Is E-cruiting the Answer?

When job seekers or the merely curious click on one of the positions posted at Bombardier Aerospace’s recruitment Web site, they may be taken aback to find the interview process starts right there and then.

Montreal-based Bombardier Aerospace, a Bombardier Inc. division that builds executive jets, doesn’t just provide a mechanism at its site for e-mailing a resume or filling in a job application. It prescreens applicants on the spot with a series of click-to-answer questions designed to determine how qualified they are for a particular job.

To apply for the Peoplesoft Business Analyst position posted in January, for example, you had to respond to the following questions: “What is your highest level of education? How many years experience do you have with Peoplesoft? How many Peoplesoft implementations have you done?” Each question is assigned a weighted value.

Although they appear at Bombardier’s site, the job postings and prescreening questions actually reside on a server operated by California-based ASP Inc. Bombardier became a charter Recruitsoft subscriber last November, partly because it could no longer cope with the volume of resumes it was attracting.

“We get over 30,000 a year just at Montreal,” explains Bombardier HR advisor Daniel Bouchard, who helped implement Recruitsoft. “This service lets us shorten our recruitment time since we don’t have to look at all the candidates. If some score 30 per cent or below we can safely ignore them. In fact, we mostly focus on those scoring 80 per cent and higher.”

Using the Net for recruiting clearly has upsides and downsides. On the one hand, it tends to reduce cycle times if you receive resumes electronically and begin screening by e-mail. But as Bombardier and others have found, the volume of resumes received can seriously gum up the works. Hewlett-Packard reportedly receives more than one million a year.

The Recruitsoft service helps automate recruiting in other ways too. Using a browser-based front end, Bombardier recruiters can mine the candidate database and share resumes with recruiters at other sites. The service also lets them track individual candidates through the recruitment process, and lets candidates keep their “profiles” up to date online.

Recruitsoft is not the only or even the first to market with such a product. Services and packages from other vendors, including E-cruiter from Inc., offer similar functionality.

The prescreening capability they provide is the most innovative and may be the most important. Recruitsoft vice-president of strategy and content, Yves Lermusiaux, a former HR consultant based in Quebec City who helped Bombardier develop its e-cruitment strategy, believes that time and cost to hire, the traditional metrics for recruiting success, are no longer enough.

“The true metric for the CEO who is looking at the bottom line,” says Lermusiaux, “is how much time to be productive — how much time before the successful candidate begins to make a contribution.” Proper prescreening ensures a low time to contribute, he argues.

Finding and attracting the best talent and doing it quickly and inexpensively are viewed as key strategic initiatives by Bombardier and other companies — initiatives that can yield a significant competitive edge. Yet most companies have trouble just finding qualified candidates for IT positions today, never mind attracting the best. And the current IT skills shortage will likely get worse before it gets better.

The Recruitment Problem

In Becoming A Magnet For IT Talent, a study conducted by Forrester Research last year, the average IT department polled had more than 10 per cent of its positions unfilled. Nearly a quarter had between 11 per cent and 25 per cent unfilled. Unfilled jobs mean project delays and reduced service levels. So it’s no wonder 60 per cent of the IT executives surveyed put IT staffing on their list of top day-to-day issues.

Forrester believes the current IT labour shortage will continue for at least five years as companies scramble to build new e-commerce capabilities, extranets for supply chain management, and customer self-service systems. They will need more and more IT staff for these new initiatives. And the companies that land the best people will have the best chance of succeeding.

Is e-cruiting the solution? Is it a way for IT departments to close the skills shortage gap and find great candidates faster and cheaper? Few IT managers, apparently, see e-cruiting as any kind of silver bullet, but a few high-profile exponents such as Cisco Systems Inc., the U.S.-based networking and Internet equipment manufacturer, argue that it is a vital tool.

“Given the speed at which this business is moving,” says Cisco’s California-based director of talent Celia Harper-Guerra, “we need the Internet in order to be able to source top talent quickly. And the Net enables us to decrease the cycle time for getting candidates into the company.”

Cisco’s time to recruit is the lowest in the industry, Harper-Guerra says. In the last two and a half years, the company has reduced it from 112 to 45 days. Much of that is attributable to exploiting Internet resources, she says.

How important is reducing time to recruit? Very, says Harper-Guerra.

Cisco is in the midst of transforming itself from a networking company to an Internet company competing in the new voice-video-data networking space. Recruiting top talent experienced with new technologies and markets such as voice-over-Internet is critical to its success. Good candidates are a rare commodity. The Internet helped Cisco find the people it needed, she says.

Driving Down Recruiting Costs

As a secondary benefit, one that Harper-Guerra downplays, Cisco has also managed to save about US$7 million a year by using the Internet to help automate the recruitment process. Savings are realized by getting applicants to do some of the work for them — Cisco also does online prescreening of candidates — and simply by reducing time to recruit.

Cost reduction is also definitely on Bombardier’s agenda. Building up its own Web recruitment site will help it reduce outside marketing costs, Bouchard says. Now that it can capture and keep track of good candidates and share them across the company’s several locations, Bombardier expects to fill more positions from its own candidate database. And that means it won’t need to advertise in newspapers and Web job boards as much. It hopes to cut recruitment advertising from $300,000 to $150,000 a year in 2000.

But while Web recruiting has a fairly high profile in the media, and job boards have become hugely popular with many employers and job seekers, not all IT managers have caught on yet.

Pros and Cons of Job Boards

At Ontario Power Generation (OPG), the Ontario Hydro spin-off that operates the power plants in the province, recruiter Sandy Roeken is sold on the Internet, but admits she hasn’t sold all of her hiring manager clients yet.

With an aging employee population of 15,000, a large percentage closing in on early retirement, the company is gearing up for a heavy recruitment drive. Last year alone, it hired more than 500 people, over 40 of them IT professionals. But when positions open up, hiring managers, even IT managers, don’t necessarily think of posting them on the Web, Roeken says. And some resist the idea.

“Nine times out of 10, the line manager wants to have a print ad because that’s just the way they think,” she says. When she does persuade them to post at a Web job board instead, or as well, “they’re thrilled by the response,” Roeken says. She believes it will take more education to get both recruiters and hiring managers in her company thinking about and using the Internet.

But IT managers in the United States who use job boards are not universally thrilled by the response. Almost half the companies Forrester surveyed said they used Internet job boards, but they ranked them worst in terms of effectiveness — even lower than newspaper ads, job fairs and headhunters, which e-cruiting was supposed to replace. The most often heard complaint: job board applicants were underqualified.

The flaw in this finding, e-cruitment advocates say, is that Internet job boards, especially the big commercial boards, are just the tip of the e-cruitment iceberg, only one part of a successful Internet recruiting strategy, and probably not the most important.

And IT recruiters who only use big popular commercial sites such as, Career Mosaic Canada and Workopolis, the new joint venture between The Globe & Mail and Toronto Star, are bound to get more quantity than quality.

Savvy IT recruiters also use niche sites such as [email protected] (, an IT industry job board that offers postings on a network of affiliated boards, including even more specialized sites that target particular skill areas. TechnoSkill (, sponsored by CATAAlliance (Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance), the Ottawa-based high-tech industry association, is another IT-specific job board.

Then there are even more specialized sites such as Multimediator (, which provides a number of Web-based services for Canadian multimedia firms and professionals. Posting jobs is just one.

Waving Your Banner

The next plank in a rounded e-cruiting strategy, vendors say, is banner advertising — to drive applicant traffic either to your job posting on a commercial board or to your own job board. The commercial job boards — the Monsters, Career Mosaics and Workopolises — all sell banner ads on their sites, which you can use to point to your own page or to your job posting on their site. Most will also let you use their job board systems to build your own recruitment site.

According to Wayne Burns, Canadian president and creative director of Bernard Hodis Advertising, the company that owns and manages the international network of CareerMosaic job boards, career-related banner ads deliver a 1.9 per cent to 3 per cent click-through rate. In other words, two or three out of every 100 visitors to pages on which the banner appears click through to view the advertiser’s information.

But innovative e-cruiters such as Cisco find other places to advertise that they claim are even more effective than the job boards, where they have to compete with hundreds of other employers. To recruit telecom specialists to work in the field of voice-over-Internet, for example, Cisco placed banner ads at, a site for the Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC) industry in the United States. And they often place ads at sites devoted to the Dilbert cartoon strip, and even at Silicon Valley morning traffic report pages.

“The Dilbert sites are where engineers live and breathe,” says Cisco Internet recruiting strategist Shanil Kaderali. He’s not joking. “That’s what you have to do: figure out where the people you want live on the Internet, where you can go to attract them.”

Banner advertising to drive traffic to your own site is critical if you want to reduce your reliance on job board postings and have more control over your applicant database, as companies like Bombardier and Cisco do. The cheapest way to fill a position is to find the right candidate in your own database. The cost is practically nil compared to an estimated average of $14,000 using traditional media, recruiters and head hunters — higher for difficult to fill one-of-a-kind IT positions.

Reaching Passive Candidates

The kind of advertising Cisco does at non-career sites such as and the Dilbert pages has another benefit. It gets the company’s recruitment message in front of so-called passive candidates, people who have no plans to move. It’s those people who are most prized by recruiters, partly just because they’re good enough to be well employed already and are happy in their jobs.

Cisco and other e-cruitment adepts use a raft of more active search techniques, including resume or candidate mining or spidering, to find passive candidates. Kaderali estimates there are 20 million resumes posted on the Web. Only about three to four million are posted at commercial job sites.

So it makes sense to go after some of the rest of the 20 million resumes, which are posted on private Web pages, industry association pages, university and college alumni sites and even company sites. How do you find them? Web search engines can be surprisingly efficient at ferreting them out.

Using Alta Vista’s powerful search language to filter out job ads, I scored 11,961 hits using this search: +”systems analyst” +resume -submit -vacanc* -opening. The minus words tell Alta Vista not to return pages with those words because they’re likely job ad pages. Most of the hits appeared to be privately posted resumes of systems analysts. Obviously you could refine the search a good deal to turn up just the type of candidate you want.

Candidate Mining Tools

But a one-time search of the open Web will miss millions of resumes at commercial career sites. And it will miss the dozens of resumes posted minutes or days after your search.

Candidate mining tools have the benefit of being able to search repeatedly, day after day.

These products let you program an agent or robot to do simultaneous keyword searches of internal databases, for-fee resume databases and the open Internet — all automatically and in the background. Cisco, for example, uses Resume infoFinder from Intelligent Algorithms Enterprises Ltd. ( Other products include Resume Detective ( from Knowledge Probe Inc. of Aurora, Ont., and AIRS SearchStation from the Association of Internet Recruiters (

Cisco goes well beyond just searching for resumes in its quest for passive candidates. According to Kaderali, there are also 80 million “contact names” buried on the Web — names of potential candidates that don’t even post a resume. They appear in newsgroups, for example, where Cisco recruiters and hiring managers can gauge their level of expertise and even how well they might fit in the Cisco corporate culture. Often they’re customers or prospective customers who later become targets for recruitment.

This kind of networking (in the old sense) is key to any good recruitment strategy. Which is one reason why Cisco also encourages existing employees to recommend people they know for jobs. Other companies do the same thing on an informal or formal basis, but Cisco has automated the process with an intranet site that lets employees submit recommendations online and then track the progress of their candidate through the recruitment process.

E-cruiting can help achieve what most CIOs would consider recruitment success. It can help you get your message in front of as many good candidates as possible, and find the right person quickly and economically.

Tony Martell is a freelance writer specializing in information technology and IT management. He is based in London, Ont.

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