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Redesigning Your HR Web Site for the Tight Labor Market

By Peter Shikli
EE Times
(03/14/00, 4:58 p.m. EST)

The tight labor market for engineers and most technology workers is causing companies to revisit the employment section of their Web site. The Human Resources department's supply-side approach of processing stacks of resumes is giving way to demand-side marketing of an employer and its jobs through the Internet.

The Internet is emerging as fertile ground because:

1. Engineering jobs require computer fluency, and a candidate who arrives over the Internet demonstrates some of that.

2. By the time the paper resumes arrive, the best candidate may already be employed elsewhere.

3. The cost of disseminating job information across a company's Web site is cheaper than any other media.

4. The sharpest job candidates have learned the effectiveness of the Web and are evaluating a job opening and the company behind it by what they see on the Web.

5. As companies cite a lack of talented knowledge workers as one of their greatest impediments to growth, any media that produces a qualified applicant is worth pursuing.

Like many of my company's clients, a Fortune 1,000 engineering firm had a Web site with an "Employment" link to job listings, plus the obligatory equal opportunity policy and a place to e-mail resumes. To improve the marketing effectiveness of the firm's want ads on the Internet, we sat down with their HR manager and asked, "Why would anyone want to work here?" The approach is similar to any other marketing strategy session that begins with basic principles.

The company's employee manual had good standard stuff about its benefits package, grievance policies, etc., but a poll of their own staff revealed that the best employees had come aboard because of the corporate philosophy. Matching career values to the firm's mission statement and the whole vision thing emerged as a primary motivator for best-fit employees.

The company's management undertook the task of developing the required content, and in the process discovered that the firm had some very marketable principles and policies. "More than the inducement of any job offer," noted the company's CEO, "we want to present the big picture of the firm as a team worth joining."

The "Why Work Here" section of their HR home page thus begins with a link to the "Share our Mission" page and the "Team Principles" page. Moving to more specifics, there is also a link to the "Employee Benefits" page, a bulleted list of medical benefits, profit sharing plans, educational assistance, etc. This was sourced from the company's Employee Manual with the details stripped away, i.e., just "Generous 401 (k) retirement plan" rather than the qualification requirements, disbursement schedule, etc. Lastly, the "Why Work Here" section links to an "Equal Employment Opportunity Policy" page. This is a separate page since few job prospects will ever read it, and it may otherwise distract or dilute the marketing messages.

Having presented their benefits first, the HR home page next links to the firm's "Major Service Disciplines" page and its "Current Job Openings" page. By listing its major service disciplines as job entry points, the company shifted the HR task of checking off resume elements, vis-a-vis narrowly-defined current job openings, to the broader marketing task of assessing the service discipline background and experience on a resume enough to bring the current and future job openings to the resume.

The "Current Job Openings" page provides links to job title lists by office location, position title, and service discipline. In either case, job opening lists are a separate page so prospective applicants can bookmark it individually and revisit it often. With a dozen or two job titles cross-indexed on a dozen such lists, the company also gives the impression of having many job openings. This goes beyond HR since prospective customers often check an engineering outfit's help wanted section to make sure they are dealing with a thriving, growing company.

Senior Requirements Engineer

  • College degree in engineering
  • Understanding of MIL-STDs
  • 5 yrs experience w/V&V

  • Client & technical team liaison
  • Write Needs Analysis
  • Generate requirements doc's

When writing the job listing itself, the reader should be assumed to be in a hurry. After all, that is the type of candidate sought. The firm's extensive text describing requirements and duties were condensed into hard hitting bullets listed in order of priority. The objective is to provide just enough information so a qualified candidate responds. Since there is no space penalty as with a classified ad, the problem was that the HR people had grown too wordy to try to induce applicants. As with many marketing efforts, less is more when it comes to words. With a job offer, the risk is describing the job in so much detail that the applicant notices an unmet minor job requirement or misses a significant job benefit.

The main improvement, however, was in what marketers refer to as the "call to action." All good ad copy ends with at least one compelling call to do something right now. An applicant who did not immediately click on the old "How to Apply" link at the bottom of the job listing was probably lost forever.

Second chances

The key is to use the full range of interactive tools available on the Web to provide the visitor several ways to enter the employment channel during the one brief visit we can count on.

Obviously, the "Apply" link should be displayed prominently for the candidate ready to go to that step, but the Web designers should ask themselves, "What other call to action would be worthwhile if I can't get a home run?" Getting a qualified applicant to ask a question about the job via a "Ask the Boss" link is certainly a base hit.

Seasoned HR people are likely to have an allergic reaction to opening the door to such job questions. Their experience has shown this to be a waste of time compared to first qualifying the applicant. Three things have changed this.

First, supply and demand have shifted, and HR people are being forced to chase down candidates as never before. Answering a question to get a qualified applicant in the queue is cheap compared to the other options. The best candidates spend the time up front assessing employers, and apply only to the companies that stood out from the pack.

Second, timelines have changed. Resumes going out used to be the beginning of the job-hunting process. Now they are the close. Receiving a highly qualified resume over the transom is an invitation to a bidding war — if a competitor hasn't already snagged the candidate. By engaging the candidate early in the process, an employer increases the chances of an interview before the bidding war begins.

Third, the Internet has changed the productivity formulas involved. Software support organizations were quick to switch to the Web and e-mail once they realized 10:1 productivity improvements were common. Like HR administrators, they no longer have to listen to irrelevant or background information and can scan to the meat of the matter. The 80-20 rule means 80 "Ask the Boss" questions out of 100 reuse the 20 most common answers, which in the case of e-mail is pasted from boilerplate — boilerplate with prior legal and management review. For the ubiquitous "What does it pay?," for example, the canned response expands on "For that, we'll need to see a resume." Moreover, the online form includes required fields to process the question. Fields like "current job title" and "phone number" qualify the source of the question as e-mail never could. On the "Ask the Boss" form, the visitor is only assured that the question will be answered by the person most knowledgeable of the answer, which may be the HR administrator. This approach also reduces the misunderstandings common after the honeymoon phase if e-mail threads show what promises were or were not made.

In that the HR Web site pulls job candidates worldwide, one of its support tasks is to encourage a relocation. The HR home page thus has a "Why Relocate Here" section listing dozens of online resources on housing, education, transportation, recreation, community, economic statistics, etc. by office location. Fortunately, this did not require developing content as much as researching the Web for links to existing content. All the major search directories and regional portals are focused on developing localized content, and an hour of research per office location can make job candidates feel at home.

Near the bottom of the HR home page, as with most marketing-oriented pages, are the calls to action, i.e., what the visitor is being urged to do about what is presented. Besides the obvious online job application and the "Ask the Boss" option mentioned earlier, the company can invite visitors unsure of which job openings to target to submit their resumes and the company will take the initiative to look for the fit.

Problem solver

The online job application is designed to solve a few of the problems plaguing HR administrators. First, there is a text box into which applicants are instructed to clip and paste their resume, typically from their word processor. This eliminates the problem of resumes attached to e-mail messages, sometimes in a strange word processor format, or reflecting the sender's learning curve using attachments, or worse, with an MS Word macro virus. For applicants committed to resumes using pretty fonts, they are given instructions on faxing.

Second, fields on the form encourage applicants to submit information commonly missing from resumes, such as alternate phone numbers and salary requirements.

The last call to action is the online "Electronic Bulletin Sign-Up" form whereby visitors not ready to consider a job can sign up to be notified of new job postings. Visitors to a corporate Web site sometimes take a look at the employment section just to better understand the company. They want to see if the company is growing and hiring, and in what directions. They are not job candidates at the time, but the "Electronic Bulletin Sign-Up" form gives them a quick and confidential way to stay tuned.

By maintaining visibility with an occasional electronic bulletin, a company is positioned for the unexpected circumstance when a key player on the outside wants to move. All he or she has to do is click on a link in the electronic message bulletin to review an enticing new job listing. From a design standpoint, electronic bulletins do not resemble newsletters as much as interoffice memos, essentially a couple of paragraphs on a single topic. Whereas even simple mass mailings have concept-to-delivery costs approaching a dollar per piece, the per-piece cost of e-mail is almost zero. Whereas the opening rate of subscribed postal mail averages about 10 percent, the opening rate for subscribed e-mail is over 80 percent. For time-sensitive announcements such as job openings, nothing is faster than e-mail. Most e-mail software is now Web-enabled, allowing the recipient to click on an embedded link to jump to a designated Web page to learn more.

Having redesigned its HR Web site to be more marketing-oriented, the firm turned its attention to the core task of Internet marketing — promoting the Web site to increase visitation traffic. Beyond the scope of this article, they made sure the HR Web site (not just the corporate home page) was prominently listed on the main Internet directory services such as Alta Vista through Yahoo, as well as on portals with specialized information for the kind of engineer they seek to hire.

HR managers should consider the adage, "We can't change the way the wind blows, but we can adjust our sails." With the labor market tighter than ever, the HR wind is certainly blowing differently, and HR Web sites have to adjust.

Peter Shikli is a graduate of UCLA's School of Engineering and obtained an MBA from Loyola. He is founder of BusinessWare, which specializes in business-to-business Web sites and Internet marketing. He can be reached at Bizware Online Applications or phoned at (949) 369-1638, ext 77.

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