Online Recruitment Isn’t Working

Having worked in recruitment advertising for nearly 20 years I have been in the vanguard of most recruitment innovations as they have come along and I have some shocking news to report, one of them, online recruitment, is not working and the situation is getting worse.

Fifteen years ago if you were an employer and you wanted to recruit a new member of staff your choices were limited, mainly to which newspaper you advertised in – the local paper for junior and blue collar staff and the national broadsheets for senior execs or field based staff. There were also a range of well-read technical, trade and professional titles that targeted specific professions. At the time these publications enjoyed a virtual monopoly (either geographical or functional), so it was an expensive exercise, discounts or special deals were the things of dreams and fantasy. But at least you knew if you placed your ad in the newspaper on Thursday by the following week you had over a hundred applications, including letters (most hand-written) and CVs. The majority were from local people interested in the role.

The late 1990’s saw the emergence of the first job board (The Monster Board) and things began to change, initially for the better. For the first time there was an alternative to the press, it was cheaper than printed publications, sometimes a lot cheaper, and included features such as CV databases. Even local recruitment was accommodated by job boards such as Fish4 in the UK, so those early advertisers had choice as well. Since then the growth of job boards has mirrored the rapid development of the Internet itself.

So what changed? One of the main characteristics of the Internet, why it has grown so rapidly and why we have taken it to our hearts, is the relatively low cost to set up a new website. The same could not be said of magazines and newspapers, hence the virtual monopoly of many publishers.

So the first reason online recruitment is failing is choice. There is too much choice, seemingly every week a new recruitment website comes along promising to be bigger and better than the others, offering better deals and even lower prices. This is confusing for the advertiser and the candidates alike. Which websites do you go to, and how many – 5, 10, 50?

But surely Google can help? That brings me on to the second problem, the lack of a level playing field. If everything else was equal and Google worked as intended candidates would only need to enter their ideal jobs and suitable vacancies would appear. But we know Google doesn’t work like that, search results are distorted and twisted by advertising and SEO.

The third issue is non-jobs, that litter the Internet. A problem that has always existed to some extent, because costs are so low many job boards are riddled with jobs that don’t exist, their function is purely to harvest CVs from unsuspecting candidates. This significantly devalues the genuine jobs and the website and is difficult to police when it is the recruitment agencies working for ‘confidential’ clients.

With the fall in performance of the job boards, comes an apparent fall in the quality of candidate applications. No doubt fuelled by a frustration with non-jobs and poor etiquette by recruiters when it comes to acknowledging applications, etc., many candidates resort to a shorthand form of application with the briefest of emails accompanying a very generic CV. Which does no-one any favours.

I know from working with my clients that, despite the double dip recession and record unemployment, it is more difficult than ever to recruit staff because of problems with online solutions.

The Future

What does the next few years hold for us? Social Media is proffered by many as the future of recruitment, why advertise or use job boards when you can start a dialogue direct with candidates through Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. The short answer is time – how many HR departments have the time to build links and communities, to contribute content and manage profiles. If the Finance Director gets fired you need to find a replacement as quickly as possible. The only people with the time to ‘work’ Social Media, and the ones pushing it hardest, are the recruitment agencies.

Newspaper and trade publications undoubtedly still have a role to play in recruitment, particularly the ones with a strong online presence, but they’ll never be the force they once were and there is no going back, we have to press on into the brave, not so new, digital world regardless. But when this recession ends I strongly believe the recovery will be seriously hampered by the limitations of today’s online recruitment solutions.