About a year and a half ago I wrote an article titled "Is Internet Recruiting Working?" In it I cited research from late 2002, which claimed that only 6% of Americans found their jobs online that year. Dismal numbers considering the fact that by 2002, there were more than 3,000 job boards and literally hundreds of thousands of corporate career and job pages online.

Last month, Dr. Robert Webber (from Cal Poly State University) and I co-hosted a webinar for the Human Capital Institute. In it we looked at the current state of paperless, online recruiting. Things appear to have changed.

First, according to the Society for Human Resources Professionals (SHRM) more than 90% of HR people are now using the Internet to recruit. Our webinar had about 130 participants, mainly HR people. When polled, virtually every last one said that they and their organizations use the Internet to recruit.

CareerXRoads claims that Internet postings now result in 10 times as many hires as newspaper ads. This makes sense when one looks at the Newspaper Association of America statistics since 1975. From 1975 through 2000, recruitment classified advertising in newspapers grew from $348 million to over $8.7 billion. Since 2000, it has declined to under $4 billion. Meanwhile, Internet job posting revenue has grown 242% in the past five years according to Forrester Research.

All that said, are more people finding work through Internet channels than they were in 2002? It would seem so. Of the 130 people polled in our webinar (admittedly unscientific) a whopping 75% claimed that they had landed at least one job in their career using the Internet. Almost the same number had a close friend or family member who found their current job using the Internet.

Intrigued, I thought I would look for more rigorous research to test these numbers. Unfortunately, the sources I used for my 2003 article seem to have fallen silent on the issue. DBM (Drake, Beam, Morin) the authors of the 2003 report in which only 6% of Americans polled had found their job on the Internet, haven't (to my knowledge) followed that up with a more recent survey.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that as of 2003, 87% of Americans have Internet access from home. Also according to Pew, about 42 million Americans used the Internet to search for work in 2000 and 61 million did so in 2002. However, "Searching for work" does not make its 2005 top 12 daily Internet activities nor is it on its list of the top nine things survey respondents say the Internet has helped them with (relationships with friends and family members top the list).

According to Pew, blacks and Hispanics are considerably more likely to look for work on the Web than whites (61% versus 38% in both cases), which may be good news for your diversity recruiting efforts. Moreover, Pew found that more than 100 million Internet users belong to one or more online communities. Trade or professional groups top that list. Since access to members of professional groups is like gold to many proactive recruiters, the Internet is almost certainly facilitating recruitment in ways beyond just job boards and corporate career sites.

In fact, when the Internet "job market" is viewed holistically, the numbers we heard in our webinar begin to make sense. Over the past three or four years, recruiters have become far more sophisticated in their use of the Web to source candidates. Tools like AIRS and Eliyon let recruiters perform miracles in terms of finding potential candidates wherever they may be on the Internet, including inside companies, on corporate boards and in professional communities of interest.

Weblogs, social networks like Linked in, and even Google and other search tools now are used for recruiting. Last month, several ex-PeopleSoft employees advertised their availability on eBay. Add to this the enormous amount of Web-based career activity inside organizations and the experiences cited by our webinar participants begin to sound more representative.

Most of the Fortune 500 now operate internal employment sites. Job opportunities are posted for employees often for a week or more before they are posted externally. Today, many top performing organizations aim to fill half or more of their open positions internally rather than with external candidates, and the majority of the matching may be done using intranets and internal websites. And when external candidates are considered, Web-based employee referral systems are becoming the norm, where employees can refer their friends and colleagues to company job postings and, in most cases, receive a reward if that person is eventually hired.

So it's possible to reconcile the numbers once we look past job boards and career sites as the only avenues for finding work or finding candidates on the Web. The Internet has clearly become an indispensable tool for job seekers and recruiters -- and it has certainly become mainstream. Still, it would be hard to argue that the best scenario for recruiter and job seeker alike is not the old fashioned "who you know" approach. Networking is still king, especially beyond the entry-level. For the Internet to steal the crown, it will have to prove capable of facilitating real relationships, so that the online networks we build -- made up largely of people we've never met -- can translate into recommendations and referrals for jobs. This is already happening on a small scale. I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes the norm within five years.