Monday, September 17, 2007

IT Recruiting in a Web 2.0 World

Companies such as HP that venture deeper into the world of Web 2.0 technologies to find new hires may find themselves disappointed, at least initially. Despite the low turnout the company's Second Life recruitment trial balloon yielded, however, HP's Betty Smith is not deterred. She says she sees a lot of potential for using Second Life for recruiting.

In mid-May, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) participated in a virtual job fair using Second Life tools from Linden Lab in San Francisco. HP had been invited by one of its external recruiters, TMP Worldwide Advertising & Communications in New York. During the virtual event, recruiters and job applicants alike created avatars, or personas to represent themselves in the virtual world.

At least that's how it was supposed to unfold. Four HP recruiters were slated to spend four hours a day on the site for three consecutive days to interview 40-plus applicants. Fewer than 20 avatars showed up, however.

"Some candidates who didn't show turned out to be inexperienced with [Second Life], didn't have their avatars created in time or weren't interested," says Betty Smith, manager of university recruiting for HP in San Diego. Two of those who did take part warranted follow-up interviews, though HP hasn't extended job offers to either candidate yet, she says.

Standing Out
HP's willingness to step into the Web 2.0 world for recruiting differentiates the company. In Computerworld's latest Vital Signs survey, none of the 233 IT professionals responding reported using Second Life for recruiting.

A scant 4 percent said they used blogs or social networking sites like Facebook to engage potential IT job candidates. Only 15 percent reported using professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. Moreover, 52 percent of the respondents said they don't use any Web 2.0 tools for recruiting.

It seems that most IT organizations are missing out on a huge opportunity to connect -- particularly with the talented twentysomethings who inhabit the virtual world. These Gen Yers are "tribal" and accustomed to the "very collaborative relationships" that Web 2.0 tools enable, says Tom Casey, senior vice president and workforce transformation leader at Kingwood, Texas-based consultancy BSG Concours.

Hooking Up
However, a few companies do see the potential. The IT leadership team at Quicken Loans, for example, is ahead of the curve. In February, it rolled out a recruiting Web site that includes a blog called "The Diff" (addressing the gap between average and outstanding performance), which employees use to articulate why Quicken Loans is such a great company to work for. One of the chief benefits of the blog is that it helps company workers connect with potential employees in a genuine way, says e-commerce marketing director Matt Cardwell.

So far, more than half of the blog posts discuss what's cool about working for the online mortgage lender; the others highlight external people or companies that Quicken Loans employees admire. "It's about connecting people up," says Cardwell.

Mirror, Mirror
The use of Web 2.0 tools can help job hunters screen companies and vice versa. It starts with a well-designed Web site that enables potential employees to learn nearly everything about a company, including its ethics and culture -- which helps socially conscious job candidates make informed decisions about pursuing IT employment.

Other tools can help companies separate the likely hires from the rest. Wall Homes, an Arlington, Texas-based home builder, typically receives thousands of hits for IT positions it places on recruitment sites like, says CIO Andrew Brimberry. So his IT management team takes advantage of professional networking sites such as LinkedIn to locate and screen recruits on the basis of job skills, geography and academic background.

Companies such as HP that venture deeper into the world of Web 2.0 technologies may find themselves disappointed, at least initially. Despite the low turnout the Second Life trial balloon yielded, however, Smith is not deterred. She says she sees a lot of potential for using Second Life for recruiting.

Gen Yers "are so tech-savvy, we think it's a great way to reach out where they're already comfortable," says Smith. "If we can find a way to add value, they'll think about HP as a company that thinks about them."

Getting Harder
Of course, Web 2.0 is only one piece of the recruiting puzzle, says Casey. "There is no company I have spoken to that has cracked the 'DaVinci Code' of attraction," he says.

New IT recruits are more difficult to land. In the Vital Signs survey, 27 percent of respondents said it's tougher to recruit college graduates now than it was two years ago.

Complicating the challenge, some say, is that the current crop of newbies is different from previous generations in several respects. For instance, many twentysomethings are accustomed to receiving a lot of handholding and attaboys, says Adrian Gostick, co-author of The Carrot Principle and a consultant at O.C. Tanner, an employee recognition advisory firm in Salt Lake City.

The wants and needs of this new generation can induce managerial headaches for IT leaders who hire the wrong candidates. "We've cut the [IT] workforce down in the last 10 years to make them more efficient," says Neal Ganguly, CIO at CentraState Healthcare System, a Freehold, N.J.-based healthcare provider with a 32-person IT staff. "One person who is too needy can drag the whole workforce down. We just can't afford that."

High Maintenance, Sometimes High Returns
Gordon Gregory can relate. The vice president of technology at Mazuma Credit Union in Kansas City, Mo., says the company hired a few younger IT workers in recent years who didn't pan out. "A couple of them were what I'd call 'high maintenance' -- they had high egos and needed a lot of attention, and they weren't always adept at working with people and customers," he says.

More than previous generations, today's crop of younger IT workers also values, even expects, flexible work hours. "They want to work when they want to work, but we still need them in at certain hours to work on teams," says M. Lewis Temares, CIO at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla.

To the extent that he can, Temares grants IT staffers flexible hours and equips them with home PCs and BlackBerry devices so they can do their jobs whenever and wherever they're able.

"There's no question you're going to get the returns back on these investments," he says.

He does. Many younger workers on Temares' 300-person IT staff put in an eight-hour day and then grind out another four hours overnight. In fact, the university now posts notices about server downtime at least a week in advance. "You never know who needs what" during the middle of the night, says Temares.

Low Tech, High Touch
There are also low-tech recruitment techniques that IT executives don't exploit nearly enough. One is piggybacking business trips with visits to colleges, says David Foote, chief research officer at Foote Partners in New Canaan, Conn. Such visits give students a chance to quiz IT leaders about what it's really like to work at a company, says Foote. "It's consistently the best way to hire people out of school."

Tellabs CIO Jean Holley has used that technique. To help feed an internship program for college graduates with SAP (NYSE: SAP) , life-cycle development and broad-based Web skills, Holley and two colleagues visited the University of Missouri -- Rolla in March to conduct preliminary interviews with students enrolled in the school's MBA-ERP program. "Getting an MBA intern is a little unique for us, but it maps to a need we have" for ERP skills, says Holley, who nabbed an intern during the trip.

Introducing Competition
Engaging college students in programming and problem-solving contests has proved to be an effective exercise at Quicken Loans. Last winter, the IT department held a contest for college students to solve one of its business problems -- the need for an automated script that could search for specific text on the company's Web site. The contest, which required students to review source code and write code, generated dozens of entries and provided senior IT management with insight into the way potential employees think and how quickly they could solve problems, says CIO Frank Laura.

Laura looks at four criteria in job candidates: a cultural fit with Quicken Loans, a desire to learn, the ability to learn and technical skills, in that order.

"We have a saying here," says Laura. "'You're like a tree: You're either growing or dying.'"