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Web site recruitment characteristics: America's best versus America's biggest.

The strength of the U.S. economy during the past several years and the resulting low unemployment rates dramatically increased the role that recruitment plays in an organization's HR department. Of course, this expanded role also comes with greater pressure. Adding to this pressure is the introduction of the Internet as a new player in the recruitment war for talent. Recently, the Internet has taken the business community by storm. Along with the attention given to e-commerce, HR professionals must begin to devote more attention to e-recruitment, a topic that was virtually nonexistent even five years ago.

As a sign of how quickly the topic of e-recruitment has developed, all one has to do is scan Barber's (1998) text on recruitment. The book, which is only four years old, scarcely mentions the impact of the Internet on recruiting. Just four years later, job services such as and are in full force. In addition to the job search services, the Internet has also provided companies with an excellent means of communicating recruitment messages (i.e., signaling) to both the active and passive job searchers. This tool is the corporate Web site. Corporate Web sites have a variety of recruitment features including on-line brochures, downloadable brochures, video orientations, messages from the CEO, employee testimonials, descriptions of benefits, day-in-the-life descriptions, etc.

The corporate Web site is being used to signal prospective employees, including those who are only passively seeking a job. The Web site provides signals about a company's image and attractiveness. A study of university students described in HRFocus (2000) found that these students spend an average of four hours on a company's Web site during the job search. In addition, they use the Internet to search for articles on prospective employers as well as to post resumes to job boards and seek career advice. This provides a clear indication of the importance of incorporating effective recruitment tools and messages in the corporate Web site. Not surprisingly, we predict that some companies will seize this opportunity and more effectively incorporate such sites into the overall recruitment process.

An organization's recruitment tools operate via their ability to attract job candidates. While part of this involves simply attracting the candidates' attention (e.g., Koch, 1990; Redman & Matthews, 1992), another important aspect is the ability to communicate content. Specific areas that have received research interest include compensation (e.g., Williams & Dreher, 1992), diversity (e.g., Barber & Roehling, 1993), and environmental stance (Bauer & Aiman-Smith, 1996). Rynes (1991) and Breaugh (1992) use the concept of signaling theory to explain how organizations signal to prospective employees about life in the organization. Of course the goal of such signaling is to provide a sort of realistic job and organization preview so that the prospective employees can more accurately decide whether to apply to an organization.

Rynes (1991), Breaugh (1992), and Barber (1998) provide excellent examples of companies that signal potential applicants about direct and indirect benefits associated with employment. Results clearly show that companies are able to boost their image and attractiveness in the eyes of prospective employees by signaling this information via traditional recruitment media (e.g., brochures, press stories, videos, etc.). Unfortunately, the studies often employ university students as subjects and use hypothetical organizations and materials as stimulus tools. In no cases were we able to uncover the use of Internet home pages as the signaling media. However, the lack of academic research on the use and effectiveness of the Internet as a signaling media for recruitment purposes certainly does not indicate the absence of such activity. Indeed, we believe that the increasing popularity of the Internet has already led many organizations to use their corporate home page for this very purpose. We suspect that America's Bes t and most progressive companies have already climbed on the Internet bandwagon and are signaling their organizations' strengths in the following areas: corporate mission statements, community outreach, worklife balance policies, and casual dress policies. The rationale to support the investigation for each of these variables follows.

Jones and Kahaner (1996) describe corporate mission statements as serving "... the operational, ethical, and financial guiding lights of companies" (p. ix). To the extent that corporations succeed in publicizing their missions and persuading employees to buy into them, they have enhanced their organizational effectiveness. Signaling theory suggests that prospective employees who receive information from companies during the recruitment process regarding the companies' goals, cultures, and general philosophies of doing business will tend to be more self-selective to applying to companies that best fit their personal goals and philosophies. Stone (1996) considers the mission statement as instrumental in providing a mental focus and sense of direction. While Levin (2000) is careful to distinguish between a company's mission and its vision he considers the mission to be more akin to how the company behaves in the present, while vision has more of a future orientation. For the purposes of this research, we group them together. Whether the company in question called its philosophy a mission statement, vision, or philosophy, we classified it as a mission statement. While both America's Best and Biggest might be equally likely to have a mission statement, we believed that America's Best would be most likely to signal this mission to prospective employees on the corporate Web site. Thus, the first hypothesis states

Hypothesis 1: America's Best Companies to Work For will be significantly more likely to contain references to a corporate mission statement on their corporate Web site than will America's Biggest Companies.

Prospective employees are also able to form impressions of a company's image and attractiveness in other ways. A company's community outreach program or corporate social performance (CSP) provides another excellent means for gathering this type of information. Anderson (1986) discusses a number of different things companies can do for community outreach. In addition, he also references the idea that CSP might not always be completely altruistic, as corporations often expect and receive considerable benefits for their charitable actions. Turban and Greening (1996) provided evidence of these side benefits, when they found that a company's CSP was significantly related to its reputation and attractiveness to prospective employees. Kanungo and Conger (1993) took the potential benefits of CSP to the ultimate level when they hypothesized about its potential relationship to organizational effectiveness. That is, companies that engage in greater degrees of CSP have higher levels of organizational performance and eff ectiveness. Similarly to the first hypothesis, we suspect that America's Best corporations will capitalize on the multitude of benefits associated with CSP and "signal" this information to prospective employees by including references on their Web sites. Thus, the second hypothesis states

Hypothesis 2: America's Best Companies to Work For will be significantly more likely to contain references regarding a community outreach policy on their corporate Web site than will America's Biggest Companies.

There is a growing demand for work-life balance policies among employees and applicants, and companies are responding for a variety of reasons. First, many segments of today's work force are requesting more worklife balance. Younger workers are much more likely to request this type of balance than were their parents or grandparents. Also, the rising number of dual career couples with children among older Generation X'ers and younger Baby Boomers increases requests for work-life balance policies. And older Baby Boomers who find themselves as primary care givers for their parents need this balance. Second, companies are responding to the increased demand for work-life balance policies because they believe it helps them attract applicants. Honeycutt and Rosen (1997) found that policies geared toward work-life balance were much more likely to attract MBA students and alumni. This trend was especially strong for certain segments of the sample (e.g., those with primary care responsibilities). Finally, companies be lieve work-life balance policies have a positive impact on the bottom line. Fishman (2000) described the financial effect of some generous work-life balance policies at the SAS Institute, citing a study suggesting that the low turnover rate at the Institute, largely due to the strong work-life balance policies, saves the company over $75 million a year.

We believe that America's Best Companies to Work For will not only be more likely to have work-life balance policies, we believe they will be more likely to publicize them. Thus, the third hypothesis states

Hypothesis 3: America's Best Companies to Work For will be significantly more likely to contain references to a work-life balance policy on their corporate Web site than will America's Biggest Companies.

Related in some ways to the work-life balance policies is a policy toward casual dress. Casual dress policies have taken organizations by storm, with well over 50% of today's organizations typically stating that they have some type of casual dress policy (e.g., daily, weekly, etc.). Morand (1998) detailed the espoused benefits of casual dress policies including: free-flowing communication networks, increased creativity, increased social familiarity and cohesiveness, and status leveling. Biecher, Keaton, and Pollman (1999) also discuss the potential impact of a casual dress policy on creative thinking. Conversely, they also mention that a more formal dress code reinforces a firm's image of professionalism. While a casual dress policy might lead to some benefits to a company, and at virtually no cost to the employer, Biecher et al. remind decision makers that such a policy should fit the overall culture and requirements of the organization. Finally, Leonard (1994) discusses the notion that a casual dress polic y helps improve a company's reputation as an employer of choice. To the extent that this is true, the policy should certainly be advertised or signaled to prospective applicants. Thus, our fourth hypothesis states

Hypothesis 4: America's Best Companies to Work For will be significantly more likely to contain references to a casual dress policy on their corporate Web site than will America's Biggest Companies.

Research Method

* Sources

The companies used in this research were drawn from two sources. The first was the January 10, 2000, issue of Fortune that detailed the 100 Best Companies to Work For. The issue provides additional detail on how the companies are selected, but generally, companies self-nominate themselves for the prestigious honors. Surveys are sent to random sample of employees from each of the nominated companies. A total of 33,457 employees completed surveys for the 2000 list. The employees' responses to the Great Place to Work Index accounted for two-thirds of a company's score. The final third was based on Fortune's evaluation of the general material that the nominated corporations submitted. The companies on the 100 Best Places to Work For list averaged 14,871 employees. The second source was the April 17, 2000, issue of Fortune, detailing the 500 highest revenue corporations in the United States. A random sample of 100 of these 500 companies was selected for the analysis, and these averaged 36,572 employees.

* Procedure

An experienced rater and Internet user randomly reviewed the Web sites for each of the 200 participating corporations. The rater thoroughly reviewed each site and completed a checklist to indicate whether or not the key elements of interest (i.e., corporate mission statement, community outreach policy, work-life balance policy, and a casual dress policy) were present.


Figure 1 displays the frequencies for each of the four key demographic variables. As expected, the Web sites for America's Best companies were far more likely to have the presence of these key variables than were the sites of America's Biggest companies. Generally speaking, the Web sites were most likely to have a mission statement (70% of the Best and 42% of the Biggest) or a community service policy (65% of the Best and 49% of the Biggest). While the same directional trend was found for the remaining dependent variables, the base rates for both work-life balance (43% for the Best and 22% for the Biggest) and a casual dress policy (19% for the Best and 10% for the Biggest) were considerably lower.

Results of chi-squared test for testing differences between the Best and the Biggest indicate that America's Best are significantly more likely to contain a mission statement than are America's Biggest ([[chi square].sub.(2)] = 15.91, p < .01). This finding supports the first hypothesis. Similar results were found for the second hypothesis, with America's Best again being significantly more likely to contain references to a community outreach program than America's Biggest ([chi square](2) = 5.22, p < .05). The third hypothesis was also supported, with America's Best companies having Web sites that are significantly more likely to contain references to policies of worklife balance than America's Biggest companies ([[chi square].sub.(2)] = 10.05, p < .01). Finally, the fourth hypothesis was marginally supported, with America's Best being marginally more likely to contain references to a corporate casual dress policy than America's Biggest ([[chi square].sub.(2)] = 3.27, p < .07). In summary, strong support was found for the first three hypotheses and marginal support was found for the fourth.


The results of the present study suggest that America's Best Companies to Work For were proactive in using their Internet home page to send recruitment signals to prospective applicants. These companies were significantly more likely to have references to their corporate mission statements, community outreach programs, and work-life balance policies than were America's Biggest companies. In no way does the study suggest that the Best are more likely to have such policies, simply that they were most likely to have references to them on their Web site. To the extent that companies (and perhaps more accurately applicants) view such policies as beneficial, we predict that more responsive companies will continue to lead in how they signal such policies to prospective applicants. At present, the Internet is a leading mechanism for such signals, though the emergence of such areas as direct radio or television might soon rival some of the technological abilities and flexibility provided by the Internet. We predict t hat America's Best companies will continue to lead in the use of these new forms of media.

Several caveats are necessary for the current research. First, as mentioned, we did not attempt to measure the presence of these dependent variables in the corporations studied. Rather, we sought to investigate the extent to which they were publicized on the corporate home page. While we believe this was appropriate for this analysis, others might posit that America's Biggest companies are just as likely to have such policies (perhaps even more likely), but choose a different mechanism for signaling them. Second, there are growing concerns that at least two of the dependent variables studied are no longer as desirable as they once were in the eyes of prospective employees. Arnott (2000) provided an interesting discussion regarding the potentially misleading nature of work-life balance policies and casual dress policies. He suggested that such policies might actually be a sort of corporate cultism, where though such policies exist, they are not used. The only real balance is the corporation, where work actual ly becomes life. To the extent that this type of thinking becomes more common, it might be appropriate for America's Best to begin downplaying such policies. Finally, when dealing with recruitment and the Internet, one must be cognizant of the potential legal pitfalls. Malos (2000) discusses a number of these including traditionally higher Internet usage among males and Caucasians. To the extent that protected groups are not as likely to have access to the Internet, companies open themselves to potential discrimination claims. (Current research suggests that gender and racial access to the Internet is leveling out, while tremendous differences continue to exist across different socio-economic statuses.)

There have been tremendous advances in the quality of recruitment research during the past 10 years. Unfortunately, these improvements have not been applied to any extent to the Internet as a recruitment tool. The present research sought to provide an initial scientific approach to studying recruitment on the internet.
Figure 1

Frequency Distribution of Key Dependent Variables -- America's Best
versus America's Biggest

 of Web Site with Feature
Dependent Variable America's Best America's Biggest

Mission Statement 70% 42%
Community Outreach 65% 49%
Work-Life Balance 43% 22%
Casual Dress 19% 10%

Note: Table made from bar graph


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Morand, D. A. (1998, January/February). Getting serious about going casual on the job. Business Horizons, 41,51-66.

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Rynes, S. L. (1991). Recruitment, job choice, and post hire consequences: A call for new research directions. In M. D. Dunnette & L. M. Hough (Eds.), Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2nd ed.), vol. 2: 399-444. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Stone, R. A. (1996, Winter). Mission statements revisited. SAM Advanced Management Journal, 61, 31-37.

Turban, D. B., & Greening, D. W. (1996). Corporate social performance and organizational attractiveness to prospective employees. Academy of Management Journal, 40, 658-672.

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Dr. Brice, a member of the Enterprise Customer Management Group of General Motors, researches customer issues and organizations' recruitment communications. Dr. Waung, whose field is industrial/organizational psychology, has published in numerous journals and consulted for the State of Ohio, BellSouth, and the Sandy Corporation.
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Author:Brice, Thomas S.; Waung, Marie
Publication:SAM Advanced Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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