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From erasers to e-recruiting

By Michael R. Zimmerman, PC Week ColumnistI can still remember the time I scored a big fat eraser my senior year in college.

By Michael R. Zimmerman, PC Week Columnist

I can still remember the time I scored a big fat eraser my senior year in college.

You see, term papers were almost due, and an industrial-size eraser was going to be a necessity. In those days, erasable typing paper was the rage. At last, one could type a paper without having to worry about spackling mistakes with white-out or, worse, ripping out the paper and starting from scratch. (This, of course, was after writing the paper out in its entirety in long hand, from a handwritten outline, drawn from handwritten notes.)

With those term papers out of the way, my job hunt began in earnest. That is, until all of my professionally printed resumes turned up nothing but rejection letters. Forced to get creative, and with some key advice from a friend, I turned to the Encyclopedia of National Associations at my local library. After printing out a few pages of publishing associations on the nearby copier (at 15 cents a pop), I headed home and started working the phone. Within a couple of weeks I'd lined up several interviews, which subsequently turned into a bona fide job.

Damn!

A new Web service/community from Experience Inc. prompted this painful reminiscence. About two weeks ago, the three-year-old startup from Waltham, Mass., turned on its college recruitment site, Experience.com. Here students and would-be employers meet, arrange interviews, and swap resumes and job descriptions. But there's a lot more. The site provides students with a community in which to learn more about the process of securing a job in desired fields of interest, as well as news and updates about companies in those fields.

For example, a quick drill-down search on, say, journalism offers CNN in a list of 13 companies, including The New York Times and Newsweek. Click on any of the companies and Experience.com offers straightforward feedback on what the first year on the job would be like, the pattern of internal advancement, what the culture is like, a quick description of compensation ("an unprecedented FOUR weeks of vacation") and finally its stature in the industry.

Experience was formed by the January merger of Ivy Productions Inc. and software developer Crimson Solutions Inc. Experience's President and CEO, Jennifer Floren, founded Ivy three years ago to produce (in association with Forbes Magazine) Experience Magazine, a quarterly devoted to providing college students with stories about the job market, school and news that could affect their search.

But it's not just about the kids. Through Experience.com, the recruitment operations of universities are able to facilitate interviews, update students on employers and vice versa.

Rapid response

"It creates new business that you need to respond to," said Lee Svete, director of the Career Center at the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana. Svete said his office received a call last Wednesday from a Washington legislator (and Notre Dame alum) who was coming for a visit and was interested in speaking with some students. "He said, 'I'm sure it's too soon to get any interviews set up.' I told him to give us a few hours," Svete said. In 3 hours his office lined up 13 students for interviews last Friday.

One of the other benefits of the online system is that the number of no-shows for scheduled interviews can be reduced dramatically. At least that's what's happened at Notre Dame, which went from 260 no-shows in 1998, when the school used no online software, to 40 in 1999, when ND began using Crimson's e-recruiting software, which Experience improves upon.

On the employer side, Experience offers a way to target students with specific attributes.

"It's exactly the audience we're trying to attract," said Lisa Zankman, vice president and director of human resources at Circles.com. The highbrow Boston-based online concierge service is turning to Experience.com in search of a rather typical college student: one who is "Internet savvy."

"We love techies, but we will hire people that have phone skills and are very Internet savvy," said Zankman. The 120-person company expects to expand its ranks to 400 by the end of the year.

No doubt others will follow Experience.com's lead and begin offering equally robust services. But Experience.com has a good head start. The company already has tight relationships with 250 of the country's approximately 700 four-year colleges, and about 30,000 employers are lined up.

Will there be a day when recruiting online and video conferencing replace the face-to-face interview? Experience's Floren doesn't think so.

"I don't think there will ever be a time when an in-person interview will be obsolete," she said. "You really have to meet that person. You can cut to the chase online."

From erasers to e-recruiting. Now that's enabling technology.