Recruiting Tech 'State of the Union'

In a Q&A, Talent Function Group's Elaine Orler, a featured presenter at the upcoming HR Technology® Conference, sits down with Inside HR Tech Columnist and HR Technology® Conference Co-Chair Steve Boese to share her views on the complex and ever-changing world of recruiting technology.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013
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It's no surprise that the traditional leading source of innovation in HR technology is in the area of recruiting. Organizations have long realized that, in the intense environment that is today's competition for the best talent, technologies that can help them source, attract, engage, assess and hire can also offer them advantages in scale, efficiency and cost -- not to mention help raise the overall level of the organization's talent.

But tradition aside, the recruiting-technology landscape has grown increasingly complex over the last several years. Once limited to core applicant-tracking systems, today's recruiting solutions span numerous recruiting sub-functions. They've also embraced multiple methods of access and distribution, and are exploiting many traditional consumer-oriented approaches in areas such as social networking and video communication. With all this growth, innovation and increased complexity, it can be extremely difficult for an HR leader to stay up to date on the trends and new and emerging solutions, and to know where to focus his or her efforts.

In advance of the 16th Annual HR Technology® Conference slated for Oct. 7 through 9 in Las Vegas, conference Co-Chair Steve Boese conducted a Q&A with Elaine Orler, co-founder and president of the San Diego-based Talent Function Group, who will be a featured presenter at the event. A leading expert in recruiting technology and processes, Orler will lead a session titled "The Recruiting Technology State of the Union," as well as serve as a co-moderator for a panel discussion featuring executives from some of 2013's Candidate-Experience-Award-winning companies.

At the conference, Orler plans to break down -- and give attendees a glimpse into -- the complex, challenging and dynamic world that is recruiting technology. She also plans to dive into many of the concepts and technologies described below.

While just about every organization has implemented some type of applicant-tracking system in the last 10 or 15 years, it is also very common for recruiters to profess a lack of satisfaction with their ATS. How has the "core" of the recruiting-technology platform evolved over the years?

Within most large organizations, there has been a tremendous shift in the value proposition and alignment of the applicant-tracking system. Perhaps the biggest change that we continue to see is the absorption of the ATS into the full talent-management suite. Even though this shift began about five years ago, we are only now beginning to see the first integrated purchase and implementation decisions that encompass end-to-end recruiting, performance and learning all on one platform. In my mind, this shift has created a huge distraction for ATS providers that chose to focus on the full TM suite. As business adoption increases for TM-suite solutions, I think some companies will move back to replacing their ATS for the suite solution.

About two years ago, we started to see a second shift overlap with the TM shift because of the acquisitions of several key TM providers. Conversations today still speak to product names such as Taleo, SAP, SuccessFactors, Oracle, but those conversations have become increasingly complex. Saying, "Our organization uses Jobs2Web for talent networks, Taleo for applicant tracking and SAP for ERP," now means, "We use SAP on top of Oracle on top of SAP." Plus, in the past, talent-acquisition leaders might have made the purchase decisions for the talent network and ATS, while nowadays, there is a fundamental challenge in maintaining and extending those relationships for IT organizations going forward.

Are the complaints we often hear from recruiters and from applicants about ATS fair? Are ATSs still the foundation they were a few years ago?

With all of the push-and-pull surrounding ATS solutions, at the core of recruiting technology, innovation is absent. A large, untapped utilization of capabilities in the core systems persists -- an issue most organizations are failing to recognize. If today's market was optimized to use existing ATS solutions above the typical 30 percent of capabilities and utilization, we would see greater success in system performance and adoption.

I consider product satisfaction to be one of those factors that is a journey rather than a destination. In essence, recruiters are people people. The best recruiters are brilliant negotiators who thrive on interacting with candidates and [engaging in] the subsequent sales process [with] either the candidate or hiring manager after identifying the best fit for the position. When you tie recruiters to a desk and ask that they track everything they do, without considering how they do it, you cripple their effectiveness and lay the groundwork for resentment. However, when you provide an experience that is representative of the recruiters' responsibilities, this alerts them to factors important to their work and reminds them of actions, activities and meetings, thereby creating a process that is critical to recruiting success. Designing ATS, candidate-relationship-management or any other recruiting technology without first considering the audience and the activities critical to business success will lead to disappointment.

This concept can be applied to the job seeker as well. It's become glaringly apparent that we have some organizations that have over-engineered their recruiting processes just by walking an hour in an applicant's shoes.

There is so much going on in the world of recruiting technology, it seems. What are the main elements or components of a modern, comprehensive recruiting-technology platform for an organization today?

One of my favorite questions to ask an audience is how many recruiting technologies they use. Generally, their answers range from three to five. After I tell them that I bet I can increase their answers up to eight to 10, the real fun begins. Recruiting technology comes in all shapes and forms, and the audience quickly starts to realize, "Oh, we use that one, too." While it can be overwhelming to think about the number of solutions necessary to deliver recruiting today, when organizations take the time to inventory the solutions they use, they can visualize where the gaps are and how the different components need to work. Clarity into what is working and what isn't becomes greater. [See Figure 1 for an illustration of recruiting's many parts.]

There is a strong value proposition in leveraging the right recruiting solutions with the opportunity to identify and solve gaps without disrupting the entire process. [See Figure 2 for an example of a modern, comprehensive recruiting-technology platform, demonstrating the most common recruiting solutions used by organizations that are leaders in both recruiting and delivery.]

Which newer components tend to offer an organization a competitive advantage versus simply automating processes or gaining efficiencies?

Beyond the ATS, the second-most popular solution organizations employ are candidate-relationship-management tools. CRM products provide a warehouse for talent data, not restricted by applicant-data models. The abilities to tie in social profiles, engage in marketing and relationship-building tactics, and monitor the relationship growth with various talent types are now as essential to the process as the regulatory applicant-tracking capabilities. Another category that stands out from the crowd is video interviewing, a category explored in the May 2013 issue of Human Resource Executive® magazine. [My] session at the [conference] will explore talent communities, assessment, and social and market intelligence as categories of aggressive innovation in the present recruiting space. We intend to discuss vendor products, capabilities, features and functions, and will dive into the most significant evolution taking place in the recruiting-system interface -- platform agnostic (or mobile).

What are some of the common problems that organizations you've worked with encounter in today's recruiting process, and how have the most successful ones approached and deployed technology to address these challenges? Where are there still gaps or unmet potential in the currently available solutions that would benefit organizations?

As the recruiting process continues to change and evolve, there are two common missteps that organizations sometimes make in their acceleration. First, many companies race to acquire new technology to solve [the volume challenge], without fully understanding the specific problem. People constantly ask, "What is the best recruiting system?" My answer is always the same because what's best for one company may not be best for another company. The best recruiting solution is one that addresses a company's needs, for today and tomorrow, taking into account what the company can manage over time. When the pressure to hire begins to weigh on the recruiting team, the ability to apply logic and understanding to selecting technology is often overshadowed by the urgency to enact a short-term solution. This leaves companies with fragmented products and multiple logins because speed won out over quality, and the company's needs, capabilities and integration process were never defined.

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Also, acceleration can create the need to readdress the roles and responsibilities in recruiting. This causes the second misstep that companies can make. End-to-end recruiting roles may become two -- strategic sourcing and talent advisers -- whereby the hunt for talent is required by one team but the cultivation of hiring is led by another team. While either model can be effective, issues arise when the systems are not optimized for the new model or abandoned in its place. Recruiting technology is only beneficial when used to enable the business; cutting corners during configuration and integration will direct companies away from enablement.

How have changes in technology outside the enterprise -- such as social networking, mobile devices and the growth of video -- changed how organizations recruit today, and consequently, how have they changed the types of recruiting-technology innovations we've seen in the last few years?

Social, mobile and video solutions continue to influence recruiting performance. It wasn't too long ago that the concept of having an online profile or career page was a new innovation. Now, to amplify open positions to job seekers, employers need to offer a full careers destination in addition to a Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter careers feed, Pinterest or Instagram presence, and so on to stay competitive.

Ultimately, innovation will come full circle with regard to the alignment of data capture and management with candidate experience. We might see the ability for job seekers, active or not, to recognize a brand logo using their smartphone camera -- such as Google Glass -- and render a list of career opportunities pre-sorted by fit based on their Google+ profile, all native to their device and one-click expression of interest to keep informed or apply for opportunities. Data will be extendable based on permissions and not bound by the need to create an account for every system, every time. This type of innovation and connection will compress the linear model from weeks to days to hours.

Tell us a little bit about the Candidate Experience Awards you co-founded and, more importantly, how far this work has come in just a couple of years. Why should organizations spend time and resources creating and providing a positive candidate experience? How has focusing on this experience benefitted the companies that have made it a priority?

The Candidate Experience Awards (a.k.a. CandE Awards) were created to fill a gap in the recruiting industry and recognize those companies going the extra mile to treat applicants and candidates with respect. Founded in late 2010, our mission and goal was to create an inclusion-based award process that evaluates companies based on a proclamation of how companies offer a positive candidate experience, validated by the candidates. The winning companies are elevated for striving to make a difference in recruiting.

Almost every day, another article is published detailing how poor the candidate experience is [and] the lack of respect candidates receive. The Candidate Experience Awards set out to raise the bar. In 2011, more than 11,000 candidates responded; in 2012, more than 17,000 candidates participated. We are entering our third year ... and just launched the 2013 award process. This year's winners will be announced at the HR Technology® Conference during our reception Monday night, Oct. 7. Several winning companies will be on hand to discuss best practices for candidate experience in an Oct. 8 session.

The most compelling information from the Candidate Experience data is the validation that what all candidates really want in terms of treatment is the Golden Rule: "Treat me the way you want to be treated." Year after year, the winning companies demonstrate the Golden Rule as part of the experience and their candidates confirm it to be true. At times, there are disconnects between candidate expectations and the practices and standards that employers implement, and that's where negative experiences come in. But that's why the CandE Awards are so important. They're helping to expose those areas so employers can be aware and make process and technology adjustments based on that awareness. Through the research they're learning more about the ways in which candidates engage in the recruiting process.

We examine a variety of measurements by gender and age to determine if, and where, expectations vary between men and women, baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials. So far, we have found that -- more often than not -- there is not as much variation as everyone assumes. All candidates want to know where they stand in the application process. Each demographic confirmed that they would tell at least half of their inner circle about a positive or negative candidate experience. While the majority of candidates are unlikely to publish their experience publicly, this trend appears to be changing. [Details about the 2013 competition can be found at]

For more information on the 16th Annual HR Technology® Conference and Expo, to be held at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Oct. 7 through 9, visit

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