Wednesday, February 16, 2005

On job boards

ER Daily has published a great article by Raghav Singh on job boards, and why they have yet to meet their promise. It's worth reading

For the most part I think he is spot on, though I am not quite so pessimistic regarding their potential success. I believe that there are a few contributing factors which serve to lessen the benefits for both employers and candidates.

First, most job boards don't provide decent job search tools. Whilst geography searching is possible it is rarely well done. Why not give weighting to search results based on accurate distances from the candidates home address to place of work. This would be pretty easy to implement. Even better would be 'time to work', but my guess is that this would require too much server load at the moment.

Better still would be adding information such as salary and enabling search by that as well. In many countries recruiters rarely put salary on jobs. I think that this will change over time. The more information available the more preselection the candidate can do.

For employers more automatic or semi-automatic selection will aid coping with large numbers of applications. I am yet to be convinced that the CV is the most useful piece of information that a candidate could provide to help selection. Some recruitment systems allow the recruiter to ask several job-specific questions. Ask the killer questions and you get a good view of suitability. Link with external testing tools if this is part of your process.

The dream for employers would be that all their jobs get viewed by the largest possible number of applicants but they are presented by a short list of highly qualified applicants, presenting information in a way to help the decision making process. Technology can certainly help here.

For candidates the dream is to be served only the most relevant jobs. A job board type system that could learn which jobs interested the individual would be beneficial. One with much greater opportunities to search, using defined fields would be a significant help.

Searching is a huge cost to both groups and a key factor making the process inefficient. I cannot see the current job board model changing. I stand by my earlier views on new players coming into the space bringing new business models. Better acceptance of HR-XML format documents would dramatically increase efficiencies.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Monster users in Europe

Interesting data from the OECD Observer.

Monster users registerd in Europe

click here for larger image

Career Insights

A few days late I know, but a recent Harvard Business School "Working knowledge" newsletter has a great interview with Monica Higgins based on her forthcoming book "Career Imprints: Creating Leaders Across an Industry"

What is career imprinting? Well she defines it as:
Career imprinting refers to the process by which individuals pick up or cultivate a certain set of capabilities, connections, confidence, and cognition due to their work experiences at a particular employer.

Career imprints are associated with particular organizations; they derive from patterns in the career experiences that people share as a result of working at that organization. Therefore, we can talk about certain capabilities, connections, confidence, and cognition that might be associated with having worked at GE during a particular point in time—this would be a "GE career imprint."

Why is this important? Well, certain companies (at certain times) are more likely to generate traits that lead success later on. Prof. Higgins highlights this:
I have collected career history information of the approximately 3,200 executives who took biotech firms public between 1979 and 1996; these data show that almost one quarter of these firms had someone on their IPO team who once worked at Baxter. Even after accounting for Baxter's size—Baxter was smaller than firms such as J&J that also spawned executives into biotech—Baxter generated a disproportionate number of leaders in the biotechnology industry.

This obviously has implications for recruiters (many will tell you they have used this technique for many year) but also to a company's talent management group. Of course just because someone is from X doesn't automatically mean that they are great, but getting a better understanding of the background of your top talent (compared to others) would be beneficial.

The use of geographic data

John Sumser in the Feb. 10 edition of the Electronic Recruiting News discussed geographical issues with web Recruiting.

Geography is highly relevant when considering recruitment. Most candidates do not wish to relocate, and research shows that this is going to become more likely as in the future. John discusses using databases and recruitment systems to identify roles within particular areas and whilst this would be a great start there is more to it than that. As he suggests, the postal code (zip code in US) is key.

Geography in recruitment strategies

Understanding the people living in your locality is hugely beneficial when planning expansion, looking at retention & predicting sustainability of workforce etc. The underlying question is 'given our catchment area is this strategy implementable?'

There are a few data sources that you should be considering. I will consider this in the UK perspective but similar data is available for all major economies.

In the UK the official labour market data is provided by Nomis, which is based at the University of Durham. The Nomis site provides lots of great information for free which makes it the perfect starting point. If we look at the area where I grew up, Sefton (link to Nomis information), you can see information about the size of the workforce, the number of people looking for work, the split between male and female, the types of jobs that they are doing etc. This gives you an idea of your total available population.

The second source you should look at is your HR database. The three bits of data you are interested in are:

Postcode of residence (home address)
Postcode of workplace
Postcode when they applied to you - shows if they moved since starting work, indicating relocation. This last bit of data might come from your Application tracking system, however it is less likely that these were linked to your main HR system.

By combining the first two you can understand how far people have to travel to work. You can use this data to understand where it is likely people are going to be living for recruitment purposes. At lower levels recruitment is highly locally based.

You can also look at retention and recruitment difficulties by geography. Given that time spent commuting is a major factor in retention it can be useful to understand the probability of someone resigning based on distance to work.

Another aspect to look at is the distribution of travel distances over time. As the local market becomes exhausted you start to see distances travelled increasing as people are sourced further away. This is a great predictor of recruitment difficulties and can even be used to determine when larger offices should be reduced in size and new centres created.

The final information source you can use is household databases used by marketing companies. This information will often give you a very detailed overview of the types of people who live in an area. If you know for example the distribution of incomes you can get a more accurate view of the relevant labour market size. This is useful when considering using location based advertising (such as posters). One large retailer found that their second most successful advertising channel for the majority of their jobs was bus shelters (after a notice in the branch). Given the marketing information it would be possible to work out which bus routes would be the most successful, or potentially even which bus shelters.

Back to online recruitment, what would help? Well my personal view is that the adoption of the HR-XML format for the resume would provide us with a more accurate way of understanding geographies. Given that the data format tells systems which bits of the resume (or CV) contains the geographic data searching by geography becomes very simple. Searching for candidates on geography becomes much easier.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Making a successful graduate recruitment site

Australia's Business Review Weekly has a short article about Swedish consultancy Potentialpark Communications review of Australian careers sites. It says that the vast majority of sites fall short of being great (article for subscribers).

BRW notes:
The study also found that many sites were not effectively targeting people they wanted to attract, which can result in large numbers of online applications from unsuitable candidates. What many company web sites fail to do is respect job seekers' time. The best sites, such as Coles Myer, are able to tell potential recruits how their job application is progressing.

Failing to explain the company's culture was also seen as an issue with many sites.

Google's recruitment struggles impacting expansion.

The Wall Street Journal today ran an article describing how Google's expansion plans were being slowed by its recruitment process.

"Can we hire the quality and quantity of people we want to? No," said co-founder Sergey Brin, speaking before several hundred analysts at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. "We're underinvesting in our business because of the limitations of hiring." Google said it has more than 3,000 employees, up from 2,292 in June.

The article appears to be for subscribers only.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Little Britain

A very sad announcement in the UK today on the tightening of immigration to the UK.

Immigration is always a hot subject, and one where economic reasoning rarely seems to match the country's mood. But mostly governments hold a delicate balance - they talk tough and recognise the need, giving out visas quite liberally.

The UK seems to be reversing that, and, for a Brit that is very sad. Why? Because I truly believe that the country should be encouraging immigration not discouraging it.

The UK scheme seems loosely based on the Australian one - a points based one to encourage the 'right' skills. Student visas and low-skill visas will be reduced.

What is the reality?

First the demand is not just strong at the top but also at the bottom (I wrote about this before). This is not just in the UK but many other developed countries. Localisation of low skill labour is increasingly needed as an economy grows more wealthy, or old. What happens when you make visas harder for these people to acquire? Well the ILO quite correctly states that you don't cut immigration, you just cut legal immigration. My own Canton recently asked for an amnesty on illegal immigrants - Walk around Geneva, talk to it's residents and you realise that the area depends on a large influx of (illegal) immigrants. By cutting this you also increase the cost of living and reduce economic growth for all.

Secondly, the UK seems to be having a net emigration of young men according to official statistics. It is hard to accurately assess this but given both anecdotal evidence (I know quite a few, me included) and the fact that they have gone to other economies with strict visa controls for qualified labour it would suggest that the UK has a drain of highly educated young men.

Given that many students stay where they graduate does a policy of discouraging students seem a good one? The UK is losing its educated young and blocking one of the best potential solutions.

Third. Is modeling your immigration strategy on a country with an overheated labour market such a great one? Australia's economy needs more workers in many sectors.

Finally, companies are being faced with a very simple choice. Import in workers or export jobs. Stop immigration and guess which it will be?

I could go on but I won't. It's a very sad day.

Search engines and recruiting

The Online Recruitment Blog (via has a good set of articles on online marketing. Worth a look includes HR, meet Marketing

The article covers recruiters using AdWords or similar to ensure that they are well placed on searches. I have both designed these programmes and worked with a very capable web team at a large ad agency to manage other programmes. A few lessons learnt include:

1) Buy your company's name. Sounds obvious but you would be surprised how many firms when you search "jobs companyname" are delivered the result "companyname to outsource to India" or similar.

2) Keep your AdWords tightly defined (for specialist skills)

3) Monitor results and change words regularly.

Why use AdWords? Well there is quite a lot of evidence showing the jobseekers go to their favourite search engine when looking for a new job. This points them to the job-boards, companies etc that they will often use later on. Get them at the search engine stage and you will capture them at the beginning of their campaign.

Often, job seekers will then start to go directly to their favourite job boards (a big one or two and some niche ones) thereby missing the Googles of this world out of the equation. AdWords (or any other Pay per click advertising) is less good at this stage, therefore you cannot rely just on PCP, but it is a very cost effective tool to add to your job search.

There has been a lot of talk about niche job boards. Whilst I agree that their time has come I am not convinced it indicates a long-term trend.

Job boards make their money from providing a useful function, namely bringing together lots of jobs at one place, thus enabling the user to use one site rather than searching many. Niche boards work because the search functions on the big boards isn't terribly smart and the user is delivered a lot of noise. Going niche cuts this.

The cost of advertising on a board brings benefits. First it reduces the noise and secondly of course the board benefits with revenue. Some of the larger ones tremendously.

Why do I not think therefore that niche boards will be the big story in the future? Because I think it will be a search engine, and given its stance on independence of search results (or at least transparency) I wouldn't put any money on Google not entering the space.

If you are a large organisation the chances are you use one of a pretty small number of applicant tracking systems to post jobs onto your site. Most of these sites use an HR-XML structure to communicate their data with other services. Having the data in this format gives you far more accuracy when you are searching - it would be pretty easy to do geographical searches for example because the XML makes it clear which part of the data is about geography.

Let's consider a scenario, one that I don't think is out of the question.

1) someone with a relatively large power decides to compete with the job boards with great search technology, based on HR-XML and not charge for inclusion, at least not for the basic functionality (of course they could add PCP advertising alongside search results)

2) To get the major firms to include all they need to do is contact about 10 companies (the major ATS providers) to ask for a feed. Given that the ATS providers want their clients to have the maximum success from using their systems I can not see a reason why they wouldn't want to link.

3) Build this together and, if you believe in such things, you probably have 80% of the available jobs by going for the top 20% of firms (most using 10 or so ATS providers). This will create the demand by others to also link thereby putting pressure on the smaller ATS providers. As inclusion will be free the service will capture a large proportion of users quickly.

4) The biggest disadvantage would be noise, but this could be managed, not least because the large firms could have better ratings and rank higher than the others. It's how search engines already deliver quality results.

Because search technology is accurate it is better to use one big search engine rather than small ones. By using decent searches you cut down the noise. The same could happen with job boards. Free listings with accurate search would be a very hard model for niche boards to compete with.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Seth Godin on hiring

Seth Godin has an interesting set of articles (1st,2nd,3rd) on his blog about the current method of staffing, and the differences between small, entrepreneurial firms and large organisations. He is almost spot-on.

He is right in how small companies recruit. They do go to market, advertise etc. but they are less concerned about the job description. The managers haven't had to go through endless procedures to get the job signed-off, job evaluated etc. The hiring manager is often part of the management team, they can make real decisions.

Way back I was head of recruitment in a fast growing professional services firm. I reported into the MD. We would discuss not only the recruitment pipeline but what projects were coming up, where the demand was being created. I knew the business inside out. We would have roles we would like to fill (a senior public sector specialist for example) but we were never recruiting to fill a role, we were recruiting to build the business.

On most occasions senior staff members would make the hires, but I always had the ability to go to the MD. I remember several occasions when I did that. We may see someone who wasn't what we were looking for but we knew would be a good fit, and enable us to develop the business. We knew that one great hire could reshape the direction of the firm, not just at senior levels but anywhere. One of the founders' rules was 'all rules are there to be broken.' We broke 'rules', we became the fastest growing firm in the sector.

In many cases senior managers in big firms want to act like this, but they can't. Big firms have processes they have to go through, and structures where responsibility isn't clear (or where formal structures don't show how the business really operates). They are populated by people who know where the rules are (or at least the boundaries) and manage within the rules. As Godin rightly points out recruitment in these firms 'is totally demand based'.

Those who can make bold decisions in these firms rarely have strong relationships with those close to recruitment. They therefore don't have an ear to the market.

Here's my suggestions (and yes, I've seen it work in a big investment bank so I know it can happen).

1) Take one of your best managers, a senior high flyer, and tell them it's their full time job to worry about getting great people (hint, you probably won't find this person in HR)
2) Give them the authority to break rules
3) Make sure they know the business and it's strategies. They probably need to be very close to the CEO
4) Make getting great people a priority for all (yes, that probably means changing the reward structure)
5) Communicate to the market that you're always looking for great people & build the infrastructure to validate the claim. Ask speculative applicants why they are great - get them to sell themselves, don't just rely on a CV
5) Accept mistakes, but ensure you learn from them. Have a culture where if you make a bad hire you can part amicably.

I remember one of the senior members of the bank saying to me "I am not sure he's what we want at the moment, but I certainly don't want him as a competitor". We hired that person.

As demand becomes restricted this will start to happen more and more. However, there is a great opportunity for a big firm in each sector to gain first-movers advantage here. Question is, is it going to be you or your competitor?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Too much working

A funny article on the latest version of the Onion "180 Trillion leisure hours lost to work in 2004"

Worth reading to lighten your day.

Engagement - it's not all about resignations

We're living in an era of engagement - well that is what you might think if you spend too long around HR managers these days.

Engaged employees are more productive, happier and are less likely to be active job seekers. But how do you measure engagement? Well the answer is not all in the resignation figures.

As I've explained before people change jobs for a variety of reasons. Understanding what drives people is important, but the answer isn't all about your firm.

Employee opinion surveys usually measure two categories - those who aren't engaged but are unlikely to do anything about it and those who do expect to enter the labour market. What differentiates the two? Well it has a lot to do with three factors - their expectations, the costs of changing and their attitude to risk. Let's consider the three.


People are constantly making choices about their work, and those choices are usually based on their expectations of how work will be in the future. In this way expectations and engagement are linked, but not in such a way that engagement is the sole determinent of the desire to change jobs.

When people are looking at how they expect the job to perform they are measuring what economists call utility, that is how much they expect to get out of performing the job. Whilst this obviously includes their salary it is far more complex than that.

Utility includes such things as how they feel their marketability will improve (through training, doing that project, having another year at X on their CV), the enjoyment that the get from being with the colleagues, how easy their commute is.... a whole range of things.

When someone is looking at their life they try to maximise this utility given a fixed amount of their resource, in this case their time. They compare all choices they know about and look at creating an ideal mix. Do they expect that working for X will give them more utility than working for Y? Would working for X 60% of the time and having more leisure increase their utility (given that X might want to pay them 60% of their salary).

For someone to be engaged they are feeling that working for X gives them more utility that working for anyone else, or any other option. They can however be disengaged but still working for you. How?

Costs of changing.

One factor is costs associated with changing. These could include cost of relocation, cost of leaving that wonderful pension scheme, cost of leaving their stock options. We see lots of reasons that suggests that people believe that the grass is greener on the other side in the future but they have too much invested in X. These people are likely to stay, disengaged but taking strategies to ensure that they get future benefits of these 'ties'. Think of the resignations the day after bonuses are paid or the people who 'keep their heads down' in the years before retirement and you can see this in action.

Ultimately if you add these sort of factors to your high performers you are more likely to keep them. Unfortunately so are your average performers - you might create an army of disengaged attendees.

There is also a cost associated with the job search it terms of emotional strains, time associated to searching when you could be doing more enjoyable things. The longer you expect the job search to take the more cost you expect.


How you view the future utility of working at X is relatively certain. The utility associated with working for Y is less certain and the way you view it will depend on your attitude to risk. Put simply if you're more willing to take calculated risks you're more likely to change.

This will also include your confidence in your value in the market. If you think that you have a strong market value you will feel more confident entering the market - after all, if you enter the market, go somewhere else and the reality isn't what you expect you can always re-enter the market.

So why aren't resignations great indicators of engagement? Because engagement only looks at the internal reasons for changing roles. Let's consider a few examples.

X is the biggest employer in the area. However 10 miles away Y opens a new office, and wants similar skills. This gives your employees new opportunities and they will think what working for Y could offer them. Maybe it's a shorter commute. You would expect your resignations to increase even if your people were equally engaged.

The economy changes and your staff see their are more (or less) job opportunities. Their expectation of their worth on the market changes and at the same time their willingness to risk a change or invest the time in their job search changes. You could find staff less engaged but few resign if the employment market is cooling at the same time.

Ultimately resignations will only be a good indicator of engagement if you can 'freeze' your external environment. Few of us can do that.