Virtual worlds, such as Second Life, are places where you can adopt any persona you like—pink-haired space aliens included—but they're also places where you can find the perfect job candidates. Virtual job fairs, and recruiting via social networks, are new strategies for finding your next batch of high achievers that incorporate the old principles of job matching with a twist: You're still looking for stellar individuals with compensation requests you can handle, but you're doing it in a setting that allows you to touch thousands more possible applicants in half the time, and virtually no physical effort.
These tools, which often incorporate real-time communication, such as live chat, enable you to bypass cumbersome introductory phone conversations and in-person meetings. Making the most of this new opportunity, however, requires a readjustment of your recruitment function and the ability to thrive among avatars and the Web. 2.0 culture of social networks.
Virtual Job Fair Foothold
KPMG, which is based in 145 countries, found a virtual job fair an efficient way to reach a global pool of job applicants, says Paloma Alos, director of Global People Marketing and Communications. The company decided in 2008 that a virtual job fair in which each country staffs a "booth" would allow applicants to focus on a particular global office's opportunities, or to "stroll" the virtual floor, learning about and applying to positions around the world.
"This type of event would not have been possible in a physical location," Alos says. "Our target audience was job seekers from around the world, and the exhibitors were our countries from around the world, so the only way to match the two was in an online environment." Then, too, she adds, a virtual job fair aligned with the company's environmental "green" initiative and was cost-effective.
The company, which used a virtual platform by Unisfair for the show, knew the technology would work based on prior experience organizing virtual fairs for its internal mobility program. Alos says they had more than 11,000 visitors to the fair over its two-day duration; at any given time, KPMG had between 400 and 700 visitors; and more than 12,000 resumes were submitted. The company ran a global advertising campaign for five weeks to let potential applicants know about the start of the fair. People were directed to a Website where they gave KPMG professional profile information such as which area of the firm's business they were interested in, their previous job experience, their current job status, and when they would be available to start a new job. They also were instructed to upload their resume. "We have a large pool of people now that we're keeping in contact with on a regular basis," Alos says, "as well as having recruited people directly from the event."
As effective as virtual job fairs are, they don't replace the need for in-person interviews, and they aren't necessarily less labor-intensive than in-person events, Alos points out. She says the job fair required coordination among global offices, so while, say, the UK office signed off so recruiters could go home, the American office would be available to take questions, and when they signed off, another country, in another time zone, could take over. Booths needed to be staffed and ready for inquiries just as they would in the physical world. And as great as the information dispensed, and the contacts it made, were at the online event, KPMG needed in-person follow-up. "Our virtual fairs don't replace the need to have physical, face-to-face events at the local level," says Alos. "So we're not replacing face-to-face with virtual; it just adds to the mix."
Relationship, Reputation, Recruitment
The technology is changing, but "it's still about relationships and reputation," says Jennifer Okimoto, senior managing consultant, IBM. "What's changed is our ability to establish relationships, publicize, and assess capabilities and reputations. Virtual and social recruiting breaks down some of the traditional barriers of place and time. They do allow for speed; accessibility; interaction; and conversations with larger, more diverse groups of people." For example, says Todd Luckasavitch, an IBM human capital management consultant, face-to-face career fairs tend to attract university candidates and the unemployed, while at virtual career fairs, prospective employees can show up incognito. "Someone who is interested in new opportunities, but may not want to accidentally bump into a colleague, can go learn more, talk to people, and assess options more thoroughly at a virtual job fair," Okimoto says.
The allure of the virtual fair cuts a wider swath than some might think, Okimoto says. "We're finding many Gen Xers and Boomers being pulled into social computing because of services such as LinkedIn and Facebook," she says. "We're also finding many 'more mature' employees desire the same things [in virtual recruiting] that young people do."
IBM finds job prospects, no matter their age, appreciate being able to get a taste for what a new work life would be like by meeting and interacting with current employees through micro-blogging, blogs, podcasts, videos, games, and participation in virtual worlds. Okimoto says these tools will only expand in availability across industries during the next five to 10 years. "Recruits will be able to assess authenticity, depth of knowledge, and organizational culture over time, not just during a set of interviews," she says. "They will develop relationships, and they will be able to assess reputation and determine 'is this a place where I want to work? Are these people I want to work with?'"
Fortunately for the business world, the advantages work both ways. "This type of transparency also makes it easier for recruiters and competitors to identify ideal candidates to fill their recruiting pipelines," Okimoto says. "The question is, will individuals become free agents? Or will companies create environments where even when wooed, their employees say, 'No thanks...I love where I work, I want to stay'?"
Intel also finds the interactive capabilities of job fairs a huge plus, says Recruitment Marketing Program Manager Allen Stephens. The company began its foray into virtual recruitment in 2005, with an online platform that allowed it to chat virtually with potential recruits. Its target audience for that initial effort was U.S. college students, who Intel asked to an invitation-only virtual event. "We would invite a select pool of candidates we already met to participate in a virtual chat with a senior technical person, such as an engineering manager at Intel, and he would share new projects we were working on," Stephen explains. "We used it as a way to get people excited about Intel, and also to keep them 'warm' so they would stay interested in us until we could make them an offer."
Since its introduction to virtual job fairs four years ago, the company has enhanced this early interaction with possible recruits to include video testimonial from Intel employees, who explain what they do professionally and what their work life is like, says U.S. College Virtual Recruiting Manager Alix Gierke. From there, the company decided to launch online career fairs through which candidates could view a listing of open positions and directly apply. The career fairs sometimes are marketed to all students who think they might like to work at Intel, optimizing the Internet's ability to accommodate large, geographically dispersed groups of people. Other times career fairs are targeted at a particular geographic area or skill set such as a certain type of engineer. The numbers participating vary accordingly. "Whereas our intern event could bring in 450 people to watch that [interactive messaging and video chat] stream," Gierke says, "when we recruit for Vietnam positions, where we are advertising for people currently available to work there, we might get fewer than 100."
Along with use of virtual platforms, the company continues its on-campus, in-person efforts, Gierke says. The company uses those face-to-face interactions to build a database of names and e-mail addresses to advertise its online career fairs. When competition for job openings are whittled down to a handful of applicants, the hiring process works the same it always has. "The rest of the recruitment process—the sourcing specialists who are short-listing qualified candidates for open requisitions, and then the hiring managers who are looking at those short-listed candidates and inviting a specific number to screen on the phone or in person—none of that has changed," she notes.
As helpful as virtual recruiting is to Intel's efforts to find and win over new talent, it required a shift of thinking. Its recruiters now have a different view of what it means to establish a long-term relationship with a potential job candidate. It no longer necessarily means phone calls and live meetings between one student and one Intel recruiter who gets to know the student he or she is courting. "Historically in recruiting we valued those personal, one-to-one relationships you could cultivate over time," Gierke says. "The biggest change is there are more candidates, especially in colleges, [for whom] having a virtual recruitment relationship is perfectly acceptable."
Next up for Intel is an effort to expand its recruiting efforts on social networking platforms. It currently uses Twitter to get the word out about what it considers "hot jobs," or exciting Intel career opportunities, Stephens says. The company is also preparing to launch an Intel Facebook page "to help facilitate communication with Intel," he adds. And in the first quarter of this year the company launched an external recruitment blog on its Intel Careers Website.
When it comes to social networking, though, the company knows it has to tread carefully so as not to turn off young applicants. "We definitely want to have a presence on social networks, but we've done research with college candidates, and they've told us, 'Don't pry into my personal space on Facebook," says Stephens, who points out the company will attempt to set up its Facebook page so it will not have access to the pages of group members. "What we've heard is Facebook is a social network and we shouldn't use it for recruitment, so we've listened to that, and we're being careful in how we implement it."
Searching via Social Network
Ernst & Young (E&Y) is well aware of the pluses and perils of social networking. Since the summer of 2006, the firm has used Facebook to reach out to potential new employees, says Recruiting Director, Market Leadership Larry Nash. He says the company's group page on Facebook (whose access E&Y has promised not to use to look at candidates' personal pages) boosts its connection to promising Millennials. "Our goal was to find a medium Generation Y commonly goes to, so we could communicate with them in a way that's relevant to their day-to-day activities," Nash says. "We wanted to promote our brand and culture to students so they could see what it was like to work here, and the kinds of opportunities we offer."
The E&Y Facebook page focuses on what the company most values, Nash says, including the learning and development resources available to its employees, its commitment to social responsibility, its focus on inclusiveness, and its internships. The technology allows E&Y to give its Facebook group members, or "fans," an immersive look into its workplace with videos posted of E&Y interns and workers describing their experience with the company. As of June, the company had more than 30,000 Facebook fans. Nash says these fans take advantage of the page's message board to write to the company with their questions and comments. "Our recruiters and employees respond quickly, so it creates an interactive model and helps form relationships with students early on," he explains.
E&Y actually has two Facebook pages—one devoted to its U.S.-based career offerings and another for its Australian practice, which features career opportunities specific to that location and culture. In addition to Facebook, the company has started using Twitter to communicate with prospective recruits. E&Y made a big Twitter push this summer, having its interns Tweet with other young people who might be interested. "They'll periodically Tweet about their experience," Nash says. "what their first day was like, work experiences, and the kinds of E&Y community events they were involved with, just to share first-hand their experiences with a greater group."
The world of virtual recruiting may seem mysterious, and slightly off-putting to recruiters "of a certain age," but there's no need to worry if you take time to learn about this new medium. Here are several insights:
•You won't sacrifice the opportunity to get to know job candidates. "It's an efficient way to scout out the people you need, especially if you need someone with good IT skills," says Jeanne Meister, learning consultant and author of a book on innovations in recruiting and retention due out in May 2010. "It's helpful to see how they navigate themselves online or in Second Life."
•InXpo, which helps organizations such as DeVry University implement virtual job fairs, offered the following advice: Attend the virtual event sneak preview to eliminate any potential computer problems or company firewall issues before the virtual job fair begins; ensure you have eight to 10 booth staff members to manage the group chats and volume of individual chat requests during event hours; and specify your area of expertise in your profile name so job seekers know who to contact with their questions.
•Include key words, location, and special qualifications in your job descriptions to appear in job-related searches within the virtual event, thereby driving qualified job seekers to your booth, InXpo recommends. Also, InXpo advises participating in the lounge chats to discuss your job openings, company, and industry when relevant to the conversation.
•When recruiting via social network, "create an effective profile that is reflective of your company's mission, business, and culture," says Katharine Giacalone, president of management consulting firm KGWorks. "Be sure it is consistently updated and searchable. It's important to remember updates to your company's profile or status do not necessarily have to be 'press-worthy.' Their real value to followers via social media is in regular nuances or by-the-minute happenings within your organization."