How Social Media Hurts Recruiting, and What To Do About It

part 1 of 2

Everyone is talking about Social Media and the utility it brings to talent acquisition. However, I don’t often hear dialogue about how social media negatively impacts recruiting. But it is creating (sometimes big) problems that warrant discussion, so I am going to talk about those problems here, and hope that you join in the discussion by commenting. I will also provide some solutions and action steps that smart recruiters and recruiting leaders should consider as we proceed along what is clearly a substantial inflection point in the talent marketplace.

When discussing social media and recruiting it is useful to do so in light of the components of the talent supply chain. Social media clearly helps with some aspects of recruiting, but wrecks havoc with others.

I expect we all agree that social media certainly creates efficiency and is more effective in key areas of the supply chain.

As a channel for branding, it’s great. Building talent communities and aggregating people with like interests or backgrounds? Check.  Finding people will abstruse skill sets or experiences (or finding people with particular skills sets that aren’t even that rare)? Yes — the “findability” of talent has arguably never been easier. Marketing jobs and extending the reach of job marketing efforts? Absolutely.  Learning what people really think of your company or department (or even you or your peers)?  All becoming more efficient due to social media.

I’m not saying that social media isn’t helping. It certainly is helping in many areas. But the buzz about social media and recruiting today reminds me a little of the buzz that happened in the mid to late 1990s around “Internet Recruiting.” I was a recruiting manager then, and in Seattle, one of the ancillary epicenters of the dot-com boom, when everyone was looking at the Internet as something of a Holy Grail of Recruiting. Take a look at this article if you’d like a walk down memory lane. Or these stats. My point is that organizations that win with social media recruiting will take a balanced approach to creating utility from the tools available.

There are three key problems that social media creates for organizations who have talent acquisition efforts at a modicum of scale (smaller companies have fewer issues):

  1. The Social Gap Problem
  2. The Social Proof Problem
  3. The Backdoor Problem

Problem One: The Social Gap. One of the problems created with social media as it relates to recruiting is rooted in the overall efficiency of the tools available to both potential candidates and the overall efficiency of the tools available to corporate recruiters. One side is efficient and the other side is inefficient, creating the gap. On the candidate side of the equation, social tools are very efficient. For example, you never will have to remember someone’s contact information, as LinkedIn will hold it and users will update those details in real time.  Facebook allows you to scale ‘relationship maintenance’ to at least up to 5,000 of your closest friends — never before have the nodes on your social graph been more efficiently maintained.

Contrasting this efficiency are corporate recruiting tools, that because of scale and volume requirements are generally transactional in nature, and as we all know, are sometimes downright anti-social in their abilities to help manage relationships with candidates and prospects.

So at the root of this gap is the fact that candidate expectations and behaviors have changed (and fast) … but the toolsets in corporate recruiting generally have not. Part of the reason this has occurred is because Facebook and LinkedIn (and all the other social tools) have experienced skyrocketing growth during the worst economic downturn that we are likely to see in our lifetime. So corporate recruiting departments haven’t changed much, except for getting smaller with fewer resources (that was kind of a joke except for the fact that nobody is laughing), but social tools for candidates have changed dramatically during that same time frame. The “front doors” to companies are still the same, but candidate behaviors have changed: candidates now use their social networks to learn about companies and find people who work there. When they want to learn more or get introduced, they don’t pore over corporate career sites or apply for jobs online; they find people who work there to learn the truth and get connected.

But at most companies, once connected with their network inside of the company, candidates are at some point forced back through the same funnel that has existed for 10-15 years. That is completely incongruent with the social expectations candidates have related to their candidate experience. This results in missed expectations, increased complaints, and reduced recruiting yields. The key takeaway is that most existing corporate recruiting practices are incongruent with supporting the social graph.

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Here are some action steps to respond to this gap in expectations:

If you work for a small company, rejoice! Because of reduced scale and volumetric simplicities, smaller companies actually are handed an advantage over larger companies. It is much easier for a smaller company to use social tools and meet or exceed the relationship expectations across the candidate pools they draw from. Take advantage of the nimbleness of your smaller organization to leverage the social graph that extends from your company, and build your recruiting process in ways that will scale.

Focus on the candidate experience by both personalizing it and customizing it. What’s going to happen when a candidate talks to four “friends” at your company and then gets thrown into a poorly executed, unfriendly, depersonalized interview process? I don’t know either, but it’s not going to help your recruiting yields.

  • Personalize the experience by dramatically increasing communications from the people inside of your company to the candidates you are interviewing. Personalize it more by recognizing the hobbies, goals, or “nuanced attributes” of candidates and responding appropriately. For example, eight or nine years ago I learned that a recruiting manager candidate I was interviewing for a role on my team was big into cycling. So I sent him a Starbucks Cycling jersey. He still remembers it to this day.
  • Customize the candidate experience by adapting the less-rigid portions of your process to candidate requirements. Adjust the scheduling by inviting the employees who referred the candidate to lunch (or breakfast) with the candidate. Have them send thank-you messages. Leverage the social graph to improve the experience.

Conduct an entry point analysis and measure it over time Find out if greater or fewer candidates are coming through your referral program. Measure recruiting yields from each source.

Invite candidates’ friends into the recruiting process to be conduits for information. Equip your non-recruiting staff with customized recruiting schwag that they can send to their referrals. Turn them all into recruiters by arming them with tools.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll talk about The Social Proof Problem, and The Backdoor Problem that Social Media creates for recruiting, and how to respond.

As usual, sound off in the comments section and join the discussion.

Jason Warner left corporate America to focus on entrepreneurship with a clear mission: to help organizations recruit better. In early 2011, he founded RecruitingDash, a recruitment software company that delivers world-class SaaS-based reports, metrics, dashboards, and analytics from existing applicant tracking software. As with other trends in Big Data, RecruitingDash turns the wealth of data in the recruiting "supply chain" into valuable information and insights to improve recruitment efficiency and effectiveness for companies of all sizes. A former corporate recruiting and talent management leader at Google and Starbucks, he has successfully built, scaled, and led large global recruitment and talent management functions during critical growth periods for some of the world's most recognized fast-growing companies, including Google and Starbucks. At Google, he led the largest learning, training, and people development group at Google -- for the Sales and Operations group across Latin America, Asia Pacific, and North America. During the peak of Google's growth, he also led recruitment for the Global Online Sales and Operations Group. He was previously the director of North America recruiting for Starbucks Coffee Company.


40 Comments on “How Social Media Hurts Recruiting, and What To Do About It

  1. It’s evident that the social network hurts recruiting effectiveness in several ways and you have highlighted several clearly; more will appear in Part 2 I am sure. But of course social networks are here and we have to deal with them and make them work better, not worse, for matching people with the right jobs and jobs with the right people. Frankly, recruitment has not done that very well, pre- or post-social networks. We risk trivializing something of enormous importance. We need serious, rigorous, scientific approaches (they exist and they work) more and quick-hit, connect and chat approaches less. And I use social networks a lot…

  2. ISTM that SNR (Social Network Recruiting) is best at building pipelines, as opposed to bringing in qualified and interested candidates quickly. Furthmore, it also seems that it should be more correctly referred to as SNS (Social Network Sourcing), and sourcing is something that can usually be performed by an $11/hr virtual sourcer. It remains to be seen whether there exists a need for the SNS equivalents of a Maureen, Shally, Irina, or Glenn.



  3. Great article, Jason, and thank you for constructively addressing challenges presented through social network recruiting. I look forward to Part 2. For this segment, however, the “Focus on the candidate experience by both personalizing it and customizing it” section is fantastic, and to me it epitomizes the rest of what you’re saying. If we are to engage with candidate in a social forum, then the conversation needs to maintain at least a small level of “social value.” I think we get caught up in the technology and forget that this is, in essence, an online version of our personal networks.

    In any case, great information and recommendations!


  4. Jimmy Durbin @SMHeadhunter has raised his hand 2B a guest. Well, we’re going to be talking about this article.
    If you want to come on Jay, you know where to find me.

    Sorry for the confusion, Recruiting Animal. IMSM, in December we’d discussed about doing the show on 1/19, but didn’t see any additional confirmation/discussion from you this month until yesterday late PM, which I got this AM, and to which I responded. I think we both should have made more of an effort earlier on in the month to confirm/change it.

    Thank you,


  6. @Keith

    Yeah maybe. Only I have this email from you that includes my message to you from Dec 10, 2010, at 4:27 AM

    > OK. Feel free to cancel but not at the last minute.

  7. I hear, you, RA. You were operating that I would confirm it with you if I couldn’t do it, and I was operating that you would confirm it with me closer to air date that I could do it.

    Thus, we show the perils of miscommunication and unspoken assumptions- a good topic for a future show…


  8. It seems as if a this thread has gotten off path a bit – so I’ll try to reel it back in…

    To me, using Social Networking to recruit is the biggest change and opportunity for eliminating the inefficiencies in our business since the advent of “internet recruiting.” The three problems that Jason points out are merely obvious adjustments that companies need to make to grasp the full benefit of what Social Recruiting can offer. Not sure of the next two – but what he has called the “social gap” is just one of them. Anyone involved in Employment Branding will recognize Jason’s point as it’s a challenge to tout a company’s brand through marketing techniques only to find that it’s not an accurate reflection of the work place. Certainly, the candidate experience is a big part of that too, and the well run HR Teams make sure that the regulatory and assessment aspects of hiring don’t send candidates away howling…

    Not to promote my company, but we provide the services needed to ensure that the Community Development aspect of Social Recruiting is a professional and rewarding experience (including direct pre-hire contact with Community Members). What makes it all work is that the Community Member can maintain anonymity (with a username) while interacting directly with company management. This allows for a free exchange of ideas so that the when a person is cultivated to apply for an opening – they already know the management, the job and the application process. If that process is draconian – they already know and can weigh if the career experience is worth the hassle – most times it is!

    The process we have been using for the last 90 years (not just 15) using a job ad, resume, phone screen and interview is rife with inefficiencies (particularly assessment and wasted time). I could be wrong, but as we all adjust to the issues Jason raises in using Social Recruiting the upside of getting the “right person” in the “right job” could recast our industry landscape more than anything that’s come along since that first resume surfaced back in the Roaring 20’s.

  9. I think that some of the barriers that are created in Social Media can be worked around. Just like Facebook and Linkedin allows for candidates to interact with the “inside” the same holds true for the recruiter. They can set up files for candidates by “field of interest”, years of experience, etc. Create dialogue by opening up discussion topics related to the company. I am definately looking forward to part 2.

  10. Hmmm I think a touch of sensationalism in the title there Jason. Might have been a bit more accurate if it had read:

    Social media causes problems for recruiter processes

    or perhaps the slightly more sensational:

    Social media catches enterprise recruitment vendors and internal recruitment functions with their pants down!

    This really isn’t a social media problem and its a bit misleading to say that SM – or more accurately social habits – are hurting recruitment.

    I’ve been in this game a long time and you are right to point out a gap. But that is primarily because of the lack of pace and development of resourcing technology/techniques as the market has matured.

    Recruitment is only really gaining strategic status now that its being blended into talent management and the employer proposition. The last time internal recruitment departments sprang up around the millennium they were unsustainable and disappeared as quick as they came.

    As a result, investment in rec tech has been poor, both on the corporate enterprise side and particularity on the agency side. There were sophisticated enterprise HR systems long before there were even the most basic recruitment solutions. And in the last 10 years they havent really kept pace, save the push to online and changing the name to SAS. Inside though, nothing really changed.

    You are also right to point to the sensationalist claims made when the internet emerged. However, the predictions made then are actually starting to have an effect. Print didn’t die then, but it is all but dead as a recruitment mechanism now. And agency recruiters didn’t die either, but their business model is now gasping its last breath, margins are severely eroded and businesses are closing.

    The impact on the recruitment industry that we are feeling now is largely due to the internet maturing – it just took a lot longer than we thought. And the same will be for social habits – we wont feel the full impact of social media and habits for at least 3-5 years.

    If the candidate can develop new habits, and solutions can be developed to keep up with, and even create them, then there is really no excuse for the recruiter side solutions to be anything less than a match.

  11. This is about the semantics of sourcing vs recruiting. Social networking is a great sourcing tool. It helps recruiters proactively find the people that are out in the marketplace, connect with them, build a relationship and network with them but it doesn’t help them hire people. The selection process hasn’t been changed by it and I think that time-consuming, sometimes overly-administrative process is what is creating the gap. Ask any recruiter that has over 50 requisitions and I bet they don’t have a lot of free time to spend networking with people and end up referring candidates/applicants to the career portal (the “front door”), regardless of their source. There are solutions for that but most, however, require an investment that many companies are reluctant to make when hiring isn’t necessarily their top priority.

  12. @David: Exactly. It’s getting easier and easier to find good people, but not particularly easier to hire them. I’d be curious to hear any ideas about how SN could improve the actual interview/hiring process once the person has been sourced and screened….



  13. Some interesting topics for discussion to be sure, but regarding the following: “Focus on the candidate experience by both personalizing it and customizing it.”

    At what point does customizing an experience become “preference”? One reason for a standardized panel interview, for example, is to remove all perceptions of preference towards any one candidate until all the basic qualifications have been assessed. How would one balance the need for increased recruiter “touch” vs the need for compliance?

  14. IMHO from the candidate’s perspective, a panel interview is the *second WORST type of interview to have. It’s like an inquisition!



    *The worst is a “reverse panel interview” or many candidates at once in front of an interviewer. Only heard of this once…

  15. @Keith: Panel interviews aren’t bad if they are structured and well planned. When each member of the interview team is given a specific question/role, they can be effective and relatively (I stress relatively) painless. They also save time. The reverse of that is the “turkey shoot” scenario you describe.

    Personalizing the candidate experience is a great concept. The added touch can make closing the selected candidate much more likely. The difficulty is dedicating the time to each of the candidates. IMHO it is only realistic with strategic, high-value positions.

  16. Thank you! Glad someone is finally wiping the lipstick off the pig. The “holy grail” hype outweighs the return unless recruiters can effectively set goals, have a plan to get there, and measure the results. Jason’s point about measuring over time is spot on.

    While I am an advocate of incorporating social media into the overall recruitment strategy, I’ve found myself on a mission to demystify it for my customers ever since we added some basic tools to our ATS last spring.

    Before jumping into the Social Media world, my advice is to take a look at your existing recruiting strategy & goals. What works? How can Social Media improve or build on that? What are your competitors doing? Think basic marketing. Start LISTENING before you dive into the conversation. Take small, measurable steps to incorporate social media into your media mix. It’s still ONLY MEDIA, and like all media, you need to determine if it reaches your target audience… or not… or perhaps not yet. However impressive the size of the LinkedIn database, there are still plenty of people NOT on it, does that make them a less desirable prospect?

    Yes, it’s time to include Social Media in the normal course of networking, promoting job openings, branding, candidate engagement and employee referral generation — but treat it as simply another tool in the toolbox. Social media is NOT a “magic bullet” and while it should not be ignored, it will not replace other sourcing or recruiting methods. And hello, isn’t ERE itself an early form of Social Media, anyone remember newsgroups? Social Media is simply internet communication evolution. All the “old school” rules of communication and marketing still apply.

  17. @Sylvia:
    Here, here!
    At the same time, 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.

    Happy Friday, Everybody!

    Keith “Ever Wordy” Halperin

  18. I am a little late responding to the comments. Gareth, I appreciate your sentiments about sensationalizing the headline, but I think the comment is true: Because of social media, candidate expectations are changing. This hurts recruiting because with elevated expectations of a process, candidates will be disappointed to a greater degree. In other words, it was easier to recruit when candidates had such low expectations of the HR process. All of this being said, you make some great points and I think we are generally in the same camp.

    Ben, you asked, “How would one balance the need for increased recruiter “touch” vs the need for compliance?”. I think it’s pretty straightforward… I recommend that one personalizes the process while standardizing the assessment. The two don’t necessarily have to be mutually interdependent. Indeed, I think the organizations that do this are the ones that will win more than their fair share of talent… and remain compliant.

    Sylvia – I couldn’t agree more. The channels and mechanisms have changed, but the basics still apply. Much of social networking tools have shifted time (real time updates via Twitter or FB) or have simply shifted data management (Plaxo, LinkedIn, etc). But the communications content remains the same and haven’t much changed.


  19. @ Sylvia: this ( great! An idea: we should count how many of these words are used in an ERE article or response (mine included) and announce who the daily “champion” is.

    @ Jason: ISTM that unless they’re in the top 10% of candidates (that everybody here on ERE is always crying that they must have or how to get them), candidates should expect a crappy treatment or no treatment at all. If companies cared about ordinary applicants’ experience, they could hire $2.75/hr Virtual Assistants to make sure each applicant’s experience was professional if not actually pleasant. So far, I’ve heard of no takers to my suggestion.



  20. @Keith great idea: Let’s “generate efficient convergence” to fill the social media gap and “iterate back-end vortals” for those virtual assistants.

  21. @Sylvia: 🙂

    Let’s not forget to “envisionate” and “webonize” and our “2.0 paradigm-shift”, making sure to “cloudcast” it to the entire “recruitersphere”, especially our self-starting, hard-charging fellow spearheads, who reach for the brass ring and not just the low-hanging fruit….


    Keith “TweetBook Me” Halperin

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