E-recruitment: five ways to make a good impression

If you’re running the website for a large organisation, the HR department has probably become a close contact in the last year or two. HR managers are typically social creatures: they talk to each other a lot, they read HR business magazines, they attend conferences. They spread stories of how one company or another slashed its recruitment costs; they hear pitches from e-recruitment solutions providers who promise the earth.
But recruitment is a two-way street: each side has to sell itself to the other. Candidates need to impress their potential employer; but the employer needs to demonstrate that it’s a good place to be. If you’re serious about attracting the best candidates – bear in mind that The Best Candidates are probably in touch with lots of different recruiters. Why should they pick you?
Your e-recruitment function may be the first personal contact that a candidate has with your organisation. It’s all they can judge you on. Here are five tips to help your website make the right impression.
1. Do you even need an e-recruitment website?
An all-singing, all-dancing e-recruitment website might not be appropriate for your organisation. You’ll only get a good return on your investment if you’re attracting a good number of appropriate candidates, and turning over a good number of job opportunities.
Allowing applications by email is still quicker, cheaper and more practical than conventional ‘snail mail’. You could set up an automatic filter (or several) to sort all replies into folders within your email software: at the very least, you’ll have instant access to applicants’ contact details, and a timestamp showing when the application was received. It’s also worth logging the basics of each application manually as it arrives: if databases are beyond you, even a simple spreadsheet will go a long way.
2. Can you partner with someone else?
Candidates don’t want to have to consult dozens of different websites, each run by individual companies. The ideal situation for a candidate is to sign up to one service, which circulates their details to many different employers. The ideal situation for an employer is the largest possible field of good candidates: and hey, if you can share the costs, even better.
There are good examples happening in the UK public sector. The UK Civil Service, for example, runs a centralised Recruitment Gateway which provides job listings for many departments and agencies. Or there’s an NHS Jobs site covering the whole country. If a suitable network doesn’t already exist for your line of business – should you start one? Maybe your industry has a trade body (or similar) which could recruit for all players in your field.
3. Simplify the submission process.
Before they start, tell candidates what your process is going to ask from them. One major UK plc invites candidates to sign up to their e-recruitment site, then to submit a CV, then to find a job which interests them… and then, out of the blue, to write a 500-word essay about why they’re suitable for that particular position. I bet the quality of the submissions is awful.
Ask people for CVs rather than your own in-house application form, unless you have an exceptionally good reason not to. Everybody has a CV; nobody has time to fill all the same details into your in-house form. Plus, you get the extra opportunity to assess someone’s presentational skills. If someone isn’t able to sell themselves properly, with a professional CV, would you expect them to deliver professional results for your company?
Be flexible in the file formats you’re prepared to accept: not everyone has Microsoft Word on their home computer. Many people will prefer to send PDFs, which can be created using numerous free programs to be found on the internet. Even plain text might be preferable in some circumstances: rather ominously, Microsoft UK refuses to accept CVs in any other format, citing security concerns!
4. Make the jobs come to the candidates.
If you’re asking people to sign up to your e-recruitment site, be sure to have a mechanism to contact them when appropriate vacancies arise. Email alerts are one possibility, but not the only one. The ‘next big thing’ on the web is a technology called RSS: expect it to hit the mainstream in 2006 when Microsoft releases new versions of Windows and Internet Explorer. Many people already rely on it to keep track of news and updates; and the number will only increase.
To make the most of your alerting mechanism, you need a way to classify your job opportunities. Think of the criteria which would make someone apply for a particular position – location, seniority, level of qualifications, salary. The more you can make these ‘multiple choice’, the better for everyone. Try to avoid internal jargon: nobody outside your organisation will understand the subtleties of a particular job title, or a grade.
5. Closure.
The most depressing words in any job advert are: ‘Only successful applicants will be contacted.’ You leave candidates on edge for weeks, wondering if they are ever going to hear from you. You can easily put them off applying for the next position, which they might be tailor-made for.
Take a tip from courier companies, who let you follow your parcel at every step of its journey, door to door. It doesn’t cost you anything to send a quick ‘sorry’ email to unsuccessful candidates, especially if you’ve logged their email addresses as the applications came in. But please, don’t try to make it sound like a personalised reply. We can all see through it… and anyway, nobody reads beyond the words ‘I regret to inform you’.