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The Bait Debate

February 3, 2011
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Related Topics: Corporate Culture, Candidate Sourcing, Workforce Planning, Featured Article
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Dawn Mitchell, a recruiter for business software maker Red Hat Inc., knows that using social media to search for talent goes well beyond tweeting jobs. For her, it’s about “living where the candidates are,” which means reading industry blogs, joining professional groups of Java or cloud computing experts on LinkedIn or Facebook and posting technical questions on those sites in hopes of ferreting out the sharpest thinkers.

“It’s just not enough to post a job,” says Mitchell, who has been a recruiter for the Raleigh, North Carolina-based company for four years. “I also comment on discussions and post questions. I’m not a technical person, but I try. I follow blogs; I read up on industry trends.” The payoff, she says, is finding candidates who can thrive in the company’s fast-paced entrepreneurial culture. Mitchell, who specializes in recruiting sales engineers and consultants, uses Facebook and Twitter, but nearly all of her recent hires come from LinkedIn, she says. “I find individuals who have strong opinions. I don’t want just anybody.”

Recruiters have more technology tools at their fingertips than ever before, and the variety of choices can be daunting. In addition to social networking sites, there are a plethora of Web-based recruiting and tracking systems to choose from. Automated Data Processing Inc., BrightMove Inc., HRsmart Inc., Jobvite Inc. and Taleo Corp. are just a few of the growing number of vendors offering tools that they say can help companies find top candidates, improve the quality of hires, save money and raise awareness of the corporate brand.

“Social media is at the heart of everything we do,” says Bill Peppler, managing partner at Kavaliro Staffing Services in Orlando, Florida, which specializes in the information technology and financing industries. “We make numerous job placements that we never would have been able to do without Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Pretty soon everyone will be finding jobs that way. Someone asked me if I have my résumé on CareerBuilder or Monster and I never have. But I have a LinkedIn profile and so do most of our clients and job candidates.”

Not everyone is so dazzled, however. Dissenters believe there’s more hype than reality to recruiting through social media. “I’d love to drink the Kool-Aid if it did anything for me,” says Jerry Albright, a recruiter based in Avilla, Indiana, who specializes in information technology, engineering and manufacturing jobs. “These folks do not hang around on Twitter all day. They’re not sitting around the dinner table checking their BlackBerry. They’re nowhere to be found. I take issue when someone says social media is the way everybody’s going. It’s not the case.”

Albright is not anti-social media—he tweets, he blogs, he’s on Facebook and LinkedIn—he just doesn’t see how they will help him fill jobs for clients. “If I was helping a customer set up a new graduate recruiting program, I’d be all over social media,” he says. “But when I need to find someone with 15 years of experience as an electronics design engineer for subfractional horsepower motors, tweeting does me no good.”

For recruiters like Albright who are circumspect about social media’s promise, the only tool that provides consistent results is the phone. The rest is “smoke and mirrors,” he says. “What bugs me the most is that brand-new people in staffing think that the old school stuff is just washed up. To be in recruiting as long as some of us have been, you need to balance what’s new with what works and what doesn’t.” Clients, he adds, “don’t care if I’m using the latest social media tool or standing at the mall with a sandwich board on.”

Not for everyone
Clearly social networking is not for everyone, says John Boudreau, a professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. The decision to use social media “depends on your applicant pool and your organization’s needs and capabilities,” he says. “If the applicant pool is not familiar with the media, or even finds such an approach to be inappropriate—such as if they see e-mail solicitations as spam or YouTube videos as amateurish—then using social media can be ineffective or even risky. If your organization is not prepared to embrace social media as part of its broader culture and values, then heavy use in recruiting may be ill-advised.”

The hoopla surrounding recruiting with social media can obscure its effectiveness. “We’re assigning it more success than really exists,” says Shally Steckerl, a talent acquisition consultant and executive vice president of Arbita, a Minneapolis-based provider of recruitment marketing technology and services. Recruiters “are making it look like it’s a success because our bosses are telling us it’s cool, hip and trendy. It’s like we’re fulfilling our own prophecy. I’ve learned through experience that social media is a tool, an enabler that helps us do things faster. But it’s also created an addiction, an unhealthy reliance on certain tools.”

A recent survey by Workforce Management found that although 63 percent of recruiters and recruiting supervisors say their organizations use social media to search for job candidates, the success rate is relatively low. According to the December 2010 online survey, almost 53 percent said 10 percent or fewer of their hires came through social networking.

When asked about the downside of recruiting via social networking, a plurality—44 percent—cited the difficulty in finding the right candidate, according to the survey.

Another key concern was the risk of litigation when employers learn too much about a candidate, such as age, sexual orientation, disability, race or other personal information. Of those surveyed, nearly 31 percent identified litigation risk as a potential problem.

Unearthing personal information about job candidates is a hazard of recruiting on social networks, says Amber Spataro, a labor and employment lawyer with Reed Smith in New York. But she says it would be hard to prove that an employer used the information to discriminate against a candidate.

“I think it’s incredibly difficult for a candidate to come back and say, ‘You didn’t hire me because of what you saw on Facebook or MySpace or Twtter.’ Unless the employer volunteers the reasons why they didn’t hire someone, the odds of [candidates] finding out that you went to their page are very slim,” says Spataro, who is a member of Reed Smith’s social and digital media task force.

Despite such concerns, few can deny that social media technology is changing how companies think about talent recruitment. In fact, although there were a relatively small number of hires through social media, more than half of senior recruiting executives said in the Workforce Management survey that they expect their companies to increase the use of social networking to attract talent in the next 12 to 18 months.

The key to successful social media recruiting is developing a clear strategy that is supported at every level of the company, according to Dan Finnigan, CEO of Jobvite, a developer of Web-based recruiting and applicant-tracking software in Burlingame, California. “When something becomes abuzz, it’s because at the root something real is going on and it creates its own frenzy that attracts pretenders and bad habits. There is a lot of hype and distraction if it’s not done in a clear and sober way.”

Once a plan is in place, he says it’s important to carefully research the tools needed to implement it. “Don’t just buy the latest and greatest but sit through demonstrations and compare and contrast,” he advises. “It takes time and effort. There’s no a magic bullet when it comes to social media.”

Global consulting firm Accenture Inc. is one company that believes it has figured out how to exploit social media. John Campagnino, Accenture’s global director of recruitment, says it has become “a centerpiece of our talent acquisition strategy.” Campagnino describes Accenture’s social media strategy as a “three-tiered” approach involving interacting with potential hires on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter; posting jobs on those sites daily; and “creating talent communities” by joining professional groups and maintaining contact with potential hires. “Many companies have focused on creating a social media presence without thinking about how it complements their talent acquisition strategy,” he says.

Accenture began using social networking for recruiting in 2008, which helped it meet a dramatic increase in demand for new employees during fiscal 2010.

Campagnino says social media have helped the company take greater control of recruiting and reduce its dependence on outside recruiters. The goal is “farming talent” from within. “If you think about what enabled human development for thousands of years, it’s farming—creating a scalable and sustainable environment,” he explains.

Accenture plans to hire about 40 percent of its workforce through social media in 2011 and beyond, Campagnino says. “The globalization of the labor market, the shortage of skilled resources, the financial market challenge—these things fuel the need for innovation in talent acquisition. This is the future of recruitment globally.”

The need to take control of the recruiting function is what prompted Red Hat to adopt a similar strategy. When L.J. Brock joined Red Hat in 2008 as senior director, global talent acquisition, the company was expanding fast and outsourcing most of its hiring. At the time, Red Hat had a small internal recruiting team that was focused mainly on filling lower-level jobs, leaving the hiring for key sales and engineering positions to outside firms. Brock considered that a risky situation. “If you’re in our business where people are the differentiator and you’re outsourcing the attraction of those people, that’s a dangerous place to be.”

So Red Hat, which distributes the open-source Linux operating system, identified the 10 most critical jobs, “the ones that move the needle,” Brock says. It then developed a social media strategy to help fill those positions and beefed up its recruiting team from eight to 20 people. “It’s about who can better evaluate who is better for your company,” Brock says. Today, at least 50 percent of Red Hat’s hires come through social networks.

While most tech savvy companies are experimenting with social networking in the hunt for talent, it can be a hard sell in other industries. It took Miranda Maynard, employment supervisor at EMH Regional Healthcare System in Elyria, Ohio, a year to persuade the executive leadership to implement social media-based hiring.

The main obstacle was concern over security issues. “They were hesitant,” Maynard explains. “They were concerned about viruses and patient information issues. Also, generationally, it was hard. I’m Generation X but many of my superiors didn’t know much about social media. I really had to sell it.”

EMH began posting jobs on Twitter and started a Facebook page in September 2009. So far, it has about 830 “Likes” and plans to add more pages. Most of the advertised jobs are for hourly health care workers, so Facebook makes more sense to Maynard than LinkedIn, which she believes attracts more executive-level candidates. Of the 14,000 candidates who applied to EMH in 2010, about 1 percent came through Facebook, but Maynard expects that number to grow.

Aside from decreased advertising costs, she says she hasn’t seen a tangible benefit from social media yet. But, she says, “The fact that I have a full year of data is exciting. Facebook keeps demographic data: ZIP code, gender. It will be interesting to see how we can use this information as talent acquisition moves forward.”

Workforce Management, February 2011, p. 18-21 -- Subscribe Now!

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