Internet recruiting: the revolution goes mainstream

To reach her 10th-floor office in downtown Toronto, Kim Peters must pass through the tail end of a work site, bypassing the main doors to the building which are still under construction.

The scaffolding and plywood boarding remain invisible, of course, to the half-a-million visitors whom Peters, the president of, welcomes electronically every month. The fact that her physical world is still under construction is a tangible metaphor for the entire world of recruiting, which is still being built around her. Though the arrival of the Internet is within very short memory for recruiters, it is rapidly rewriting the rules.

Digital tools are certainly not new to HR practitioners: some corporations were using candidate databases 30 years ago. The Internet was new, professionally speaking, to most recruiters in this country just two years ago. As recently as 1999, many of today’s corporate career sites didn’t exist; neither did many of the Canadian job boards such as or The Web-enabled applicant tracking system providers (generically knows as Application Service Providers, or ASPs) such as Vancouver-based Inc. and Ottawa-based Inc., have emerged since 1999.

“Recruiting is one of the later corporate functions to come around to Internet technology,” says Randy Guy, vice-president, sales and marketing for Spintopia. “But, that’s changing. What was revolutionary two years ago is evolutionary today.”

The Internet is the ultimate tool for recruiting. Its global reach, ease of use and low cost makes it the perfect medium for massive job posting, world-wide career searching, resume gathering, applicant tracking and instant communication.

One of the earlier Canadian organizations to capitalize on the U.S. trend toward aggressively selling the Internet as a recruiting medium was The company started out several years ago as a regional, mostly high-tech recruiting agent in the Ottawa area. Then, in 1999, the organization, renamed E-Cruiter, went national with an array of products that position it as one of the high-end human resource ASPs.

In fact, E-Cruiter claims to be the Cadillac of Canadian offerings, billing itself as an end-to-end “hiring management system.” In other words, it doesn’t limit itself to providing Internet services but will also advertise jobs via more traditional means, gather resumes, sort and sift them, short-list them, then provide all the communications necessary to get the short list to a hire.

Spintopia introduced Vision2Hire to the Canadian market last spring, offering what Guy describes as “somewhat less functionality, though at much less cost, than E-Cruiter or automated HR information systems like Oracle, SAP or PeopleSoft.”

Guy and E-Cruiter chief operating officer Rob Richards both say their Web-enabled recruiting tools and the opportunities they offer are rapidly winning over the HR sector.

Guy adds that while the current penetration of Web-enabled tools for recruiters is less than a quarter of the market, on the order or 15-20 per cent, “that has to be seen in the context of how young this market is. Just a few months ago, I would have said we had about 10 per cent of the market. Within six months I believe we will have grown to about the 25 per cent mark.”

Richards concurs. “I believe that pretty well 100 per cent of the larger companies we see as E-Cruiter’s market are using at least e-mail as a communication tool and, in the main, they have or are moving towards career sites attached to their corporate Web sites.

“How many of these are taking much advantage of the opportunities and functionality offered by other Internet-enabled HR tools? Maybe 10 per cent. But the good news is that that’s changing.”

As a recruiting tool, the Internet is a rapidly rising tide that corporate recruiters, recruiting consultants and service providers alike anticipate will lift them all.

In the words of Brian Pascal, head of the Association of Professional Recruiters of Canada, “Internet recruiting is pervasive. Whether they like it or don’t like it, this is the way it’s going to be done in the future. There is no going back to paper.”

Few would find fault with Pascal’s definitive take on Web-enabled HR. According to Vancouver-based consultant Deborah Macadam, principal of Deborah Macadam & Associates Inc., recruiters can’t afford not to move substantive recruiting efforts to the Internet. “The cost-effectiveness of the Internet versus traditional career advertising methods is compelling,” she says. “Internet marketing can run as little as one-tenth the price tag for more traditional advertising channels. To an increasing extent for us, it’s replacing those channels.

“Clearly, the Internet is one of many tools a recruiting organization will use,” she says. “Traditional career advertising means and traditional back office tools aren’t by any means irrelevant.”

Consider very high-level executive searches. No organization is sourcing a new CEO solely via the Internet. “That being said, the diversity and richness of Internet tools for recruiters is substantial,” Macadam maintains.

“First and foremost, recruiting is a marketing and corporate brand exercise,” says Macadam. Organizations that use the Internet to position their corporate brands in compelling ways will attract the largest number of responses and draw the best-quality candidates.

Back at workopolis, Kim Peters agrees. “Research on our own site shows us clearly that those organizations that effectively advertise the company and career in a posting will get high-volume and high-quality response. We had one ad posted that basically said ‘Wanted. CFO for Mississauga-based company.’ Period. That was it. I don’t imagine the response rate to that was huge.”

Another advantage the Internet offers recruiters is its immense reach. “The Internet permits job postings from Vancouver to England to Israel to India and back again,” says Macadam. “Everyone, everywhere is surfing career postings on the Internet.”

While Brian Pascal notes that this kind of reach can be a mixed blessing, as would-be employers are faced with “vast volumes of resumes from unqualified candidates,” the ASPs or high-end, applicant tracking systems typically provide pre-screening questions that thin the thundering herds to manageable proportions. That’s an immediate benefit.

Once these tools have trimmed the number of applicants, a database of pre-qualified candidates is created which is a long-term benefit. Macadam notes, it resides outside an organization on its service providers computers, which prevents the necessity of any significant new hardware or software investment.

“Once the database exists, the tools are available to manage resumes and the information career-seekers provide with great effectiveness. Resumes can be stored, sorted and short-listed automatically based on pre-set criteria, she notes. “The saving in both cost and shrinking HR departmental resources is very attractive.”

Even after a hire, the database has tremendous potential as a resource for future requirements. The tracking systems allow hiring managers to initiate ongoing communications via e-mail to candidates with whom they believe it would be beneficial to stay in touch.

Global HR giant Watson Wyatt, in its most recent Human Capital Index, suggests that those organizations that attract and retain talent well see a direct link to corporate effectiveness and worth.

Their survey, which includes U.S. and Canadian organizations, finds a direct link between recruiting excellence, market and shareholder value. “It’s a straight line from superior recruiting to the corporate bottom line,” says Watson Wyatt’s David Reynolds. “Companies that excel see dramatic gains in the worth of the organization. That’s a potent argument.” The Index suggests those gains can range as high as 30 per cent.

Back in Kim Peters’ office, 10 floors above the reconstruction efforts at her front door, the view of Toronto’s canyon of corporate headquarters is fairly clear. So is her perspective on recruiting. While she, herself, was hired the old-fashioned way, Peters believes hers may have been the last generation to navigate its way into the working world purely via paper.

The challenge for the recruiting profession is to seize these new electronic opportunities. Demographics and the new economy are imposing on recruiters an unrelenting competition for the best people: a race that will be won by those who are open to any and all means available. As Brian Pascal says, “this is the future.”

Victor Hayes is a Toronto-based freelance writer. He can be reached at (416) 994-0535 or [email protected].

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