Jobseekers create visual CVs but what are the legal risks?
Ross BentleyEmployers' Law11 January 2009 00:00This article first appeared in Employers' Law magazine. Subscribe online and save 20%.
The way people are presenting their curriculum vitae - the universal passport to career opportunities - is changing as digital technology now allows jobseekers to build online multi-media presentations.
Technology developed in the US allows candidates to create what is being called a 'visual CV', and include images, pdf files, charts and graphs, weblinks, online video and work samples, alongside the traditional text.
But, as a growing number of professionals in the UK embrace the concept, lawyers are warning it could expose employers to a greater risk of discrimination during the recruitment process.
At the company synonymous with the trend, Visualcvs.com, marketing director Pierce Resler says the benefit of a CV with all these bells and whistles is that it helps jobseekers stand out from the crowd.
She says the firm has also made it extremely easy for people to build their own visual CV by offering free access to its software, which individuals can use to download the applications they want to include. The CV is then hosted online by the company, allowing the person to send a URL link to their CV out to prospective employers or anyone else they might want to see it.
"A lot of people have a public version that acts as a consistent professional representation anywhere online, whether accessed as a button on an e-mail signature, via a social networking website such as Facebook or LinkedIn, or on a website or blog," says Resler.
The concept seems to be popular, with Resler claiming an "extensive take-up" of visual CVs since the company launched at the start of the year, with registered users in more than 120 countries. And it is not just people working in new media, IT and advertising that are using the technology. According to Resler, they come from a host of different professions.
She adds: "We had a competition to find the best examples, and a garden designer won. We also have management consultants who are using the platform to include strategy presentations, and CEOs who, for example, might embed a broadcast interview to demonstrate their media profile."
As with a lot of new business concepts and technology, the UK is lagging behind the US in its adoption of visual CVs, or similar creations, such as personalised video presentations. In fact, in a recent survey of 500 UK candidates, executive search company MRINetwork found that only 4% had used a video CV - a figure president Michael Jalbert expects to increase in the coming years.
He says: "The growth of broadband connections and the existence of easy-to-use video-making applications will most likely spur usage as more candidates, hoping to stand out from the competition, post video CVs online to boost their chances of being noticed and hired."
But while the exciting potential of this technology is obvious, it may present employers with a few legal headaches as they strive to ensure their recruitment processes are objective and free of prejudice, says Judith Watson, head of employment at law firm Cobbetts.
She is concerned that having a picture or video of a candidate embedded into a CV will lead recruiters to make decisions based on the age, race, sex, appearance, and disability of the candidate - something that arguably might happen less when they are faced with plain text on two pages of A4 that typically make up a traditional CV.
She says: "The video CV gives employers the opportunity to assess a candidate's compatibility straight away, which may lead to a faster and more efficient selection process. However, it is still possible - and even likely - that they will make stereotypical assumptions based on what they see, leaving themselves wide open to discrimination claims."
But although Paul Lambdin, an employment partner at law firm Stevens and Bolton, acknowledges that visual CVs increase the risk of discrimination claims, he also thinks this risk is "manageable". He advises recruiters to leave a paper trail when rejecting a CV. He says they should make a note - it need only be a few lines - as to why a candidate was not given the job and ensure that the grounds given are solid business reasons.
He says: "In the real world, it may be impractical to make a note for each CV if you are sifting through hundreds, but you should at least keep a record of your thinking when it comes to the shortlist of candidates."
Lambdin says employers could also face another potential legal pitfall if any recruitment advertisement they put out requests candidates apply only by video or visual CV. "This could leave them open to accusations of age discrimination, as these types of applications are typically only used by young people," he says.
But, according to Lambdin, any equal opportunity employer who regularly monitors their recruitment can show they employ a diverse workforce in terms of age, race, sex and disability can be assured this would be influential at tribunal when faced with a discrimination claim relating to visual CVs. "It's a very useful and persuasive tool," he adds.
But before UK employers end up facing claims in this area, visual CVs need to become established over here - something Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, a body that represents the recruitment industry, thinks is unlikely.
He believes visual CVs could make the recruitment process "more cumbersome", forcing recruiters to spend longer making their selection through watching video presentations or clicking on web links. "Americans are much more into appearance and have featured photographs on their CVs for years - I'm not sure it's something that would be as popular in Europe," adds Green.
He has however seen a rise in recruiters using social networking sites, such as Facebook and Linkedin, for background checks on candidates, especially at the shortlisted stage. And while lawyers say there is nothing underhand with this - the information is in the public domain, so there are no legal issues around data protection - Green reminds recruiters that the postings and references on these sites should not replace the standard reference from a previous employer.
"These sites give you background on a person, show how they present themselves and can help back up any claims they may have made at interview. But any references or recommendations will be unsubstantiated and will therefore have little validity," he adds.
Reading-based e-business consultant Toby Treacher created his visual CV two months ago and has already used it to apply for a job, receiving a mixed response from his potential new employers.
He says: "Because of the industry I work in, the people I sent it to were interested in my approach, and to a certain extent it was seen as a statement of credibility - that I am up with the latest trends and technology.
"But they still requested I send them a more conventional Word document, simply because the mechanisms they have in place to process CVs couldn't cope with the format. If an employer is sifting through hundreds of CVs, I doubt whether all the applications linked to the CV are of any use because of the time it takes to use them."
Treacher has included links to his Linkedin page as well a BBC radio page where some interviews he did for local radio are stored. He has also included a graph, which visually demonstrates how a company grew during his time there.
He says: "I think this type of CV will work well in the freelance world, where people want to employ you quickly for a job they need doing straightaway, because you can give examples of your work there and then."
And because his CV is posted in the public domain, Treacher also believes there is less likelihood of the odd white lie making its way onto his resumé.
He adds: "Because it's public, it has to be honest, with less embellishment. You can't put anything out there that a former colleagues might see and disagree with."
Social networking expert Jason Alba was the keynote speaker at the Arkansas Association of Colleges and Employers 2009 Winter Conference on Friday at the Brewer Hegeman Conference Center at the University of Central Arkansas.
Alba is the CEO and creator of JibberJobber.com and author of "I'm on LinkedIn - Now What???"
According to a press release, "After a corporate downsizing impacted (Alba) in 2006, he experienced firsthand the difficulties of conducting a job search. Drawing on his extensive computer software and IT experience, (Alba) analyzed the job search process and developed JibberJobber.com, the gold standard in career management technology. (Alba) specializes in Internet and Intranet development and marketing and job and career expertise from the candidate side. He speaks to audiences world wide on blogging, social marketing, presentations, speaking, authoring."
Allison Nicholas of Acxiom is the president of AACE, a professional organization of career services and college/professional recruiters and human resources professionals. She said the overall purpose of the 35-year-old organization is to facilitate the placement of Arkansas college students and alumni.
Alba addressed how professionals can use social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook to their advantage. On his Facebook page, he said, his goal is for people to buy his products, and so he does not put anything on his profile that could be "noise," such as his religion, marital status, year of birth and political beliefs.
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Alba focused more on LinkedIn during the session. He described it as "a place to find and be found." People on LinkedIn are, to recruiters, "passive candidates" he said.
"Recruiters love passive candidates," he said. "Look at it that way. Don't you think your students should be on there?"
He said the key to the LinkedIn profile is credibility and making everything "look like it's done on purpose, not haphazard." Getting the right words and phrases on the page can ensure it will show up when others on the network do a keyword search, he said.
"When the person finds it, you want them to connect with you. I wanted (my summary) to tell a story. It's not your resume. It's not in the resume box. (However) make sure it bleeds credibility."
Alba gave several other tips for maximizing a LinkedIn page.
To gain recommendations, consider finding a person you have worked with and can professionally endorse, he said. The former coworker might respond in kind. Another pair of features of the networking site is Questions and Answers, which Alba said allows him to "reach out and touch your network on a regular basis."
Business people should focus on getting their brand in front of their network, he said.
Regarding Facebook, Alba said it is important to keep everything clean and on-brand.
"People are doing dumb stuff on Facebook and getting fired," he said. "Don't think of it as a cool place where you talk about (your private life). Think of it as an extension of your brand."
However, he noted, it is "acceptable and expected to have your personality come through on Facebook."
On both LinkedIn and Facebook he recommended having a head shot for the profile photo, rather than "a photo of your dog or a photo of you doing yoga."
He said professionals might also consider writing a Facebook application.
"You might get some viral marketing out of it," he said.
He said he also posts events on Facebook, because if 10 people reply that they are attending, all their friends know about the event.
Alba said he also discussed blogging and Twitter during other sessions on Friday. He said it is important to remember to be authentic and transparent and to promote conversation. For example, he said, in a Twitter post he could point someone to one of his blog posts and ask for their opinion.
Mary Kay Wurm of Hot Springs National Park Community College, conference coordinator, said, "We're very pleased. (Alba) has done a great job of addressing both employers and the colleges. We're very pleased with the turnout."
Nicholas said, "I think the topics are very timely for students and professors alike. I think it's the future for the job search and also sourcing candidates as well as personal and social communication. The challenge is really trying to figure out what works for you."
(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1277. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Lauren Miller, 36, who lost her corporate communications ...
(01-11) 04:00 PST New York -- Someone is trying to sabotage your career. It's your online persona.
With smaller budgets and less staff to conduct interviews, companies are increasingly using social-networking sites as a way to screen prospective employees.
That's why Lauren Miller, who was laid off in October, is so vigilant with her Facebook profile. She watches for any photos friends might post showing her holding a drink. Off-color comments by anyone are immediately deleted.
"You never know how things will be perceived," said Miller, a resident of Hoboken, N.J., who worked in corporate communications.
At times, she wonders if a recruiter needs to know that she's 36, single and Jewish before she walks in the door for an interview.
Social-networking sites typically let you post as much information about yourself as you like, including your education, work history and favorite music and books. You can join countless fan groups or causes. Status updates, which tell how you're feeling at any moment, offer yet more clues about you.
How much you should reveal varies depending on your situation, of course.
In some creative fields, showcasing a quirky sense of humor might score you points. Your love of marathons might even get you in the door with certain hiring managers.
The bottom line is that if you're looking to land (or keep) a job, you need to treat your online profile like a resume - keep it scrubbed and up to date. A few points to remember:
Who can see my profile?
One of the first steps in staying on top of your online profile is being aware of the privacy settings.
Facebook, for instance, lets you join networks that tie users with a common bond, whether it's a company, school or where you live. You need a valid e-mail address to join the first two types of networks, but anyone can join a regional network.
The default setting on the site lets friends and everyone in your network see your profile.
If you're not comfortable with this setup, you can tweak settings to control who sees what. You can even decide which friends can see select photos.
"If you have your privacy set properly, you really are controlling every aspect of how your profile is viewed," said Brandee Barker, a Facebook spokeswoman.
That said, it's always safer to assume anything you post online can become public. After all, Facebook has more than 140 million registered users, although the company doesn't disclose how many of those are in the United States.
How personal should I get?
There's nothing wrong with revealing your love of biking, dogs or Malcolm Gladwell books. But even if you set up a profile for personal reasons and don't intend for potential employers to see it, there's a good chance they'll search for it.
A member survey by the Society for Human Resource Management last year found 34 percent said they use social-networking sites to recruit potential applicants, while 19 percent said they plan to.
Of those who used social-networking sites to screen applicants, 47 percent said did so before contacting the applicant for the first time.
"If a recruiter comes across your profile, there's a risk they'll judge you based on information that's not relevant to your job," said Alison Rosenblum, co-owner of Strategic Resources, a recruiting firm in Albany, N.Y. "It shouldn't be relevant, but it is."
Still, it can work in your favor to share your interests online.
Even LinkedIn, a social-networking site designed specifically for professionals, includes a field where users can list interests. The idea is that such personal details can help forge bonds in the professional world. It happens all the time in face-to-face interviews; people click over a shared alma mater, hometown or hobby.
What are potential pitfalls?
There are a couple rules to remember if you're using a social-networking site specifically to look for a job.
To start, don't bother posting the vacation, party or new baby pictures. Limit your photo to a recent head shot. It should resemble a picture you'd see on an executive bio.
Another mistake people often make on LinkedIn is listing only their current job, Luo said. Listing all your experience gives recruiters a better sense of your abilities and widens the chances that you'll get a nibble.
There's also a reason LinkedIn doesn't have fields for religious and political views. Companies can't turn people away for political or religious reasons, but they're sensitive topics better left to your personal life. In some cases, publicly stating such views might interfere with a company's mission. If you're unsure about whether to include certain details, a good barometer is ask whether you'd list it on a resume.
Where do I draw the line?
You might feel more relaxed about what you post if you're employed and comfortable with your boss and co-workers. But airing personal details about yourself online can still affect your work.
Even if nobody at the office cares that you're a die-hard Democrat, a potential client might.
Also, consider how loudly you should advertise where you work in your online profile if the account is primarily for friends and family. Your company might not mind workers broadcasting views online, but it also might not want to be publicly affiliated with them.
Ilyse Shapiro, founder of the job search Web site MyPartTimePRO.com, offers tips for job seekers looking for part-time or flexible employment opportunities.
Perform industry-specific research
Despite the current economic situation, many industries are still actively hiring part-time staff, including health care, accounting, IT, sales, education and fundraising. Performing online research and reading industry-specific journals will inform you of who is hiring in your area.
Set up informational meetings
Speak with those in your professional and personal networks to find out what is going on in specific industries and firms.
Talk to others who work part-time
Gain greater knowledge of different companies’ hiring policies by finding out how others got their part-time jobs. Don’t forget to get names of hiring managers.
Connect with organizations that hire part-time help
Web sites like MyPartTimePRO.com specifically display part-time, professional-level jobs. Other online and offline services are available to help moms and retirees return to work.
Engage recruiters and employment agencies
Don’t just contact general staffing firms; research those who serve your specific industry. Also, many companies outsource their hiring to recruiters. If there is a specific employer you are interested in working for, contact their HR department directly to find out which firms recruit for the company.
Tailor your own position
Many companies strictly hire full-timers. When interviewing, show the hiring manager how you can do a great job in less time. Other firms may not even realize they need your services and will create a position for you based on your captivating presentation.
Actively use online networking opportunities
Make use of online tools other job seekers and recruiters actively use: LinkedIn, Facebook, ListServs and newsgroups.
If you are seeking employment with an association or nonprofit organization, volunteer first. Volunteering provides the potential employer with a first-hand look at who you are and how you perform.
Recruitment industry heavyweights gather for official APSCo launch party
· January 15th event at headquarters of the Magic Circle
· Official welcome for Forum of Professional Recruiters
The newly created Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) will celebrate its official launch on Thursday 15 January at the prestigious headquarters of the Magic Circle in London. APSCo was created after ATSCo (the Association of Technology Staffing Companies) decided to broaden its membership base and activities beyond IT and engineering to include all professional staffing sectors.
Graham Palfery-Smith, a well-respected recruitment industry heavyweight, will deliver an address in which he will talk about why the professional-level staffing sector now needs its own industry representation specifically focused on its needs.
Over 150 APSCo members will attend this prestigious event at which APSCo’s plans for the forthcoming year will be outlined by Chief Executive Ann Swain.
The event will also include a panel discussion featuring leading industry chief executives with proven track records of successfully managing professional staffing companies during previous recessions. They will offer their insights on how professional recruiters can beat the downturn. The panel will consist of John Mortimer, Peter Flaherty, Tara Ricks, Peter Searle and Bryan Lloyd.
As well as marking the launch of APSCo, the event will also celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of ATSCo in 1999. The party will also be the official welcome for the Forum of Professional Recruiters (FPR), whose prestigious membership of finance and accountancy recruiters merged with APSCo on January 1st.
Ann Swain, Chief Executive, APSCo, comments: “The headquarters of the Magic Circle should provide a genuinely inspirational venue for the launch of APSCo. Members should expect APSCo to pull something truly memorable out of the hat.”
“2009 will be a tough year for the professional staffing sector. Now more than ever it is vital that like-minded business professionals have access to the most cutting edge market intelligence and business development opportunities that only a trade association specifically focused on their needs can provide.”
onrec.com news can only be reproduced with the permission of onrec.com or if onrec.com is attributed as the source.
As the economy falls deeper into recession, many people have turned to LinkedIn, the social network for professionals, to job hunt and connect with contacts who might help them land a new gig. But career experts say your LinkedIn job-hunting efforts will all be for naught if you don't build your profile page properly and ensure that it is search-friendly for potential employers and recruiters.
More on LinkedIn on CIO.com LinkedIn's Most Unusual Members: Meet The Super-Connected LinkedIn Etiquette: Five Dos and Don'ts LinkedIn vs. Facebook: Is the "Boring" Underdog Poised to Beat Its Flashy Competitor?
You can take some simple steps (all free of charge) to ensure that you've done everything possible to differentiate your LinkedIn profile from the others, career management experts say. These steps will make it more likely that recruiters and other LinkedIn users will find you serendipitously when they navigate and search the site.
We've arranged these tips (roughly) in the order they appear on a LinkedIn profile page. In order to change your profile, log into LinkedIn and go the left menu. Click on the aptly named "Edit my profile" link.
While you don't necessarily need to pay a professional photographer, it's important to upload a picture to your LinkedIn profile, says Jason Alba, CEO of Jibberjobber.com, a career management firm, and author of the book I'm On LinkedIn - Now What?.
"It doesn't have to be amazing, but a picture just makes your profile a lot more personable," Alba says. "With the way digital cameras are nowadays, just put on a suit and have your friend take some pictures and crop it in."
Like the New York Times has its slogan "all the news that's fit to print," your professional tagline should sum you up for the LinkedIn reader, very concisely.
Because the professional tagline occupies the prime real-estate immediately below where your name is, you really want to make this one count, says Kirsten Dixson, a career management consultant who specializes in helping people utilize web applications for their professional endeavors.
"It's how you position yourself right away in the reader's mind," Dixson says. "It should be a shortened version of your personal brand."
According to Alba of Jibberjobber.com, if you have a job, it's not necessary for you to use your actual title, especially since that appears in the "current" jobs section of your LinkedIn profile section. If you're looking for a job, "think of the tagline as your ten second pitch," he says. "It's not easy to do [in so small a space], but make sure you get a clear message in there of what you're about professionally."
What Are You Working On?
This is like LinkedIn's version of Twitter, the short messaging service that allows users to leave status messages regarding what they're doing. Unlike Twitter, all your status messages should be business-like in tone and compelling for readers.
According to Dixson, these messages could ask an intelligent question to your fellow contacts, known as "connections," on LinkedIn. Or you might offer mention of a specific project you're working on that exemplifies the kind of work you do or are interested in pursuing.
Dixson says the status update also provides an easy avenue to keep your page fresh. If you update it regularly, it will show that you're engaged with your LinkedIn page and the people who visit it.
LinkedIn allows you to list three websites on your profile. Most people choose to add their company sites, or blog (if they have one).
When you go to add a site in the edit settings page, you will be given the option to describe the site generically as "My Company" or "My Blog." But if you look closely, you can click on "Other," which will allow you to type in something customary. Alba recommends using that feature.
While you could choose to type in your company name, Alba says you might want to use a phrase that's descriptive and that will draw readers in. In Alba's case, for instance, he would describe his blog as "career management blog" instead of the generic "My blog."
Go get your LinkedIn URL
Like any social network or web service of its kind, LinkedIn will create an address for your profile page. Ideally, you want to have your name at the end of the URL. Such as, for example, http://www.linkedin.com/in/cglynch.
You can edit your LinkedIn URL. And do it quickly, especially if you suspect many users share the same name as you. It's much like free e-mail services: it's better to be John Smith@[email service] than JohnSmith1431@[e-mail service].
"This is a URL you might leave in your blog or homepage, or maybe in your professional e-mail signature," Alba says. "If it's cleaner and recognizable, that will be helpful."
The "summary" section is the meat of your LinkedIn profile, and matters a great deal both in terms of human interaction (do people find it interesting?), and also in terms of LinkedIn's powerful search engine, which will find certain keywords in it relevant, and return you higher in search results when people query terms in your field of work.
"The more keywords you have the more relevant you are in search," Alba says. "So if you're in project management, for example, you might want to have PMP (Project Management Professional) in there."
But Alba says you must remember that humans will be reading your summary, so don't get so hung up on keywords that the summary becomes unreadable.
"Some people will do SEO (search engine optimization) and make it just a list of keywords," Alba says. "That's not very compelling for a human reading your summary."
One thing you might do, Dixson says, is focus on writing a good concise summary of yourself in the summary field and save the keywords for "specialties," which appears as a subsection within the summary and can be modified when you click to edit your summary.
Recommendations allow people viewing your profile to get a third-party perspective on you and your work. If you ask someone to write you a recommendation, you will be able to approve it before it gets posted to your profile.
While Alba says it's nice to have that recommendation where your boss gushes over all the great work you do, don't stop there. Go for what career coaches call the 360-degree view.
"If you can have subordinates say you're the greatest boss in the world, or customers who say you're great to do business with, that provides [readers of your LinkedIn profile] with a much fuller view of you," Alba says.
What to do with Apps
In October, LinkedIn launched its applications platform, making it possible for users to add up to 10 different apps to their LinkedIn profile.
"Whatever you do within the apps, keep it on brand," Alba says.
As an example, then, don't use the slideshow application to post pictures of your vacation to Florida or anything personal. Instead, the app to create a PowerPoint-like presentation showcasing your work, Dixson says, or display your career goals in another engaging format.
By Joyce Lain Kennedy Tribune Media Services
Posted: 01/11/2009 01:00:00 AM MST
DEAR JOYCE: I followed up on your recent mention that the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) is flush with jobs. After I went through the agency's registration procedure, the site came up with available jobs (in my occupational category), most in locations outside of my state (Massachusetts). All were administrative assistant jobs (which I don't fit). Admittedly, I am a white male non-veteran, so my options are limited, but the hiring door is not open wide at FDIC for me. — Bob Contacting Bob, I suggested that he pop over to a just-launched online job resource, CareerCast.com, a job portal operated by technology provider Adicio.
That same day Bob called me back to say "thanks" and to tell me that he had discovered on CareerCast two attractive job openings in his backyard for which he was well-qualified and was moving immediately to apply for both of them.
The CareerCast job portal contains about a half-million jobs from more than 500 newspapers and niche job boards across the U.S. and Canada.
Similar to familiar and useful aggregation sites (such as Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com), CareerCast directs job-hunting surfers to the originating job board, where they apply.
But unlike aggregation sites, CareerCast allows job seekers to upload or create resumes and cover letters and use their stored personal data to apply to jobs across the network. Their resumes are visible only to recruiters on the sites on which they apply. This feature guarantees much greater privacy for the job seeker because there's no searchable database of resumes that can fuel identity-theft problems.
In addition to job listings, CareerCast offers career-related content and advice directed by Tony Lee, who formerly headed Dow Jones' Career Journal.com and who knows careers-industry news backwards and forwards.
(Disclosure: Rick Miller, CEO of Adicio, is a respected professional in the recruiting industry. His company and my company shared an office a dozen years ago and we remain friends.)
DEAR JOYCE: At 58, I'm on the market and worry that technology to find jobs is beyond my grasp. Can't a person still find jobs in traditional ways? — C.P.
ABSOLUTELY, YES — solid job-hunting techniques ranging from responding to ads to networking are proven old friends. But perhaps you remember a rhyme often written in high school yearbooks: "Make new friends but keep the old — one is silver, the other gold." When you're all a-twitter (yes, that's a pun) about what's up in technology, grab knowledge quickly on SocialMedian (socialmedian.com), a site that focuses on using online technology in many venues.
SocialMedian is the creation of the talented Jason Goldberg, former CEO of Jobster.com.
In this deepening recession, don't make the mistake of relying 100 percent on the same old strategies and approaches to find jobs and manage a career. Nor should you rely 100 percent on new-media sources.
Put them all together and selectively rank those that work best for you.
DEAR JOYCE: My son, a college sophomore, is talking about dropping out of school. What are those arguments about better job stability? — R.R.T.
The classic job stability-argument for your kids to stay in school just took a slight hit with rising joblessness for workers with bachelor's or advanced degrees. But college grads still hold the employment edge. In November, the jobless rate for college graduates reached 3.1 percent, compared with the national unemployment rate of 6.7 percent. One problem for college grads is that, starting in the 1980s, employers began cutting middle managers and older professional workers who were paid more than younger workers.
An excellent Washington Post story presents many details you'll want to know: Google for "College Degree No Shield As More Jobs Are Slashed."
(E-mail career questions for possible use in this column to Joyce Lain Kennedy at jlk(at)sunfeatures.com; use "Reader Question" for subject line. Or mail her at Box 368, Cardiff, CA 92007.) (C) 2009 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
Recruiters are on the front lines of this new war for work. They have become social workers, therapists, career counselors and targets of misdirected anger. Most are bracing to hold onto their personal lives in the likelihood that the worst is yet to come.
For 17 years, Victoria Villalba has operated Victoria & Associates Career Services in Miami, placing people in temporary and permanent jobs for clients such as Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Baptist Health. Some clients, like most businesses, have laid off staff, too.
Villalba, 43, spends increasing hours making phone calls and networking to learn who might be hiring. Typically, recruiters are not paid by the candidates, only by the companies that hire them to search and screen job seekers.
This day, she is lunching with an executive whose position was eliminated after 16 years. She has chosen a restaurant instead of her office to put him more at ease. "When you're in the same position 16 years, change might be a good thing," Villalba tells the job seeker.
But it's unclear whether her advice has been heard; instead she sees only a creased forehead and look of concern. The reply is: "What are my odds of finding a job and how long will it take?"
Villalba tells him the truth: Companies are postponing hiring. "If you need income to make your mortgage payment, you may have to take temporary work."
Throughout the day, Villalba will scroll through her BlackBerry, trying to come up with leads for the job seekers flooding her lobby or phoning her in tears.
Each night at home, Villalba forces herself to turn her BlackBerry off, at least for a few hours. "I know I have to relax to recharge my battery for the next day," she says.
Still, Villalba finds herself awake in the middle of the night, thinking about the people she has met with, those desperate for work. "It's hard to let go. I feel like I owe it to the person to help them."
Across town, Jason Galvao, 27, wrestles with the same reasons for insomnia. "I've started getting to work an hour and a half earlier because my voice mail and inbox would be full. But as early as I now get in, it's not early enough."
Galvao, a senior recruiter for Manpower Professional in Fort Lauderdale, specializes in placing people in finance/accounting and information technology positions. In this competitive industry, his company has a policy of getting back to job seekers within two hours. Galvao struggles, like Villalba, to respond to each caller with a mix of sober reality and empathetic encouragement.
"Candidates think we're magicians," Galvao says. "I tell them it's hard now, but I'll keep you in mind."
Surrounded by desperation, Galvao finds himself battling to claim a personal life. "I'm having a hard time with time management. Almost every night I take resumes home and call people or update the system. I've worked every Sunday for the last three months."
‘Accreditation Lite’ for International Recruiting Agents
In the realm of international student recruiting, “A lot of agents will just send out blanket e-mails to universities saying, ‘Oh, I would like to be your representative,’ ” says Sabine Klahr, director of international programs at Boise State University. “We don’t answer those e-mails typically.”
“There are no standards at this point,” Klahr explains. “You could work with agents throughout the world who are not” — she pauses, searching for the right word — “they are not reputable business people, essentially. How do you know that you can trust them?”
Klahr’s question forms the foundation for the American International Recruitment Council. Incorporated as a nonprofit organization last summer and now counting 35 colleges as institutional members (including Boise State), the council is rapidly moving forward with developing standards and an “accreditation lite” procedure for certifying reputable international recruiting agents.
Yet, in embracing the practice of colleges paying recruiting agents per-student commissions, the AIRC aims to regulate an industry atop what many see as shaky ground, ethically speaking. The federal Higher Education Act bars such incentive compensation in domestic student admissions, but exempts international recruitment from the ban. The National Association for College Admissions Counseling’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice includes a ban on commissions based on the number of students recruited, “and it does not make any exceptions” for international recruiting, says David A. Hawkins, the association’s director of public policy. “All along we’ve noted that the use of agents in and of itself isn’t a problem. It’s the way in which perhaps they’re compensated that our principles would really be more applicable towards.”
By contrast, the commission approach is more common among Australian and British universities, increasingly fierce competitors with American colleges when it comes to attracting international students. Mitch Leventhal, AIRC’s chair and president, sees the strategic use of recruiting agents as a way for the United States to maintain its historic edge. (By contrast, recruiting fairs, he says, “are 1960s.")
“If you’re involved in this, you are associating with institutions who have sort of stepped beyond the question of ‘can we, can’t we,’ and are beginning to think differently about the way American higher education recruits globally,” says Leventhal, vice provost for international affairs at the University of Cincinnati, a founding institutional AIRC member.
“They were gracious enough to extend an invitation for us to join their effort when they announced their formal incorporation,” says Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. “We just as graciously declined, mostly because the very purpose for which they have now formally organized themselves is being debated within AACRAO. So we thought it’s premature for us to join that conversation, when there was at least some significant opposition within our own ranks to the very activity that they now seek to regulate.”
The AIRC’s institutional members, about a third of which are Ohio colleges, bring varying degrees of experience with agents, says Leventhal. “Some of them have been using agents for a long time, but they recognize they’ve been doing it in isolation.… Some have only recently adopted a strategy; some are considering it and they want to make sure they get it right. And then there are a couple, I think, who are not sure they’re ever going to do it.”
Officials at AIRC universities describe using a variety of payment models, including commissions, but also flat fees paid to agents and even loose institutional affiliations with agents who are paid only by students. At Cincinnati, Leventhal works with 12 to 15 agents. They earn, per student referred who is accepted and enrolled, 10 percent of net tuition paid the first year. (So if, for instance, after a scholarship, a student pays $17,000 in tuition in the first year, the agent earns $1,700 total for his or her services.)
Many colleges that have joined AIRC point to limited recruiting budgets (commission-based recruiting requires a much lower upfront cost than hiring a staff person abroad, say), and limited name recognition. Still, they strive for significant international student representation on their campuses. “We’re not a household name in the world,” says Michael Basile, director of the Institute for International Studies at Murray State University, located in southwestern Kentucky, a two-hour drive from the closest international airport. (“We’re not even within shouting distance of any large metropolitan area,” Basile says.)
“We really have to go out and dig,” Basile explains. “So I think there’s an advantage to having representatives that are located in different parts of the world that we want to attract students from.”
AIRC held its first meeting in Cincinnati in October, and, according to its timetable, expects to approve a set of standards and a certification process for agents at a meeting in May (to coincide with the annual meeting of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, in Los Angeles).
AIRC’s plans derive from American higher education’s historic process of self-regulation through voluntary accreditation. The process for certifying agents is under development, but here’s what Leventhal says is currently being considered: Agents would apply for certification, paying a fee; they also would pay for an IntegraScreen background check of their company. Following that, a certain number of employees would complete a professional development curriculum created by AIRC, which would probably focus on standards, best practices and structure of the U.S. higher education system. The agents would undergo a self-study as well as an external site visit before certification. Re-certification would come up after three years. After certification, a compliance board would investigate any complaints, and certification could be revoked, Leventhal explains.
The AIRC’s goal is to pilot the process with a very small group of agents in 2009. “Hopefully in 2010, we’ll then have systems in place so we can put a good number through the process each year,” says Leventhal.
He knows the council’s proposed approach is ambitious, but also, given a general reluctance to use agents in the United States, believes it must be so.
“What we need in this country to make people very comfortable is an established set of practices. So they know that it is in fact ethical and it can be done safely and you can hold your head high about it,” Leventhal says.
“I have exactly the same concerns that the people who are arguing against agents have. The difference is, I think we can address the concerns through the systems we’re so good at, self-regulation.”
There are many horror stories about abuses, both on the part of agents and that of American colleges. Even proponents of using agents relate such stories, although, as Leventhal says, they believe that these abuses can be addressed.
For example, when asked about a common concern that engaging agents on commission encourages an “any warm body” approach to enrollment management, Leventhal stresses that college admissions offices have an obligation to accept only qualified students, rather than take scores of unqualified students whom an agent might refer.
Admittedly, not all U.S. colleges are so scrupulous. Says Leventhal: “There are institutions in the U.S and we can all name them — and I’m not gonna, but it’s not hard – but there are institutions in the U.S, proprietary in nature, small struggling liberal arts colleges…. They’ve signed on dozens and dozens, hundreds of agents. There’s very little oversight of the agents. They’re going after the numbers. It’s not hard for the students to get in. I don’t know what their success and retention rates are.”
In May, The New York Times reported on the phenomenon of recruiters earning money from both ends — accepting commissions from colleges and direct payments from students themselves.
“In the mid-’90s, we did have some problems with agents that I would say they were less than … well, they were unscrupulous,” says Joe Tullbane, associate dean of St. Norbert College, in Wisconsin, an AIRC member. “That is, they would send students to you and you would pay their fees and a couple different things might happen. You might find that the agent had already charged the student a considerable amount of money — so in a sense, they were charging both sides for the same service. And that seemed wrong. Secondly, there were agents who would place a student and literally after you paid your money to them the student would change to another institution” (which would be harder to do now, post 9-11).
“There are plenty of them out there that are kind of fly-by-night operations that put a shingle out,” Tullbane says. “The last thing I want to hear as a small school is, ‘I can provide you with 50 students a year.’ Well, I only want two or three, from every country.”
Tullbane says he feels “pretty confident” about St. Norbert’s current checks and balances for its agents; it has about 60 on the books, he estimates, but works actively with about 15. He adds, however, that he’s hesitant to add any agents to their current roster. Speaking of why the institution joined AIRC, he says, “We felt here at St. Norbert that it’s unhealthy to sort of be your own assessment agency.
“Part of the reason we’re involved with the AIRC is so we can be assured that best practices and best standards are being established — so that when we work with agents, we know that everything is above-board and going on in the best possible fashion,” says Ray Lagasse, director of international programs at the University of North Dakota, another AIRC member. “It’s not just a rubber-stamping of whoever or whatever shows up on our doorstep. If they go through that procedure and then they obtain a particular certification, that rigor or those steps at least provide a particular level of assurance.
“We have heard horror stories,” he continues, of agents “promising this, promising that, in the name of a particular university. We do not have the time or the energy to deal with the fallout from any of this.”
Student-Centered or College-Centered?
Those critical of the practice of using agents look beyond the question of preventing flagrant abuses to ask further: Does the agent model best serve the interests of potential international students?
Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president of the Institute of International Education, says via e-mail that “IIE supports any effort to set standards and disseminate best practices in the field of commission-based recruiting. Our position on use of third-party recruiters is that while we recognize that some U.S. campuses feel this kind of approach works best for them, in general we believe that international students are best served by having access to the widest possible set of options, and this is available to them free of charge from the network of over 450 EducationUSA advising centers supported by the U.S. Dept. of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs around the world.” (IIE hosts a handful of these centers, and also works with the State Department to provide training and resources to EducationUSA advisers. IIE publishes the quarterly journal, EducationUSA Connections.)
In a follow-up phone interview, Blumenthal explains, “Basically a third-party recruiter is working for a college or a few institutions, so they’re going to understandably be representing those colleges and are not going to be presenting the student with [questions like]: ‘Have you thought about a community college, have you thought about a state school, a big school, a small school?’
“Do you begin with a student focus or do you begin with a campus interest? They’re both legitimate ways to proceed but from IIE’s perspective, the best success comes when the student is matched with the right school after reviewing all the options.”
“This is a two-way street. It’s not only what’s best for the school. It’s also what’s best for the student,” says Nassirian, of AACRAO.
He adds that it can be exceedingly difficult to understand what’s really happening in the office of any given international agent, signed contracts and good intentions aside. “You’re not there. You can’t read the language; you don’t understand the customs. If you did, you’d be there yourself.”
AACRAO’s ethics committee has also been questioning the wisdom of low-budget internationalization efforts more generally. Nassirian asks: “If you don’t have resources to recruit those students, how do you believe yourself to be good destinations for them?”
Get ahead of the recruiters, offers Institute
If finding a new – and better – job is something you are considering for 2009, The Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Cambridge branch is offering marketers and would-be marketers the chance to start the New Year with a low-down on winning the recruitment game.
Well-known Cambridge recruitment agency Brand Recruitment will be the guest speaker at the evening event. They are inviting people to ask the questions that they would never normally dare ask for fear of ruining their chances!
The event is vital for any marketer, marketing student, or those considering a change of career to marketing, says Chartered Institute of Marketing regional director Philip Preston: “If you want to get ahead, you need to know as much as you can. This event offers people the chance to find out exactly how employers recruit, and what methods professional recruiters use. We’re delighted that Brand Recruitment is speaking for us, and we look forward to hearing what they have to say on other subjects such as how the Internet has changed the process, job-seeking etiquette, what employers want to see and of course CV dos and don’ts.”
Make your Career Fly, organised by the Cambridge branch of The Chartered Institute of Marketing will be held at ARM, 110 Fulbourn Road, Cambridge, CB1 9NJ on January 13th at 18:00. Cost per person, including VAT, is £11.50 for members and studying members, and £17.20 all others. Includes refreshments. For more information or to book, please see www.cim.co.uk/events or call 01628 427 340.
About The Chartered Institute of Marketing
The Chartered Institute of Marketing is the leading international professional marketing body with some 50,000 members worldwide. First established in 1911 it has for almost a century defined the marketing standards that operate in the UK and is the global champion of best marketing practice. The Institute exists to develop the marketing profession, maintain professional standards and improve the skills of marketing practitioners, enabling them to deliver exceptional results for their organisations. It does this by providing membership, qualifications and training to marketing professionals around the world. For more information please visit: http://www.cim.co.uk
For assistance please contact Amy Claridge on 01522 698 698 / 07770 764446.