Facebook’s Graph Search Is the Future of Social Recruiting

graph searchYou’ve probably heard the hype about Facebook’s new search utility, which it calls Graph Search. Unveiled just a couples weeks ago, it’s already being described as everything from a LinkedIn killer to a privacy killer, and a recruiter’s new best friend. For every one of those you can find an article — or 100 — that says the opposite.

Except when it comes to recruiting. While calling it a best friend may be premature, it won’t be long before Graph Search becomes as valuable to recruiters as Google and LinkedIn.

As Stephane Le Viet, CEO of Work4 Labs, wrote in a post on Forbes, “Graph Search is about discovering people — their work history, their education, their interests and their motivations — and using that discovery to recruit better.”

Described simply, Graph Search indexes and quickly accesses all the information each Facebook user has made available. This includes their profiles, photos, comments, likes, friends, and whatever else is out there. Theoretically, what Graph Search does was always possible. In practice, sifting through the thousands of pieces of data was such a huge, time-consuming task, it was all but impossible.

Now, Graph Search can quickly compile lists of almost anything you can think of. Blogger Tom Scott put together an entertaining collection of searches he did on Facebook using Graph Search. Searches like his “Mothers of Jews who like bacon” and the somewhat frightening “Married people who like prostitutes” point up the potential of the tool.

It’s not much of a stretch to see how recruiters will make use of Graph Search, once it’s generally available. (Facebook is rolling out Graph Search slowly, to minimize the potential for the controversy some of its other developments have encountered. To get a jump start, get on the waiting list here.)

My colleague, Lance Haun, did a quick comparison of Facebook and LinkedIn searching for recruiters and software developers who work at Microsoft. In both instances, LinkedIn’s volume was significantly greater. However, Facebook’s search lets you unearth more details. Take one more step and you can find friends of those developers who work for the company looking to fill a developer job. If nothing else, that’s at least a referral opportunity.

Now go one more step and include elements of cultural fit. As a recruiter or sourcer, you’ll need to know how to describe the culture of the company for which you’re recruiting and then translate that into searchable terms. In many cases, that won’t be as daunting as it sounds. A company with an outdoors ethos, say an REI or L.L. Bean, would include relevant descriptors that would turn up candidates who “Like” outdoor activities and show their passion by their activities and the photos they’ve posted or been tagged in.

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Clearly, recruiting was in the minds of the developers of Graph Search. During a preview a month before its unveiling, Facebook CEO Marc Zuckerberg told a Wired magazine writer, “One of my favorite queries is recruiting.”

Lars Rasmussen, one of the two leads in developing Graph Search, said during that same preview,  “Suppose I want a job at Pinterest — which I don’t, for the record — and I want someone to introduce me there, I can search for my friends who are friends with Pinterest employees.”

Even when Graph Search is widely available, it will have limitations. Its usefulness as a recruiting tool is limited by the number of users who have complete profiles. That percentage is nowhere near LinkedIn’s; business profiles are its raison d’être. Improving the percentage of completed profiles will be crucial to the commercial success of Graph Search, one reason why Facebook has been testing a profile completion bar. Nudging users to fill in the blanks of their profiles will allow the company to better target ads, as well make sourcing candidates more complete.

The search my colleague did of Microsoft recruiters turned up fewer than 100 on Facebook compared to six times that number on LinkedIn. With about a billion Facebook users, it’s not very likely that 506 Microsoft recruiters aren’t among them. Much more likely is that they haven’t filled in those business parts of their profile. Graph Search now gives them a reason to.

Recruiters have mostly had mixed results from social sites. With the exception of LinkedIn — a job board with a business network — and a few tech-oriented sites like Stack Overflow, social media has served more as a place for employers to develop a brand and built contacts, than a means of direct sourcing. Graph Search has the potential of changing that.

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. 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.


33 Comments on “Facebook’s Graph Search Is the Future of Social Recruiting

  1. We can use any technology that delivers names and info but if we do not know how to persuade a candidate to drop one great job for another all we are then is great lead generators. The market is flooded with LG’s.

  2. The key sentence in this piece is “Its usefulness as a recruiting tool is limited by the number of users who have complete profiles.” If the data that Facebook uses in order to generate results is the sum of your posting history, group affiliations and friends, then recruiters and sourcers are going to be frustrated by a lot of false positive results (e.g., why am I seeing so many baseball fans when searching for a SOX auditor?). The most hopeful part of this article was the link to Facebook’s profile completion testing. Hopefully it will push people beyond just filling out their city and start asking for the data that recruiters need to separate wheat from chaff (e.g., current job title and company, if not skills).

  3. This is very interesting John. Graph Search seems to be FB’s way of trying to catch up to LinkedIn. They need to do this if they want to stay, or be, competitive in this arena, and maybe it will be an effective tool to source names. Time will tell. I can’t help but wonder how effective it will be because of the large numbers of users, like me, who keep their profiles private to anyone outside their “friends” and do not ever accept friend requests from anyone in their business lives. That’s why I have a LI profile and company page on FB. Additionally, I can’t imagine this will be the slightest bit effective when it comes to anyone close to or at the executive level. I’ll also look forward to what actually comes to fruition.

  4. @ Gareth. Well said. IMHO we don’t need many more tools that let us find more places where the people we want are located, (we can already find them), we need more tools that will let us get through to them directly and easily. Then, it’s up to the company to provide something decent enough for the person to listen to the recruiter to hear, or be willing to hire the people that they realistically CAN get… As I’ve said recently:
    Let’s say you are a single, available, (wo)man looking to date, and on an overall evaluation scale, you’re an 8/10. You and 300,000 other single, available (wo)men have *complete backgrounds and direct contact information on a all the supermodels in the world. You’re an 8/10, but what do you think the chances are that ANY of the supermodels would go out with you, no matter how quickly or frequently (or even pleasantly) you contacted them?

    There’s another way around this, but it isn’t pleasant and probably won’t be done:
    Instead of going after the people you want who won’t work for you because really: YOU, YOUR COMPANY, AND YOUR JOBS JUST AREN’T SPECIAL ENOUGH TO GET THE “SUPERMODELS,” you figure out who you reasonably CAN get and go after them, because they’ll do well enough to get the job done. If your company needs to be filled with “supermodel” employees to succeed, you’re in a pretty precarious situation- maybe you should try another type of business. A new & better tool won’t help with this…



    * Insert LI, FB, FB Graph, resume boards, any new sourcing tools, anybody Maureen or Irina or anybody can source, etc…

  5. I appreciate this article, and although I do believe that Facebook’s on to something, it’s WAY too early to say that Facebook’s Graph Search is the future of recruiting.

    However, I am not sure if likes have much predictive power or offer much insight at the professional level. For example, if a software engineer “likes” iOS, it doesn’t mean they have any real experience developing iOS apps. Typically, most employers are looking to hire people with specific experience, not just interests.

    I echo Glenn’s take on Facebook and Graph Search. To back up my position, I recorded a 10 minute Graph Search test drive running several searches that are representative of the kinds of searches that recruiters would use to find potential candidates, and there is a serious lack of work related information, and the shallow depth of professional data doesn’t enable you with the ability to find people with highly specific experience. In fact, you’re essentially limited to searching for 1 title and company at a time, which takes us back to basic keyword search – an horrifically limited version.

    Here’s the video: http://www.booleanblackbelt.com/2013/01/facebook-graph-search-sourcing-and-recruiting-initial-test-drive/

    You’ll notice that even with a basic search, Facebook often has 10X fewer results than a comparable title-only search. That’s because most people simply don’t enter work information on their Facebook profiles.

    Now, that could change over time, but no one can say for certain if it actually will. It goes to the core of what most people use Facebook for – which isn’t work related activity.

    I am in no way beating Facebook up – I think they’re finally on to something that they should have developed MANY years ago. If they were smart enough to see the potential for recruiting a long time ago, they could have began to start steering their users towards entering more work related information to make something like Graph Search much more powerful and practical in enabling the identification, engagement, and recruiting of people with specific skills and experience.

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