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Second Life job fairs boost IT prospects

Except for a few glitches navigating through a virtual world, big-name companies such as Accenture and Microsoft find that Second Life is proving itself to be a worthwhile venue for finding future employees.

So what if an interviewee floats to the ceiling?

Companies desperate for a larger pool of applicants to fill IT jobs say they're willing to try anything, including the virtual interview. And those who've been there agree that the virtual world is a recruitment venue beginning to take shape and pay off.

It's a quirky new experience. You have a laugh, and it's a real icebreaker.
Warren Ashton
recruiting managerMicrosoft Corp.
This week, recruiters from four major companies -- Accenture Ltd., EMC Corp., GE Money and U.S. Cellular -- and job seekers looking to land positions at those companies are engaging in real-life interviews online. This virtual job fair, the second one hosted by recruitment advertising agency TMP Worldwide Advertising & Communications LLC, is being held on "TMP Island," the company's space within the popular Second Life virtual world.

Microsoft Corp. recruiting manager Warren Ashton, who attended TMP's first virtual job fair in May, said Second Life shows promise as a recruitment venue but admits it's too early to declare success. Still, Microsoft did make at least one hire from the May event and, according to Ashton, the company will probably do more virtual job fair events.

"It was a really good experience. The candidates that we talked to were of good quality."

But Second Life, a massive multiplayer universe set in a three-dimensional virtual world where "residents" live, work, socialize, start businesses and exchange millions of real dollars, has its critics.

Consultancy firm Gartner Inc., claims the site is not to be trusted. In a recent report, an analyst at the Stamford, Conn.-based firm said businesses that engaged in virtual world activities risk damaging their brands and reputation, as well as open themselves to security breaches. In addition, Second Life has been under fire for alleged unfair business practices, and is now facing a lawsuit over imaginary sexual encounters.

Still, the popularity of Second Life is undeniable -- it has 8.5 million "residents," with half a million of them logging in weekly. Major tech corporations have used Second Life to market products or services to a niche, tech-savvy audience. IBM, for instance, has purchased numerous islands within Second Life for virtual training and simulations of key businesses processes.

Just another venue

Warnings aside, CIO recruiters such as Martha Heller said social networking and Internet technologies have proven to be "remarkably helpful" to connect recruiters and candidates. "There's no reason to assume that Second Life couldn't be an effective tool as well."

Although Heller, managing director in the IT Leadership Practice at Westborough, Mass.-based Z Resource Group Inc., warned Second Life probably wasn't the best place for CIOs to go job hunting, she said it is a good place for CIOs to recruit job candidates. Participating vendors agreed, and said they're looking primarily for entry- to junior-level IT professionals, although more experienced candidates do apply.

The average age of a Second Life resident is 30 years old, and that was pretty much reflected in the age of most applicants, said Louis Vong, vice president of interactive strategy at TMP.

Ashton, who said Microsoft was looking primarily to fill technology positions, acknowledged that most applicants were "slightly on the younger side." Most, he said, had some experience but were "relatively new to their careers." Overall, however, the experience level ran the gamut from veterans to students, he said.

"Sounds like an interesting approach, but I'd never consider looking for a job (as a C-level executive) on Second Life," said Norbert J. Kubilus, CIO at Sunterra Corp. in Las Vegas. "At my stage, personal networks are more valuable and effective."

He said he would consider the virtual interview, however, as a way to find entry- or junior- level positions despite having "terrific success" with more traditional Web-based recruiting, local job fairs and recruiting from soon-to-be-civilians at military bases.

Forgo the shirt and tie

Vong said his firm looks for innovative ways to attract potential job seekers. Using the virtual world is a new idea, he said, adding that TMP views Second Life as a technology tool that lets job seekers connect with recruiters. "We're inviting job seekers to metaphysically meet with a recruiter."

The screening process varies little from real life, according to Vong. Job seekers are first directed to a microsite, where TMP learns what each employee wants. If interested, the job seeker, who has already registered on Second Life as a resident and created an avatar -- the visual "handle" or display appearance used to represent oneself -- can upload a résumé and request an interview. Job seekers are sent via "telehubs" to a participating company's specific location on TMP Island, where they will meet with and be interviewed by recruiters in virtual client offices.

The recruiter does the screening and schedules the half-hour interview. At May's event, there were 872 registered job seekers, 750 requested interviews; 209 were granted interviews.

"We know for a fact that at least three hires came directly from this event," Vong said.

Still, there is no denying the virtual interview is different. Not having the face-to-face interaction is a challenge, Microsoft's Ashton said. And there's that learning curve maneuvering through the virtual world.

"It was challenging because you're learning on the fly," said Ashton, who added that one candidate just started to float around the room. "But, it's a quirky new experience. You have a laugh, and it's a real icebreaker. Everyone is always looking for a good icebreaker."

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At the end of two days it was like second nature, he said.

Participating in this week's event for the first time is global management and outsourcing firm Accenture. John Campagnino, the firm's global director of recruiting, said his company's expectations are as realistic as they would be for any unproven venue. "Bearing in mind that Second Life is one of many channels to recruit in the marketplace. This is relatively new for us, so our expectations aren't high, but we do expect to get the message out. From that we hope to generate significant interest [in Accenture]."

According to Heller, the best way to approach virtual recruiting is to set metrics and measurable results. "See if your time is well spent."

At the end of the day, the virtual interview is still the first-round interview. "None of them are going to offer a job on the spot," said Vong of the recruiters. "The second, third, and fourth interview would still exist."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Kate Evans-Correia, News Director

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