The Hoffman Agency hires about 80 to 90 percent of its employees using professional networking site LinkedIn where it buys and posts job ads. The public relations firm is representative of a new breed of employers who are looking beyond traditional forms of recruitment to engage top talent.
Social media networking sites have millions of members, opening up a whole new playing field for recruiters. Such websites put thousands of potential job candidates at your fingertips- they are just an email or short introduction away. LinkedIn, which is viewed to be one of the more professional networking sites, has more than 90 million users. It allows recruiters to zero in on candidates based on their industry experience and professional qualifications. Companies can post job ads for a fee or tap on their network of contacts to find someone suitable for a role.
This form of hiring has allowed the Hoffman Agency to reach out to candidates beyond Singapore. The nature of such networks also fits perfectly with its company culture. “We pretty much live and breathe Web 2.0. Our target audience for recruitment is thus typically the social media savvy talents. So it is a natural decision to tap on these tools,” Lydia Lau, vice president, finance and administration, The Hoffman Agency Asia Pacific says.
Hoffman also uses Facebook and Twitter to post job vacancy messages and gets employees to spread the messages through their own sites. Some of the things that it looks out for in candidate’s online profiles include professional experience, how savvy they are with Web 2.0 functionalities, their level of participation and engagement in forums, the kind of news they follow and the people they are connected with.
One of the most useful things about social media is that it allows companies to get good recommendations, if your network is aligned with the job category that you are hiring for, Edvarcl Heng, social media manager, Medicom says. So for example, a recruiter interested in hiring a business development director could join a group that caters to such professionals and start a discussion. One of the more active contributors in that group could very well be that star talent that you are looking for.
Social media sites can also be a source of higher quality candidates, Conrad McGinnis, senior HR project consultant, Toyota Financial Services says. “Candidates come through a trusted source such as a person or user group connected to your area often as a referral,” he says . This makes it easier to determine the quality of the candidate based on his or her network connections unlike an open channel such as a job board or a newspaper advertisement where it is a complete shot in the dark, says McGinnis who will be talking about social media recruitment at the HR Summit in May.
The employer brand could get a boost from social media tools. More companies are using online video sites to post virtual job ads. IT services and solutions provider Datacraft Asia for example, posts videos demonstrating its company culture on YouTube. It is also looking into smart phone applications.
The cost savings derived from such tools is a definite draw. Using social media sites enables Hoffman to reduce its dependency on headhunters. The same holds true for Datacraft. “Any initial set-up cost can be mapped back to a higher volume of recruitment, making individual hires more cost-effective,” Johan van Vuuren, director of HR, Datacraft Asia says.
Companies that HRM spoke to concur that despite the many advantages offered by social media, such networking sites do not completely substitute the normal way of doing business. “These sites are supplementary to our main working practices and viewed as a way to enhance rather than replace those main working practices,” Chris Mead, general manager of recruitment company Hays, says.
For most, social media tools help greatly in the initial outreach to potential candidates. Formal in-person interviews, written tests and referrals are still very much a part of the recruitment process. Social media generates a lot of content per person and to gain a fair understanding of the applicant, you will need to sift through a lot of data, Heng says. Job candidates are also becoming increasingly savvy at projecting the right image to potential hirers on such websites. “Social media can be manipulated. Don’t take everything that you read as the gospel truth,” Heng says.
Unlike conversations in real life, interactions on social media sites leave indelible footprints that are visible to everyone, Mead says. Each site has its own etiquette and a low tolerance for misuse, especially by commercial organisations. Companies need to consider how they want to be represented on such sites and have policies and procedures to ensure that employees are using them correctly. According to Mead, training and education about the consequences of misuse would help a company protect itself. However, certain loopholes remain. “There is a risk that an employee who has built a network and subsequently leaves will take all those connections with them,” Mead says.
Before embarking on a social media strategy, it might also be useful to look at internal employee surveys to see if there any issues or if you have a happy and excited employee base, McGinnis says. “If you don’t, you will run the risk of giving disgruntled employees a worldwide stage,” he says.
McGinnis also advises companies not to turn to an outside agency to run its social media strategy. Instead, partner with the subject matter experts within the company such as corporate communications, marketing and public relations, he says. “Your potential audience is savvy and they expect a genuine message from people inside the company, not from an outside agency that does not know the internal culture,” McGinnis says.
A question of ethics
There has been a lot of debate about using social media as a recruitment tool. Germany for example is considering a law that will prevent employers from searching for information on potential candidates through social networking sites. The aim of the law is to prevent private information from becoming public. Under the law, employers will be allowed to search for information on candidates through professional networking sites like LinkedIn but not on strictly social networking sites like Facebook.
Echoing this is a recent online survey by Hays, which found that 36% of Singaporean jobseekers said it is wrong for employers to use social networking sites to check out prospective staff. “These jobseekers feel that just because a social networking profile exists in the public domain, it shouldn’t be used to assess their applications,” Mead says.
While not all employers will leap to check a candidate’s online profile, a growing number of employers are extending their vetting process to include social media, particularly when they feel a candidate might not be what they portray themselves to be in their face-to-face interview, Mead says. “In such cases a Facebook profile with a public setting may reveal content that could make the interviewer see the candidate in a different light.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Google CEO Eric Schmidt warned that in the future, people who indiscriminately post personal data might have to change their identify several times in their working lives to erase traces of their youthful escapades.
However, employers should not be too quick to judge and should respect a candidate’s privacy. “One of my colleagues came across a candidate who posts interesting pictures on Facebook but this candidate turned out to be a decent employee at Hoffman,” Lau says. “This reinforces my belief of not only looking at the surface but the need to dig deep. I guess we have got to be open-minded.”
Social media networking sites
Reaching out to niche talent pools
Social media networking sites are a great avenue for employers from niche industries to zoom into their targeted talent pool. It is also enables them to reach out to “passive candidates” or those who are not actively seeking a job. According to a survey report by StepStone Solutions 60% of the employers surveyed already use social media as part of their recruitment strategy.
Samantha Smith (not her real name), was headhunted for her current position as a sustainability manager at leading bank through LinkedIn. The recruiter had contacted her shortly after she had updated her profile. At that time, the environmental consultant, was not on the lookout for a job. “I was happy at the place that I was at,” she says. However, she decided not to pass up on the opportunity and attended three rounds of interviews before securing the job.
According to Smith, sites like LinkedIn are useful in highly specialised industries like hers where most of the hiring is done through word-of-mouth. To increase visibility on such sites, she advises job seekers to highlight their industry and specialisation so that recruiters can locate them more easily while running a search.