Everyone has a website these days, but are they helping consultants to recruit the graduates they need?
Bernadette Redfern reports.
Competition for civil engineers is fierce and many firms are finding they cannot recruit the number of graduates they need.
Against this backdrop, there has been a change in the way engineers look for a job, with increasing numbers turning to company websites. Undergraduates in particular are choosing to use the internet to apply for jobs.
However, according to Dr Chris Preece of Leeds University, consultants are still not using the web to the full and are losing out on prospective engineers because of poorly designed sites.
fiThe website is the first stop when looking for information about a company. If it doesn't have a good recruitment section then the person will simply move on to a competitor's. It's a fickle business, fl he says.
Every year since 2000, Preece has carried out a study of how contractors use their websites as a recruitment tool. This year he has evaluated consultants too, in a separate study produced with colleague Matthew Wharton.
Overall, Preece reckons that contractors are getting better.
fiThe first survey in 2000 was pretty awful but they have really improved since then, fl he says.
The most common faux pas committed by consultants is overdesign of the web page, says Preece. A busy screen with lots of flashing images and moving words with information fading in and out just does not work.
Visual clutter makes the page difficult to navigate and the page becomes too memory hungry, slowing the user's computer.
The whole experience quickly becomes annoying.
Another problem is the lack of direct contact. fiIt's always better for an applicant to be able to contact a named individual rather than sending a query to an anonymous information section, fl says Preece. Users have no idea when their query will be answered or if it was even received.
So what should firms do with their websites to attract potential employees? Top of Preece's list of recommendations is the web address. It has to be a recognisable company name that is accessible in the shortest possible search time. Preece tested this through search engines, guessing at web addresses on a trial and error basis. He found that 14 consultants' sites enabled a 100% successful search rate, but that there were scores as low as 45%.
Once the visitor reaches the website, the quality of the home page can dictate whether or not they proceed with their search for recruitment information. fiIt needs to contain a select mixture of information about the company and also relevant images, such as projects that the company is or has been involved with, fl says Preece.
Information on the website must be current. Though the report applauded 32 of the 40 consultants surveyed for having a news section on their website, the study found that most are not kept up to date.
Permanent navigation bars need to be in place to help visitors find the information that they are looking for, with subdivisions to ease the search.
When designing a recruitment section, Preece advises firms to supply as much information as possible, including advice on putting CVs together, case studies of present employees, and information about the company's training programmes.
There should also be choices for applicants as to how they can apply, one of which should be an online form.
fiConsultants have to get interactive by sending out news alerts and responding more quickly to enquiries - some consultants took weeks, fl says Preece.
His final piece of advice is to get competitive. Preece's research revealed a surprising lack of interest in how competitors' websites perform. It is time for firms to start checking up on each other and to start raising the stakes, he advises.