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Focus: Connections that can net you a job

JOSE RICARDO Rodriguez Ferreita - known as Junior - dreamed of using his Brazilian footballing skills in Europe. So he advertised himself on the Internet. The "Jobs Wanted" message was spotted by a fan from Rhayader, and 20-year-old Junior got an e-mail from Britain calling him over for a trial at the Welsh league club. Sadly, after a few games for the first team he did not make the grade, so he headed back to Brazil last month.

Phil Reid , a 45-year-old engineer, had a more successful experience with the Internet. He had changed jobs several times, using the time- honoured conventional checking of newspaper advertisements and registering with employment agencies.

To find a new position this spring, he went online, with almost immediate results. On 30 April he used his home computer to log on to monster.co.uk and found an advertisement for a post placed just the day before. He sent off his application and within days was being interviewed for job production engineering manager with Stafford- Miller, the healthcare company that owns the market-leading brands Sensodyne toothpaste and Polygrip denture treatment. By Monday last week he was at his new desk at the Plymouth plant.

Mr Reid says his experience proves how perception of the Internet has changed in a few years. "People seem to think that the Internet is just for younger anorak types," he says. "The Internet is for everybody."

And everybody is interested in keeping an eye open for better job prospects, be it from the privacy of their own home or through surreptitious surfing behind the boss's back at work. Job-related websites spring up almost weekly. Employers and recruiting agencies are exploiting a channel that can deliver not just information but people too.

Research by the US company Forrester shows recruitment is the fastest- growing advertising category on the Internet. In the UK, a study earlier this year by National Opinion Polls revealed that nearly 10.6 million people used the Internet at least once last year, an increase of 48 per cent on the previous year's seven million. Crucially, the report showed that more than a million British people are using it to search for jobs.

With established search consultancies trying to protect their turf by piling into the online market alongside upstarts, US estimates predict the total Internet recruiting market will grow from $250m this year to $5.1bn, or half the size of the traditional search industry, by 2003.

Sometimes, old habits die hard. Mr Reid did not sign on for an interactive test, and chose to send in his CV by post, not e-mail. But he still bears out some of the claims made for online recruitment. "It was much quicker, a very dynamic process," he says.

Ken Brotherston, UK managing director of Futurestep, the service launched by the leading executive search firm Korn/Ferry and the Wall Street Journal, believes this is part of what makes using the Internet attractive to companies. "Typically, a search takes 90 to 120 days," he says. "Over the Internet, it's about 30 days."

Futurestep has attracted 9,000 registered candidates since being established in Britain a month ago, and has been used by Shell, 3Com and other well- known organisations. Mr Brotherston claims it is also better than more conventional search processes thanks to an assessment tool the firm has developed that matches candidates and organisations according to both skills and experience.

"It's a massive saving on clients' time," he says. "And it should get better fits and lead to less likelihood of people leaving after six months, which is incredibly expensive." These benefits, he adds, justify him charging about the same as the traditional executive search fees.

With the technology throwing up the most suitable 50 candidates from up to 10,000 names almost instantaneously, there can be little complaint about the thoroughness of the search. "What it does is focus the consultant on what's important. It means the consultant can zoom in on people who are appropriate," he says.

Futurestep is even willing to help with the online equivalent of putting yourself around. Under the slogan, "It's not what you know, it's who knows you" it offers a service that enables job seekers to register for on-line tests of their decision-making abilities, suitability for certain positions, as well as a read-out on that key assessment of their worth on the market. Then they join a database which enables them to be considered for every suitable post.

Karen Skewies, director of monster.co.uk, the service Mr Reid used, says the Internet helps companies reach a wider audience, points candidates to corporate websites for full information about the organisation, and - increasingly importantly - attracts "computer-savvy people".

Not surprisingly, the information technology industry was among the first to see the recruitment value of the Internet. Noting that students and employees of other organisations were constantly accessing their websites, companies including Cisco Systems and Oracle started using them as recruitment tools.

Many sites are little more than bulletin boards - essentially an electronic form of the traditional advertisements that appear in newspapers and magazines - but as the technology develops, the sophistication is increasing.

A company called ITM has launched a service aimed at final-year students - almost all of whom have access to the Internet - that aims to make the job hunt look more like a trip through a theme park. The Internet-linked Activate CD-Rom allows candidates to access company websites and apply for positions online while also offering computer games.

More seriously, companies such as TMP, which includes monster.co.uk in what is claimed to be the largest network of "online career hubs" in the world, are attempting to move Internet recruitment beyond the electronic equivalent of the "passive advertisement". Ray Everett set up TMP's UK interactive business while working as a traditional recruitment consultant, and now puts particular effort into identifying areas on the web being used by his target audience, though they may not be looking for a job at that moment.

Internet forums - electronic clubs where people with common interests gather on the web - as well as newsgroups, where professional groups swap developments are ideal. Using powerful software, it can key in certain words and even look for individuals' home sites or attempt to track e- mails aimed at building ever bigger databases.

National boundaries are irrelevent. Mr Everett tells of the Glasgow operation of the US controls company Honeywell seeking a production engineer who knew the German market and could speak the language. Having tried and failed with the traditional newspaper advertisement route, Mr Everett's team posted the vacancy on the web and quickly came up with a German national, who got the job.