By Peter Weddle -- 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. And yet, a recent survey by Yahoo! suggests that social networking has its benefits, to be sure, but one of them is not recruitment.
The Yahoo! poll was conducted in May of this year and garnered responses from 3,714 U.S. workers aged 18 to 64 who were either employed or had been in the last five years. Here’s what it found:
• 75% of MySpace users rely on the site solely to maintain contact with their social network;
• 82% of Facebook users depend on that site solely to stay in touch with friends;
• Better than one-out of two respondents (53%) say “I like to keep my personal and professional lives completely separate; and
• Just 19%—fewer than one out of five respondents—say that social networking sites are good resources for professional networking.
What do these data tell us? I think they offer the following lessons:
• Networking is very important in our daily lives; and
• Using social networking sites for professional networking—which includes recruitment networking—is NOTworking.
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. (Witness their surprise when recruiters use social networking sites to conduct character checks on them.) That said, it is also accurate to describe the Internet as the greatest facilitator of recruitment networking since the introduction of the telephone. Networking online to engage candidates, however, occurs in different places and is done in a different way than networking for social purposes. Here’s what I mean.
Professional Networking is Done in Different Places
Top talent is like matter. It seeks to return to its original state. In other words, the best and brightest like to interact and communicate with their peers regularly. Traditionally, that’s been done at professional conferences and meetings. Today, it’s also done online.
Where does this professional networking occur on the Internet? In discussion forums and chat rooms, on bulletin boards and listservs that bring together people who share a career field, affinity or both. They create a virtual meeting place for sales representatives and Hispanic-American accountants, for IT contractors and women in technology and for just about every other cohort of the workforce. Using the asynchronous communications of the Web, these professionals can stay in touch with their peers and do so whenever and wherever it’s convenient for them. They can network online from the office, in a hotel room while on a business trip and at home in their fuzzy slippers.
What destinations online offer such forums and bulletin boards? You’ll find them at:
• commercial career portals, such as www.AuntMinnie.com;
• alumni group sites, such as that for the graduates of Columbia College
of Columbia University at www.college.columbia.edu/alumni;
• association sites, such as www.IEEE.org; and
• newsgroups, such as javadevelopers at Google.com.
Professional Networking is Done Differently
As the word itself notes, networking involves work. In other words, to be effective, it has to be an integral part of our business day. I recommend that online networking be done twice a week for 30 minutes at a time. That’s important because the purpose of professional networking on the Web is the same as it is in the real world. We interact with people to develop relationships with them. Now, for all of us who have ever been in a relationship, we know that these interactions take time to develop and involve hard work to succeed.
Why go to the trouble? Because as recruiters, we must:
• acquire the necessary information we need to assess a person’s skills and their potential to fit in our employer’s culture. Most of the best talent is already employed, so when networking with such prospects, we are unlikely to have a resume with which to work. Our networking, then, is first and foremost a carefully orchestrated strategy for collecting information. We use our direct communications and the person’s messages to others to evaluate their skill level, experience and personality.
• build familiarity and trust with prospects so that they will consider the employment opportunities we have to offer. The best talent is approached by recruiters all of the time and thus have plenty of options. Our networking, then, is also a strategy for convincing them to pay attention to us when they wouldn’t pay attention to any other recruiter or employer. That can’t be accomplished with contact management—constructing a huge address book of people who wouldn’t know us if they sat next to us on a bus but are somehow “connected” to us through someone else. It happens because we take the time to get to know them and align our employer’s opportunities with their career vision and goals.
Recruiting on the Internet has always been more than recruitment advertising and data mining for digital resumes. In cyberspace as much as in the real world, it is also a process of stringing an ever tighter net of appropriate ties between recruiters and their prospects. While there is a social component to that networking—it is, after all, an interaction between people—it is most effective when done in a professional way and for professional purposes.