Staffing

Smart recruiters are turning the Internet inside out in search of employees

Searching for employees is like hunting snipe: You embark upon the quest with soaring hopes, only to have them dashed by the elusiveness of your quarry. So what's a growing business to do? "Get thee online," chant the recruiting gurus. Companies are heeding their advice: this year traffic to recruiting sites is up by an average of almost 99% over last year's traffic, according to Peter Weddle, author of Weddle's Recruiter's Guide to Employment Web Sites 2001 (Amacom). Furthermore, a February poll by the Recruiter's Network revealed that from 1999 to 2000, 86% of companies increased their spending on Internet recruiting, and a March poll by the same organization showed that 50% of respondents were allocating 31% or more of their recruiting-advertising budgets to online sources.

Those companies ply the Web for good reason: they hope to leap regional boundaries, reach people not actively looking for new jobs, and tap into otherwise inaccessible talent pools. Yet while employers recognize the value of mining the Internet, most use a few well-worn pickaxes to chip away at the same old targets. They fling some help-wanted postings onto their Web sites. They pay to list openings on such household-name job boards as Monster.com. Maybe they plug a few choice keywords into Yahoo.

While effective, those methods are not exhaustive, and they sometimes fail to unearth the most toothsome candidates, namely those plugging away contentedly in other companies. But for employers who know where and how to look, there are nuggets of talent to be found on the Internet. Here are a few of the most effective ways to find them.

All on Boards
These days it's hard to turn your browser around without tripping over a job board. There are more than 40,000 employment-related Web sites, many of which replicate the early recruiting model in which employers pay to list openings and candidates post their résumés free of charge. "I can very easily imagine a world in which there are one or two billion job boards," says John Sumser, CEO of Interbiznet.com, which reports on the electronic-recruiting industry.

The Goliath boards, like Monster.com and Headhunter.net, are the most visible and serve a number of industries. But the real growth is in niche recruiting sites, which experts say are burgeoning at the rate of nearly 100 a month. Niche sites serve individual professions, ethnic groups, or regions, and consequently may attract people with very specific skills or applicants who are a bus trip -- as opposed to a plane trip -- away from your headquarters. And then there's efficiency. Profession-specific boards, some of which append to broader profession-specific sites, attract users the same way community boards do, by offering career advice, networking opportunities, links to vendors, and other services. Those inducements lead users to check in often, creating more exposure for job postings.

"The name-brand job services routinely peddle themselves as being great because they're big," says Sumser. "You're paying for a certain number of eyeballs. But how many of the right eyeballs do you reach?" A company might pay anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars for an annual subscription to Monster.com, depending on how many jobs the company posts and whether it opts for the service that allows recruiters to view résumés online. Niche sites are often comparably priced but may deliver more of those "right eyeballs" (particularly for companies searching for job candidates with very specific qualifications) than the large generalists do. And community- and association-sponsored boards may post job listings free of charge.

"You use different services based on the type of people you're looking for," explains Frank Curran, chief talent scout for 100x, a consulting company and Internet incubator in Waltham, Mass. "When we're looking for generalists, we might go to Monster. We use HotJobs for engineering, and 6FigureJobs for high-level executives." Indeed, 6FigureJobs.com is a sterling example of just how many pieces the professional pie can be divided into. The site, which bills itself as "the network for preferred career opportunities," defines its audience in terms of corporate status rather than specific skill sets. "On Monster, you might find people who want to make that leap" to the executive suite, says Curran. "But at 6Figure, they're already there, so there's less culling." (Monster.com plans to launch a similar service in January.)

Niche boards aren't exclusive to the white-collar crowd. The Boiler Room, for example, is an industry site that includes a career center where employers can find that certain special someone to operate their steam boilers. And Lifeguardjobs.com was the obvious destination for Siobhan Griffin when she needed to hire some pool police. "At the middle to the end of the summer, it's very hard to find people because everyone leaves the city," says Griffin, the aquatics manager at Asphalt Green, a Manhattan sports and fitness club. She pays $400 a year to post jobs on the site, which is run by Candlewood Management Services Inc., and so far the response has filled "two or three big holes in our schedule," she says.