UC Berkeley News


All-too-human resources
eRecruit promised to make the lives of hiring managers and job applicants alike much easier — and after a rocky rollout, it’s starting to deliver

| 14 April 2004

As recently as a year ago, finding or filling a job at Berkeley was done through a manual system that often left job-seekers in the dark and hiring managers drowning in a sea of paper. That system sometimes lost résumés, lacked a mechanism for tracking applicants, and left a whopping 68 percent of job-seekers unaware of hiring departments’ final decisions. In an age of web-based interaction, databases, and e-mail communication, Berkeley’s employment system had become hopelessly archaic.

Last July, in a major move intended to revolutionize the campus’s hiring practices, the Office of Human Resources (OHR) introduced eRecruit, an online employment system that promised to automate, systematize, and accelerate the cumbersome old ways. But has that promise been fulfilled?

Campus users and applicants who tried the system after launch last summer and fall encountered a range of problems, a number of them merely aggravating, but others more serious, even critical — such as glitches with browser and platform compatibility, or (as many applicants reported) being “bumped off” the system after spending considerable time exporting résumé and other data into its numerous screens. The system’s bumpy rollout turned many users off, even as OHR struggled to customize an off-the-shelf product for specific campus needs.

A number of campus technical-support professionals were among those fiercely critical of eRecruit when it was rolled out in the summer of 2003, and though improvements to the system since then have addressed many of their initial concerns, many remain guarded in their assessment.

“The system was rolled out precipitously without a lot of notice to campus — at least not to the tech community — even though its functionality and usability were badly flawed,” says Tom Holub, director of computing for the College of Letters & Science.

Holub’s own experience hiring a system administrator late last summer engendered his concerns about the system. “Of the approximately 80 applications we received for this position,” he says, “21 were mangled in some way or had significant problems in eRecruit.” Three applications were not visible at all, he says, while three other applicants’ résumés, stripped of formatting, were virtually unreadable. Only a “mangled” version of résumés from 15 others could be printed out. For Holub, the review process became very frustrating and time-consuming.

It was the same for some applicants. Nilima Bhatia, human-resources manager for Letters & Science, says that early applicant feedback to her department centered on the length of time it took to apply or difficulty accessing the system due to an incompatible browser.

Turning the corner
Nine months later, while problems remain, some of the anticipated benefits of the system are starting to materialize, says David Scronce, director of OHR Operations and Systems, who is responsible for optimizing eRecruit for the Berkeley campus. “We’re still addressing problems, but many have been solved,” he says. “Recruitment cycle times are greatly reduced. Applications are no longer lost. Applicants receive up-to-date feedback on the status of their applications. And recruiters are freed to provide a higher level of service to hiring managers and job seekers.”

Such improvements are noted by users who have stuck with the program since its rollout, but there’s a question whether those who tried and then abandoned the system will ever hear about them.

“There’s been a learning curve,” acknowledges Emily Karakashian, OHR employment manager, who adds that eRecruit was rolled out during fiscal closing, the year-end close-of-business that is an intense time for campus computing systems, so that the added computer traffic from eRecruit led to many problems. “When we saw that there were bumps early on — and we got lots of complaints — we went right out to our users,” she says.

Using the feedback it collected, OHR determined which system enhancements needed to be made first so that eRecruit would work better for everyone. That’s been an ongoing process, says Karakashian, as OHR continues to receive user feedback and adjust the system in response.

Those changes have yielded improvements for users, but haven’t yet solved all the problems with the system. Campus managers continue to grapple with a variety of persistent bugs and kinks in the software. L&S’s Tom Holub, who reposted his opening in late December, found that more applicant information was viewable the second time around and some previously unavailable attachments were accessible. Yet problems persisted, particularly difficulty viewing and printing applications.

“eRecruit is the first point of contact for outside people who want to work at Berkeley,” says Julie Kolar, human-resources manager for University Relations. “We want them to have a positive experience from the start, not a frustrating one.”

David Scronce agrees: “Berkeley competes with other large employers with a web-recruiting presence. Our staff-recruitment site must be as good as — or better than — the others if we are to attract the best people. We’re not there yet, but we’re taking steps to get there.”
Resolving real-world problems?

eRecruit is part of a software package the university purchased from PeopleSoft called Human Resources Management System (HRMS). In 2001, OHR introduced Administer Workforce (Admin Workforce for short), the database component of HRMS that stores and executes all personnel actions for the campus. Many end-users recall that rollout process as smooth and relatively glitch-free, attributing that to extensive pre-rollout testing. By contrast, the eRecruit launch seemed hurried and abrupt, some users said.

“There were two important differences between the first and second launches of HRMS,” Scronce points out. “The rollout of eRecruit was delayed by more than a year. Because of that, what we call the ‘user prototyping’ phase — a detailed review of the system screens by departmental users — occurred 18 months before rollout … long enough for the final design to diverge from campus users’ expectations.

“In addition, with the [Admin Workforce] rollout, the campus went through a pilot process with a few departments that helped resolve real-world problems early on — before delivery of HRMS to the full campus. I see now that we should have done a similar pilot of eRecruit. Instead, we have gone through nine months of user acceptance — not a good thing for Berkeley or our job seekers.”

‘Coming around’ to eRecruit
One thing that OHR and its campus constituents agree on is that the new system shifts a portion of the recruitment workload to departments, which are now responsible for printing out résumés. Nilima Bhatia suspects departments weren’t prepared for the change, one that she says hiring managers find to be eRecruit’s “biggest frustration.”

Why do hiring managers print out résumés when the system is designed for online screening? “We thought departments might do a little more online sorting than has proven to be the case,” says Scronce, “but it turns out that most people want to print a résumé out and look at it. Also, we initially didn’t give them good tools for sorting and tagging online.” Adding these functions was among the modifications made to the system earlier this month: hiring managers can now categorize applications online, make comments on the résumés, then print out the “yeses” and the “maybes.”

Because of such ongoing modifications, says University Relations’ Kolar, she’s “coming around” to eRecruit, and her unit is trying to take advantage of the new efficiencies it offers. “I worry that some units who had bad experiences with the system early on won’t give it a second try — and that’s sad, because eRecruit has many very positive features.”

Scronce says that to find out how the campus is really using the system, his team “is going to have to do what I call anthropology — field work with our customers. If departments are creating workarounds, that may suggest that we’ve got more work to do with the system to make it flexible enough to work for them.”

It’s clear that, as modifications to the system continue to be made, eRecruit is working better, for campus users and applicants alike, than it did when first rolled out. “I’ve really seen a dramatic improvement,” says OHR’s Emily Karakashian. That office’s customer-support help desk has been tracking the number of eRecruit-related calls it receives. During the initial months, says Karakashian, they were receiving about 300 calls a month. That number is down to about 130, most of them “really basic questions” regarding navigation.

Now that eRecruit’s technical problems aren’t masking the system’s many innovations so dramatically, Karakashian encourages hiring managers to do more with it than just print out résumés at the start of the recruiting process and return to the system once they’ve made their final selection. For example, she says, when hiring managers use the system to update applicants’ status, all applicants can log in to see whether they’re being considered or have been deselected.

“The system was implemented to facilitate constant communication,” she says, “and to let people know the black hole is gone. Before eRecruit,” she continues, “we found that over 60 percent of the people who interviewed here never heard from us again — let alone the larger percentage of people who simply applied and then heard nothing from us.”

As managers begin to use eRecruit effectively throughout the hiring process, she says, they will help “brand UC Berkeley as an employer that cares. We’ve gotten e-mails from applicants who say, ‘I never heard back from another company until I used eRecruit. I can’t believe you communicated with me!”

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