developing its own sites for prospective employees, called Rackspace Talent.

"The site offers potential employees a sneak peek at current employees, the company blog, photos from company events and more," Long says.

Of course, being a technology company gives Rackspace, also a Jobs2Web platform user, a leg up. Consider that 800 of the company employees already have Twitter accounts.

"With social-media recruiting, we embrace the idea to open a window and let people see what it means to be a Racker," Long says. "So we create a space where they can apply for jobs, but also learn about our culture."

In terms of recruiting, Long says, it's "not enough just to be there," as in getting recruiters up to snuff on using these tools, but -- first and foremost -- employers need to figure out what they are trying to achieve. Most of all, he says, you need to be realistic, meaning you may and probably will need to hire someone specifically to manage social media and other emerging recruiting tools.

"You can't tell recruiters to learn it on the side," he says. Plus, he adds, any social-media recruiting effort almost requires a dedicated person, someone who is creative, but who also has an understanding of HR and recruiting fundamentals.

"You don't want a one-sided view," he says. "A lot of companies are going to need that specialized help to get these tech-recruiting efforts working."

Rackspace recruiters also attend conferences to source talent, including developers' conferences, such as a recent "open source" developer's conference.

"They just go to mingle," he says. "It's another way to find the right talent, people with the skills we need."

Doug Berg, founder and "chief recruiting geek" at Jobs2Web, says a lot of the firm's clients were smart and strategic during the recession, and now have an elevated number of talented job candidates in the pipeline. But for a lot of companies, it was lights out, and they had no ability to connect.

"When we turn the lights back on, they get a strategic staffing and supply chain," he says. "We give them a way to integrate the 'We may not be hiring, but keep in touch' message into their career portal. It seems like common sense, but a lot of employers have no way of doing it. Their recruiting function is just not set up that way."

In the end, Berg says, recruiting is marketing.

"Unfortunately, recruiting pretty much has been a manual process, with very little real marketing," he says. "The next evolution of the recruiting function is about marketing. Recruiters know that, deep down, they are marketers, but they need to have the right tools to succeed in this new social-media landscape."

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