Wednesday, March 23, 2005

More on Application Tracking Systems

Kevin Wheeler's article on Electronic Recruiting Exchange How to choose and implement an ATS is a good introduction to a very complex task.

As I have said before, I am of the belief that the technologies involved are maturing and the advantages to be gained from changing from one provider to another are reducing every month. (Let me caveat that with 'unless you're stuck with a legacy product' or 'you chose a solution which was never going to be suitable')

As Kevin suggests the majority of those issues lie with implementation. Not analysing and redefining processes, not following a controlled, systematic procurement process and not managing the implementation as any complex business change project are recipes for disaster. I would like to add 'not designing a candidate optimised process'.

If you deconstruct the value an ATS offers I believe that their are two main functions - managing and attracting applicants and managing the workflow. What too many companies focus on is the latter. There is little competitive advantage to be gained here so if this is your goal then I expect any ATS implementation is going to be a tactical solution, not strategic.

For an ATS implementation to be considered strategic it needs to give you a competitive advantage - it needs to shift your ability to position in the market. How will it help the business meet it's objectives? Cutting x% off costs is advantageous but probably a drop in the ocean as far as your firms financial outlook is concerned. The only way to get competitive advantage with an ATS is for you to be better at building relationships with your customers / candidates. You need the best people there are.

Would your ATS be considered as a best in class relationship management system? I doubt it. Was it a big part of your brief? Almost certainly not. Is it delivering the sort of value you want? No? Surprised?

So what can you do? Well you could think about 'exploding' the two components. How about a great workflow system (I know one company looking at a Siebel implementation to manage the 'sales' / workflow end) and a best in class front end? Given the sort of Webservices type approach most facilitate this might not be impossible. Alternatively focus your efforts on getting the front end right.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Indian Technology firms hiring spree

via Guatam Ghosh an article in India's The Economic Times on the hiring spree at India's technology companies. The numbers are impressive, Infosys Technologes for example has been hiring 50 people a day for the last nine months.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

More on 100% fit

The organisation decides to go for 100% fit and managers wait until they find the 'right' candidate. For many roles you have empty spaces in the organisation.

What is the cost of this? Well putting a financial cost is pretty difficult in a knowledge based organisation. This is because the whole thing depends on complexity and interdependencies - by having someone working well in one position can increase the productivity of a whole host of others. Have a look at some of the network stuff coming out of the knowledge management community for more on this.

We can however make a simple assumption - that the value to the organisation of employing someone is greater than the total cost of doing so. To get to a more accurate number you probably need to ask the hiring manager 'what is the monthly cost to your business from not having this person' You need to look at things such as related projects which will slip and the value of those projects as predicted in the business case.

Here time to hire does become important, but not at an averaged level. What you're interested in is not the aggregate level but trends by departmental / functional level. Whilst time-to-hire stats do not adding much value trend values do and should be on your radar screens.

The leaner organisations get the more that this matters. So to get a better performing organisation you could argue that you should not be looking at 100% fit but on getting someone with the potential on board quickly. Please understand that I'm not advocating hiring low performers, just hiring based on the potential not whether the person has done the same job before. The question is 'how do I get someone who is productive in X months time?' The answer might well be 'hire without 100% fit and develop'

Of course you could build some slack into the system and over-recruit to cover for the inevitable resignations. You could use development and hiring together and hire for the future, building succession into the system. Now wouldn't that be sensible.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Is 100% fit just wrong?

We live in an era when many corporate recruiters hide behind their recruitment tools. Keyword resume search is the norm, and to get to the attention of a recruiter you now have to be a closer and closer fit.

And what is wrong with this I hear you ask? Well quite a lot. If you think through the dynamics of the situation it just doesn't work.

Let's take the applicant's perspective first. HR professionals have bleated on for the last 15 years about the 'self managed career' and guess what, your ambitious young manager believes it (many at the junior levels think it just means 'we're not going to develop you any more')

So people are building their marketability. When someone sits in front of you they are thinking 'what can this job do for my CV'. Fail to answer this and they won't join you.

People are looking for advancement, new challenges, to learn new skills. Forget training courses learning is mainly situational.

So what do recruiters do? Well, we search for people who have done the role before. That's how they get those key skills on their CVs. If we're recruiting into the organisation it is typically to do a very similar job to the one they are already doing.

And you wonder why you struggle to excite them? What are you offering in terms of improvements in marketability? You wonder why they get bored quickly and want to move on?

By looking for great fit what you're doing is limiting their development. The question is not 'have they the experience to do this?' but 'have they the potential to do this?'

And guess what? Looking for 100% fit takes longer than looking for potential so you're left with big gaps all over the organisation. But that will be the theme for the next post...

Thursday, March 17, 2005

"It's just people, people."

Heather should be go straight to the top of the class for her post today entitled Blogging is not the "big, new thing" in recruiting...relationships are.

She perceptively discusses blogging as a new technology and whether it is the 'Big New Thing'. Her words on blogging resonate:
But it's role is as an enabler.

and then whilst sprinting towards the finish she finds that final kick (hey, I was a 400m runner once-upon-a-time)
Relationships and, more specifically, treating people like customers (shocking concept, huh?), is where it's at (bad grammar...sorry). Let's not even refer to them as "candidates" because that is very short-sighted. It's just people, people.

This mindshift change is both the most profitable and hardest change you can ever make to a corporate recruitment function. Too many recruiters in corporate HR see enquiries and applicants as a drag. Why do so many of the ATS companies sell 'process' - it's because the average recruiter with their 'internal clients' think that way.

I frequently get teams to envisage what the recruitment function would look like if it were designed by the people at Amazon (Amazon used because most have used it at one time). Treat your prospective employees (or employees because often they get an even worse deal) so it makes them feel special, listen and learn what they are wanting, treat them with respect and give them a service that makes them tell all their friends.

Does the 'if you don't hear from us in 3 weeks presume you're a not successful' do this? How hard is that courteous email?

Take every one of your processes, everything you do, and go through them asking 'would Amazon treat its clients like that?' and then 'how can I make people feel special?' There are no 'we can't do that's allowed in that brainstorm.

Of course you need to segment people and treat different groups in different ways depending on their 'value'. But here's the depressing thing - do anything decent in this industry and your average person thinks you're great. Yes, the bar is that low.

Presume that you're going to run out of people and you will need everyone one day. Now understand you get one chance to impress. That reject email has to be a call to continue the relationship.

So where do blogs fit in? Well as Heather points out it's one way of enabling relationships. Blogs work for some communication needs but not for others. You need a good strategy for them. Discussion boards are useful for other things (like customer service) and fixed websites useful for others.

Unfortunately with blogs you can't easily understand the reader profile. I want my relationship system (also known as an ATS) to tell me not only who is right for a job but who subscribes to my RSS feeds, who reads what pages on the site, the frequency they visit, have they ever commented, what terms they searched on, do we have their cv, when was it last updated, what percentage click through do you get on email. That's because it has to be a relationship system.

Why do I want this? Because I really, really want to add value to them, because if I add value to them they will do to me. I want to talk to them about things that interests them. If they are interested in a role in finance I want to send them a copy of each article in the WSJ, FT or the trade press that says what great work we're doing in that area. I want to segment them, know what they want and then I can sell the relevant messages directly.

I'm going to want to get them to give me lots of selection information when they find the right role not just send off a generic CV. Would they invest the time if they're not eager to get on board? Your dream is to get people who say 'I'm not looking but if yourcompany comes to me with the right offer I want to talk'. There's one of these companies in every sector. It being your competitor is unacceptable.

Technology helps you provide a feeling of personalisation to a large group of people and guess what - talk to any futurist and personalisation is one of the key consumer trends and candidates are just consumers of your jobs. Study candidate behaviour and consumer behaviour for major purchases such as cars or houses and they are almost identical.

But it doesn't end with technology. Relationships can be developed in a variety of ways, some online and some face to face. The good recruiter will use all available methods but calculate the real cost (including time) and provide different levels to different segments. Blogs are one tool but the strategy is still king.

In some ways I'm glad Heather is half way around the globe. I won't be competing with her for many people. Heather certainly gets it.

Fundamentals of internal marketing

Quality Service Marketing has an interesting series of articles on Internal Marketing Fundamentals.

Developing a strong internal brand is fundamental to developing a strong external employment brand and the two need to be done together. External recruiters aren't always in a position to directly change the internal marketing, but they should at least have a representative at the table when setting the internal strategy. In my experience this has been a great experience for both parties. Add the corporate marketing folk in and you really have a strong team.

Well worth a read.

Appraisals damaging HR

People IQ, an online performance appraisal company has released a survey suggesting that
Only 13 percent of employees and managers and 6 percent of CEOs think their organization's performance appraisal is useful. And 88 percent say their current performance appraisal negatively impacts their opinion of HR.

The survey finds that appraisals are seen as too generic (little evidence to support comments), too cumbersome and that systems don't differentiate low and high performers.

Business Week on LinkedIn

A good article from Business Week discussing the recent LinkedIn recruitment advertising move.

New paid-search tool

Microsoft recently launched a competitor to Google's AdWords and Yahoo's Search Marketing Solutions Group (Overture was so much easier to say) with adCenter.

Why should you keep this on your radar screens? Because in a very smart move Microsoft is combining registration data to provide much more relevant data to marketers.

Gartner G2 has a good analysis of this.

'Top company to work for' lists

Way back in the history of time I took over the reins of a corporate's employment branding function. My predecessor had spent a lot of time and budget getting onto 'best company to work for' lists and as I had a tight budget and was targeted on everything but where we placed on these lists I thought that this some of this spend could be better allocated elsewhere.

In the first year I scaled back some of the spend, cleaned up our communications messages and focused the brand message. We held our position + or - a position or two. Managers were still impressed as we were placed alongside firms with promotional spend multiples of ours.

I'm not exactly sure what caused the change - probably some long beer-lubricated evening in a London pub discussing how people behave in organisations. (I'm not usually that boring... OK, not always.) That and every board member asking about how we ranked whenever I met them.

I'm still not of the opinion that these things make a huge difference in recruitment marketing, at least not for major brands. They might do a bit to existing staff who want to 'validate' their choice and they might give you a bit of brand recognition if you're small or not a household name. They're probably good if you are in an industry with a poor employment reputation where you can demonstrate you're not like the norm. However they certainly matter for senior execs and in that way can give you the license to do the stuff that really makes a difference.

There are typically two types of these surveys - ones that question a bunch of your people, picked at random and the other which question external people, typically at university of business school.

Both are relatively easy to manage, at low cost, for a focused recruitment branding team. I will stick my neck out and say the external ones are the easiest, as it is easier to persuade someone with a limited amount of knowledge what you're about than someone who meets you every day.

Here is the simple process:

1) Talk to the survey company, find out what they are looking for, when they are surveying etc. Many of them will also do other similar company-specific surveys which you might want to use so having the conversation is pretty easy

2) Plan a targeted marketing campaign. Use all your normal channels, especially the ones like email that you can alter and judge results quickly (because you measure those 'click-throughs' on everything you do online don't you). This marketing campaign will begin probably 4-5 weeks before survey date and pull out your strengths in the areas that are going to be surveyed. Make sure they are strengths or you'll end up with little integrity. Focus the messages to those being surveyed so to reduce 'noise' to the others.

3) Wow, somehow when the survey comes around the 'things that your great at' are fresh in respondees minds and you go to the top of the class.

4) Talk to internal comms and make sure that everyone in the firm knows about the success - especially senior execs.

We're not talking about brand recognition tools like those that companies such as Millward Brown produce for your corporate marketing departments, these 'best company to work for' surveys are pretty easy to manipulate and it should be in every recruitment marketers year-plan to do just that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

IIM students in demand again

India's Business Standard reports that India's IIMs, the country's top business schools, have been experiencing heated recruitment activity with the top investment banks and consultancies competing for the top graduates.

A few years ago I ran a recruitment campaign in the IIMs, operating it from London with the help of colleagues in Singapore and India. I think it was the most 'eye-opening' experience of my working life.

Unlike Europe and the US campus recruitment in India is simple. You are allowed to speak to people first but from there all companies are only allowed to select from a certain date. At Bangalore we had a suite of rooms with McKinsey down the corridor and Deutsche Bank below us. You try to grab the best students, interview and make an offer on the spot. The students finish the day with a confirmed job.

I remember having a conversation back in London with a counterpart at another firm where he was complaining that 'not all companies were playing fair' and that some students had even been 'captured' so not to interview elsewhere. I am not sure that closing the acceptance, whisking them into a taxi and taking them to a very long 'welcome' lunch at the wonderful Oberoi with the head of the Indian office and head of investment banking SE Asia counts as 'captured', but if it does we were certainly guilty.

Only when you have interviewed at an IIM do you realise how mediocre too many of the students at Europe's top schools are. 6 good hires in 2 hours is good in anybody's books and even given long-haul business flights the cost-per-hire was startlingly low.

Recruitment scheme prompts hunger strike

A lovely little article in today's Hindu (link to journal not article).

92 Executives of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) in the Vellore Telecom District have started a 3 day hunger strike. The paper reports that:
Their demands included implementation of non-post-based time-bound promotion, weightage for past service (in the Department of Telecommunications/Department of Telegraph Services before the formation of BSNL) and ban on recruitment of management trainees.

Spring might be here.

Given that On Talent and Heather of Marketing at Microsoft fame seem to be sharing their weather experiences I thought that I would bring this 'off topic' post. (You could also claim that as I am English then weather would be a big part of any conversation.)

We had a really weird winter. Since arriving here in Geneva a few years ago winters have been grey and cold-ish. I can't remember any snow lasting more than 24 hours in the valley.

Yesterday the snow finally melted in our garden - it had been there since January. Last week we had a heavy snowfall, which in the mountains translated into 1 metre deep powder snow. Now that was fun. My wife and I skied a lovely steep bumpy black not knowing where our knees were, never mind the skis. I don't think I've laughed so much in years.

This week the temperature is about 20 degrees C. Yesterday, the 'plage' in the village had some intrepid woman sunbathing next to the lake with the last bit of snow in the shadows under the trees. We have primroses in the hedges and the first flower has opened this lunchtime in the garden.

So skiing might be over for this year. Onto cycling in the foothills of the Alps and dreaming of summer evenings spent with a good bottle of the local Rose with friends in a boat on the lake.

Geneva constantly comes in the top of those 'world standard of living' league tables and it's times like these when I sit back, smile and understand why.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

JobThread - referrals and more

I have been having an email exchange with Eric Yoon, the CEO of an innovative young company called JobThread Inc.

The idea behind JobThread is a simple one (aren't all the best ones?). JobThread automates the referral process, in a similar way that many of the referral modules of the big application tracking systems do, but with one big difference - the motivation is built into the chain, not just at the first point.

One of my big projects last year was designing a company wide referral system for a big corporate. Referral programmes are great when they work - they reduce cost per hire dramatically, and motivate staff. In fact there is quite some evidence to show that by just selling their employer to their acquaintances it reiterates to them why it's such a great place to work. If you can get the programme right you should expect around 35% of all hires to come from this channel.

What's more, there seems to be little evidence that the level of payment is a big determinant in the likeliness to refer. Over a certain level - let's call it an administration cover - increasing the payment won't dramatically increase the number of referrals. Let's face it, if you'll refer for £2500 but not for £250 you don't really believe in what you're trying to sell.

There is also a widely held belief that 'our senior people should just do it' or 'they don't need the cash'. I see no evidence to support this. They still have the administration cover, they still want recognition. Just because someone earns £100,000 doesn't mean that an extra amount won't be noticed. You'll find plenty of your senior staff struggling with the bills, though in their case the worries might be school fees not the electricity bill.

The key factor for making a referral programme work is not how you reward but making sure that you do. In other words it's getting the process right, making it simple to understand and resilient. The people who refer are likely to be you most motivated members of staff - the ones most eager to tell their acquaintances. If your process, both the referral process but more so your recruitment process, isn't great you'll annoy them, annoying your most loyal staff.

A new system can't force you to treat candidates with more respect, but it can automate a process ensuring everyone gets paid, which brings me back to JobThread.

JobThread is one of the first systems that I have seen which is a stand-alone referral system. As a hiring manager, or staffing manager, you put in your jobs and send them through it to a range of contacts. There is nothing to say these contacts couldn't be everyone in your firm, or even include people outside the firm. If any of these contacts recommend someone they get the payment.

However, what is innovative with JobThread is that if one of your contacts sends it to someone they know, who then sends it on to one of their contacts and the hire is made then both referrers share the fee. It motivates down the chain as well.

At the moment using JobThread is free. You will have policy issues to overcome but given this is I would suggest giving it a go. It will work as well, if not better, for senior level talent as well as junior roles due to the deeper professional networks these people often have.

In the future there is even the real possibility that JobThread could charge on success, making it the only pay-for-performance online recruitment tool I can think of.

Why else do I think this is a great tool? Well one reason is that unlike many other network based tools it does not depend on a huge installed network to start being useful. The network effect is important, but it is the individual's network, not the tool's.

Who do I think will get the most out of this? My guess is that the big users will be staffing firms and medium sized organisations. Getting large organisations on board could depend on how it links to the big ATS - the reality is that an organisation with 2500 active roles won't want to re-post on two systems. However Eric has indicated that he's eager to set this up as necessary. Again, the advice would be to get in there early and negotiate to be a test user if you're interested.

For a medium sized firm JobThread could offer a very simple way of implementing the process automation needed by a referral programme.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Application tracking systems

A conversation with the resourcing director of a very large European company late last week about staffing systems, and why so many firms are unhappy with their choices.

We both agreed that fundamentally they are all 'much of a muchness' (we're talking about the enterprise level) however there are a few parts that few corporates consider when selecting a system, the prime being usability.

What I mean by usability is how easy it is for a candidate to use the system. This doesn't just mean how nice it looks when the sales guy demonstrates it but how easy it is for the average, system illiterate user to use it.

Another of my complaints is that all too often systems seem to be built around Internet Explorer and users of other browsers struggle. Try using a small laptop screen (yes, I hate frames, especially when you have to scroll back and forth in a frame to get to the controls)

A good way of looking at how users are using the system is to look at your statistics. Look at how many complete the process, where they fall out etc. Several systems require the applicant to fill in an online 'CV' form which can take 30 minutes. Is that 29 minutes longer than your competitor requires?

You also need to think about what are the most important things to know about an individual before bringing them in. Is that CV the only thing? Could you get more value from job specific questions? Does your system allow this? How about integration with external testing (again job specific)?

Overall, however, similarities are more common than differences. So why are so many firms considering changing?

Well, it's not the systems (in general) it's their users. How many firms contracted with a clear strategy of what they wanted from their information - that's right, information not the system. How is the information that they store delivering competitive advantage?

What they've bought is a big contact system. Sure it lets you process applicants but it really adds value when used as a relationship building tool. That's where you get the value, and guess which part is overlooked?

And who is using the systems in these ways? Well it is all-too-often the recruitment outsourcers who, on average, are a few laps ahead of the main corporates (because they often come from competitive recruitment company backgrounds with the mentality this develops?) Push a ATS provider and they will probably concede this.

So, before you've ditched your current system for another one consider this - will the change actually help, or would you be better off using what you have better?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Search as the job board

About a month ago I wrote an entry on search engines and job boards - the simple summary being that I thought that job-specific search would become the dominant way of finding jobs.

I was not the only one thinking this way. Have a look at and you'll see it's based on much that I discussed.

A few other reasons for checking this one out. First they have developed a simple stats page which they indicate is only the start.

Secondly, they have added personalised RSS as a way of being informed about new jobs matching the search criteria.

Finally, they have an interesting Blog called Blog Indeed.

How long before one of the big search firms follows into this area?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Recruitment Advertising - an employee experiments

One employee is experimenting with recruitment advertising to attract people to his employers employee referral scheme. What is most interesting is that he is blogging his findings - comparing an identical advert on LinkedIn and Craigslist. Craigslist is miles ahead.

He describes his activities as 'grassroot recruiting', a term I think works. Getting this sort of activity by staff is something many companies could benefit from. However, for it to really work you need to prepare them. I will presume that by now you will have identified what your differentiatiors are in the many 'segments' that your company competes for staff in. Tell your staff. Get them to sell their own personalised version of this message. Provide 'support packs'. Of course, because the messages came from the staff in the first place they are unlikely to reject them. Make them seem like they are from HR and you'll get the 'yes, whatever' response (rightly so.)

Research suggests that people don't refer their best friends, they go further down in their networks, or even, as in this case, outside it. I have encountered someone using this form of 'grassroot recruiting', though in my case the individual was paying for adverts in his local paper. HR of course started discussing this behaviour, even whether to discipline the individual. Fortunately common sense ruled and we decided to support him. Our biggest worry became that he was making more in referral payments than we paid him in salary.

College recruitment teams often promote this type of behaviour by getting alumni to build relationships with their old schools. You should be thinking how to mobilise the whole organisation to think about grassroot recruitment.

On Talent

As part of catching up on the last manic two weeks (sorry for the lack of posts - work and skiing took over) I came across On Talent, Doug Miller's (of new blog.

Doug and I share many of the same interests so there are a lot of overlaps between our blogs. We even seem to share many of the same interests including photography (see here for how I woke up yesterday). Most importantly he writes some great articles on how to approach talent.

Certainly one to add to your RSS feeds.

Another survey on what causes people to move

Today's Daily Telegraph has an article entitled There's more to life than pay which discusses how managers judge their roles. The survey which the article is based on is interesting because it is not conducted by a recruitment firm, therefore it doesn't just survey active job-seekers.

Commenting on the research Andrew Platt-Higgins, planning director at recruitment firm Barkers believes
state of the housing market is largely responsible and points to the fact that 53 per cent of RCI respondents say the location of a job would influence whether or not they applied for it.

I am not in total agreement with this, as I wrote earlier. The way families organise childcare, and the growing importance of two-career families at the managerial level increasingly determine the likeliness of relocation, not the state of the housing market.

For more information on judging what influences career choice see this earlier article: Understanding what matters to the candidate

Recruitment Networking goes niche

Not the first, and no doubt not the last - Danish company Networking4People has launched it's first 'social' network aimed at recruitment in the SAP market.

Just as in the job-board market going niche has advantages (it's a classical strategic evolution - just think about how many different categories of cars there are now than 15 years ago) however, unlike job-boards it does presuppose that SAP people network mainly with SAP people.

Take two instances:

Person A wants to contact person B. Both are SAP specialists

For a niche network to work then all the intermediary contacts are SAP people.
For a larger network to hold the strength then an intermediary between A and B could be none-SAP. However there will be more 'noise' and the intermediary will likely be in less of a position to determine the 'quality' of the approach.

Niche networks are worth watching but should sit on the periphery of any recruiters channels. As always it is worth measuring time spent on these activities to get a true understanding of cost-per-channel.