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Employers are shifting from traditional hand sorting of job applications towards e-recruitment. How do online methods of recruitment compare? What are the advantages to employers, and the pitfalls? Darren Greenwood talks to New Zealand companies.

Recruiters adjust to new world

E-recruitment has had the biggest impact on the jobs market since the introduction of the fax machine, says IT recruiter Ross Turner.

The plethora of websites operated by companies, recruiters and publications alike means the ease and opportunity to apply for jobs has dramatically increased. In turn this has affected firms who have adopted e-recruitment systems, often receiving an explosion in the number of applications. Such technology also means vacancies can now be filled in just a few days instead of the many weeks of old.

It was perhaps inevitable that the industry responsible for the introduction of email and the internet would first turn to e-recruitment, even if among the big boys, IBM is still working on its own system, due for launch this year.

And, of course, those also taking a lead with e-recruitment tend to be those dealing most in e-recruitment, the recruitment agencies.

The current IT downturn has seen a slump in job vacancies and companies ever keener to cut costs. This had led to more internal appointments, since firms have stopped growing, and it saves them the hassle and expense of seeking new staff. Firms are also turning to their own websites to fill vacancies or are using online job boards.

In the former boom times, IT firms were awash with cash and desperate for staff, thus they needed the work of agencies on their side in fighting the "talent war". Now, the IT downturn means the market is awash with job seekers, firms are desperate for cash, and thus the agencies have few jobs to fill.

Job seekers are now trawling the web, looking at job boards, and going direct to the companies they want to work for, further hitting an agency’s usefulness.

However, while the agencies suffer, not all is well with the enterprise that believes it is saving money by doing the work itself.

Turner, of Pinnacle Recruitment, says there are some jobs, such as the more senior positions needing a more face-to-face approach, that still need agencies to use their specialist skills to find the right candidate. But he admits some straightforward technical roles can be handled quite adequately by e-recruitment.

Even so: “It’s naïve to think that print advertising would be usurped entirely by net-based job boards or adverts. It may be threatened but not replaced,” he says.

Turner says a typical job advert may bring a business a couple of hundred applicants for a job and all applications have to be looked at. This is a big user of time, and if the firm does not have the right skilled staff, they might not be able to pick that A-grade person, or find them fast enough.

He believes there is room in the marketplace for all -- job boards, company websites and newspaper ads and recruitment agencies.

As for Pinnacle, it has no website, believing it can survive as a boutique specialist, using personal contacts and specialist knowledge.

Tony Cutting, Wellington director of Enterprise Staffing Consulting, has much experience of e-recruitment, having set up www.jobcafe.co.nz -- an e-recruitment tool produced by Wellington-based PeopleNet and used by companies such as Computerland and Enterprise.

Cutting says e-recruitment systems save much time, but if they are not designed properly and staff do not know how to use them, processes can take longer. They can be cheaper, but can a firm cope with the increased volume of applicants such a system may bring? He claims one large New Zealand corporate spent much money on a new system and then had to take on extra staff to process the avalanche of internet-based applicants.

As further problem with e-recruitment systems is that they are still in development. Firms at the leading edge of the new technology must pay high prices to help cover the developer’s cost of the product. There may also be teething problems with it, which may only be discovered by the early adopters.

But if you hold back, waiting for the price of a system to come down, are you letting your rivals gain a competitive advantage? Cutting asks.

And like any email or web-based system, there are risks associated from viruses.

Even so, the technologies can offer sophisticated advantages such as being better able to track a candidates responses. Most email systems allow this and correspondence can be saved efficiently. Intelligently built systems also track other relevant details such as reference numbers that make a recruiters life easier. They can filter or sort out online applications by industry group, skill level and so on, but Cutting warns while many systems promise this few actually deliver.

E-recruitment systems are also great for managing knowledge, such as personnal information, keeping it on record, far more effective than paper-based systems.

However, agencies unless dealing in IT only, he says, should still remember some people still prefer to apply for jobs the traditional way, so paper-based systems may still have to be retained.

Cutting says done right, e-recruitment can save firms money, but an experienced well-trained recruiter will have to be used, regardless of the system. Yet those who have simply just erected job boards “sit in a dangerous position”. Without a "best-practice" system, they could create a monster that in the long run may cost them more in terms of people and dollars, he says.

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