In this current economic valley ó typified by a rise in the number of candidates and a decrease in the number of jobs ó the way that companies are using the Internet has changed dramatically. A fundamental mindset shift has resulted: the question has gone from, “How can I find qualified candidates?” to, “How can I identify the best candidate from an avalanche of qualified and unqualified candidates?” Many leading economists are pointing to hiring efforts coming back with a vengeance, possibly beginning in the third quarter of this year. So how will online recruiting change when the economy rebounds? What lessons can we take from our current situation? I’ve asked this question from the perspective of two vital areas of your online recruiting strategy: your employment website and your ATS. The Economy and Your Employment Website Your employment website is unquestionably the most important piece of your online recruiting strategy. It acts as a first and often last impression on your company’s employment opportunities, and a way to collect valuable information from candidates. To many candidates, it demonstrates whether you are serious about recruiting top talent or if it’s just lip service. During the “Talent Wars, Episode I: The Late ’90s,” most of the companies that came to us needed their employment website to stand out from the crowd. These competitive times were marked by talk of pre-IPO stock options, incredible benefits, and bonuses big enough to be a down payment on a house. Even Jar Jar Binks was happily employed. In Episode I, our clients most often asked for cutting-edge gimmicks and games, flashy technologies, and innovative ideas. They were willing to sacrifice utility for cool functionality ó until we talked them down from the ledge and made them realize they had to have a blend of both to be successful. Just as the split-level home screams that your house was built in the ’60s, the companies that built their employment websites in the late ’90s are readily identifiable by the use of advanced technologies with weak back-end functionality. These recruiting teams are probably too busy reading through resumes to read this article (although I hope they will). In “Episode II: Attack of the Layoffs,” companies began to take a different approach to their employment website. Those that revisited the employment website wanted to find better ways to manage and sort the candidates that were already coming in rather than using it to sell top candidates on the company, the workplace, or specific opportunities. Profiling and prescreening have been the light sabers and lasers of this new economy. New content has focused on managing candidates’ expectations of the hiring process, since hiring times have ballooned with the sheer number of resumes to sort through. Employment sites built in the early millennium are typically light on content, lack imagination in design, and may incorporate a lengthy pre-screening process. Many have been built by marketing departments with no understanding of recruiting or what function the employment website can and does serve. The Economy and Your ATS Technology purchases are often a reactionary attempt to solve current business challenges. Never has this been more evident than in the recent economic recession, when recruiters’ main challenges have been to identify the most viable candidate from a pool of hundreds and often thousands. The front-end interface for candidates and talent relationship management features received top billing in Episode I. Meanwhile, in the current Episode II, back-end, recruiter-facing ATS technology such as skills matching, routing, and workflow automation have received the most attention. In the process, candidates are being asked to submit to excruciatingly long online applications, wade through poor front-end interfaces, and hear little if anything back on most of the positions they’ve applied for. I’ve audited more than a couple of companies with eight-page online applications, supported by little in the way of content to convince candidates to go through the process. In leaner times, many candidates will grudgingly fill out these longer applications while in search of employment and be willing to jump through as many hoops as you put in front of them. When things pick up, though, the patience with these features declines as the number of other available opportunities increases. Lessons Learned In “Episode III: Return of the Unfilled Position” (coming to companies in late 2002), the buzz will be about scalability. Companies that implement scalable technologies will be in position to win the Talent Wars ó regardless of the shape of the economy. This is the vital lesson to be learned from an analysis of past events. A scalable approach will be defined by the ability to creatively sell candidates on who you are as an employer while leveraging well-integrated back-end tools to help manage and sort through the large flow of applicants that appear in an economic recession. Successful employers will optimize the candidate experience so that the right profile information is gathered in a way that does not act as a barrier to applying, which will in turn make the process of identifying the right candidates faster and more efficient. They will give themselves the tools to proactively manage talent relationships and reduce hiring times, and will promote and integrate these features with a strong front-end employment website. You can start this process now by asking yourself if your existing technologies are built solely for yesterday’s or for today’s business challenges, and how well they will adapt to future economic conditions. If you are currently in the midst of a technology development or purchase project, reexamine the specifications that have been identified with an eye for what effect upward or downward swings in the economy will have, and the refinements that will be necessary to support them.