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E-Recruitment 1 - Introduction: Promise and Problems

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Online or E-Recruitment has become nearly ubiquitous in medium and large businesses and is growing in popularity for small business owners, too. According to industry experts, from 1998 to 2001, the number of Fortune 500 companies that had job recruitment websites increased from 29% to 88%. By 2008, over 98% of them were using some sort of online recruitment process.

As may be expected, this sharp increase means that traditional avenues for recruitment, such as newspaper advertisements, no longer command the share of use they once enjoyed. In 2000, employment newspaper classified advertising in the U.S. was worth $8.7 billion. By 2002, however, the Newspaper Association of America reported only $4.3 billion, a more than 50% loss. Borrell Associates predicts that newspapers will suffer a further 12% revenue decline by 2012 as recruitment budgets continue to move online.

By contrast, online advertising for recruitment purposes is growing. Jupiter Research has predicted that online advertising overall will exceed $16 billion by the end of 2008, adding more than $10 billion from the industry’s total revenues in 2005. Recruitment advertising will likely be the single largest segment of this sector.

Job seekers have come to expect online access to job data and the application process. Research by Mintel reveals that 42% of respondents with Internet access look for job information via online recruitment sites, a number that is projected to increase substantially, with the format rapidly gaining acceptance.

Employers and job seekers note a number of benefits of e-recruitment over traditional methods. The Human Resources Management Guide (www.hrmguide.net) lists some of the more important ones.

  • Wide geographical reach
  • Speed of the application process
  • Lower costs due to savings on time, design and printing
  • Automating the process - allows for a comprehensive pre-selection process and consistency of process
  • Interaction with candidates - near instantaneous, and all information can be stored on file for future reference

In addition, e-recruiting can open up access to the process for individuals with disabilities. Through assistive technologies such as screen readers and speech recognition, people can achieve access to job information in ways not previously possible in print and traditional media. Applicants can access job information and fill out application forms without the assistance of others to read the information or complete applications in hard copy format. An accessible e-recruitment site can invite a broader pool of qualified applicants that might not have previously thought to apply, including those with disabilities. [Macromedia whitepaper on "Creating Accessible eRecruitment Web Sites," 2003]

Unfortunately, e-recruitment can create its own set of barriers if accessibility and usability concerns have not been taken into consideration. In the same way they can create opportunity, sites can impede it with designs that do not follow accessibility guidelines or standards, and do not consider the ways that assistive technology devices access web information.

Voice output screen readers, for example, will not function properly if images (such as button controls) are not provided with appropriate alternative text, or if tables have not been designed to read in the proper order. This can leave blind and very low vision applicants with limited or no access to the search and application processes. Similarly, speech recognition will not function correctly if form controls (such as text input or selection buttons) haven’t been coded properly, limiting access to those with dexterity limitations.

Unfortunately, these problems are quite prevalent on job boards and e-recruitment sites. Cornell University’s “HR Process and IT Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities: Improving Employer Practices under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act” (2003) found that none of the job boards sampled in their research achieved 100% accessibility, and only 26% of recruiting site home pages achieved this standard. Seventy-three percent of sampled human resource personnel had no familiarity with guidelines for accessible web design, with 70% having no knowledge of screen readers and similar assistive technologies. These same HR professionals, however, reported that 95% of their organizations relied upon online job postings. This gap between use and appropriate knowledge illustrates a significant problem.

The Employer’s Forum on Disability (www.barrierfree-recruitment.com) lists some of the more typical accessibility issues encountered on job boards and other e-recruitment sites:

  • Images not labeled properly with an alternative text description
  • Inconsistent navigation, including poor hypertext link text
  • Inaccessible forms for blind web users who use screen reader software
  • Information validation techniques which cause problems with assistive technology devices
  • Information laid out in tables is frequently not coded properly for accessibility (e.g., job listings)

Any one of these issues can render job postings or recruitment sites unusable to some people. Taken together, they can create a site that is useless to millions of people with disabilities.

In our next installment, we’ll look at some of these specific accessibility issues and how to avoid them. In the meantime, please add your expertise to this Introduction via the “comments” feature.