Views on the role of the internet in recruitment have totally changed since the first online recruitment sites set up only a few years ago. At the annual Recruitment Society Internet debate on 16 April the speakers asked “Is the internet fundamentally changing the relationship between the client and the recruitment company?”
Jeremy Caplan, European marketing director for online recruiter Monster.com, and David Taylor, e-entrepeneur, writer and broadcaster debated the issue.
Two years ago, commentators predicted internet recruitment would cut out of the middleman - ‘disintermediation’,it was rather awkwardly labelled. By last year, they were forecasting that online and traditional methods could co-habit the recruitment space, co-ordinating to improve the general offering.
This year, there was no such consensus. As befits a director from a successful online recruitment site, Monster’s Caplan argued that the internet has changed the way candidates look for and apply for jobs. Companies, too, have adapted to the medium and increasingly expect to advertise jobs online and receive online applications. Online recruitment is now even more popular than internet shopping and e-banking.
But the question of control remains controversial, said Caplan. HR directors want to be able to track all the candidates coming through different jobsites and screen them as they would if receiving paper applications. Increasingly sophisticated software – improving all the time - can now meet those tailored needs, said Caplan. The initial fear and criticism that internet recruitment would disable clients’ command of the recruitment process have proved groundless.
David Taylor disagreed. The internet has singularly failed to deliver the potential it promised, and will continue to disappoint, he forecast. The medium will only have arrived when “we cease to talk about the internet and start talking about what we are doing on it.” Transactions are now faster, and the internet has increased the reach of those using it. But the landscape still looks much the same. The internet is part of our lives, but it has not replaced any other medium – it is “just another dial tone”.
And it has not eliminated recruitment agencies, as predicted. Far from original forecasts, only those who put too much money into the internet, at the expense of their core services, have floundered. Only in a few technical specialist areas has internet recruitment proved it can really work.
Recruiters still suffer image problems, he said, perceived as the estate agents of business. Post 11 September and following the Enron scandal, companies are increasingly embracing relationships of trust at their core. Recruitment agencies need ethical foundations to promote their values and align with this demand.
If client companies are, in turn, to align the technology they have invested in and the people who can make it work, IT directors and HR directors – “the unsung heroes” - will have to be brought into the core of company strategy.
Personality – not technology – still rules, said Taylor. He quoted an IT director who claimed that he always recruited on the basis of technical qualifications, and ended up firing individuals because their personal qualities turned out to be lacking.
Emotion must be put back into the emotive process of recruiting, Taylor proposed. The internet can be personalised to meet individual needs, but it can not replace communication between candidate and company. Communication drives every business - the most visited internet site in the UK, for example, is FriendsReunited, popular through word of mouth rather than any expensive marketing campaign. The internet is here to stay, said Taylor. But it still has far to go.
At the next Recruitment Society meeting on 8 May, Peter Risdale of Leeds United Football Club will ask what an ex-HR director can bring to the world of football.