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Mark Gray, of recruitment technology company Graylink, tells Penny Haw how job seekers and those looking to hire are increasingly finding each other online. From The Business Day, 9th Dec 2008

FORGET the credit crunch, what about the career crunch? A survey of graduates and students conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers last month found that 81% were more concerned about their job prospects than they were a year ago.

Getting a job as soon as possible, they say, is a top priority. So much so, in fact, that more than 50% conceded that they are willing to look for work that is not relevant to their qualifications to ensure that they are employed. Furthermore , 42% anticipated less pay than they had initially hoped for.

And that is only one side of the recruitment coin.

As budgets come under pressure to facilitate the economic downturn, companies and their recruitment agencies are increasingly looking for more cost-effective and creative ways to fill positions.

But while in some places employers are cutting back, indications are that the majority of businesses across the world are still looking to recruit, particularly those in budding economies such as that of the Middle East. This means that overall, there are more applicants in the mix and that an increasing number of hopefuls are prepared to consider global assignments. The result for many human resource professionals and recruitment agencies is an increase in workload and the call to make greater use of technology to more effectively manage the rising flood of applications.

Technology, says Mark Gray, who heads up South African-based recruitment and technology company, Graylink, has had a huge effect on recruitment processes — for candidates, recruitment professionals and employers alike — in the past five years. Not only are employers and their agencies increasingly adopting online-only recruitment policies, but more and more are using social networking platforms — such as Facebook, Orkut, MySpace and Linkedin — to hunt for candidates. These sites, he says, are also increasingly helping job hunters market themselves online by providing potential employers with access to profiles, work history and details of specific skills.

Gray, who is the son of 1980s Johannesburg recruitment buff Don Gray (of Don Gray Associates), and the nephew of Allan Gray (founder of investment management firm, Allan Gray Limited), established Graylink as a supplier of specialised recruitment software to replace paper-based processes in 2002. Since then, he and his developers have advanced and expanded the application — which is delivered to clients over the internet — to make it possible for their 150 active clients to better track, screen, filter and manage applications, and to engage with thousands of job seekers in seven different languages across the world each month.

“Most companies readily acknowledge that recruiting talent is a priority,” comments Gray, whose enthusiasm for the internet survived the dotcom meltdown and which, combined with his understanding of recruitment, has helped put Graylink up ahead in the field of online recruitment in this country.

“Managing the recruitment process is, however, a challenge. When there is no database to source from directly, costs and time-to-hire increase. Done manually, the process requires a great deal of administration, and is inefficient and slow. What’s more, traditional recruitment advertising is increasingly costly and, in most cases, it does little to build the organisation’s brand.”

Graylink — which, in addition to operating out of its head office in Cape Town with a bureau in Johannesburg, also has offices in the UK, France, United Arab Emirates and Singapore, and representation in the US, Australia and, from early next year, South America — provides a single software code base to automate clients’ recruitment processes. Each organisation gets its own database of potential employees, and a recruitment website that is incorporated into its existing website.

The look, functionality and marketing-led approach of an organisation’s online recruitment service are, stresses Gray, fundamental to its success.

“It goes without saying that, like customers, candidates are attracted to strong brands,” he says. “Our approach ensures that each client’s brand is carefully managed and that it wins the attention of the right audience. With more organisations moving their recruitment online, competition has increased and it is no longer enough to have a website that merely lists current vacancies. You have to add value, compete for the best talent and, wherever possible, go out and look for it — and that is where social networking sites come into play.”

According to a study by CareerBuilder.com, which is one of the largest online job sites in the US, one in every five employers in that country uses social networks to research information about job candidates.

Reuters reported last month that “traffic on the world’s top professional web networks has surged since the financial crisis started to make headlines, with top player, privately held Linkedin, notching 25% more registrations in September than forecast”.

Membership on Linkedin has increased from 18-million at the beginning of the year to more than 31-million. It is growing fastest in the financial services, media, education and technology fields.

Increased use of social media, says Gray, compels employers and recruiters to examine, network, attract, engage and connect with potential employees like they have never done before. Companies are increasingly questioning long-standing recruitment strategies and accepting that social media has entered the mainstream as a recruitment strategy.

“While South Africans are slower on the uptake than many of their international colleagues, the more savvy local recruiters are already getting into social networks as a new way to hunt talent and market their clients as employers,” he says. “When done correctly, recruitment via social networking platforms can be a more effective and inexpensive way to reach and engage relevant talent than traditional methods.”

There are two options for recruiting candidates via social-networking sites: recruiters can either set up pages on the sites for passive recruiting or, using various search tools, actively troll the sites for suitable candidates.

Trolling is generally done by using keywords to search targeted sites. This way recruiters dig out high-quality candidates that cannot be found elsewhere. These candidates can then be contacted directly about job offers that might interest them. Organisations can also set up groups to create communities around a shared interest, simultaneously using it to find talent.

The premise is that employers and recruiters have the opportunity to target, sound out and interact with candidates at length before final interviews take place.

Candidates, on the other hand, receive job offers from companies that have taken the time to seek them out, and find out all about their career objectives and skills.

Moreover, the kinds of online conversations recruiters have with candidates can reinforce the organisation’s brand. For example, Linkedin has a very active feature for asking and answering questions. As a member of Linkedin, a candidate is able to convey knowledge and expertise, positioning him or herself as an expert on a certain subjects. Linkedin also allows job seekers to list previous employers to confirm credibility.

But, cautions Gray, using social networks for recruitment and branding is not as simple as clicking and searching.

Recruiters need to understand exactly what organisations need, what each site provides in terms of service to users and intelligence to the recruiter, and which of these their desired candidate audience is actively using. In other words, it requires a specialised approach.

“For employers and job seekers to remain competition, they have to start getting more active around marketing themselves on social networks,” says Gray. “But it is as important to do it correctly to make it work — and to avoid damaging the brand, whether that of the company or the candidate.”

That then, is perhaps the other career crunch of the 21st century.

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