Why interactive corporate Web sites attract the best talent

Companies counting on their Web sites to scoop up the best talent available need to add interactive features that help educate job searchers, but avoid superfluous bells and whistles, according to a new study.

The Web has long been the number one destination of those looking for work, experts agree. Gone are the days that a job search began in Saturday’s newspaper, leafing through the careers section.

Now a study out of University Park, Pa.-based Penn State University suggests job seekers will like a company better if their careers page is more interactive. Interactive features on Web sites are an attempt to dislodge another career seeking tradition – job fairs.

“The advantage of job fairs is to give a human face to a company,” says study author and professor of film, video and media studies Shyam Sundar. “But now online means can create the feel of real people telling you about the company with interactive features.”

Sundar’s research is motivated by the late Canadian communications expert Marshall McLuhan, who coined the term “the medium is the message.” Even calling himself a “neo-McLuhanist,” Sundar wanted to know if the mere inclusion of interactivity on a Web site could change a person’s perception of a company.

“The more interactive features [on a Web site], the more the stakeholders or clients will find the organization to be credible,” is the way Sundar sums up his findings.

He presented them at a Montreal-based conference on May 25.

Seven Web sites representing different levels of interactivity were presented to 116 undergraduate students. The students delved into the career sections and then rated the company based on their experience.

The features on the Web sites that were considered interactive ranged from enabling a link for job enquiries, to submitting an online application or viewing video footage.

The levels of interactivity.

The glowing review of such features might be due to the age of the study’s evaluators, says Jennifer Perrier-Knox, a senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based consultancy Info-Tech Research Group.

“Interactivity is going to hit a spark with the younger applicants,” she says. “That’s more of a technical generation that have higher expectations and knowledge of what can be done with a Web site.”

Adding lots of interactive bells-and-whistles to your site isn’t enough to attract the right job candidates. Companies need to provide features with real substance and offer information on what the work experience might be like for a potential hire, the analyst adds.

The more specialized knowledge someone has of the industry, the more they’ll dig into a Web site to look for specific answers, Sundar says. “If I’m highly involved in a topic, then the site has to deliver on a threaded sequence of messaging.”

For example, a company looking to hire a chemist should put up video of chemists actually working in the lab, the professor gives as an example. This provides real information instead of having a panoramic view of the office space outside the lab.

Workplaces recognized as having the best environment for employees offer in-depth information about employment on their Web sites, Perrier-Knox says. They list details about salary and benefits, work culture, and even special events employees participate in throughout the year.

“They have pictures of people working there having fun and that’s very important,” she says. “Surprising, but true, a company’s Web site has a bigger impact on their credibility than anything else.”

Small companies with limited time and resources for recruiting stand to benefit the most from making simple changes to their Web sites, Sundar says in his study. Adding a search feature that allows a job seeker to match their skills with available positions is a good idea. Or try giving an option to communicate directly with current employees.

“Applicants really like the opportunity to talk to someone in the same role and find out what it’s like to work at the company,” Perrier-Knox agrees. If a direct chat option isn’t available, try a video that features current employees describing their job experience.

Also, don’t be afraid to bring in employees from across your company as a critical voice for feedback on your Web site. Don’t just trust your human resources or marketing department to design the site and expect it to be successful, but have your general staff tell you what features are useful, the Info-Tech analyst adds.

“Especially the really good employees – the ones that you’re glad you got and the recruiting process obviously worked for – they’ll give you an honest opinion about a feature you’re thinking about adding to your Web page,” she says.

Also, don’t neglect associating your company with a major job search Web site. These sites are so well-known that participation in them is mandatory for most job openings, Perrier-Knox adds.

Sites like Workopolis and Monster.com have basically replaced those old newspaper classifieds as the first place job seekers look.

“Advertising in newspapers is generally considered a waste of time and is incredibly expensive when you consider other options,” she says.

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