Networking Revisited and Some Caveats on Social Technology

“This is deja vu all over again!”

ó Yogi Berra, circa 1965 A few years ago I wrote an article on the importance of using networking as a primary sourcing tool. The essence of the article can be boiled down into the following key principles:

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  1. You need to offer a compelling job. No one will refer someone good to you for a traditional job. How you get these names is the art of networking and there is an important sequence of steps you must follow to maximize your results.
  2. People tend to be more open with a recruiter when they think the potential job could be a great personal move. This is why it’s important to first recruit the person, find out about their background, and then if not qualified, ask for referrals.
  3. To accomplish this don’t start by describing the job. Instead keep the job vague, but interesting. This way the person will tell you all about themselves. In the process you’ll be able to demonstrate the depth of your professionalism by asking solid fact-finding and career oriented questions.
  4. You must obtain the person’s background information before you tell the person much about the job. This way you have a chance to engage with the person on an equal footing. If you don’t engage first, and if the job is beneath the person, they’ll end the call too soon and not provide any solid references.
  5. By engaging first and demonstrating that you’re professional, the person will be more open with you later on when you ask for referrals if the person isn’t qualified for the job.

Read the article for more on how to actually get the strong names, but the key to successful networking has always been dependent on the quality and professionalism of the recruiter. Since everyone now recognizes the importance of networking, there is a major push on to automate the process. In the last two months I’ve heard no less than six stories on how social networks will revolutionize the recruiting process. This started at ERE’s ER Expo 2004 Fall in Boston, and the topic was the cover story on Workforce Management’s email last week (it’s well worth reading). There was also an article this week in the LA Times on venture capital funding needs for the group. With all this buzz, this concept must be hot. While not yet as intense, there was comparable hype when the ATS was first unveiled, and also when job boards came in to being back in the mid ’90s. Some of the networking vendors being mentioned include LinkedIn, Clickability, Jobster, Friendster, Orkut, and Monster Networking ó you should definitely check these out. But on a cautionary note, don’t forget that the first generation of ATSs and job boards are no longer in business, and none of the current networking players have any revenue yet. Moral: It takes more than a good idea and good software to create a sustainable business. This results in a basic principle that every good software vendor knows ó and every customer should follow before using a new technology in a production environment: you should only automate proven processes. Automating flawed processes hides the real problem and in the end decreases productivity and increases frustration. For examples just consider how well your current hiring and recruiting systems are performing right now. Unfortunately few HR vendors or customers follow this fundamental law of software implementation. Other business functions like manufacturing, engineering, distribution, and accounting have not had the same degree of problems when using technology. For one reason, for these non-HR groups there is much more discipline in the development, process mapping, and implementation of any new system. Stronger and more resources are typically involved. Strong technology users also tend to drive software vendors to better solutions during the development process. That’s why by the time you get to a third-generation technology system (version 3.0 and higher) it’s usually extremely robust and effective. This same benefit has not happened in the HR/recruiting space. I’ve seen 6.0 and higher versions of technology that still under-perform, that still have low user adoption rates, and that still require too much work to achieve basic results. This is indicative of a much bigger problem. For the most part it’s due to weak technology and users automating unwieldy and unproven processes. I fear a similar problem is about to happen as people consider implementing the latest round of social networking technology. There are two parts to my concern. First, in my opinion few users are sophisticated enough to use the networking technology effectively. Second, the technology only offers a partial solution. Getting names is easy. Converting these names into candidates is hard. Converting these candidates into employees is even harder. If you’ve ever done this you know what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, I have not seen any of the developers of these social networking software tools do this more than once. And even if someone gives a few case studies “proving” it worked, it doesn’t prove that it will work for all positions for your company more than once. All this being said, I believe that networking should be the primary means a company uses to hire top candidates. My concern is that the technology currently available and now in development will not be robust enough to handle the total task. Implementing the process too soon, before it’s been proven to work, will cause too many distractions and lost opportunities. Again, getting the name is just the start. What happens next determines success or failure. Following is a high-level overview of the steps involved in successful networking. As you consider any solution, you might want to benchmark your current in-house processes against this standard:

  1. Figure out who would know the potential candidate first hand ó this could include employees, customers, vendors, buyers, competitors, associations, and alumni groups, among others.
  2. Contact these people to obtain the names of potential candidates. This can be through direct purchase of competitive intelligence, compelling emails to some of these groups, or direct calling (a.k.a. begging). Some type of pre-qualification approach is necessary to insure that only “A” candidates are in the pool.
  3. Prioritize and manage the information. Who you call and what you say is critical. This is actually the real key to successful networking.
  4. Pre-qualify every potential candidate before the recruiting/networking call. There is never enough time to call everyone on the list. Networking calls are far more productive if calling is restricted to only the “A” candidates. These top people will also refer more top people if the call is professional. The networking article mentioned above describes how to do this.
  5. Obtain a viral effect by constantly networking with only pre-qualified “A” candidates.

As described above, networking to obtain more high quality passive candidates requires a great deal of one-on-one personal time with the potential candidate and the recruiter or hiring manager. Looking at the steps above, it seems that the social networking technology vendors are emphasizing the name generation and data management aspects of the process. But while this is important, it is not a complete solution. I believe there is a great deal of potential for this technology; I just don’t think it’s quite ready yet for primetime. There are competing technologies now emerging that could be alternatives to networking that might be better solutions. These have to do with using CRM techniques to manage and develop pipelines of passive candidates, call automation, and using virtual databases in combination with new searching technologies. If you’re an early-adopter-type customer who is willing to invest the time and resources to make networking technology work, you should give it a try. However, if you’re more the pragmatic buyer, I’d wait at least a year to see it proven out. Certainly stay apprised of the situation and be ready to move fast. You can be sure that once everyone does it, it will no longer be very effective. This takes me to a larger point (and the underlying message to this article). I’m quite concerned about piecemeal technology solutions for any serious technology user. Imagine 2006, when you have a different HRIS solution, a different social networking solution, a different ATS, a different ERP, a different CRM pipeline solution, a different assessment solution, and a different scheduling solution, in combination with a bunch of skilled and unskilled users (recruiters and hiring managers). It seems like we’re headed for disaster with the never-ending quest for the next talent-war-winning tool. In my opinion, instead of hoping for the next quick fix we should be first striving for high user adoption rates using proven technology solutions. With this as a foundation, new technology should be incrementally added to your platform as it’s tested, piloted, and proven. In parallel, you should be offering more compelling jobs, better job and employer branding, more informative collateral material, better recruiters, and better trained hiring managers. For now, spend your technology dollars on making recruiters more productive and making it easier for your candidates to use your system. Collectively, this will give you a near-term source of better candidates ó and it will give your recruiters enough time to get on the phone and start networking.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).

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