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Aceing an outsourced job interview

June 02, 2007 09:25 IST

When Brian Krueger needs to hire a few more employees, he doesn't just post a job on Monster.com. As vice president for global recruiting at Unisys, an outsourcing company that focuses on information technology projects, Krueger needs to hire 5,000 to 7,000 people a year.

His recruiting team finds many of those candidates. But for about one-third of his hires, Krueger turns to another outsourcer: The Right Thing, a Findlay, Ohio-based firm that does nothing but recruit.

Corporations have always used head hunters to find executive-level employees. But now the search for lower-level workers has been outsourced as well. Companies are desperate for talent, and they can't always find it on their own. Staffing firms like Spherion and Korn/Ferry, along with consultancies like IBM and Accenture, have all moved into the recruitment process outsourcing business.

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They find candidates, root through résumés, do background checks and even conduct initial job interviews for jobs paying anywhere from $30,000 to $200,000 a year. And the candidates often don't even know that an outsourcer, rather than the company itself, is running the show.

Of course, some functions that used to be the purview of the human resources department--say, processing paychecks--were outsourced long ago. But recruitment and job interviews were seen as one element of HR that required a more personal touch.

That's changed in the last five years. As baby boomers age and retire, chief executives have realized that they need to work harder to recruit and retain the right employees. "The war for talent is causing companies to reevaluate how they bring people into organizations," says Terry Terhark, president of The Right Thing.

The proof is in the numbers. According to research firm Gartner, the RPO business was worth $1.2 billion in 2006 and is growing about 8.6 per cent a year. Some outsourcers, however, are seeing much faster growth. At staffing firm Spherion, the RPO business has tripled in the last 18 months and now tops $50 million annually.

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At 4-year-old firm The Right Thing business has been tripling every year. And the deals are getting bigger. Three years ago, the biggest recruitment process outsourcing contracts were worth $5 million, according to Jason Corsello, an analyst with the Yankee Group. Now, deals are often worth more than $30 million a year.

That means someone at a call center in Manila might be interviewing you for your next job. Even if the recruiter is based in the US or Canada, the entire process, until the final interview, may now be conducted over the phone and online. "Face time is not part of this business," says Lowell Williams, head of the human resources practice at EquaTerra, a firm that connects corporations with outsourcing partners. "You could definitely have a job interview with someone in India or China. It's going on all the time."

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Here's how it works: Just like head hunters, recruitment process outsourcers often make cold calls to identify employees--say, accountants or computer programmers--who might be seeking new opportunities. They also scan the major job boards, like Monster, and smaller, niche sites such as EngineerJobs.com.

They get involved with chat boards, go to social networking sites like LinkedIn and contact trade associations. Some companies, including Spherion and FutureStep, also allow candidates to apply through their Web sites. The outsourcers conduct initial job interviews, then pass the final candidates on to the hiring firm. Ideally, the process is seamless for the candidate, who won't realize he's being passed from one company to another.

In fact, outsourcers say that despite the lack of face-to-face contact, they actually offer more personal service to job seekers than corporations can themselves. Recruiters who work for outsourcers call back every candidate, even those who are turned down. They also keep in touch, in case other opportunities arise.

Bob McNabb, chief executive of FutureStep, the RPO division of Korn/Ferry, calls it "making the candidates feel like they're loved and wanted." Since he works for a larger head hunting firm, "candidate care" is just good business strategy. "We want people to have a great experience with us and, as they move up the food chain, remember that Korn/Ferry took great care of them," McNabb says.

Hannah Clark, Forbes