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Online Social Networking: Give Some, Get More  
9/15/2008 3:33:12 PM

By Wendy Lalli -- In this age of Internet communications even an extreme introvert can develop a networking rolodex that would be the envy of a new wave Elsa Maxwell. And instead of making the rounds of cocktail parties and professional events, all you have to do is pull up your laptop, log on and start connecting with a host of social networking sites (SNS) that are the latest tools for expanding and deepening your professional contacts.

The advantage of using a social network over networking

In 2004 Douglas Wolk observed in an article for “Workforce Management”, “Most experts agree that the purely social Web networks aren’t too useful for recruiters, but that hybrid social/business sites may be somewhat more useful.” Later he concluded that “the real usefulness for recruiters is yet to come.” It’s now four years later and the skepticism Wolk expressed in 2004 is growing dimmer hit by hit. For while social networking sites haven’t replaced traditional job boards, their role in a recruiter’s arsenal is definitely growing.

The obvious benefit of networking on the World Wide Web is that its, well – worldwide. So your access to talent, information, and opportunities through interactive sites is almost limitless. Furthermore, the number of different social network sites is growing with each passing day; even older ones are deepening their pools. Communities such as LinkedIn and FaceBook now measure membership in the millions while Ryze and sites with a more targeted focus are catching on as well.

The power of any network is the built-in “reference” factor. That is, the powerful assumption that whomever you’re contacting, or whomever is contacting you, is vouched for by a third party you both know. On the face of it, the social aspect of SNSs, may seem at odds with business usage, yet, this very element is why they are so valuable. With SNSs you are connecting with people who already trust each other and thus, are more likely to trust you. They also allow you to see whom potential candidates know from previous jobs. This gives you the added advantage of knowing who to contact for blind references if you want to do so.

SNSs were never designed as recruiting tools so depending on them for the short term satisfaction of a quick hit and easy fill is probably counter-productive. Their real value is in helping you build long term relationships that not only help you discover passive candidates but enhance your reputation as an industry resource. After all, making calls to desirable candidates isn’t as advantageous as getting calls from them. As an online recruitment expert, Peter Weddle, puts it, “The key to success on the Net is not who you know but who knows you.”

Networking online or off comes down to sharing

Judi Wunderlich, Senior Director of Recruiting, Aquent in Chicago, IL has experienced the power of this benefit of social networking many times over. Using social networks like LinkedIn.com constantly, she has seen her network of talent and clients expand exponentially.

Twitter, one of the newer online social networks, is a special favorite of Judi’s. “It allows me to informally touch base with people throughout the day in a way that’s spontaneous yet surprisingly productive. I’ve already found one client on Twitter and several potential candidates. As with any form of networking, it really all comes down to sharing,” commented Wunderlich. “Whether you’re passing on news about positions and candidates, discussing industry information, or offering someone advice about their job search, I’ve found the more you give, the more you get.”

One of the ways Judi found to “give” was to start her own online social networking group called “Creatives Over 50.” As the name implies, the main criteria for being invited to join the group was working in the creative industry of marketing and being at least 50 years old. “I started the group to help senior level talent who were struggling with age specific issues,” Judi explained. “These included being caught in the middle of raising children and caring for ailing parents, dealing with age discrimination on the job, and overcoming all of the other challenges baby boomers face as they reach a certain point in life. The group enabled individuals to support each other as they exchanged ideas, information, and contacts with other professionals. Several people even ended up finding new positions or freelance projects through the network. As for me, being the catalyst of the group resulted in my developing a large base of personal ‘fans.’”

Helping others is a great way to help yourself

Like Judi Wunderlich, Steve Brainard, Midwest Regional Recruiting Manager for Kelly Scientific Resources has made visiting social networking sites part of his recruiting routine. He uses sites like LinkedIn.com and Ryze.com to connect with passive candidates and to learn more about those who register with him. He also uses groups on these sites to extend the usefulness of these resources. Conscientiously keeping up old relationships while cultivating new ones, Steve is careful not to dilute the power of his connections by overextending his network to include too many prospects. “If you accept everyone in your network without really checking them out, it undermines the value of your contacts.”

Recently, Steve has been participating in a service that extends the social aspects of SNSs firmly into the heart of the recruiting business. In partnership with BioSpace.com, Steve’s employer, Kelly Scientific Services has formed an online Forum called “Career Talk.” The forum’s purpose is to provide advice and insight on job search to candidates at all levels in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. These forums are hosted and moderated by human resource professionals like Steve.

Career Talk is only one of the discussion forums that are part of a Community section launched by the BioSpace site in February 2008. Besides participating in the moderated forums, BioSpace members can communicate with their peers by creating their own viewable profiles, comment on and recommend articles, and even write their own blogs. Acting on membership feedback about these services, BioSpace is continuously expanding its Community tools and will be launching new and exciting features in the coming months.

As for Steve, he’s found that the Career Talk Forum is definitely a win-win for him and his readers. “We offer answers to individual questions within 48 hours or less so candidates get the help they need in a timely manner. But what really excites me is that our format allows other readers to respond to questions by offering insights based on their own experience in similar situations. The interactivity and the openness of the format empower the job seeker in a truly unique way.”

Echoing Judi Wunderlich’s experience, Steve has found that proactively assisting others leads to a positive reputation for the participating recruiter. “I’ve found that helping people first creates an environment where candidates naturally want to help me in return,” says Steve. “They share industry insights with me, give me information about prospective candidates and encourage their friends to contact me first when they’re looking for a new position. All in all, it’s very a rewarding way of doing business”.


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