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Using Social Networking to Fill the Talent Acquisition Pipeline

December 13, 2006
To help fill a constant stream of engineering jobs at Osram Sylvania’s Towanda plant in the Endless Mountains region of Pennsylvania, Maureen Crawford Hentz logs on to LinkedIn.

    The plant is the largest of the 22 manufacturing facilities and 12 R&D laboratories operated by Osram Sylvania. Professional positions for the rural location are staffed through company headquarters in Danvers, Massachusetts, where Crawford Hentz is manager of talent acquisition.

    Osram Sylvania is the North American operation of Munich, Germany-based Osram, one of the world’s largest lighting manufacturers and part of global giant Siemens AG. The lighting sector is one of the few types of manufacturing that is still expanding in the U.S., so Osram Sylvania maintains an extensive recruiting program and fills hundreds of positions each year.

    "Because of the constant growth, we must be strategic in recruiting and start filling the pipelines well in advance," Crawford Hentz says.

    Crawford Hentz says that networking technology is only one part of the company’s approach to recruiting.

    "But it absolutely could become the primary source," she says.

    Her enthusiasm for the technology is echoed by recruiters across the U.S., who are quickly identifying networking sites as their sourcing tool of choice.

    The real power of the technology lies in its ability to reach passive candidates for positions that require specialized skills and experience. With U.S. unemployment rates for workers with college degrees now less than 2 percent, recruiters are shifting to networking technology for hard-to-fill positions.

Passive pool
   More than 1,000 of the Osram Sylvania’s 11,200 employees work in the Towanda chemical and metallurgical facility, where open positions include engineering, logistics and marketing jobs.

    "The engineering positions are very nuanced and require discrete sets of skills," Crawford Hentz says. "Recruiting for these jobs really hones your skills as a treasure hunter."

    Crawford Hentz posts jobs online, searches job boards and sources through industry association sites and blogs. But LinkedIn is quickly becoming her preferred approach.

    "LinkedIn can be very strategic," she says. "My profile notes that I am always looking for chemical engineers, and because of the search mechanisms I receive inquiries from people who I would not normally be able to network with. LinkedIn provides the technological equivalent of an old boys’ network, but without the old boys."

    Crawford Hentz recently sourced six of the seven finalist candidates for a senior-level position from LinkedIn.

    "I expected an arduous recruiting process and I carefully managed the hiring manager’s expectations, but then we filled the position in a matter of weeks," she reports. "Our good brand name recognition brings an instant ‘yes’ to our networking queries."

    One of the benefits of the networking technology is that it can greatly increase the diversity of the talent pool accessible to recruiters.

    "My hiring manager was on cloud nine when he saw the diversity of the pool created through LinkedIn," Crawford Hentz says. She notes that recruiters appreciate the combination of high touch and high tech created by the networking tools.

    The technology also allows recruiters to source more quickly and leaves more time to meet the needs of valuable candidates.

    "With the networking technology, people come to the opportunities," Crawford Hentz says. "These are passive candidates, and it’s important to take proper care of them. They need time to consider the position. The social networking technology reduces my time to source and allows the candidates extra time for considering the job."

Pipelining tool
   Recruiters at Aquent Marketing Staffing have used LinkedIn for more than a year, but they signed on with Jobster in June. The division is part of Aquent, the global professional services firm that has staffed more than 400,000 professional positions worldwide.

    Steve Dempsey, vice president of recruiting at Aquent Marketing Staffing, prefers Jobster because it is more proprietary than LinkedIn’s open networking system. Forty percent of Aquent’s hires come through referrals, including those generated by networking technology, and Dempsey expects that portion to hit 50 percent next year, driven largely by Jobster.

    "Jobster allows us to find passive candidates and to tap their referrals as well," he says.

    One Aquent recruiter who was an early user of Jobster solicited 12 referrals that produced four hires.

    "Those who find it most useful are the recruiters who are pipelining for the same position on an ongoing basis," Dempsey says. "It is an incredible pipelining tool, and allows recruiters to take a much more proactive approach."

    Aquent recruiters find Jobster most useful when they create specific networks for individual positions such as marketing research and brand management.

    "Social networking technology is an emerging tool that will become even more important," Dempsey predicts.

    Aquent has already realized recruiting cost savings from Jobster through reduced advertising and faster sourcing time. At the end of 2006, the company will conduct an assessment of Jobster’s performance, including the number of contacts added, referrals received and how many of them were hired. In addition, the assessment will determine which tools within Jobster are most effective.

    Aquent also leverages its referral bonus program with Jobster. When it announces a new position, it indicates the referral payout that is offered.

    "Jobster allows us to promote not only the specific job opening but also our referral program, and that is a huge part of our success in using the site," Dempsey says.

    Aquent established its referral program in 2000 but greatly increased its richness when the labor market tightened.

    "The real key to success through Jobster lies with recruiters who are willing to invest time in the network," Dempsey says. "It takes a minimum of one to two hours a week to maintain their communications messages on the site and to respond to anyone who comes into the network, but the returns are huge."

Networking evolution
   Jeremy Shapiro, vice president of e-recruiting solutions at Bernard Hodes Group, offers a slightly less sanguine assessment of the networking sites.

    "Networking will be a critical part of recruiting, but only one part," he says. "Is it the death of the job boards? No. Can it provide candidates that recruiters would not be able to find otherwise? Yes."

    "We are at the early part of the adoption curve," Shapiro says. "We are still years away from perfect visibility of the labor force--the recruiter’s ultimate dream--where all data are available in a similar format. Recruiters may decide that they shouldn’t have to ‘go’ anywhere to find candidates; the networking idea may evolve into file sharing for résumés."

    Shapiro warns that the utility of the networking sites may decline.

    "Just as we are now seeing a consumer backlash on MySpace--people have too many ‘friends’--we may see a similar reaction with the networking sites, and their value will decline."

    He also says that the networking sites may produce diminishing returns if recruiters continue to search for candidates but the flow into the networks doesn’t grow. The real beneficiaries of the technology may be the industry associations, which are developing their own networking sites.

    Shapiro says that all recruiters should be posting positions on the job boards, using the networking sites, and mining the Internet for talent.

    "And of course, it doesn’t make sense to use the social networks if you are ignoring your own employees as a source of referrals," he says.

    Job board aggregators are also helpful for exploring hundreds of small sites.

    "Over time, if you are focused and using the small niche job boards, you will have access to candidates that your competitors don’t have," Shapiro says. "But if you and all of your competitors are using the same networking sites, then it turns into a skills game."

    That’s why recruiters should treat networking as just one part of their outbound recruiting portfolio.

    "The portfolio approach is always the right approach, it’s just a question of balancing the portfolio," Shapiro says.

    For recruiters who are using the networks, the key is to know your environment and follow the rules of the community.

    "If you don’t, you will be blacklisted and no one will invite you to play," Shapiro cautions.

    Recruiting through networking technology is still largely a U.S.-based technique. Although business development networking sites are strong in some emerging markets, social networking sites geared specifically to recruiting are relatively uncommon, according to Shapiro.

    "In the developing countries such as India, the labor market isn’t there yet," he says. "These markets need to cool down and become less competitive. For now, networking is better suited to the mature markets."

    Global labor banks such as Odesk.com and TopCoder.com work well for companies looking for specific skill sets at hourly rates, but they lack the referral-based quality of the networking sites. The labor banks focus on contract work for candidates who can be easily rated, such as developers.

    But social networking relies on connections.

    "A network is only as good as the trust embedded in it," Shapiro says. "If you are in contact with someone that you’ve never met before, and he knows a developer in India, that might be reaching out too far."