Employment auctions arrive via the internet

Eighty per cent of American graduates used the web this year to find work.

Gone are the days when people asked whether the internet would transform recruitment. Now, the question is simply how. Could traditional recruitment advertising become a thing of the past? And can e-recruitment make life easier for employees and employers?

The most common reaction from today's employers is that whatever the outcome, it is likely to happen at a slower pace than in the US. Research by SBC Internet Services found that a staggering 82 per cent of Americans graduating this summer have used the net to search for job openings or careers information.

In the UK, on the other hand, studies show that there is no sector in which the internet is the primary tool for attracting recruits and only one per cent cite it as the most effective means.

There are even doubts as to whether the latest methods of on-line recruitment will take off in this country at all. Talent Market, for instance, is the first "employment auction" in the world and has recently been introduced in the US. Individuals submit personal profiles on to the web, together with ideal assignments and fees, and interested companies then bid on those they want to hire.

"It won't work here," says Alannah Hunt, head of the executive search and selection group at PriceWaterhouseCoopers. "It's ridiculous to expect companies to hire people whom they haven't even met. Anyway, we all know that people embellish their CVs so what exactly is it that companies will be bidding for? I think it's a very tacky concept."

Despite these examples of British caution, research shows that the increase in use of e-recruitment in this country has speeded up rapidly during the past few months. Three years ago, the IPD found that 14 per cent of respondents used the internet. By 1998, 19 per cent were using it. This year, that figure suddenly grew to 32 per cent.

It's one of the reasons that George Richardson, an on-line recruitment analyst, believes conventional appointment pages will eventually be used either to signpost web sites or will simply disappear altogether.

Why? "Simple," he says. "If you have the option of sending your CV into a range of web sites and wait to receive an e-mail back, why would you want to waste your time flicking through newsprint, phoning the company and then wasting a stamp?"

Career websites such as www.taps.co.uk and www.jobserve.co.uk have already introduced such systems. Job seekers post their CV directly into the web site and are alerted to suitable vacancies by e-mail.

"Job seekers love it because it's such a flexible and time-saving system," explains a spokeswoman from Jobsite. "You don't even have to post your CV if you don't want to. You can state your interests, and you'll be alerted to suitable jobs via e-mail."

Jobsite claims the benefits stretch even further for employers. A small advert running in the appointments section of a broadsheet for a month can cost up to 35 times more than advertising on the net for the same period.

No wonder, then, that many companies are also turning to the internet for assistance in interviewing. Selby Mellsmith, a Bath-based occupational psychologist has pioneered on-line psychometric testing with graduates.

"Hundreds of graduates complete our questionnaire every month," explains Tony Charles, commercial director. "The data is collated and sent on disc to subscribing employers on a regular basis so that they can use it as a start of the assessment process."

In other companies, staff are being recruited by computer-aided interviews. And a growing number of employers are also scanning CVs to help pick out the most suitable applicants.

Hewlett Packard is one such company. "We use software packages to scan automatically and sift on-line applications. We search our database using key word and buzz-phrase searches," explains Elaine Thaw, a recruitment specialist. The company receives between 60 and 70 CVs electronically each day compared with 20 to 30 in hard copy by post each week.

Nevertheless, e-recruitment is certainly not without its cynics. John Morgan, who works in specialised recruitment, claims e-recruitment is hopeless for his clients. "The last thing you want to do as a specialised worker is put details of your abilities and experience on the internet for anyone to see. It would make very bad business sense."

Many companies have also expressed concerns about inaccuracies. Suppose the software system fails to pick out a key-word from a CV belonging to the best person for the job? Even designers of e-recruitment web sites are quick to admit that no system is fail-safe.

But the biggest cause for concern is that millions of people have already posted their details on on-line recruitment sites, and with 4,000 new users of the internet each week, it may not be long before employers become inundated with data. If that happens, the irony will be that the supposedly time-saving system of e-recruitment has become so big that it can't contain itself.

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