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Panpa Bulletin : March 2011
www.panpa.org.au The PANPA Bulletin | MARCH 2011 | 21 Know thy product THE changing nature of employ- ment classifieds was rammed home to me recently – and made me realise how fast our market is chang- ing. It also gave me an insight into how first-hand experience really does beat any other kind of market research, and how as newspapers, we tend to make fundamental busi- ness decisions on how we think our clients and readers are behaving, rather than what they are actually doing. As the treasurer of a not-for-profit organisation that provides boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables to social service clients around Sydney, I was roped into helping out on the search for a new coordinator. Fancying that I had a bit of experi- ence with finding good staff, my first port of call was to put the ad online (I used seek.com.au). About five years ago – the last time I’d adver- tised – that was the place to go to advertise and get a decent response. There was a bit of argy bargy at committee level over this decision. Our outgoing president felt that the ad should also go in the classified section of the newspaper. I pointed out that our last search for a coor- dinator using such a method had revealed only one candidate who with the benefit of hindsight had not been such a successful choice. To get someone good, we needed a lot of responses so we could compare the skill bases of candidates. We needed someone special who could juggle the competing demands of our work- force, volunteers and clients and our role on a community sector (read: rather embarrassing) pay level. In advertising online I figured I would get a high volume of candi- dates who through connection with the database would come some- where within our criteria which was clearly outlined in the ad. What I did not expect – and where the experi- ence has changed dramatically – is the sheer volume of candidates who were by and large, spam. But the sad thing was that the vast majority were utterly inappropriate – call centre employees desperately unhappy at their jobs and applying in bulk for anything that vaguely resembled a pay level they liked the sound of; overseas candidates ignoring our advice that candidates needed to be Australian residents; GFC victims underemployed and angry who believed that because it was not-for-profit we should hire them immediately despite their lack of expertise. Several of these felt the power of the technology gave them the liberty to be quite cranky on the email when their application was politely declined. From a month running our online ad, we received 67 applications, 59 of which failed to meet the basic request of our search – that they write a cover letter for their resume that showed how it matched our criteria. The search technology should have made it easy for people to see exactly what we were looking for and tailor their responses. Instead, the majority figured that they could bang out an application quickly in a way that made it no better than junk mail. Interesting employment strategy. We found four that were okay . . .Two met some parts of the criteria, two were outsiders who might be worth a look if we were really desperate. But then something interesting happened. A recruitment agency that special- ised in not-for-profit jobs contacted me and asked if they could run the ad on their website. The charge was reasonable so we went ahead. And then suddenly we found our ad linked to numerous social service employment sites. After the slim useful pickings from seek.com.au, we suddenly had a barrage of new resumes – and these were much better tailored, from peo- ple with real life experience in the sector. By the end of the search we had a rich shortlist then narrowed to two candidates who were both bril- liant for different reasons and now have a new extremely talented, sen- sible and capable coordinator who despite a fiery baptism in her first weeks, has handled all challenges with style. The experiment surprised me with the revelation that big recruitment sites seem to now have a broadcast culture. It revealed how the volume of responses does not guarantee suc- cess, and just how lazy we can be as individuals – expecting people to read through all the dross and recog- nise the spark within our application because we applied, not because we have taken time to explain how we meet a criteria and “sold” ourselves on our merits. Ironically, big online jobsearch sites seem now to be working like newspapers used to do – as a hunt- ing ground for niche recruiters to find new business. Not what was intended but a successful relation- ship none the less. I came out of the experience with a renewed understanding of the importance of relationship. A database is not a relationship – it’s only technology that can facilitate or get in the way of one. And people can never be relied upon to fill in all the fields. The results from a quality connection will surpass the numbers of broadcast in most cases. When newspapers find their way back to achieving both, we’ll be laughing. And for any CEO or classified manager who has not used their own online product for a while, it’s prob- ably a good time to give it a road test and see what response you get. Bet- ter than any market focus group, the results are sure to be illuminating. Slim pickings . . . big online job search sites bore little fruit in the search for a new fresh fruit and vegies coordinator. Image: Charlene_d Kylie Davis is the new National Real Estate editor at News Ltd and former owner, publisher and “entreprenette” at The Village Voice newspapers. Kylie Davis Opinion