Sunday, November 30, 2003

Playing the Career Game

Hungry for top talent, local companies are turning to technology to help them spot stars of tomorrowRecruits log on to test-drive jobs

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Miami University student Jeff Probst logs on to P&G's Just in Case Web site for a pre-employment view of the corporate marketing world.
(Thomas E. Witte photo)
"OK, where does everyone feel we should launch?"

Jeff Anderson's question could have popped up during a product-introduction discussion, the kind that happen every day at Procter & Gamble Co. But it didn't.

This discussion was about Swiffer WetJet, the floor cleaner P&G unveiled in 2001. Teams of marketers, researchers and plant workers were talking about where to launch a new version.

Only, the teams aren't Procter professionals. Anderson, a senior at Northern Kentucky University who hopes to work at P&G, was at his Colerain Township home typing into an Internet chat room.

And his team wasn't making real business decisions about Swiffer, but participating in a P&G recruiting game designed to test the mettle and skills of prospective young employees. The exercise is called Just in Case, a play on the case-study concept.

Eventually, Anderson and his group recommended making the Swiffer product in China, launching it in Canada, charging $30 and supporting it with high-cost television commercials.

"I had a great time doing it," Anderson said of the Just in Case experience. "I know one of their key things is being a leader, so I tried to be a leader."

Jeff Probst, a freshman at Miami University and another local participant in the Thursday night session, said Just in Case was different from other company recruiting activities he's seen.

"You can sit in a room and say what you know, but to be able to apply what you know, they can really see how you deal with other people," he said.

Anderson has applied for a job at P&G, while Probst is several years away from that point. But for all of the participants, whether they're actively looking for a job or not, Just in Case was only the starting point in the recruiting process, now called "talent supply" at P&G.

As Cincinnati-based P&G starts filling jobs for next year now, it is combing more than 100,000 applications submitted online. The company will hire more than 500 professionals in the United States and at least that number in its worldwide operations.

That makes the maker of Tide, Swiffer and Folgers one of the world's most active recruiters. And more and more, the company is using online tools to smooth the process and make sure it gets top candidates.

A growing trend

P&G doesn't use Just in Case as its sole judge of candidates, but it does hope the program provides a convenient window into what it's like to work at P&G.

P&G is not alone. Other companies are using online tools to cut recruiting hassles and make it easier for Web-savvy students.

Fifth Third Bank, for example, will implement new software starting Jan. 1 that will make the entire application and acceptance process electronic, said Shelly Gillis, vice president and recruiting director. A job candidate will be able to paste a resume into the software, and a reverse search will tell them available jobs that match those skills, she said.

Company-wide, Fifth Third recruits about 2,900 employees every year. "We really want people who are Internet-savvy and can manage the Web," Gillis said.

Nicha Flick, manager of recruitment at Cinergy Corp., said the power company takes all its applications online, but most of the resulting interaction with recruits is face-to-face. But the trend in recruiting definitely is toward more online tools, she said.

"I think it definitely is leading that direction, just because of the volume of recruits," she said, noting that students are increasingly comfortable with Web recruitment programs. "That's the only way they know how to apply for a job. They don't know the old way."

Cinergy recruited about 200 workers in 2003, mostly technical people or mid-level managers. It recruits on about 10 campuses, mostly in the Midwest.

While most big companies take online applications and provide plenty of information to recruits on their Web sites, the Just In Case puts P&G on the cutting edge of the recruiting game.

"It really elevates it to the level where P&G is reaching out to (candidates) to tell them what the work is really like," said Ethelbert Williams, an assistant brand manager on Olay Skin Care who moderated the chat session.

Bill Reina, director of global talent supply at P&G, said face-to-face time with recruits "is always going to be important."

"We want to use technology, but we also want to keep the personal touch," he said. "That's how this process was born."

But the technology does help the company bridge an important gap. While P&G is visiting fewer campuses - about 35 this year compared to about 80 three years ago - and the number of managers and technical recruits is down from recent years, the company still wants to reach top talent to fill its openings. "Traditionally, we wouldn't have taken a case study onto campus and done it live," said Lisa Donnelly, a manager of U.S. recruiting at P&G.

Arthur Young, chief executive officer of the Web site in New Jersey, said companies like P&G that invest in new online recruiting tools will see a long-term payoff.

"Procter is one of the few companies at any size that recognizes that the company with the best people wins," Young said. "And they didn't recognize it since the Internet (was invented). They knew that way back."

Miami University's Probst said that message came through. He participated in the session from his dorm room.

"I think it's good to have this available," he said.

'I vote for China'

More than two dozen people signed up for the Just in Case session earlier this month, using the Internet site P&G also e-mailed several business schools, and advertised locally.

In addition to Anderson and Probst, participants included a business professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School, a doctoral candidate in engineering at Iowa State University and several students from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

With 18 participants, it was the biggest session thus far in P&G's Just in Case series. The company will hold several more sessions before the end of the year.

Once everyone was ready in the chat room "auditorium," moderator Williams dispatched them to one of three groups, based on their preferred P&G function, such as marketing, research or customer business development.

After some discussion there, they all returned to write joint recommendations for the Swiffer WetJet plan.

After discussion of where to launch, the chat session turned to sourcing. Swiffer WetJet actually is made in China, and that was the choice of many Just in Case participants, although some voted to have a back-up plant in Latin America ready because of the risk.

"I vote for China," wrote one of the Johns Hopkins students.

On price, the group agreed on $30 per unit. That's an interesting parallel to the real Swiffer WetJet experience, where P&G charged close to $50 on launch, then cut the price in half when competitor Clorox launched at lower prices.

On marketing support, the group agreed on "high" television-type ads. One suggested marketing Swiffer to the single male looking for an easy way to clean.

"I vote high, because we want every house with a Swiffer," wrote "Rodrigo," another Johns Hopkins student.

"It's interesting having to build consensus, with no leader and you don't know each other," said P&G's Reina as he watched the game.

"It's pretty challenging."


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