Online recruitment here to stay despite all odds

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The initial hype, money and time invested in e-recruitment, however, has dwindled over the past year - as elsewhere on the internet. Some industry pundits agree that the e-recruitment bubble has been pricked. Others, however, staunchly defend the online business model. For some companies though, crunch time has indeed arrived. Online financial recruiter onvocation.com became insolvent in December and uncertainty still surrounds its future.

Baden Higginson, general manager of one leading financial site, Bankrole, says: 'Last year was the year when everyone wanted to start an internet recruitment site. I think a lot of them are now getting to the point where they have to answer to their shareholders and funders for not delivering.'

But supporters of the online recruitment model maintain that it offers greater transparency to candidates on market offerings and to the hidden market, where the headhunters handle search mandates on behalf of their clients. Candidates, especially the passive variety, are often reluctant to approach either the financial recruitment services or the third party executive search firms. Applying via the internet can offer anonymity.

Each online recruiter claims to know the recipe for best attracting eyeballs. Bankrole's Higginson says: 'We work as a billboard, a place where agencies can place job requirements and the candidates can surf for free, without having to register or log on.'

Fincareer, a Zurich-based online financial recruiter which launched in London in January, says it was set up to allow greater transparency and to reduce market inefficiency for candidates. With 2,500 recruiters as current users, the site is 60% split between third party or executive recruiters and 40% direct recruiters or the financial services institutions. The company is now set to offer two new advanced confidential CV matching services within the next couple of weeks - Finmatch and Finselect.

Vincent Dominé, founder and chief executive of Fincareer, says: 'There are thousands of job boards out there, but I don't believe they will bring the right candidates to the recruiters. They are not targeted sites and there is a need for more targeted career platforms and also for more advanced services that allow recruiters access to the passive job seekers. This must happen before these candidates decide to actively seek new jobs.'

For traditional recruiters such as Robert Walters, job sites offer an additional outlet. Joshua Sparks, head of IT recruitment for Robert Walters Australia, says: 'The number two provider of candidates for us is our own job board. This is interesting as it doesn't cost us anything to run - it is part of our business and integrated approach. The website is just one of a multiple number of channels, so we do not need to rely on it as a profit centre.'

Michael Fletcher, head of financial services practice at Futurestep, the executive recruitment consultancy arm of Korn/Ferry International, says: 'The people who enter the market with relatively small and niche job boards, unless they strike it lucky, I do not know where they are going to get their critical mass from.'

Futurestep argues that it is not a noticeboard service, but a traditional executive recruitment company that uses the web at certain stages to speed up the recruitment process. It is aimed at the 60,000 to 120,000 salary range, with an average of clients earning just under 80,000.

Fletcher adds: 'We use the internet to attract a community of candidates and we try to get them before the clients ask us to find them. So we replace research with a candidate community.'

While independent start-up sites such as Bankrole and Fincareer have to work hard to build brand recognition and traffic, the job sites run by the financial press have a clear advantage in this regard. They also offer editorial content alongside the jobs.

The Financial Times launched its financial recruitment site, FTCareerPoint, in January, which it says is closely integrated with the paper's appointments business section and FT.com. It aims to be a specialist career site, targeting jobseekers from MBA graduates right up to financial directors. It has an anonymous CV model in place, whereby interested parties must contact FTCareerPoint if they wish to contact any of the people whose CVs are posted on the site.

Peter Highland, general manager of FTCareerPoint, says: 'The internet recruitment business is very promising and is a good application of the web. You've got to have a good selection of jobs, top-rate customer service, good quality relevant career-related content and a brand that people trust.'

EFinancialCareers.com, the financial recruitment site owned by Financial News, has been in existence for eight months. It includes jobs from most wholesale financial services sectors, including investment banking, fund management and corporate banking. Rather than posting their CVs, candidates can search for jobs on the site and apply directly to recruiters or banks either online or by phone or post. It also includes search software that allows jobseekers to set up a profile that will notify them of jobs that meet their requirements.

John Benson, chief executive, says one crucial draw is the high-quality editorial content generated by its dedicated staff and that of the linked eFinancialNews.com website. He is convinced that internet recruiting is the way forward in finance. 'Internet recruitment is particularly well attuned to the dynamic staffing requirements of the global financial markets and we intend eFinancialCareers to be at the forefront of this rapidly developing industry.'

CareerJournal.com, the Wall Street Journal's job site, was launched four years ago in the US. The company last week launched its European version, CareerJournalEurope.com. Like the FT and Financial News sites, CareerJournal includes copious editorial content produced by both dedicated writers and those from the Journal and the Dow Jones news wire, according to Tony Lee, editor in chief and general manager.

He says the sites include only about 15% financial services jobs, the second largest category behind consulting.

CareerJournal offers both intelligent searching and a CV matching service, which is provided by alliance partner FutureStep.

But security is still perceived as a problem when requesting CVs and a lot of sites now prefer to steer clear of this practice, including eFinancialCareers. Sparks at Robert Walters says that sites must give jobseekers the choice of surfing through jobs without having to reveal their names or put themselves forward.

CareerJournal's Lee says that the site offers complete confidentiality to those who elect to post their CVs. At no time are the recruiters enabled to browse the database or find out candidates' identities. The only way they can do so is if the candidates contact them, says Lee.

Matching software does have its pitfalls in any case. Firstpersonglobal is a London-based IT and technology recruiter specialising in the financial services sector. Paul Smith, its chief executive, says: 'The worst-case scenario is that candidates are disappointed because they put their CVs on the site and no one contacts them. Or all the jobs sent to them do not match their relevant skills. The clients are also unhappy, because they get a lot of unsuitable applications and filtering them becomes a nightmare.'

The company does not practise online matching, preferring to employ consultants to do the job instead. It only posts around 150 to 200 jobs online at any one time and most of the recruitment is done off-line.

The trickiest challenge for all online recruiters, however, remains that of attracting really senior people to their sites. Few top executives are either actively seeking new jobs or are willing to post their CVs on such a site.

CareerJournal's Lee says: 'We've done a survey of Wall Street Journal readers that shows that the percentage of senior people willing to search for jobs online has increased dramatically. It is still not a majority, but we are making progress. Demographic change will make a difference - as older people less accustomed to using the internet retire and younger people move up the career ladder, more top people will be willing to use the internet for finding job opportunities.'

In general, market participants argue that the more integrated, focused and functional an online recruitment business is, the better its chances of survival. Highland at FTCareerPoint says that evidence in the US points to a shift within the next three years, from an advertising job model to a CV model.

'But my view is that it will remain a market for both print and online advertising and for CV search, as the market can benefit from all three disciplines,' he concludes.

It seems that, despite all odds, the online recruitment model may have finally grown up, learnt from past mistakes and is here to stay.

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