Recruiters Find Patience Is a Virtue With Social Networking Sites

Knowing which sites to target, developing a plan to keep contacts engaged, and creating a communication strategy that fosters deep relationships are among the initial steps to success.

March 25, 2008
Dan Martineau was excited when he posted his profile on Facebook earlier in the year. It took almost two hours, but he thought posting to the wildly popular online social networking site was worth the hassle because it would facilitate his job recruiting technology professionals.

    "There was so much buzz about Facebook from recruiters, I couldn’t wait to try it out for myself," says the head of Martineau Recruiting Technology, a talent acquisition firm in Kernersville, North Carolina. Yet more than a month after posting his Facebook profile, the results fell far short of his expectations.

    In that time, he made contact with one individual—another recruiter.

    "I’m not seeing what all the hype is about," he says.

    Martineau is part of a small but growing group of talent acquisition professionals who question whether the current online social networking frenzy is overblown.

    In some cases, the frustrations with social networking are justified. There is room for improvement in areas like user friendliness and functionality, says Kevin Wheeler, recruiting industry analyst and president of consulting firm Global Learning Resources in Fremont, California. Oftentimes, however, the lackluster results are because recruiters do not know how to fully harness social networking.

    "We are bombarded with how great these tools are," Wheeler notes. "But we don’t hear much about how to use them effectively."

    Wheeler and others who have mastered social networking say there’s a learning curve.

    The good news is that employers can adopt simple measures to make their efforts more fruitful. Knowing which social networking sites to target, developing a plan to keep social networking contacts engaged, and creating a communication strategy that fosters deep relationships are among the initial steps to success.

    Wheeler says recruiters should take advantage of it, especially as the differences between social networking and career networking become less distinct. Already there are more than 50 third-party applications on Facebook that pertain to job searches, says Stephanie Pettinati, a Facebook spokeswoman, including My Resume, which allows members to attach a resume to an online profile.

    Prospecting for candidates among the millions of social networking users has drawn big-brand employers. Ernst & Young, Microsoft and McDonald’s are among those committing significant resources to develop a visible presence on Facebook.

    "Social networking can give recruiters access to an unprecedented number of passive job seekers," he notes. "The key is knowing how to use it."

It pays to be discerning
   It’s been several years since Symantec Corp.—a security software provider in Cupertino, California—took its first shot at social networking. Since then, the company has learned one important lesson: Not all social networking platforms are created equal.

    "Some tools meet our talent acquisition needs better than others because they have different strengths," says Jim Kirkpatrick, lead manager of staffing services at Symantec. He says recruiters who require powerful search functionalities are better off with a business-oriented social networking site, such as LinkedIn.

    LinkedIn allows recruiters to scour for talent using important search criteria like a previous place of employment or past professional titles. By contrast, broad social networking sites generally do not deliver these nuggets. What they do offer is access to vast pools of young, entry-level talent—60 million users, in the case of Facebook.

    Kirkpatrick stresses the importance of developing recruiting objectives and an understanding of what tools are needed to attain those goals. That clarity, he notes, will guide recruiters to effective social networking strategies.

    Such measures may seem rudimentary, but many recruiters are simply not following them because social networking is so new, Wheeler explains.

    "Many are just jumping in without giving it any critical thinking," he notes.

    Kirkpatrick knows he should steer away from broad social networking tools. He focuses on recruiting senior executives and realizes many tools are ineffective because they skew to younger users. He believes LinkedIn helped Symantec recruit 2 percent to 5 percent of senior-level positions last year. On average, Kirkpatrick and his team of 20 recruiters make more than 2,000 hires domestically each year.

Persistence is key
   Karl Heltsley transformed a 16-foot-long wall in his office into a smooth-surfaced whiteboard. It’s covered with scribbles from brainstorming sessions by Heltsley’s team of recruiters at Pro Edge Staffing—a Houston-based company that places professionals in engineering, accounting, finance and IT and is now turning its attention to biotechnology recruiting.

    Among their tactics: tapping into social networking.

    "I’m seeing it and living it every day," he says.

    As Pro Edge Staffing’s president, Heltsley offers two bits of advice to junior recruiters as they gear up for their push into biotech.

    "Be sure to have a well-thought-out plan," he says. "And arm yourself with patience."

    Social networking can be an important tool, but it can take six months to a year before the efforts really take off, he says.

    "Things don’t just magically start happening with the click of a mouse," he says. "It takes time and commitment."

    Social networking recruiting tools will yield a healthy number of prospects, but that’s the easy part. The challenges arise when it comes time to convert those contacts into actual hires, an area where many recruiters become frustrated, he notes.

    Heltsley says the lag time is to be expected and it’s important for recruiters to devise a strategy to keep their social networking contacts engaged.

    "It is rare to strike gold the first time you get in touch with a potential candidate; sometimes the timing is off, the skills don’t necessarily match or the individual is not willing to leave his job just yet," he explains. "But that does not mean you give up."

    He recommends keeping in touch with social networking contacts on a regular basis, even with those who didn’t accept a job offer right away. Heltsley says there should be some form of communication at least once a month.

    "Drop them a line, ask them how they’re doing," he notes. "Bring up general-interest topics."

    Heltsley says it takes time and creativity to keep contacts warm, but it could pay off by catching a candidate who’s ready to make a professional transition.

    Communicating with a potential candidate does not have to be confined to the initial social networking site where the prospect was found. Heltsley says e-mail, SMS text or even the good old-fashioned telephone are good tools for keeping in touch.

Foster meaningful relationships
   Peter Weddle isn’t surprised some recruiters are disappointed with their social networking results.

    "They thought it was going to be a matter of simply creating their profiles and inviting everybody that they know to join their network," says the recruiting industry analyst and CEO of consultancy Weddle’s. "They are quickly finding out that it is going to take a lot more than that."

    If recruiters want to reap the rewards of social networking, they are going to have to select a communication tactic that makes them stand out from the others. Weddle says blogs are a good way of sprucing up dull and outdated social networking profiles.

    "Depending on how well you do it, contacts will keep coming back for more," Weddle says.

    Talent acquisition expert Wheeler says some recruiters and companies are blogging effectively. He says another viable communication tactic is e-mail, which can be sent out on a regular basis to inform individuals about job openings or special industry-related events.

    Repeat interaction with potential job candidates is an important element in social networking—one that breeds familiarity.

    "Being on somebody’s LinkedIn does not make you a viable connection; you’re just another name on a list," he notes. "You have to gain their trust."

    Wheeler says there’s no formula for harnessing social networking. It varies from company to company. "They have to roll up their sleeves and see what works for them."

    He also says today’s social networking platforms are a work in progress and there will be improvements over time.

    "I’m sure we’ll see some evolution in the years to come," he says.

    Wheeler encourages recruiters to continue experimenting with social networking. When used appropriately, it can be a powerful talent acquisition tool.

    "The first Model T was not the best it could be, but that didn’t take us back to using the horse and buggy," Wheeler says. "It meant we tried harder until we got it right."