It's hard to argue with the idea that the company with the best talent wins — or that the best place to find talent is on the Internet. The challenge comes when you actually try to use the Web as a recruiting pipeline. With more than 1 billion Web pages and some 10,000 career sites, finding the perfect hire online may be harder than finding a wedding ring in a sand dune. Worse, most great people already have great jobs. How do you sort through the millions of people who are hidden within corporate Web sites or who are lingering in databases — people who may never post résumés on job boards, but who are ripe for the picking?
That is the urgent question that has brought 30 corporate recruiters and executive headhunters to the Empire Room on the 14th floor of the Courtyard Marriott in midtown Manhattan for a two-day seminar from Advanced Internet Recruitment Strategies (AIRS). Through its corporate workshops, airs has schooled more than 8,000 recruiters in how to use "active sourcing strategies" to find "passive" job candidates on the Web.
Forget everything you thought you knew about finding talent. Forget flipping through Rolodexes, smiling through cold calls, and trolling online career sites. "These days, if you aren't fluent in Boolean syntax, if you can't peel back a URL or flip and X-ray a Web site, then you'd better think about hanging up your headhunter hat," explains Bill Craib, senior director of training for AIRS.
Peel back a URL? Flip and X-ray a Web site? If this language sounds a bit cloak-and-dagger, it's because the techniques behind it are fiendishly clever. "X-raying," for instance, lets you look at all of the pages within a company's Web server that have been indexed by the search engine that you are using, including pages that can't be accessed through the company's home page (for example, a page devoted to a hot R&D project, which just might include a list of the engineers working on the project). "Flipping" reveals all of the pages linked to a given server — and, like X-raying, it can lead you to lots of nonpublic pages (for example, the customer-support operations of the suppliers that a company does business with). AIRS insists that its techniques are not the HR equivalent of hacking — that they are perfectly legal and available to all. But these techniques do offer trained talent hunters access to information about people that's far beyond what most everyone else will find.
"What we're really teaching people is how to manipulate the Internet so that they can find what they need to — fast," Craib says. "The biggest challenge recruiters face is how to find people quickly and economically."
Craib, 37, an affable guy with a disarming gap-toothed grin, knows the woes of recruiting. Four years ago, he worked briefly as a recruiter for Sanford Rose Associates in Hanover, New Hampshire. It didn't take him long to loathe some of the unsavory practices of his profession: He hated cold-calling. He hated "ruseing" — bypassing a company's on-guard receptionist by, say, calling the shipping department and irately demanding to be transferred directly to the VP of marketing.
Craib knew that there had to be a better way. So he turned to the Internet and sought help — literally. He spent hours at a time surfing the help sections of some of the major search engines in order to figure out faster ways to find people. "There's all this information about flipping and X-raying — even though they don't use those terms. And the examples that they use are things like how to find 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' or a hotel in Zurich. It just took another step to figure out how to apply it to recruiting."
Learning how to maneuver through the vast amounts of data that exist on the Web can be daunting. Is it worth the time and effort? Sandra Morris, 25, a research consultant for Unifi Network, formerly a division of PricewaterhouseCoopers, impressed the class with her answer to that question: PWHC now finds 90% of its hires through the Internet, uses outside agencies only about 15% of the time, and has reduced its cost-per-hire from $23,000 to $280. "We were paying exorbitant fees to outside agencies who would then just use these techniques," says Morris. "We realized that there was no reason we couldn't learn this for ourselves and bring it in-house. Everything is on the Internet. You just have to know how to find it."
Contact Bill Craib by email (email@example.com), or learn more about AIRS on the Web (www.airsdirectory.com).
Sidebar: Search and Enjoy
Looking for great talent? Don't hire a headhunter. Instead, let your fingers do the walking. Below are two techniques that Bill Craib teaches talent scouts to help them find what they're looking for on the Web. (Each search engine uses different commands. These are for AltaVista's advanced-search function.)
Shows you what's really inside a source company by helping you see through walled-off areas of Web sites. Companies link you only to the pages that they want you to see. But search engines index all of the pages on a server, and X-raying can bring you to pages that don't have public links.
The command: Host:xyzcompany and keywords. For instance: host:cisco.com AND business development
The result: 77 Web pages, including promotion announcements, executive news, and an article about Mike Volpi, Cisco's chief strategy officer
The Web is really nothing but a series of links between related home pages. Flipping allows you to target a specific destination and can lead you to nonpublic Web pages, such as employee directories and alumni lists.
The command: Link:xyzcompany and keywords. Looking for a candidate who graduated from Harvard Business School and has experience at Deloitte? Link:hbs.edu AND Deloitte
The result: 141 Web pages, including home pages, biographies, alumni email addresses, and Web addresses
A version of this article appeared in the September 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.