WTF is Social Recruiting?

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The term ‘social recruiting’ is soooooo hot right now. It’s on the lips of recruitment commentators, consultants, recruiters, and vendors. There is even a global wave of conferences and seminars on the topic.

So what does social recruiting mean? Well, from my observations, it means a myriad of things to different people. To many recruiters it means LinkedIn. To others it means any opportunity to post or syndicate jobs on a popular social networking platform. For some it means hash tags on Twitter. For others it means a range of words beginning with the letter ‘C’ (eg conversation, community, collaboration). For others it is a mix of concepts, approaches and technology tools. I even know one person who thinks social recruiting has something to do with socialism and Karl Marx.

I sometimes hear people emphasize the point that recruitment has always been social. True, it’s about interacting with people, human to human communication (as per various definitions of social). Picking up the phone and talking with a candidate is social. I don’t believe social recruiting implies recruitment used to be, or is today, necessarily unsocial.

So what is it then? To me, at the simplest, barest bones level social recruiting is “recruitment using the social web”. This obviously needs further explanation. In early 2009 Riges Younan gave the following definition:

“Social Recruiting harnesses the evolution of Web 2.0 technologies and social media tools to communicate, engage, inform and recruit our future talent.”

It wasn’t that long ago that our web communication experiences were controlled centrally and information was predominantly one-way, static and read-only. In recent years we’ve seen a range of social networking platforms and social media tools (eg wikis, blogs, micro-blogs, online video sharing) emerge. The term Web 2.0, unveiled to the world in 2004, was intended to capture not only the emergence of these new technologies and platforms, but more importantly focus on how they give people new ways of expressing themselves and interacting with others. These technologies are trickling into the corporate world, as more and more employers are using them to collaborate on projects and converse with employees, consumers and job seekers. In a recruitment and employment branding context, social technologies enable recruiters to reach and engage with active and passive jobseekers, tap directly into niche talent communities and their wider connections, and reach a broader geographical audience.

In an attempt to arrive at my own definition of social recruiting, I weighed up a number of considerations. To me, ‘social’ is about engagement. I like to think of the analogy of going to a social event, where you are meeting a group of people for the first time. Would you walk through the door and shout “Hey everyone, it’s me, and do I have an offer for you all”? Not likely. Neither would you go and stand in the corner, face the wall and not engage with anybody. You would probably introduce yourself to someone or a small group. You would try and establish some rapport and find some affinity and commonality. Social recruiting in this context is about showing up where the party is and then starting the process, ideally in real-time, of exploration and conversation between recruiter and job seeker. Authenticity of message and openness are vitally important. It is a bit like dating; a job seeker needs to understand the employer’s unique personality and feel like there is a good match to further the courting process.

The meaning of ‘social’ is a key determining factor for me. If a job board or recruiter, for example, syndicates their vacancies on a social networking site, is that social and is it social recruiting? To me it’s not necessarily a yes for either. Granted, the vacancies may be targeted to a niche community, but without some level of engagement I struggle to think where the ‘social’ is. It may lead to the receipt of candidate applications (by email or via a corporate careers site) and face-to-face interviews, but this will most likely be conducted outside a social web context. Likewise, consider the situation where an employer places a creative banner ad or video on a social networking platform, which engenders an emotional connection with a job seeker, and leads the job seeker to click through to a static careers site. Some level of social media and social networking was used in the process, but is it really social recruiting? I’m not convinced. In contrast, consider the following two scenarios: crowdsourcing the design of a job description and having an active Q&A blog on your corporate careers site. I think both qualify as social recruiting.

The tools are out there for recruiters to create a social experience on the web. To build a highly engaging experience around an employer or vacancy, recruiters could, for example, use any number of applications and platforms to mash up an event that includes live-streaming video with micro-blogging. There is also life beyond one’s favorite social networking platform for recruitment. Other options and target communities do exist. We are not really limited by the technology anymore, but rather by our own imaginations.

Taking our existing recruitment processes and tools and linking them with social recruiting is not necessarily the road to social recruiting. Instead, perhaps more of us need to blow up our current recruitment models and processes and think social. As an industry we need more pioneers, more social revolutionaries. Just because we have always done things one way, does not mean it is the best or only way. Social recruiting is about experimentation and opportunity. At the same time, we need to recognize that job seekers are in the public eye and respect their privacy.

Below is my work-in-progress definition of social recruiting. It will evolve, mostly via conversations and debates with others.

“Social Recruiting is delivering sound hiring decisions by actively using web-based technologies to build a shared understanding between employers / recruiters and passive and active job seekers.”

Your thoughts?

Paul Jacobs

6 Responses to “WTF is Social Recruiting?”

  1. Tanu Mehta Says:

    Hi Paul,
    I have been in a way at the back end of recruitment for a few years now and the new wave of social media in the recruitment process made me wonder. Your thought piece very evidently clears the air for me. Thanks!

  2. Johnny Rotten Says:

    Nice article.

    I’d certainly agree that social recruiting isn’t simply about advertising on a social network.

    It’s more a predisposing method, rather like creating a good impression and having the decency to interact. The same rules (kind-of) apply in an online social environment as in a real-life one.

    The trouble for most employers is that it’s perceived to take a lot of resource to do properly and authentically.

  3. Brent Pearson Says:

    Nice piece Paul

    There is also an incredible amount of hype around social recruiting. I was recently at the SHRM conference in New Orleans and there was incredible hype around twitter.

    I’ve never been a big fan of twitter, but I figured I must be missing something. So I got my account active again and started the process of following others… and sure enough people started following me.

    It lasted for about 4 weeks and then I gave in total frustration. For me.. .Twitter is a total waste of time. Blogs… great! Many other Web 2.0 creations… fantastic…. but twitter blows in my book. The signal to noise ratio is just too low…. you have to sift through too much inane garbage to find the gems.


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