Social networks and recruitment 2.0 : does it work well ?

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Summary : Mixed results make people wonder on the relevance of social networks as recruitment tools. It all depends on what one mean by recruiment, because if it’s easy to measure the transactional side, recruitment processes are much broader and are made of diverse elements that can use social networks as catalysts. For reasons due to the job profile, the volume of people to hire or the scalability of the system, social networks won’t always be the right tool to recruit in the strict sense of the the word. But if we take all non-transactional activities into account (such as HR marketing), these tools can act like a process booster and also impact the quality of the final result. But businesses need to consider a broader range of activities and not focus on the number of people hired depending on the media.

A couple of weeks ago, french HR blogger Jean-Noël Chaintreuil wrote on the poorly kepts promise of social networks as a recruitment tool.  Did we get it all wrong ? Not a all. First, we need to know what we’re talking about.

Recruitment. If, for many people that are not involved in HR activities, recruitment means placing an advertisement, having interviews and chosing the right person, it’s in fact, a much more complex process. It’s about defining the job, sourcing candidates, choosing the right ones. We can also all what has to do with employer branding that reinforce the attractiveness of the enterprise and the quality of applications (because people know more things about the enterprise, its culture and values..). And even if considered as another process, onboarding programs that will help new hires to be at their best and make their first steps easier are very close to recruitment. As a matter of fact, if we consider that the goal is not to recruit someone but someone who’ll stay and find his/her place in the organization, onboarding programs are an essential part of the recruitment process.

Recruitment 2.0. There’s nothing really new on the nature of recruitment but on execution. As usual, when something turns 2.0, it’s about a better (qualitative and quantitative) use of the knowledge and relational capital of all the stakeholders (including the candidate) to improve the bandwidth of the process and the quality of the result. It comes in many forms. First, finding the means to have a better knowledge of the other and let the other know who you are (employer and personal branding). It also implies a move from mass communication to conversation. Then, it’s about using networks to have “better” applications that fit both the need and the corporate culture as well as a better sourcing. Here, it’s about trust/reputation and the power of weak ties. At the selection level, there are also ways to make the person be chosen not only by his future manager but also the people he’ll work with. To end, new onboarding and immersion programs will complete the traditional mentoring by peers networks.

Obviously, lots of businesses did not wait for the 2.0 era to put some of these things at work. What has changed is that, to make things work on a wide scale, new tools were needed. As a matter of fact, talking about networks to use the available human capital and knowledge is nice but when one can access to few people and is limited to strong ties, the promise is hard to keep. What leads to the next point.

Social Networks. When talking about networks, knowledge and weak ties in 2011, things often come to social networks. But, if we look at the past, social networks are not the only tool that have been (and still are) used to meet recruitment and HR goals. When we started to work on recruitment 2.0 with a couple of french professionals in 2004/2005, the trending topic was blogging. At this moment, media paid a lot of attention to “these bloggers who foun a job because they were active on the web”. To be more precise, most of these people already had a job, bloggint only helped them to meet the people and networks that offered them more appealing jobs in enterprises that were really wanting them for what they were. Then came enterprise HR blogs and, only then, social networks like LinkedIn became mainstream. Today, people talk about Facebook or Twitter even if the latter is not even seen as a network by its founders and is rather about a branding and influence strategy as blogs were before. But, in the end, that’s the same because it all melts in a global strategy.

Now, what do we mean by “recruitment on social networks” ?

Having been alerted than there were job offers via these media ? Having discovered an enterprise or known it better ? Having applied or contacted a recruiter by this means ? Having been identified while not looking for a job ? Having been recommended by one’s network without knowing it ? As we can see, the spectrum of recruitment activities that can happen on social networks is broad and I won’t even mention internal social networking platforms that can be used as wonderful marketplaces and boost internal professional mobility (when HR decide to make the most of it, what is not granted at all).

Let’s be honest. No one was “recruited” on a social network because a time always come when an interview is needed and a contract has to be signed. I’ve never been told about such online signatures. On the other hand, social networks can boost what happens before. Sourcing, HR marketing, verification…. that make that the interview becomes more informal since the purpose becomes less to evaluate people and more to confirm that the online impression was true. The transactional part of recruitment did not change that much, the relational part yes.

So we can measure the number of recruitment that were initiated by an interaction on a social media. What does not means that the person would not have been hired through another channel. But there are things that are not measured. When we seen the digital footprint of companies like IBM or, in France, Société Générale, we can be sure they get applications from people who used social media to discover who these companies were, their culture and values….what also excludes people who realize they are not made for working there. Is it measurable ? Social networks allow to speed up cycles and produce better applications. Is it measured ?

In the end, there’s no magic stick there. I think there are two kind of jobs on the market. First, those for which businesses look for a person, for competences that are poorly formalized (emerging jobs are more and more numerous due to shorter economic and business cycles). In those cases, recruiters struggle to formalize and ad, HR to qualify and find the right person but, when meeting them online or offline, recruiters and managers can say : “It’s Him/her”.  Second well defined and standardized jobs that need massive recruitment.

In the second case, social media will be used to improve awareness and get lots of applications, in the first they will be used to find and get in touch with the right person. In both cases, these tool will have impact but, usually, only people hired in the first will be considered ad “hired on social media”.

Rather than, as it’s too often done, measuring what’s happening on a given tool, on a given kind of media, it would be better to measure the global impact of an approach relying on tool and targeting a defined processus. Businesses are still far from that so the value of numbers, whatever they say, is questionable. Even if we can see worthy things, the global reflection on the evolution of recruitment processes is still work in progress.


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Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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