Around this time of year, as the days get shorter and the weather a bit cooler, I find myself reflecting on the themes and trends that have emerged over the spring and summer. I entered this year thinking that the rebounding economy would create thousands of jobs and that we would be facing significant skill shortages. What has happened instead has been a slow improvement in the job market, with many organizations facing skill shortages, but mostly in very specific professions and areas. Hiring managers are asking for better people in less time, while recruiters are working harder with fewer resources. I have identified below six trends or themes that seem to be topmost in the conversations I have with recruiters. Some of these trends have been written about in other ERE columns and some have been showcased at conferences and seminars. All of them directly or indirectly deal with the struggle to meet customer (hiring manager) demand, while keeping recruiters from getting frustrated and giving up. I have written a short commentary on each of the trends I see. Let’s take a look. 1. A slow but relentless move toward outsourcing Most organizations are not even thinking about outsourcing their recruiting functions. Instead they are using external firms to recruit for the positions that are both high volume or that perform marginally important functions for the organization. Positions frequently outsourced are those of clerk, secretary, sales associate, and customer service representative. In many cases, these positions consumed several recruiters’ time and a significant portion of the recruiting budget. Recruitment process outsourcing (often called RPO) is now on the rise, with more than a dozen firms offering to take over the entire recruiting effort. The best of these firms do it all: they take over your employment branding, website operations, sourcing, marketing, selling, screening, assessment, and all hiring activities from making an offer to onboarding. They eliminate the need for organizations to buy and maintain expensive applicant tracking systems and shift a significant administrative burden outside the firm. The best of these RPO firms are integrating and leveraging an array of technology that includes branding tools, websites, screening and assessment software, applicant tracking, workforce planning, and more. This is a trend that will continue to grow, probably slowly for the next couple of years, and then explode as both the technology and accumulated experience make it economically attractive and successful. 2. Embracing online screening and assessment technologies Many organizations have begun to use online screening questions or simple tests as part of their online application process. Most applicant tacking firms now offer something in the way of screening, but usually nothing very sophisticated. However, this is just the beginning of a trend that will change how we recruit significantly. Over the next year or two, organizations will incorporate more levels of assessment into the initial application process. For example, a person seeking a programming position may be asked to complete a skills test as well as cultural fit assessment. These tests will be wrapped around more complete information about the position than candidates typically get today, so self selection will also become a larger factor in filtering candidates. The e-screening and e-assessment providers have done a good job in simplifying and shortening these tests so that they are more palatable to candidates. Even though the tests themselves may not be as accurate as when they are longer, they provide both candidates and recruiters with a good enough idea of skills and fit to decide whether further assessment is needed. When added to the recruiting website and coupled with the applicant tracking system, these tests provide a powerful, simple, and effective way to reduce large numbers of potential applicants to a manageable size for additional, more personal, assessments. 3. A focus on metrics We can only know how well we are doing after we have defined the outcomes we want and then measured whether or not we achieved them. Recruiters have historically been poor at measurement, and have only recently begun to track basic administrative numbers ó things like costs, dollars spent, and so forth. But the more useful numbers tell us whether or not we are achieving the specific goals that have been established. For example, did the right candidates get hired in the right timeframe? Did the organization have the right person pre-sourced for a critical position so that very little time was spent with a vacancy? These are the kinds of strategic questions that can be answered by carefully tracking what matters. Establishing the critical outcomes and then measuring achievement is a trend that will rapidly unfold over the next year. Every top quality recruiting function will have a set of strategic metrics that get reported to senior management on a regular basis and that forms the basis for future planning and decision making. 4. Retention There is a pervasive fear among hiring professionals that good people are all about to leave their current employers. ERE has hosted a half-dozen articles this year on retention and what to do about it. Over the next year there will be more awareness that retention is a complex issue. Recruiting plays only a small part in the retention equation. More important is the quality of the manager, the success of the organization, the organization’s brand, the quality of fellow employees, the challenge of the specific job, and the openness of the job market. Recruiters need to be aware of how all these factors interact to create a retention-oriented culture or not. Recruiters also need to anticipate that key people will leave and have a replacement strategy in place and pre-sourced candidates ready to go. There will be greater focus on re-recruitment and on recruiting internally for both promotional opportunities and for lateral moves. 5. Changing competencies of recruiters Internal recruiters need to approach their jobs from the perspective of an outside retained or contingent recruiter. They need to ask how they are adding value and where. As technology gets more sophisticated and allows recruiters to spend less time on administrivia, what should recruiters do instead? If candidates can come to the website, learn about the positions and the organization, complete an application, take a screening and assessment battery of tests, and then be short listed immediately, where does the recruiter come into the picture? Do internal recruiters act as project managers for outsourced recruiting functions? Do they source new candidates, assess current ones, or act as a broker between candidates and hiring managers? Or do they do all of these things? Each organization is already in the midst of redefining what a recruiter is and what she does. Smart organizations will raise the bar and force recruiters to be marketers, salespeople, closers, relationship builders, and nurturers all at once. Less-well-run organizations will ask recruiters to continue to act as administrative helpers, low-end candidate screeners, and receptionists for candidates. 6. Social networking software and other “out there” sourcing and candidate relationship technologies A handful of leading-edge recruiters are playing with social networks as a recruiting tool. They are using them as referral engines and as a way to generate the names of happily employed people who may have an interest in another opportunity ó especially when asked by a friend. Likewise there are blogs, instant messaging, chat rooms, forums, and other emerging practices they may or may or may not become important ways to source candidates and nurture relationships. This is an area to watch carefully over the next six months. The real lesson from 2004 is that evolution is far more powerful than revolution. What is happening is that recruiters are slowly embracing, incorporating, integrating, and using tools and processes than have been around for some time. Smart recruiters carefully experiment and slowly incorporate. They also embrace change and realize that nothing ever holds technology back.
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