Electronic vs. Human Relationships: Why Not?

For some recruiters, times are still good. They have positions to fill and more qualified people than they have had for years. Once again people are knocking on their door instead of the other way around. I had several people at a recent conference tell me that there is no shortage of people anymore, even though it is clear as glass that there is and will be for years to come. Whenever we have a dip in the economy and some local shifts in supply and demand, people think they can revert to old ways. The reality is that this is the best time possible to try new ways and build stronger systems. The most successful recruiters use the networks they have built, relationship by relationship, to find great employees. But building a network takes getting to know a lot of people. Recruiters are notorious for believing that the only possible way to know people is by “pressing the flesh,” meeting them in person, or having lunch or dinner with them. While these are all useful and time-tested, it is also possible to get to know people using the Internet. By using technology to extend out from the small number of people it is possible to meet and know face-to-face, a recruiter can become vastly more effective. Building electronic relationships with no personal contact is not only possible, it may even be desirable. Jack Welch, the outgoing chairman of General Electric, has said that human relationships are declining in the selling of goods and services. What he means is that telephone and face-to-face connections between corporate buyers and their suppliers is rapidly being supplanted by Internet and email conversations. The same is also true of relationships with customers. Amazon, Dell, Lands’ End and other retailers have developed sophisticated tools to build and maintain long-term relationships with their customers. Part of the problem some of us have with the concept of electronic relationships is in the definition of what a relationship means. Fuzzy definitions lead to fuzzy thinking, and lots of confusion and misplaced anger. Relationship is a strange word, and most of us use it to mean a wide range of things. For some of us it means falling in love or having an affair. Yet for others it simply means having met someone briefly. A few recruiters I know say they have a relationship after the first meeting, but others I know have rather elaborate hierarchies to define the level of relationship. At the first meeting the person is just a contact, after the second or third successful meeting the person might move up to acquaintance and a potential placement, and then after several meetings they might be elevated to prime candidate, key contact or some other such designation. I have identified three characteristics that I think are necessary in a relationship for selling and recruiting purposes:

  1. There must be a one-to-one exchange of information. This can happen via email, the telephone or face-to-face. What is important is that a candidate feels that someone knows them and what they are interested in doing. Amazon, in particular, is very good at this. When you buy a book or two from them, their software is then able to identify other books you might be interested in reading. Each time you log in, you are greeted with suggestions of books that might interest you. This is both a powerful selling tool as well as a wonderful way to build a one-to-one relationship without any Amazon staff being directly involved. Some of the recent commercial software packages can present open positions to candidates based on the candidate’s previous profiles and even broadcast those opening to candidates. This is the first step in relationship building.
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  3. There must be a bond or rapport established that makes the candidate come back to the site for more interaction and communication. Examples abound. The online newspapers provide more up-to-date information than you can get from their printed versions, so people log in several times a day. Amazon offers a wide array of products, all easily purchased with their patented “one-click” technology, that entices people back two or three time s a week. Recruiting sites can offer those who have relationships an earlier awareness of open positions or preferential interviews. Only the imagination limits this.
  4. There must be a reward or a potential reward for entering into the relation. All relationships that work are two-way with each party getting something from the interaction.

Cisco pioneered the “Make a Friend @ Cisco” program, where interested potential candidates could set up an email correspondence with a Cisco employee who had a similar job to the one the candidate was seeking. This established communication – and yes, relationships – with hundreds of people. Cisco got some great candidates; candidates got in-depth information and “insider” insight into Cisco. Even individual employees got something: the recognition and ego satisfaction of being a Cisco employee who could communicate with others. Can recruiters be replaced with technology? Maybe someday. But what can happen right now is that technology can be used to reduce the number of recruiters a firm needs to meet the same volume targets, to redirect the recruiters to the increasingly tough job of selling their company to a candidate, and to begin to make the recruiting function one that is efficient and much more cost effective than it is today. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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