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Maintaining the personal touch

WHILE technology has had a significant effect on the lives of most Australians, there remain industries where a recorded message and keypad prompts on the end of a telephone line, or the bland impassivity of a computer screen just aren’t good enough.

Why else have bank branch closures created such furore among older Australians and small business owners? For a generation that grew up knowing nothing but personal service and a friendly face on the other side of the counter, the new technologies are anathema to their belief system for business.

But despite these well-documented objections to technology’s creep into all facets of life, it appears many of us are slowly, if reluctantly, adapting to and adopting all that the new age of information has to throw at us.

An example of this is a recent report detailing Australians’ increasing use of the Internet for banking (11 per cent of Western Australians). So how, if at all, has technology affected the way recruitment agencies work? Is there a danger the industry, which relies so much on the “personal touch” could somehow find itself in a brave new techno world?

Are online recruitment agencies less personal than traditional recruitment agencies?

According to those in the industry, the answer is both no and yes.

seek.com chief executive officer Paul Basset says no recruitment agencies are purely online operations, with businesses such as his acting rather as a go-between for employers and prospective employees.

“The Internet is simply used as a complementary tool,” he says.

“There are no recruitment agencies that are purely online.”

seek.com also provides a salary guide, virtual interviewer and career advice.

Bell Personnel director David Anderson describes online recruitment sites as “classified ads online”.

Some recruitment agencies also think the electronic nature of online recruitment sites makes them less personal.

Mr Anderson describes them as being “one-dimensional” but adds that, when utilised correctly, online recruitment sites can prove advantageous.

“But if they are being used for the ‘technical’ elements of recruitment – the sourcing and pre-qualifying of applicants, for example – they can save a lot of time and money, as well as often result in a more accurate ‘match’ in the early stages,” he says.

As such, online recruitment sites provide extra tools to recruitment companies to aid in employment.

“The service we provide complements the recruitment firms and is a very good tool for sourcing candidates, as it is quick and efficient,” seek.com’s Paul Basset says.

An example of this synergy is in the fact that many recruitment agencies place ads on seek.com to find suitable candidates.

Another agency to have harnessed the Internet to its advantage is tmp.worldwide, previously Morgan and Banks.

Monster.com, which is owned by tmp.worldwide, contains a searchable database of more than 500,000 current employment opportunities in several countries, as well as employment tools like career management and resume-posting services.

“Any recruiter who is not advertising online is not serving their clients properly. The wider the net is cast for candidates, the more likelihood of finding that ‘perfect’ candidate,” Bell Personnel’s David Anderson says.

However, many companies, such as Wesfarmers, still manage their own recruitment through in-house human resource departments.

“We only use recruitment agencies for specialised jobs or senior posts or if we think there is a limited market supply of suitable candidates in that area,” Wesfarmers public affairs general manager Keith Kessell says.

“We have also put certain jobs online but generally we find that the response there is quite poor. Therefore, it is not very important to us.”

Similarly, BankWest hires recruitment agencies only for senior specialist roles and general temporary positions, but does not use online recruitment sites.

Recruiting online has taken on a new meaning with recruiting software such as NetRecruit and Hirizon 3.0 from Big Red Sky. With the software, a company can collate a database of candidates through the websites, look at the different applications and indicate which applicants they are interested in.

Recruitment Solutions managing director John Stewart thinks the software helps to streamline the recruitment process and, therefore, acts in a complementary fashion.

“Recruiting online can only work successfully if you are prepared to hire someone over the Internet without meeting them face to face first,” Mr Stewart says.

Big Red Sky managing director Gavin Burnett agrees that, with the software, the administrative process in recruitment is streamlined.

As a result, the sourcing of candidates and the management of candidate information is much easier.

However, he maintains that the software cannot and should not replace the personal touch of recruitment companies, including the crucial interviewing process.

“It is essential that personal contact remains an integral component of the recruitment process,” Mr Burnett says.

“However, part of providing a personal service means being able to rapidly respond quickly and professionally to candidates and providing candidates with information in a timely fashion.

“Big Red Sky’s online Recruitment Management Systems (RMS) provide the opportunity for corporate recruiters or professional recruitment agencies to increase the amount of personal contact with their candidates.”

So, will we see more online recruitment sites to increase this personal contact?

Mr Anderson thinks the market already is over-saturated and says only a small number of new online recruitment sites will enter the market.

But he acknowledges the importance of recruitment agencies using the Internet to service their clients.

“The Internet is now a vital and indispensable business tool that not only won’t go away – it will become much more pervasive,” Mr Anderson says.

“To survive, they need to identify the processes that can be effected more quickly, more cheaply and more accurately using technology, and introduce that technology.

“They need to expand their service offering and become true HR ‘partners’ with their clients.

“The ones who will suffer first and greatest will be those with a ‘bums on seats’ mentality.”

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