Social Networking and Recruitment: Friend or Foe?  
9/13/2010 4:12:24 PM

Social Networking and Recruitment: Friend or Foe?
By Suvarna Sheth,

There's been a lot of buzz lately about social networking and whether it's benefiting the recruitment world. Is it really just one avenue for finding the most qualified life science candidates or is it the ultimate panacea for ad agencies and recruitment firms?

Umair Haque, director of the Havas Media Lab, said on a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, that "despite all the excitement surrounding social media, the Internet isn't connecting us as much as we think it is." He writes that it [the Internet] is "largely home to weak, artificial connections, what I call thin relationships."

Haque claims these "thin relationships" are merely an illusion of real relationships, leaving people with few — if any — valuable relationships.

Raghav Singh, a partner at The A-List, a Minneapolis-based staffing services provider, agrees with Haque to some degree. Singh's company hires through a range of outlets – from consulting to social-media recruitment.

"It's true that social networks may 'cheapen' relationships — as Haque says, with some of your contacts but I'm not sure it makes any difference to recruiters." Singh says. The talent management expert says when it comes to "deep" relationships, the average male has seven to eight and the average woman has 10-11.

Given that you can reach a far wider audience through social media than you can through any other means, Singh says it's becoming an increasingly powerful tool for recruiters. But, he says social networking sites have their limitations.

He says if you're looking for high volume hires for life science or any industry, social networking is going to be less effective because finding the right hire involves building relationships with people. "You can't force the pace of connecting with new opportunities unlike you can while using a job board or job aggregator," Singh states.

Marie Johnson, a job seeker in San Francisco, has attempted to use popular networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook to directly contact employers and hiring managers.

"Facebook is fun for friends," Johnson says, "but I haven't found any use for finding a job." She contacted her friend's contact who is a hiring manager but never got a response.

She had the same experience on LinkedIn when trying to connect with department managers she met at a past event. "A lot of hiring managers don't like to be hunted down," she says.

Johnson has had better responses by submitting her resume online and through job boards. "I try to be the first to apply for a job as soon as it's posted," she says.

The business professional says the hiring managers she's encountered on social sites seem to be there to enhance their own career profiles and show colleagues how many connections they have, similar to a popularity contest.

As futile as sites like LinkedIn and Facebook can be for some candidates, professional and social networking continues to be a useful tool for recruiters within companies ranging from small firms to large ad-agencies.

However, David Tuttle, director of digital strategy at TMP Worldwide, one of the largest advertisement recruitment agencies in the world, says recruiters need to keep in mind that social networking is only one tool for successful recruiting.

"Social networking is extremely important, don't get me wrong," Tuttle says, "but it's not the only method for successful recruiting."

Tuttle says an agency like TMP provides a comprehensive method for recruiters and HR departments to advertise open positions. "We're basically their entire interactive strategy, from creating an Internet presence, designing a compelling career site, to determining the actual process flow for applying."

He says all of these things make recruiting efforts that much easier. "We see that clients who have a comprehensive digital strategy essentially have a 90% application completion rate than clients who do not," Tuttle explains.

Most importantly, Tuttle says a social or professional media experience is what's called "targeted passive media" because it's a passive way to attract candidates. He says this strategy should be coupled with "targeted active media," which are useful tools such as job boards and job search aggregators to ensure that the best and the brightest candidates find and apply to open positions.

So what are the flaws to recruitment on professional or networking sites? For one, it's that social networking sites are intended to be just that: an opportunity to reach out and "socialize" with new people. According to Tuttle, a social strategy should not be too heavy-handed or too informational. He says it has to be something that works "in the spirit of the medium."

Tuttle points out that there are many cases where social and professional media strengthens existing relationships, and he certainly doesn't think social media cheapens relationships, as Haque does.

"I think worst case scenario there's a tendency for people to force relationships on Facebook that probably aren't as strong as face-to-face relationships," Tuttle says, "But, I'd say that's the extent of its weakness."

Another flaw to social recruitment is that there's a degree of anonymity for the profiles that are created which may allow some users to use the platform as a chance to share negative feedback – and that's a fear that many clients have.

In fact, much of the reluctance large corporations have for adopting a social media strategy targeted at recruitment is that clients feel like it's a space that they can't control.

Anonymity is an issue for users too. Bruce Peters, a job seeker in Irvine, Calif., has used both Facebook and LinkedIn to connect with friends and network for jobs. After two years, he has decided to deactivate his Facebook profile.

Peters believes his security is more important to him than making superficial connections. "People can misuse your personal information, and you definitely lose all your privacy by using networking sites," he says.

Job seekers may think Facebook is notorious because even if your settings are private, people can still gather a lot of information from what has been posted about you and your family. "They can post things about who you are as a person, and I don't like that fact," he says.

While online personas may be a good way for recruiters and hiring managers to scope out a candidate, it can definitely hurt candidates.

"Companies will use what they find about you to decide what kind of employee you will be to represent their company," Peters states. "If they find something they don't like then you're probably not going to get the job."

Also, as great social networking may be for getting information about people, companies and jobs, Peters believes it's inherently making the world more isolated.

"You end up living in a cyber-world," he says, "and you lose touch with how to interact and communicate with people." Peters values the personal touch, and thinks people these days have forgotten about calling or even going out to visit someone.

With a variety of job-seekers out there, it's necessary for recruiters to set their expectations: "Define your goals and determine whether networking for your company is for sourcing or for branding," Tuttle says.

It's important to set up your social media parameters and set rules in place that define how social media is going to be used within your organization in conjunction with other recruiting tools. Also, Tuttle advises companies to make sure everyone within the organization is familiar with those rules and then identify people who are going to be your "brand ambassadors" – the people who are basically going to monitor your company's Internet presence.

The message is clear from the experts: You're more likely to end up with the right life science candidate with a well-rounded recruitment strategy, and don't forget to put in the time and effort to build meaningful relationships.

Suvarna ShethSuvarna Sheth is a reporter and writer on the BioSpace news beat team. She has more than six years of experience reporting breaking news and trends in biopharma. Sheth has a master's in online journalism.

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