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HR Technology Column

Finally, Job Candidates Catch a Break!

Can you imagine anything worse right now than being unemployed? With the way many companies treat job candidates? Their lives may have gotten just got a little better thanks to StartWire, a new service from two recruiting technology pros. Using social-network technology (of course), they're making job-hunting go viral.

Monday, January 10, 2011
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Ever since the software industry first started automating recruiting in 1988, it's always been for the benefit of hiring companies, never the candidates. Why? Companies have more money.

Twenty-two years later, nearly every company of any size has an Applicant Tracking System and some have a system for Candidate Relationship Management, which they use to market jobs to prospects.

Despite the systems' capabilities, many companies also use them to treat candidates rather poorly. (I resist saying, "like dirt.")

This was amply illustrated by Elaine Orler (CEO of Talent Function) during her debate with CareerXroad's Gerry Crispin at the last HR Technology® Conference.

Gerry continues that discussion on LinkedIn with his aptly-titled post "Treat Candidates as Customers: Never Happen."

I guess that's no different than the rest of the business world, where some buyers love kicking around potential sellers -- just because they can. It's more galling when the perceived seller is a solitary person, often unemployed.

That balance of power won't change until prospects are seen as "consumers of work," as Libby Sartain, former HR VP of Yahoo! and Southwest Airlines, terms it. In short, not until prospects are seen as the buyers, and companies, as the sellers. Don't hold your breath.

But two early employees of AIRS (now owned by The RightThing) -- former CEO Chris Forman and SVP Tim McKegney -- are taking a step in that direction by launching a free software system aimed at benefiting candidates in job-hunting.

Their company is called StartDate Labs, and the new service, StartWire, launches today (Jan. 10).

Imagine job-seekers having their own Application Tracking System plus another for Company Relationship Management. That's StartWire's promise, understandably far from fully realized in Version 1.0, which will evolve quickly.

Naturally, StartWire includes a new use of social-network functionality (what new product wouldn't these days?) that really could help candidates in their job searches. And the timing is perfect: When better than right now with our 15.1 million unemployed?

With StartWire, jobseekers create a private social network to collaborate with their real friends (not their 5,000 Facebook contacts) for real help. They can post companies they are considering, have applied or are headed to for interviews, and friends can comment back with useful help ("Hey, my sister-in-law works there!") and advice.

Sure, every unemployed person contacts his or her friends for help but rarely circles back a second or third time ("I don't want to be a pest.") or keeps them up to date on the hunt. StartWire, like LinkedIn, will send them a weekly e-mail on what you've been up to and facilitates their reply with counsel or consolation.

In short, StartWire is job-hunting gone viral.

It also helps job hunters build their networks by grabbing all of their contacts from Facebook, Gmail and LinkedIn and providing check boxes next to their names or pictures to invite them to join en masse.

The network is fundamental to StartWire's value proposition, and makes it unique. But I think the coolest feature in the first release is a two-part network analysis focusing on the intersection of people and companies -- which reflects the real world of looking for a job.

The first part aggregates all the companies your contacts work at, not just your invited friends. So you can pick from a list of target companies where you're at least connected to the most people, plus see company jobs that match your profile.

Getting help from just one person at a company can, of course, turn a cold application headed for the infamous "Black Hole" of recruiting into an employee referral. And we all know how powerful those are!

Second is a list of all your contacts from LinkedIn with the number of companies they have connections to. Perhaps you can truly befriend some with the largest number of companies. Maybe even enough to bring them into your private network? Would you be that manipulative? I hope so!

StartWire also offers expert advice from the two founders and a Dartmouth academician on how to look for work. Later, it will add six certified career coaches offering free counseling.

No resume-writing services yet. The Ladders, JobFox and ExecuNet already do that. Forman is hoping to create a marketplace of resume writers to bid on individual projects.

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Most importantly, Forman promises some functionality next year to battle the "Black Hole," providing StartWire users with information on whether their applications have been received, if the jobs are still open and whether their applications are active.

Again, this won't change the balance of power, but as Gerry points out, it is an "end run on the most difficult problem faced by job seekers after they apply: feedback."

If it works, candidates could start creating their own recruiting experience, rather than be subjected to companies' candidate experience.

Otherwise StartWire offers some pretty standard job-hunting functionality powered by Indeed, the job aggregator, plus suggestions of job boards to use.

And how is StartWire going to make money? Not by charging candidates but by selling them -- like a lot of other companies do. With their permission, of course.

The largest object on the home page asks candidates to upload their resumes and share them with "7,000 employers and job boards." Currently 13 of those will pay StartWire a few bucks for each one. Plus Indeed pays some pennies for each click on its job ads.

I think that's all just fine. So let me leave the last word to Elaine, whom I've long considered the final word in recruiting technology, old and new.

She says, "StartWire is one of these solutions taking a fresh look at job search. They are delivering a suite of user-friendly tools that promise to make it a lot more efficient and effective."

And maybe fairer. OK, next to the last word.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 14th Annual HR Technology┬« Conference & Exposition, Oct. 3-5, 2011, in Las Vegas. Speaking proposals were due Jan. 5 but are still being accepted. Forms are available on the website, where nearly 80 blogs about last year's event are posted. You can comment on this column at the Conference LinkedIn Group , which does not require prior attendance to join. He is also host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show┬«. He can be reached at bkutik@earthlink.net .  

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