Amazing Practices in Recruiting — ERE Award Winners 2009 (Part 2 of 2)

It has been an amazing year in recruiting and talent management. Despite severe economic hardships, budget cuts, and hiring freezes, recruiting functions have continued to innovate and stretch the limits of “standard recruiting.”

After evaluating hundreds of applications, here is part two of the list of best practices in recruiting that I recommend you emulate.

(This article was updated May 4, 2009; it originally said that GE Healthcare “abandoned its outsourcing model,” but this was incorrect. It did not.)

Category V: Best College Recruiting Program – Ernst & Young

In a conservative industry and in a segment of recruiting that offers little innovation, Ernst & Young has led the way for several years in a row. It has been ranked #1 on theBusinessWeek “Best Places to Launch a Career” list and has an astonishing 90% conversion rate for interns.

Some best practices include:

  • Executive involvement. It convinced over 1,500 client-serving partners to take time away from their busy schedules to service selected schools, just as it services clients. Even Board members visit a select number of assigned schools each year. Each business unit has specific goals and is held accountable for successful college recruiting.
  • A pipeline approach. It provides leadership development programs for freshmen and sophomore students, both to increase the supply talent later on and enable early identification of potential candidates.
  • Resources. Ernst & Young maintained a staff of 75 dedicated college recruiters, and holds an annual 1,800 person, 4-day leadership conference to develop its interns.
  • Competition. Sponsors “Your World, Your Vision,” a student competition where students design an initiative that benefits their local community. Winning schools were awarded funding to make their initiative a reality.
  • Technology. Uses nearly every technology approach to recruiting and employer branding, including the use of a dedicated Facebook page to service students and to build its brand.

Notable college recruiting features at other companies:

  • Qualcomm. Funds labs and faculty research projects on targeted campuses. Also has an on-campus ambassador program.
  • Genentech. Uses a Customer Relationship Management system to capture information on targeted candidates early in their campus career in order to enable relationship-building throughout their college lifecycle.
  • Microsoft. Uses a five-year quality-of-hire study to make the business case and to prove the positive ROI of college recruiting. This research justified maintaining budget allocation levels, regardless of the state of the economy.
  • Aricent. Focuses efforts on specific student streams (versus on entire campuses). In addition, hiring managers and the employment brand manager conduct postmortems in order to troubleshoot failures.
  • MillerCoors. Uses real-world management projects sponsored by individual managers as the primary focus for its summer internship programs (i.e., project-based consulting).

Category VI: The Best Corporate Careers Website – Yahoo

As we all know, Yahoo has been undergoing turmoil in recent years, so it’s particularly amazing that despite the turmoil, coupled with the economic downturn, its HR team put together an amazing Web 2.0 rebuilding effort. The result of this transformation? A career site that went from being ranked as one of the worst sites (on the prestigious CareerXroads ranking) to one of the best sites, all in a short period. The redesign tripled the amount of content consumed by its visitors, which led to increased conversion rates.

The website has some notable features, including:

  • Technology everywhere. Not all career websites at technology firms use the wide range of technologies available from the Yahoo site. It offers numerous interesting videos, including “a day in Yahoo life” and “the spirit of Yahoo.” It also provides access to what your employees are saying on Twitter, a company blog, and employee profiles. It also enables visitors to other websites like Twitter and Facebook to post Yahoo’s jobs that might be of interest to their network.
  • Awards. Visiting this site makes the viewer immediately aware that Yahoo is an award-winning company. The site highlights Yahoo’s outstanding record of appearing on Fortune’s Best Place to Work List.
  • Integrating products. Many career websites seem to operate independently of the firm they represent. Yahoo has made a concerted effort to integrate its wide range of products into the career site and vice versa. This includes providing numerous pictures highlighting the Yahoo experience on its photo and video sharing website, Flickr, and the opportunity to join “Yahoo! Groups” related to recruiting. Other integrated features include maps, my Yahoo personalization, and (social bookmarking).
  • A combined approach. In addition to its use of the Web, Yahoo also uses other effective recruiting media, including radio and billboards, to push traffic to the new site.

Notable features on other corporate careers websites:

  • Microsoft. An award-winner in several other categories, it developed several websites that enable the company to microbrand to smaller, more defined candidate populations. Sites include view, the genius lounge,
  • DaVita. Provides a narrated video tour of a DaVita facility.
  • IBM. Has extensive ecofriendly messaging, extremely interactive use of multimedia, and very simple navigation. The site is one of the few that can realistically be classified as “global.” It contains “day in the life” videos, Digg, live chat, business-unit specific information, and flash video.

In the remaining two categories, the winners are next-practice innovators; someday, everyone will seek to emulate these practices.

Category VII: Most Strategic Use of Technology – Microsoft

Each year, technology becomes a more impactful part of recruiting. No one seems to realize that fact more than the talent management team at Microsoft. Its website, and the numerous innovative things they’re doing with technology, can only be classified as amazing (especially the talent community work pioneered by Marvin Smith).

To the uninitiated, the power of these tools might take some time to appreciate, but I assure you, they are on the leading edge, even ahead of famous competitors like Google:

  • Micro-segmentation of talent communities. This represents the future of recruiting, and no one else even comes close to what Microsoft is currently doing, no less what it is planning. Micro-segmentation is a powerful concept borrowed from advertising and marketing. Micro-segmentation means that instead of treating every potential customer or candidate exactly the same, you tailor messaging and the candidate experience to meet the unique needs of a more defined market segment. Firms currently make elementary attempts to segment in college recruiting, but this new approach breaks candidates into smaller segments known as “talent communities.” Microsoft defines talent communities as “targeted, qualified, active & passive prospects that Microsoft… staffing can develop into a self-sustaining source of engaged talent that will be harvested for years to come.” The information needed to make a job decision for an electrical engineer would be different from a software engineer; both would differ significantly from the needs and interests of a sales professional. Delivering messaging unique to the population you are going after and tailoring the experience they get is microbranding. While some companies may segment by function or region, Microsoft’s new approach enables segmentation on steroids, producing hundreds of segments that could be as narrowly defined as a job family or as wide as a certain diversity classification in a certain demographic region. The talent communities are enabled by software that includes CRM, content management, talent profiling, and job-matching components. The concept and its execution were so compelling that the initial pilot program for a Microsoft hardware engineering unit was paid for by hiring managers.
  • Knowledge sharing. The Microsoft talent community approach is broader than just filling jobs. It includes finding ways to bring value to your prospect community even if they don’t take your job. It moves away from the more traditional transactional recruiting and into relationship recruiting with networking and knowledge sharing components. The design is based on the Chinese principle of Guanxi, which is a connectivity or relationship-building concept. Over time, it is assumed that the talent communities will become working professionals “virtual 3rd place” to hang out. Over time, they will become self-maintaining. Despite this multi-purpose, employment opportunities are always only one click away thanks to widgets running on both their LinkedIn and Facebook pages.
  • Real messages. One of the most common errors in recruiting is “perfect messaging.” Most websites and employer branding messages are so “flawless” and generic that they are simply dismissed by candidates as propaganda. Microsoft is one of the leaders in providing “real messages,” or messages that agree that everything isn’t perfect and counter why that is a bad thing. Such messaging is considered significantly more credible.
  • Shareability. Most of the website content blocks are shareable, meaning that visitors can share content they find of value with a broader audience through the use of popular social networking tools like Facebook and Digg.
  • Compelling website. The award-winning View is not one website, but rather a network of sites that enable unique messaging to micro-candidate segments. The average visit on the website is 26 minutes, an astonishing amount of time. Its messages and videos are some of the most exciting and compelling online. They make it easy to “feel the passion” and the excitement of those working at Microsoft. Diverse candidates can also explore their likely experience
  • Many options. All sites leverage the latest in social networking, RSS feeds, Multi-media (video) and employee blogs (Microsoft was one of the first innovators in recruiting blogs). Even Microsoft’s talent communities will include both virtual and live events.
  • Connected. The sites contain links to non-Microsoft-owned pages that talk about Microsoft. (Microsoft censors this content, so it is perceived as being much more credible.)
  • Quality-of-hire metrics. Microsoft is beginning to use quality-of-hire metrics to assess the effectiveness of its recruiting programs.

Notable features at other companies using technology:

  • Dun & Bradstreet. Uses workflow modeling software to identify delays in recruiting cycle/process.
  • Firstsource Solutions. Uses short message service (SMS) to support candidates throughout the hiring process.
  • Fluor. Uses live webcasts featuring executives to attract talent. They also offer in another feature that is becoming more common, live chat sessions with recruiters.
  • Foster’s Group. Made its process paperless. Candidates get offer electronically via a secured website. Candidates are informed of their status following each stage of the process via SMS text messaging.

Category VIII. Recruiting Department of the Year — DaVita

This final category covers overall excellence by the recruiting department. After judging its application, I can only classify it as a “WOW.” Not only were DaVita’s actions amazing, when you consider that it is a leading kidney dialysis provider and part of the ultraconservative healthcare industry, you can’t help but be blown away. The DaVita story is one that truly demonstrates what focusing on talent can do for an organization.

Just nine years ago, DaVita was on the verge of bankruptcy. At that time, its CEO focused on refining the talent in the organization, not just at the leadership level but throughout the enterprise. Despite tough times and hardship, it took aggressive actions that characterize a true “war for talent,” and turned the organization into a wildly successful enterprise. The work of Tony Blake and his team can only be classified as spectacular.

Highlights of DaVita’s accomplishments:

  • Business case. The biggest difference between well-supported and underfunded recruiting functions is the ability to quantify in dollars the business impact of talent management. For example, DaVita demonstrated that by cutting vacancy time down from 63 to 45 days, it could save the organization over $5 million in contract labor and overtime costs. It also reduced costs by cutting external recruiting fees by 41%, saving another $3 million. It’s hard not to be a hero when you can demonstrate that you saved the firm over $8 million. Last year alone it filled over 3,200 nursing positions.
  • Boldness. Few recruiters can be accurately classified as competitive and bold, but the DaVita team is an exception. The team labels its competitor-recruiting approach as a “targeted strike.” Last year, it executed a targeted strike on a competitor that resulted in 113 experienced clinical hires, $2.8M savings in training costs, and took 7% of its competitor’s workforce. Whether you agree with the approach or not, you have to give them credit for aggressiveness, and accept that its patients will always have access to the best care because little will stand in the way of acquiring top talent.
  • Position prioritization. Another difference between great and good recruiting functions is having a formal process for identifying which jobs should get a disproportionate amount of recruiting resources. It realizes that not all jobs have an equal business impact, so it doesn’t recruit the same way with the same amount and quality of recruiting resources.
  • Recruiter development. Of the 40 teammates in clinical recruiting roles, eight of them were promoted last year — demonstrating that it is constantly increasing bench strength and growing its our own recruiting talent. In addition, it keeps its requisition loads low. Field recruiters only carry about 25 openings at a time, on average, down from 60 in 2006.
  • Vacancy rate. Its excellent recruiting strategy and approach has resulted in an amazingly low 3.8% vacancy rate among the nursing staff.
  • Secret shoppers. It is one of only two firms that I have found with the courage to use secret shoppers to go through its recruiting process in order to find errors. The team secret shops its own process twice a year, evaluating the process at competitors at the same time.
  • Satisfaction. Few have the courage to measure it, but DaVita measures hiring manager and new-hire satisfaction every quarter. Departmental satisfaction ratings by managers improved from the bottom five to the Top 25 (among 70 departments) within two years.
  • Employer referrals. It operates an excellent employee referral program, which demonstrated that referrals have a 200% lower turnover rate than other new hires. It also donates a portion of the referral bonus to a local charity, which increases the number of motivators available to encourage employees to make referrals.
  • Awards. DaVita won a Taleo innovation award for its automated survey process.
  • Military recruiting. A dedicated military recruiter hired 27 diverse, retired leaders from the armed forces to assume director and manager positions within DaVita.
  • Recruiter assessment. The formal process for assessing recruiters in most organizations can only be classified as dismal. In direct contrast, DaVita takes an aggressive approach in assessing and improving its recruiters. It uses a monthly scorecard that actually force-ranks recruiters, a one-in-a-million approach.
  • A pipeline approach. It uses a continuous recruiting pipeline approach called “relentless recruiting.” It’s much superior to the “reactive” approach used by most firms.
  • Boomerangs. DaVita targets former employees in order to get them to return later in their careers.

Notable features at other companies:

  • GE Healthcare. Uses Six Sigma methodology to “model” its recruiting processes and identify breaking points; leveraged technology to automate sourcing (i.e., stored boolean strings); and conducts weekly process audits.
  • Microsoft. In addition to the other things highlighted already, it is developing a sophisticated workforce-planning model.
  • Seagate Technology. The company significantly shortened onboarding from three days to 2.5 hours. In addition, the team now measures quality of hire.

Final Thoughts

The award recipients highlighted in this article have clearly pushed the envelope in recruiting and talent management. Despite tough economic times, they have focused on the “big 6″ elements of strategic recruiting (technology-centered, a dollar-focused business case, an emphasis on referrals, prioritized recruiting, a focus on employer branding, and a continuous pipeline approach).

If you’re still focusing on transactions and cutting costs, you are way behind the curve. It is highly unlikely you will be adequately prepared to “explode out of the box” when the current economic downturn subsides.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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