Beyond the Keyword and Past the Social Media Referral to Find Purple Squirrels

Rob Dromgoole
Rob Dromgoole

Rob Dromgoole had a search worthy of a SourceCon Challenge.

One of the teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory where Dromgoole’s director of recruiting needed a nuclear engineer, experienced with fuels, who was a U.S. citizen with a security clearance and spoke fluent Japanese. Be nice if he was a physicist, better still if he knew something about the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The req came in not long after a tsunami incapacitated the Fukushima plant, causing a meltdown. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was a lab partner and together they were developing plans on how to respond to the disaster and, not coincidentally, what to do here in the U.S. should something similar occur.

Dromgoole is accustomed to finding needles in haystacks. With no sourcing team, he and his four other recruiters have developed the chops to, as he put it, “find really esoteric people.” One search, for an electrical engineer with radiation detection instrumentation experience and a few more requirements of an equally incomprehensible nature, turned up 300 people — the only people on the whole planet to fit the requirements.

For the nuclear engineer search, Dromgoole turned to LinkedIn. He found plenty of candidates, but the language requirement, plus some of the other requirements, would be the challenge. At the time, LI didn’t have a language filter; today it does.

One prospect, Dr. Akira Tokuhiro, a professor at the University of Idaho, had started a LinkedIn Group specifically about Fukushima. A look through the posts there and Dromgoole knew the professor was exactly what the NRC wanted. Within days Dr. Tokuhiro  had taken the consulting position.

“What was unique for me,” explains Dromgoole, “it was the first time I used LinkedIn Groups to source a candidate. I always used keywords before. This time, that wasn’t enough. You couldn’t search language then. So I started checking some of the groups.”

There’s not much about Dromgoole’s experience that a good sourcer — or even just a fair one — wouldn’t already know. No new trick or great revelation here. It’s also a common practice for IT recruiters, who regularly prowl code discussion groups and forums like GitHub and SourceForge to find prospects.

Dromgoole’s the first to admit that. “The people who are at SourceCon (the conference last week) do this all the time. From a recruiter’s perspective, there are thousands of these esoteric searches being done all the time.”

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“What was a little different here for me is that the searching was on a candidate’s content,” Dromgoole said. “That, to me, is where it looks like social media sourcing really is going.”

With thousands of forums, groups, and blogs on every subject, searching content for candidates is rapidly spreading beyond the IT and science arenas, where it is common for year for code to get posted and research to be discussed.

Today, professionals in every field are talking. There are more than 1.3 million groups on LinkedIn alone. Some are busier than others, but all can be a source of a prospect or at least information.

Social media recruiting has so far largely been a play on referrals. You reach out to your connections or the connections of employees, and then to the connections or friends of friends with a job description. Searching profiles on LinkedIn is not so different than searching the resume database of a CareerBuilder or a Monster. LinkedIn just made it cool and OK to have a public business resume; it’s networking, not job seeking.

Searching content for leads and to get beyond the basics of title, experience, and skills, that’s leveraging the social conversation.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


15 Comments on “Beyond the Keyword and Past the Social Media Referral to Find Purple Squirrels

  1. John,

    Good article, but did Dromgoole use any job boards? When needing a candidate with a security clearance it helps to start with one of the job boards that specialize in people with security clearances such as VetJobs (, IntelligenceCareers (, ClearanceJobs (, etc. There is a listing of the leading security clearance sites and the military related sites in the Niche Job Boards Sites article in the Employment Assistance section of VetJobs (

    Finding a candidate that was a dead match to what Dromgoole was seeking in a database would be very unlikely. A quick search of the VetJobs resume database returned 60 resumes with a nuclear background that speak Japanese that could be the start of a telephone tree. Plus there are many personal contacts in the staff at VetJobs since we are all ex-military or from a military family. It sounds as though Dromgoole only used LinkedIn to possibly (?) start a telephone tree. A good recruiter would not limit themselves to just social media sites but would use all sources that could lead them to the person they are seeking.

    Many of the nuclear engineers come out of the military and had/have security clearances so it would make sense to start with a military site looking for those who speak Japanese. Like VetJobs, some of the more progressive job boards are incorporating media sites into their mix to be used as just another tool in the recruitment process. That strategy just makes sense in order to meet the needs of our customers!

    Ted Daywalt

  2. This paid announcement is brought to you by the fine people at LinkedIn. Please note: actual results will vary.

  3. Thanks, John. I have a recruiter friend who is a former nuclear engineer who looks for “nukie” folks frequently.



  4. I’ll advertise for LinkedIn all day long. Why? Because it works! I’ve found many candidates on their site, and it’s only getting better. Fact is, if I could have one tool outside a phone and an internet connection, it’s LinkedIn.

    I find people. I close deals. LI helps me with that. Does it have everybody? No. But it has enough. I’m not filling 1,000s of jobs. I’m filling them one-by-one. LI gives me what I need for the most part.

  5. “I’ll advertise for LinkedIn all day long.”

    So there, Andy:
    Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side.


  6. Rob,

    I know from whence you hail as I used to own TAMB Associates – a 3rd party recruiting firm with 5 offices in the US and 1 in the UK. But my recruiters were successful BECAUSE we did not depend on just one site or source, we covered our bases using all the resources available to find the best candidates for our clients. That is why we have incorporated LinkedIn in the VJ offering, as well at FaceBook, Tumblr, YahooGroups, etc. No one source can meet all needs or even specific needs.

    There is nothing wrong with you hyping for LI, but to truly be effective, I would think it wise to expand your horizons.


  7. What social media has done is the create a platform to further push jobs and see who applies for the same.

    Few companies try to create a community around what they do even outside social media. Take Google, PnG etc who actively engage with talent and in effect have an pull effect to attract candidates.

    Though what Rob has done is amazing, it would have been lot more easier if the hiring company had created that community around what they are doing (as in the work) and bring in people for discussions around that.

  8. Ted, having used to do retained search, I get your point. I was paid when everyone failed in years past. But I have a 100% fill rate. My clients could care less how my candidates are generated or where they come from, or which search string I use etc. I find this innate distaste of LinkedIn by some in our industry as almost petty elitism. As if a client cares where their candidate was generated. I think some in the industry are attacking LinkedIn because it works. It’s making certain aspects of the recruiting process much much easier. The focus always needs to be on relationship with the candidate/hiring manager and closing the deal. Recruiting is a SALES function. I think the people attacking LinkedIn most are the recruiters threatened by its success.

    Example: LinkedIn is MOBILE ready. Their algorithms are pushing the right jobs, to the right people, in their inbox. Just yesterday, I had a Deputy CIO I interviewed who uses fake e-mails etc. because he’s constantly trolled by tech recruiters. However, my job found him, on his phone. He applied with one click via LI (he’s not in my ATS yet, but will be). I set up a call, he’s talking with my CIO. Granted every search isn’t that easy, but as more people join LinkedIn the better it gets. If LinkedIn DOESN’T work for me, I go off the platform. But the key is, 90 times out of 100, I don’t have to. So if you have a tiny budget like me. Just use LinkedIn. Good old fashioned hard core sourcing/recruiting will work for the 10% if LI fails. But I’m a big believer in doing things the easy way.

    Remember: it’s all about the hire. That’s all our clients care about. The right people, in the right jobs, as efficiently as possible.

    I found a great nuclear engineer in a British Pub once. Client loved them, did great work here. I found a candidate at a furniture store once (true story). It doesn’t always have to be LI. But it does work.

    So I would recommend to recruiters who actually make placements, set aside their petty elitism, and just buy tools which work. But that’s me. If you can use tools outside of LI and you have a 100% fill rate, GOOD ON YOU. Let us know.

  9. Robert,

    You are spot on. I think you have a point when you said some are jealous of LI working, but LI will not replace job boards or replace recruiters. I have been in this industry since 1995 and I am always amazed at how each time a new fad or technology comes along, there are those who say the new fad or technology will make everything else obsolete. They said that job boards would replace recruiting firms – but the good firms survived. Now some say social media will replace job boards, but it has not happened yet.

    The smart ones in our industry learn how to adapt and recognize that each new technology is just another tool to be used accordingly.

    I am a bit concerned about DOL still not giving a ruling on sourcing candidates on LI, FB, Tumblr, etc., since there are pictures. DOL has indicated it is ok to use social media to confirm info on a candidate, but has been mute about the sourcing part ref EEOC and OFCCP. I have heard some people claim they were assessed during an OFCCP audit because they cited a social media site as the original source for a candidate. I have yet to get that documented. But it is a potential problem. Much like the video resume.



  10. Thanks Ted. If there was another tool that could do it better, let me know. Until then. LI. But HR Tech will never replace the sales function. 1,000 years from now, someone will need an asteroid mining engineer, and a recruiter will be cold contacting them, facilitating a discussion, and closing deals. Technology enables sales. It will never replace us. Ever.

    We get around the OFCCP piece, by basically saying you’re not an applicant unless you apply via our jobs site. I’m still working on the mobile apply. I imagine I won’t see that for years sadly.

  11. @ Robert: “Remember: it’s all about the hire. That’s all our clients care about. The right people, in the right jobs, as efficiently as possible.”
    A lot of us think that’s the way it should be, but in many organizations (quite often the large ones with giant bloatocracies), it is NOT about the hire, it is about the process, and not just for the reasons Ted mentioned. There are a number of organizations where recruiters spend the great majority of their time do entering and compiling data about what they do in the minority of their time- “putting quality butts in chairs on time and within budget”.


  12. Keith, if I were a CEO & Director of Talent, and I heard that process was trumping hiring, I’d have to fire some people. Egads I hate process flows (I get why they’re needed). Lots of people love to draw diagrams on white boards. They’ll connect a line that goes from tech candidates to hire at the company, as if it were magic. Well guess what. That magic is a phone call, and is a hiring manager, that means it’s about people and closing deals. The moment some bloatocracy cares more about the process than hiring and closing deals, they need to reevaluate. They’ve got some issues.

  13. You and I are on the same page, Robert. However, for a lot of companies, this is the case: “If I were a CEO & Director of Talent, and I heard that hiring was trumping process, I’d have to fire some people.” Just look at all the places withy:

    1) Huge, complicated ATS systems unusable by either recruiters or candidates and purchased by people who never have to use them.

    2) “Slow-hire” philosophies with many rounds of interviews and
    large numbers of arrogant and incompetent interviewers/round

    3) Emphasis on peripheral areas like social network recruiting/community building and employment branding as opposed to hiring.

    These same companies seem to be willing to spend thousands of dollars going to conferences and tens of thousands on self-proclaimed “recruiting thought leaders” (who neither recruit, think, nor lead), but wouldn’t dream of meaningfully talking with those of us who do the actual work of recruiting on how we might make the hiring process better, faster, and cheaper.


  14. @ Ted, It’s not just HR that’s at fault- I’ve seen a lot more problems coming from arrogant founders, CXOs, and other sr. execs who think they know how we should do our jobs.


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