When most business owners think of technology-based recruiting, they think of online job banks and resume services, such as HotJobs or Monster.com.

While these sites can be valuable tools for building service contractors seeking information technology experts, accountants or office staff, the truth is, they hold little promise for recruiting entry-level janitors. Many minimum-wage workers do not have access to computers, or may not read English.

But most potential workers have access to home, pay or cellular telephones. That’s where automated recruiting systems enter the picture. Contractors may be familiar with these systems already; many large chain stores, most notably Wal-Mart, offer a “job line” prospective workers can call for a computerized interview at any time.

Whether for Wal-Mart or for a cleaning firm, computer/phone interviews work similarly. The applicant calls a phone number listed in an advertisement (often replacing the company’s human-resources line or answering service) and answers a series of yes/no or multiple-choice questions by pressing numbers on the telephone keypad. There also may be an opportunity to leave a voice message. Some systems can be programmed in multiple languages. The responses then are stored on a computer for human-resources (HR) personnel to access at their convenience.

There are several such systems on the market. However, many are complex and expensive — five or even six figures. For example RecruitSoft, a San Francisco-based HR automation firm, offers custom solutions for Fortune 1000 companies.

One package, Job Hotline from Management Information Technology Corp. (MITC), Monrovia, Md., was designed about a year ago specifically for BSCs and security firms as an offshoot of a telephone-timekeeping package. Since the program is aimed at mid-sized cleaning companies, its costs are less than the more complex packages.

To the applicant, most systems work similarly, but back in the office, the software architecture may differ from package to package. MITC president John Graham explains his company’s system:

    “It runs on a standard PC-compatible computer, and it can run in the background,” he explains. That means, while an applicant calls the job line, the HR manager or office staff can use the computer for another purpose. The computer, meanwhile, stores answers as text and as voice, automatically separating the more desirable applicants — those who indicate they could work nights, or those with transportation to specific areas.

    “It’s easier to use the phone system to weed out people,” says Tim Belanger, the HR manager for Belanger Maintenance, Troy, Mich, which uses such a system.

For instance, the company’s job line asks applicants about a desired starting wage. The computer automatically sorts out callers who want significantly more than Belanger can pay. Once screened on Belanger’s computer, he can call applicants in for a more formal interview.

A real remedy?
Belanger says his company’s use of the system has been quite successful; about 70 percent of people who apply now do so by phone. The rest come through more traditional routes, such as walk-ins and referrals, so he hasn’t jettisoned paper applicants altogether, nor does he plan to.

He hasn’t found many drawbacks, either, although an automated recruiting system has the same vulnerabilities as any other technology, such as a telephone-timekeeping system.

“You’ve got to make sure you have it up and running,” Belanger says. If there’s a power outage, computer glitch or other malfunction, applicants might not be able to call in, or some data might be lost. Belanger does receive significant support from his program vendor, but he still needs to stay on top of things to ensure smooth running.

“And, of course, you’ve got to justify the cost,” he points out.

For some, the cost is easily made up in savings on answering services or time spent screening paper applications. However, automated recruiting systems aren’t intended for small BSCs, says Graham.

“If you’ve got 12 people working for you, you wouldn’t need a system,” he explains. “They’re really intended for mid- to large-size contractors.”

Multi-state operations might benefit from one of the more sophisticated programs, or from separate systems at each installed branch.

Some MITC customers were initially skeptical of the recruiting system, wondering if some applicants might be turned away by the technology. That is possible, but a phone system also might set a company apart from other entry-level employers, making that BSC more attractive.

And technology-based HR will become more common, predicts Graham. He likens innovations such as telephone timekeeping and automated recruiting to voice mail. Once a novelty, voice mail is now ubiquitous. And while some people want to speak to a live receptionist, and others feel more comfortable talking to the machine, most people at least accept voice mail’s presence in their lives.

Time-Saving Training on the Internet
So you’ve been meaning to learn more about carpet care, maintain your Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification or just brush up on restorative drying, but you can’t find the time to go to a training seminar?

You could try two new Internet-based programs, available from CleanCareSeminars, a Dothan, Ala.-based training firm. The courses, “Principles and Carpet Cleaning Methods” and “The Art of Drying: Practical Psychometry,” were designed by CleanCare administrator Jeff Bishop and are qualified for one (carpet care) or two (drying) IICRC continuing education credits.

Cleaning Portal Adds Service Marketplace
JanCentral.com, an e-commerce site for vendors and purchasers of janitorial supplies and equipment, has signed an agreement with NextDoor Networks. NextDoor will build and host a janitorial services marketplace on its own Services Commerce Platform.

The platform will allow building owners and managers to post requests for proposals on janCentral; those requests will be matched electronically with pre-qualified cleaning companies and other service providers. Contractors can be notified of new bid requests via e-mail, fax or on a Palm Pilot.

The janCentral marketplace also will be linked with NextDoor’s broader network of service buyers and providers, allowing BSC members of janCentral to receive bid requests from a larger base of property managers.