A Brave New World for Recruiting?

Do the Internet and new hiring technologies herald the end of the recruiter? Is there any future for recruitment agencies? What developments can we expect in recruitment technology and business practices? Answering these questions is difficult, especially since making predictions can come back to haunt you. But it’s fair to say that recruitment has never seen so many potential agents for change as there are in place right now ó and here are some of my thoughts on them. I recently gave a series of lectures to a mix of hiring systems providers, recruitment agencies, and corporate clients that was centered on future developments in recruiting. Each Q&A session always seemed to end with the premise that we all could do infinitely more with the Internet and the systems we have in place. But the bottom line is still a heavy reliance on people, and we have yet to see any real measurable cost reduction in the recruitment process. Nor are major corporations ó despite huge investments in job boards, hiring systems, outsourcing, and in-house recruitment departments ó seeing dramatic movements in key performance indicators such as cost per hire, time to hire or recruiter productivity. I chalk some of this up to a substantial increase in the number of candidates most companies have to content with these days, which increases the time and resources that must be devoted to administration and recruiter pre-screening. Of course, the complexity of current hiring systems technology, the failure of most companies to integrate technology with all levels of the recruitment process, and ó most importantly ó the lack of a clearly defined corporate recruitment strategy also are to blame for the stagnation in recruiting results. In this article I would like to focus on the area where we will see the most change occurring ó and where we will hopefully also see real productivity gains ó the hiring management system. Hiring Systems Let’s start by briefly defining recruiter activities, and look at each area we would like to see change in individually. The recruiting process in its most basic form looks something like this: Get Requirement ==> Search Database ==> Post Job ==> Pre-Select ==> Interview ==> Select and manage the placement Hiring systems follow recruitment processes for the most part, and by examining the key recruiting processes more closely, we can determine which aspects can be automated. This allows us to arrive at a “template” for the applicant management area of our hiring system:

  1. Search databases. Sources include:

    • Current candidate database (including employee referrals)
    • Existing workforce (though this creates a potential back-fill requirement)
    • External databases on job boards, etc.
  2. Post job. Vehicles include:
    • Niche, local, national, and global job boards
    • Internal employees and employee referrals
    • Press
    • Web mining
    • Agencies
  3. Pre-select candidates. Tools include:
    • Matching
    • Psychometric testing
    • Skills evaluation
  4. Interview. Methods include:
    • Behavioral interviewing
    • Skills
    • Job match
    • Cultural match

The weak point of all hiring systems is that they replicate recruiter activities but still require a large element of human intervention. For example, what some providers call “employee relationship management” (or what I prefer to designate as “candidate care”) is largely a byproduct of the hiring process. Though it is a crucial part of a “best practices” recruiting process, it does not have the potential to substantially improve productivity. Although there have been some interesting developments in hiring management systems recently ó especially in pre-selection and automated job posting ó most systems are still biased towards tracking the job applicant, and not managing the recruitment process or searching all potential candidates. My view is that we should be looking to replace the human element in steps 1-3, and much of 4, above. This would require more intelligence in the systems than we currently see, but it would also lead to a massive improvement in productivity. The most difficult areas for hiring systems to replace human activity is in the interview process. But my strong belief is that we can create fairly robust and accurate online interviewing modules that can, at the very least, apply a degree of consistent and subjective measurement to all available applicants. Ideally, systems will move away from the mere passive acceptance of an applicant to a more interactive approach, in which a greater measure of upfront interrogation and selection is applied. A Future Without Recruiters? What such advances could eventually is the removal of most of the operational (and some of the intuitive) activities and responsibilities from the actual recruiter. In place of what is currently being handled by recruiters, we would have essentially a sophisticated, self-service system that is able to recruit from outside the organization and to integrate with internal workforce planning and other HR and management information systems. In effect, the hiring manager would create the job requirement, enter it into “the system,” and receive back screened and matched candidates from both within and outside the organization. All suitable candidates would have their KPI (key performance indicator) metrics attached. An extremely powerful candidate management tool is suddenly available, one which allows recruitment to move from an event-driven activity into a more strategic, pro-active function where management is able to test the market and budget for future recruiting efforts. But this leaves the recruiter, both internal and external, out of the loop of the core transactional recruitment process! The question then becomes, what is left for the recruiter? For the third-party (external) recruiter, the technology and talent databases that are becoming available to corporations makes their position increasingly difficult. Obviously, I am not saying that the agency is recruiter is finished; there will always be a demand for their services. But in the near future, I foresee that organizations will be able to access the same talent at much lower cost and will do their best to cut out the middle men. What we will see is external recruiters moving into a similar role that the new model will also create for internal recruiters. This new role will be to manage systems and processes as enablers and facilitators ó what we I call “managed services provision.” The stumbling block here, though, is the difficulty external recruiters always face: access to corporate strategy and a voice in the decision-making process. I do see the headhunter model remaining largely intact, though, and even increasing in importance as organizations seek to identify and attract the hard-to-find talent in key positions. The internal recruiter’s job will likely evolve away from the transactional model, in which they process people, to one in which they will manage relationships with employees, human resources, and with outsourced and third party suppliers. Interestingly, change in the recruiter model will necessitate changes from the hiring manager. My own experience suggests that hiring managers will offload as much as possible on to the recruitment and HR departments ó especially administration, reference checking and offer negotiation ó in which case recruiters will continue to manage the functional aspects of the recruitment activity. But this still represents a substantial shift in the existing recruiting model. This should be seen as an opportunity for recruiters to provide real and measurable added value to their hiring managers by becoming strategic partners in the recruitment and deployment of talent. Though, as I stated earlier, predicting change is clearly a risky undertaking, change itself is certain ó and we must start preparing ourselves now for the changes that technology is likely to bring. In a “brave new world” where corporations realize the potential for productivity gains that technology offers, there’s no question that the role of the recruiter will evolve into something different than what we see today.

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Andrew Ellis is a recognized authority on using the Internet as a resourcing tool. He has worked in over 30 countries in senior HR, resourcing and operations management positions with world-class companies such as Nortel Networks, IMPAC, SunGard and Algorithmics. Andrew now heads the Human Capital Management consultancy TalentDelivery.com, and writes and lectures extensively on resourcing and recruitment topics.

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