Back to The Future: Social Media and Jobs

When job boards first launched, they were supposed to be like stock exchanges — a clearinghouse matching jobs with candidates. This was the future: efficient, fast, and simple. Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Job boards are not in the business of filling jobs. They exist to serve up job ads and get paid for that. One can only speculate but things might have been different had the job board model been similar to that of eBay, where a good part of the site’s revenue depends on the successful completion of a transaction. But frustration with job boards is one reason why recruiters so eagerly jumped on the social media bandwagon, despite much evidence or reason to believe that social networks would let them succeed in filling jobs where job boards had not.

There’s not a lot of definitive data on the effectiveness of social networks, but what’s there suggests that social media hasn’t been quite the silver bullet solution that many were expecting.

One survey found that 71% of respondents had not made a single hire from Twitter and 64% had not made any hires from Facebook. What seems to work is LinkedIn, with 82% of respondents to the survey reporting success. But LinkedIn hardly qualifies as a social network — at least not in the way recruiters use it. It’s no different than a job board where one searches for candidates and attempts to contact them for jobs. There’s nothing social about that process. Social means a two-way conversation among people with something to share.

When one looks at the social media landscape for recruiting, the road ahead looks a lot like the road behind.

I keep reading articles about whether LinkedIn is a threat to job boards. Well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The newest entrant to the field — the Facebook job board — is an excellent example of learning nothing from the past. Despite being the dominant brand in social networking and having more money than God, the board is an incredibly inept offering.

I had earlier written that Facebook’s job board was likely to be a snoozer, but what’s emerged has managed to come under even that low bar. Rather than list what’s wrong with it, just try it for yourself. It’s called a Social Jobs Partnership — a collaboration between Facebook and certain other organizations. I’m left with the impression that there was a desperate need at Facebook do something — anything — that could be a revenue generator, and flogging jobs seemed like an easy solution. It might have been but its execution on the concept is pathetic. It should have called it Jude — after the patron saint of desperate cases.

Succeeding With Social Recruiting

It’s no great secret what it takes to use social networks for recruiting. First, something to search social networks effectively; second, a mechanism for getting the data into a useful format; third, some way to engage with and nurture connections made, i.e., a way to get or create content.

What we’re seeing is products that are point solutions addressing these needs individually. In the first category are tools like Recruitin for searching LinkedIn. A broader solution is Pivotlogix which can aggregate and search profiles across multiple social networks. In the second category — data tools — are products like Broadlook and eGrabber. The third category — engagement tools — include products like Inside Connector and Brave New Talent.

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The challenge for most recruiters is that none of these products is a complete solution. This is where Facebook blew it completely with Jude, er, the Social Jobs Partnership. Given the data that’s available to Facebook, it would be a simple matter to offer a board that could target jobs to candidates and provide meaningful content to engage them.

Social networks can also help recruiters know who to target for jobs and the best time to do it, i.e., when they are most likely to be receptive. For example, if someone suddenly starts receiving a lot of recommendations on LinkedIn, it’s a good bet they’re starting to look for a job. Analyzing a person’s Tweets or the content of their conversations on social networks can also reveal if they’re likely to be receptive to being contacted about a job and more importantly what they care about. This doesn’t have to be a tedious manual exercise — companies like Boston Decision and PivotLogix already have the technology to analyze text and ferret out a person’s interests, skills, and receptivity to a solicitation.

The hype around social media was never going to live up to the reality, though to hear some so-called pundits tell it, anything was possible. A particularly memorable line was “recruiters will become irrelevant once social networks start to engage.” Success in hiring requires a lot of work, and it isn’t any easier on social networks. But social networks are a powerful channel to reach and engage potential candidates in a manner that was just not possible earlier. The product that can combine all the elements necessary for success should thrive. It should be named for the patron saint of business success (there’s one for everything) — St. Homobonus. Then again, maybe a different name would be better.


St. Homobonus image from

Raghav Singh, director of analytics at Korn Ferry Futurestep, has developed and launched multiple software products and held leadership positions at several major recruiting technology vendors. His career has included work as a consultant on enterprise HR systems and as a recruiting and HRIT leader at several Fortune 500 companies. Opinions expressed here are his own.


26 Comments on “Back to The Future: Social Media and Jobs

  1. I like the name Homobonus; had never heard of him and appreciate the new info!

    The word(s) that describes what’s missing in the majority of recruiters arsenal is the ability to engage. Sending an email to someone and hoping for a response (and some are getting responses – sure. But are they the right kind of responses for the right kinds of reasons?) is the real fool’s mission.

    Recruiting is (mostly) a world of the chosen and not the choose. It’s the ability to be the chooser that sets great recruiting apart. You’re not really choosing when you blast emails out to a “targeted” base and then waiting for responses from those who “choose” to do so. You’ve given up the power when you do that; you’ve placed it into the choosers hands.

    St. Homobonus would not approve.

  2. Maureen’s description of recruiting as being a world of the chosen is the best one I have ever read. As most recruiters know they have great power on who gets to move ahead and enter an organization and who does not. Those who take it seriously are the ones who are the great recruiters.

  3. Raghav, great big picture view of recruiting technologies. The “X” Factor that LinkedIn verse other “sourcing and job posting” technologies is their algorithm. The matching they do is more relevant than what all of their competitors have; thus one of the many reasons why they are taking major share of new HR recruitment spend. As long as recruitment process is so fragmented there will always be a need for a good recruiter. The roles and tasks have evolved and the recruiters that cling to behaviors of 20-years ago risk being as relevant. The “black book” and “Roledex” of 80’s are not important as having quality connections on LinkedIn.

  4. Great article Raghav. Clearly postings are not the answer to the future needs of recruiters but a combination of postings, targeted email blasts and LinekedIn is pretty effective. SEM and Google are also a key that more companies need to look at.

  5. Thank you for this wonderful, thought-provoking article Raghav. While there is something to be said for fishing where the fish are, the social networks, while providing lots of fish, also require a different set of rods and bait to reel in the big hauls. I continue to believe anything is still possible.

  6. Hi Raghav
    There may not be a lot of official data on the success of social media in recruitment out there, but the leading aggregator in the UK, Broadbean, who handle over 10 million online applications a year via all the job boards and social channels, explained at a recent recruiter event that Social media now gets ten times more applications than the leading job board, but the leading job board successfully fills ten times more positions than the leading SM site.

    That makes job boards about 100 times more effective than social media at filling jobs I reckon !!!

    Food for thought …

  7. As usual great read Raghav.. We all share the same DB, a little thing called the world wide web, but we get different results from our shared resource….. Hmmmm, that’s interesting… So, it’s not what we have (tools) it’s what we do (action) with what we have that makes the difference, right? Painstakingly learning the tenets of Persuasion/Influence: (RECIPROCITY, SOCIAL PROOF, AUTHORITY, SCARCITY, LIKABILITY..) Will take you wherever you choose to go in your life, regardless of the tools… Happy Hunting-

  8. Thanks again, Raghav.

    When you mentioned “hype around social media recruiting” this brought me back to a comment I’d made nearly two years ago for:

    How Social Media Hurts Recruiting, and What To Do About It
    Jan 18, 2011, 12:49 pm ET by Jason Warner

    “I fear that the hype will continue as long as there are slick hucksters with high-level connections ready to sell the latest recruiting snake oil or “magic bullet” to desperate and not-yet insolvent recruiters and their superiors who fail to recognize that in most cases they are futilely “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” of their companies’ ill-conceived, over-blown, grossly-dysfunctional hiring practices.”…

    Bottom line: IMHO you can get a lot better ROI from virtually any other serious recruiting initiative than with SNR.


  9. I was just thinking yesterday ‘It’s about time we heard from Raghav again’ and look what turns up today.

    Thought provoking, as always, Raghav, thanks. Certainly you are spot on with the comments about the Facebook offering in this space; it smacks of desperation and a sign that innovation at FB is a thing of the past.

    It all comes back to social media just being another tool for recruiters to use. The key human skills of a recruiter will become even more important as the difference between average talent and top talent becomes more obvious with each passing year.

  10. Well said: “Social means a two-way conversation among people with something to share.”

    Blasting job openings across FB walls, tweeting to the masses, or sending job alerts to your talent database is not social.

    To truly be social, you’ve got to let the talent initiate conversations, and give them a chance to engage in easier ways that don’t require a 45-minute, 9-step application.


  11. This is a really good piece, Raghav. Technology and Social Channels are great and good sourcers / recruiters will continue to use them creatively but as you reference, “success in sourcing, recruiting and hiring will always require a lot of work”. There are no shortcuts to a high quality process or high quality candidates, but hard work plus technology and multiple social channels is the great enabler. I don’t see the demise of the recruiter any time soon because most people (including HR, hiring managers, hiring companies) are not really willing to do the grunt work that sourcing / recruiting / qualifying candidates entails. I believe that the use of Technology and Social Channels are simply means to making that initial contact with candidates but they can’t replace the direct communication that needs to occur between candidate and recruiter in an effective hiring process.

  12. Great article. I particularly like the great definition of social “Social means a two-way conversation among people with something to share.” – rather than “Doing something on Facebook” which is the most common definition!

    One other thing I think is important that engagement in the recruiting context can be quite different from engagement in the consumer space. For example I’m quite happy for people to see I’m interested in a Toyota car, but maybe less happy for people to see I’m interested in a job with Toyota. This need for confidential engagement is sometimes problematic in the public networks.

  13. @ Mark: Thank you. I think I may disagree with you in some ways, or at least in defining terms: There are no shortcuts to a high quality process or high quality candidates.” I think careful upfront planning and realistic expectations can count as major shortcuts. Also, while I agree that “most people (including HR, hiring managers, hiring companies) are not really willing to do the grunt work that sourcing/recruiting/qualifying candidates entails”, I don’t think recruiters need to do much of that, either. My rule of thumb: if you won’t pay someone at least $50/ hr or a 30% fee to do something in recruiting, you can no-source (eliminate), through-source (automate) or out-source (send away) it for usually less than the cost of U.S. minimum wage. These include grunt things like scheduling/coordinating, candidate care, most phone and internet sourcing, job-board/SN posting/scraping, candidate pre-screening, etc. This leaves the high-touch, high-value add “interesting” recruiting work for us to do.

    Also, ISTM that the more motivated the candidate and hiring authority are in each other, the less communication (past establishing initial interest and competency) is required, and the more of it that can be assigned to Candidate Care.



  14. @Maureen Sharib, could not agree more! Today’s technology (including social media) is not a replacement for good ‘ol recruiting. As an internal social media recruiter with an agency background, I have found major success in social media recruitment. Social media simply replicates networking that used to happen exclusively offline. Using Linkedin and other SM, I can easily find and network with professionals that match my open reqs using old fashioned recruitment. Inmails have a higher success rate (30% or higher response) than e-mails, but getting a candidate on the phone is still the most effective way to recruit. Social media is a tool that makes it easier and faster to find the right talent, right now!

  15. @Thea: When sending mass InMails, I’ve never been able to get above 20% response rate, and that was using a simple, short general message. What’s your message to get 30%?

    Also, the “Open to New Jobs” setting is the default setting- you have to opt out. Consequently, most of the InMails you send to people who say they’re open to new jobs are wasted….LI should have the “Not looking” as the default- you’d have to opt in if you were really open to a job.


  16. Raghav,

    Tremendous article by you.

    Interestingly enough though, it amazes me just how many recruiters (both search firm and non-search firm) have fallen in love with ‘social media, especially the non search firm recruiters, in public/private companies, who fall over themselves proclaiming its incredible effectiveness.

    Like yo say, Linkedin has become a job posting system and recruiters just send Imails.
    Facebook useless, most of the social media useless. What a lost art – picking up cell phone, calling a candidate.

  17. I do like the article. I think Maureen in teh first comment addresses the key point that social technologies can assist however as Raghav points out, today they are just better job media mousetraps. From the newspaper classifieds, to newsgroups, to Monster/CareerBuilder, to linkedin, its refinement of the current state, not a disruptive and transformational change.

    That said, the ability however for a candidate to be more interactive with a recruiter, to have true communication vs. submitting an online application or resume into the black box and hoping to be the chosen would be a transformational change of which a social technology would greatly fit.

    Can a company actually create a feedback cycle with candidates via a social framework such that the candidate can truly interact and communicate and establish differentiation and value? This would change the landscape

    Instead of being the choser, actually the presceener based on a flood of data, (somewhat liek Moore’s chip law – with each new wave of boards, the recruiter is diluged with resumes and profiles exponentially)Recruiters can go back to the true art of recruiting – being communicaticative with real people, networking, and assessing.

  18. @Keith Response rate varies my what positions you are recruiting for. For example, when recruiting sales and marketing professionals, the response rate is high. However, technology openings generally do not have a high Inmail response rate.

    When you are using Linkedin Recruiter, your are not permitted to send Inmails to candidates that have opted out. In the top right of the profile, there is a section titled “Contact and Notes” indicating whether or not a candidate is open to Inmail. Due to Linkedin’s auto refresh, this is not always up to date. When you attempt to send an Inmail to a candidate that has opted out, you will receive a notification indicating that the Inmail cannot be sent, and you will retain your Inmail credit.

    As for the secret Inmail sauce, I’d love to tell you – but that’s why my clients hire and pay me as a social media recruiter 😉

  19. Thanks, Thea. I suspect you may also go to a much smaller target listing than I did. I sent out 1,580 InMails in 1 week (with a carefully crafted and colleague-reviewed detailed message) I got a 5% response rate, and of these, about 60% of these 5% indicated they weren’t interested in any job- my earlier point. When I wrote a simple, short “Hello, I have a possible position of interest” type of message with around 400 InMails, I got a 20% response rate, and these were much higher “positives”…

    BTW, I’ve run across an outfit that will obtain direct contact information (phone and email) for up to 100 LI Profiles (you provide, or *they provide) for $150, and you pay only for what they find. It’s then $1.50 for each additional one. Has anybody used this company?



    *They don’t have LU Recruiter, though…

  20. Great post, Raghav.

    We all know that social media is not a silver bullet, but it definitely should not be overlooked as a channel for relationship building. I think we may be missing the boat when we think about the application of social media in recruiting and the conversation goes to LinkedIn and Inmail. The nature of recruiting via InMail is still “interruption recruiting” rather than relationship building. Twitter provides a platform to truly be social with candidates. Pay attention to what they are talking about, join in their conversations, show them that you “get them” and that you are just a person like them. Then when you reach out to them about an opportunity, it’s not so much of an interruption as it is a continuation of an ongoing dialogue. Or better yet, when they decide they are ready to make a move, you’re the first one who comes to mind to check in with!


  21. @ Everybody: Who in corporate, contract, or most TPR has time to build long-term (multi-month or year) relationships with people who may or may not be hired for these same months or years, and certainly won’t be hired immediately. My hiring managers don’t want long-term “relationships” with potential candidates: they want immediate “hook-ups’ with actual motivated ones. While it’s a very good idea for companies to create viable candidate pipelines, most companies lack the “strategic vision” aka, “willingness to spend money and hire people” to do this. Consequently, this seems like a good think to outsource to a company to do for you.(I can think of a couple of companies that may do this…)



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