Should You Recruit on Social-Networking Sites?

Updated: April 30, 2009

The sheer size of the techno-hip, social-networking crowd is staggering. With more than 100 million profiles, MySpace.com 's population is now almost as big as Mexico's. Facebook's size, at more than 30 million users, compares to the population of Canada. So perhaps you're wondering if your company should follow the HR trend and tap into these kinds of sites for recruiting purposes.

"Social-networking technology is absolutely the best thing to happen to recruiting — ever," said Maureen Crawford-Hentz , a recruiter for the global lighting company Osram Sylvania. Crawford-Hentz uses LinkedIn for recruiting and has successfully located key marketing personnel through the site. And she's not the only one singing the praises of recruiting through social-networking sites. A few HR people are so impressed with their results they're saying these sites will eventually replace job boards as the de facto Internet source for top talent.

"Firms must deliberately weave many aspects of social computing into their traditional recruiting programs to find — and ultimately hire — the best talent possible," said Zach Thomas, a senior analyst at Forrester. "HCM (human capital management) professionals are faced with a shrinking labor pool, lower unemployment rates, vacant jobs orders that require increasingly specialized and sought-after skills, and an environment where traditional recruiting processes and systems fail to align with many job seekers' use of technology. To combat these challenges, strategic recruiters are finding alternatives to turbocharge their traditional recruiting programs — and one alternative is social computing."

However, recruiting on social-networking sites may not be a good strategy for every organization. Many who have jumped in without clear goals and a well thought-out plan have met disappointing results. Others are still on the sidelines, doubtful of how or exactly why they should do it.

Anti-Social Networking

Peter Weddle, who hosts a recruitment and employment resources Web site, said that "Given all of the media brouhaha about social networking lately, it would be easy to feel out of step or worse if you weren't actively trolling the profiles on MySpace and Friendster for your next candidate … using social-networking sites for professional networking — which includes recruitment networking — is not working. The reality is that most people see a stark difference between the interactions they have to find a date and the interactions they have to find a job."

Weddle pointed to a Yahoo! Inc. poll that showed 75 percent of MySpace users rely on the site solely to maintain contact with their social network, and 82 percent of Facebook users depend on the site solely to stay in touch with friends. A meager 19 percent of these said social-networking sites are good resources for professional networking.

It may be true that most people on MySpace and Facebook aren't there to find jobs. However, the fact remains that different types of recruiting organizations have found success on social-networking sites. Ernst & Young, the CIA, and some of the larger job boards like CareerBuilder have all plugged into social networks to troll for job candidates — and they report good results. So, who's really out there and why are they worth the effort?

Who's Out There

As any experienced recruiter knows, the best talent is often the hardest to track down and the most difficult to convince to leave good positions. Top talent by definition has top-notch abilities, education, experience and social connections. Forrester calls these workers "passive candidates ." They have plenty of employment opportunities and few need to send out a lot of résumés to land good positions. As a result, recruiters are unlikely to find them listed in stale résumé banks held by job boards or among the submissions to their company Web sites.

Where recruiters are very likely to find top talent is on social-networking sites. Recruiting through these sites is not just for college graduates. In fact, Forrester found that six-figure earners are the most active in social computing compared with other income groups. They are especially active in spectator social activities, such as reading blogs and listening to podcasts. Forrester's survey also found that 65 percent of respondents who have done some postgraduate work regularly read blogs, and 36 percent engage in critic activities such as writing reviews.

Tech-savvy college graduates can also be found in abundance on social-networking sites; 75 percent of online 18- to 23-year-olds engage in spectator activities, and 57 percent are critics. For HR, recruiting may be the best source of these young, sought-after passive candidates who will eventually replace today's business leaders — often at surprisingly lower ages.

Reeling in Talent

There are two approaches you can use when recruiting candidates on social-networking sites: You can set up pages on the sites for passive recruiting or actively troll them for candidates using various search tools.

The passive approach usually involves creating a recruitment-oriented home page on Facebook or LinkedIn, complete with company facts, types of jobs that need to be filled regularly, and workplace pictures and videos. Like some employers, you may wish to use enticements to get candidates' contact information, like setting up contests and sweepstakes that offer attractive prizes for signing up.

The active approach utilizes the search tools available on social-networking sites or those available through outside services such as CareerBuilder. At business-networking sites such as LinkedIn, Spoke, Jigsaw, Ryze and others, it's easy to conduct searches since that's the reason the sites were built in the first place. Second Life offers some social networking and interactive capabilities that are useful to recruiters. Sites like MySpace, Friendster and Ning can be more challenging because of the free-form nature of their profiles.

Despite the obstacles involved in mining social-networking sites, the fact remains that the Web 2.0 world is full of some of the most desirable candidates. Forrester recommends that companies enhance their two-way communication with workers through Web 2.0 functionality, so that candidates can ask questions, receive trustworthy answers, and gain a more transparent view of the firm and what it has to offer them.

Through this approach, it may be possible to reach more deeply into referral networks and tout softer benefits that your company has to offer — including a culture that's not built on a rigid corporate bureaucracy but, rather, values people who think outside the box and mentors excellence.

It's true that social-networkers may not want to conduct business on sites geared toward personal rather than professional interactions. However, Net-friendly passive candidates are clearly using Web 2.0 to facilitate business as well as pleasure, and when recruiters reach them through it to offer attractive positions, they're unlikely to turn off their computers.

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