Some retailers are reaping the benefits of e-recruitment, but many others struggle to master its operational and accessibility basics. Fine-tuning the technology is crucial, finds Katie Kilgallen

Retailers long ago recognised that online recruitment could save them time and money. Well-designed career sites can reach a wide audience, filter candidates through the application process with ease and reduce reliance on agencies and search firms. And for the applicants themselves, easy-to-find, appealing, user-friendly career sites can make the task of job-hunting a lot less daunting.

But it’s not all plain sailing. “The pitfalls are plentiful,” says Peter Gold, managing director of recruitment technology specialist Hire Strategies. “Our research has shown that the vast majority of multiple retailers are still finding their feet when it comes to online recruitment. Worryingly, the gap between those that have cracked it and those that are struggling seems to be getting wider.”

A lot can go wrong. To begin with, there’s a risk that retailers are spending on sophisticated recruitment web sites that then prove difficult to find on the web. “Search engine optimisation needs careful consideration,” says Gold. “If job seekers can’t find your site easily, will they keep trying? Their need for a job will always take precedence over your brand.”

Even if the site can be easily found, so much rests on the experience it provides its users with. Too much flash technology and complicated navigation will alienate some applicants, while a laborious application and screening process is likely to cause a serious drop-off in the numbers applying. Graduate recruitment sites, in particular, require a distinctive tone, the promise of attractive career opportunities and a highly efficient system of application. A dull and lengthy application process with automated feedback is unlikely be inspiring.

Fine-tuning the technology and how it affects the online experience is therefore crucial. Retailers that are serious about online recruitment are likely to have in place an integrated Applicant tracking system (ATS) that automates the search and apply functions. Gold says: “Going down the automated path is ideal because that will deliver speed and efficiency. A great store manager isn’t going to join a retailer that can’t get its basic recruitment processes right.”

At Home Retail Group, the number of hires through online is increasing monthly as a result of increased usage of its three web sites (, and the group site Home Retail Group resourcing manager Neil Forshaw says the sites provide excellent employer branding, the facility to advertise all job opportunities both internally and externally and the ability to link to third-party providers. “Facilities to screen candidates and manage the interview process, as well as manage the Talent Bank – the database of unsolicited CVs – allow us to offer a consistent candidate response and experience,” he adds.

In its Top 100 Retail Recruitment Sites research, Hire Strategies rates retailers on factors such as first impressions, ease of navigation towards suitable jobs and site content. The Body Shop’s site ( was the best-rated, scoring consistently across all sections of the research. The site’s job search and application process, underpinned by an ATS from technology provider Peopleclick, was considered highly effective, especially as it caters for The Body Shop’s global business.

With 31,000 people employed across 55 countries, the scale of the ongoing recruitment burden cannot be underestimated, says The Body Shop global director of recruitment and talent Jacqueline Weston. She explains that the tracking system provides a framework to “develop consistency in our global recruitment processes, supported by one global system and candidate database”. She adds: “This in turn helps us reduce the costs of recruitment.”

The benefits include a dramatic reduction in application processing time, less admin, greater visibility of management data and the ability to concentrate on top-quality candidates.

Time saving

More automation via the web appeals to Sainsbury’s, too. The grocer is to extend its online recruitment processing capability to all stores and all job positions this year. Available nationwide only for store manager applications at present, recent trials at a selection of stores in Scotland have found that online job processing can work well for other positions too. Sainsbury’s head of resourcing Lee Rhoden says the automated filters have saved time and ensure that the retailer can identify quickly the most suitable people for the business. “Local needs across our network of more than 700 stores can be far better met and the candidate experience is much improved. For them, the convenience of being able to apply 24/7 and browse live vacancies anywhere in the country will be fantastic,” he adds.

Previously, hundreds of paper applications for store jobs would have been manually sifted through to unearth just a handful of people suitable for interview. Now online screeners – multiple-choice tests – are being deployed, which will allow Sainsbury’s to identify applicants with the right attitudes and motivation for the jobs in question.

“These are situational judgment tests asking what people would do in certain operational, colleague and customer situations,” says Rhoden. “In Scotland, where we have been testing this for some time, we’ve found that a much higher calibre of applicant is coming through to the store-based assessments stage.”

Rhoden says the age profile of applicants has not changed across the trial stores, confirming that older people can use the online system just as well as the younger generation. “Getting access to a PC hasn’t proved to be a problem either,” says Rhoden. “Most people who don’t have their own will at least have friends or family who will help, or can access the site on a library PC or at Job Centre Plus locations, where help is always on hand.”

Sainsbury’s is keen not to over-complicate the application process or cut out the human touch altogether. “The more we do online, the more we need to simplify the process, so this is work in progress,” says Rhoden. “We keep a close eye on the number of clicks people need to go through when they search and apply online and are cutting it to a minimum.”

Accessibility is another area where online recruitment can hit problems. Rhoden says Sainsbury’s is working to offer support or alternative methods of application to people with disabilities.

Next-generation web design – Web 2.0 – focuses strongly on social networks and Gold believes social recruiting will shape e-recruitment sites in the coming years. Expect more chat rooms and RSS feeds and integration with other social networking sites to make contact with potential recruits. “Young people coming into the job market are comfortable with the technology and will be spending more and more time using social networks,” says Gold.

But mastering the operational and accessibility basics of e-recruitment must be the priority for the vast majority of retailers. He says: “Some sites may already be running and they’re ready to try new things, but most are only just learning to walk.”