Outside-the-Box Recruiting: Using MySpace.com as a Recruiting Tool

article by Dr. John Sullivan and Matt Millunchick

I am proud to be an “outside the box” recruiter. I consistently recommend experimenting with new approaches to sourcing, because I have found that the only way to win in recruiting is to get to the candidate first. Recruiting is just like marketing: Once everyone adopts the “new” tool, it loses its effectiveness and its competitive advantage. Take advertising in movie theaters, for example. Southwest Airlines successfully used the approach to reach candidates via a channel they hadn’t erected barriers to until other companies began to mimic the approach and moviegoers started tuning the advertisements out. Candidates are consumers, and every marketing expert worth their consulting fees will tell you that consumers develop barriers to push-marketing over time, limiting the period in which marketers can catch consumers off guard and get their message delivered. As a result, recruiters need to constantly seek out new approaches and then move on when they lose their effectiveness.

Recruiting Outside the Box Takes Courage

The only problem with the approach outlined here is that while nearly every recruiter on the planet says that they want to try outside-the-box tools, most recruiters are mundane, lack the courage to try new things, and are unwilling to invest the time it takes to master a new approach. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s their fear of failure or their thin skin when it comes to criticism, but you can tell which recruiters are open to new approaches by looking in their eyes as a new approach is described. For those who will never succeed in using a new tool or approach, the reaction is always the same. At first they’re excited, then they begin to express doubt, then the excuses start flowing, and it becomes clear to those around that no experimentation is going to occur. I predict most will respond this way to the concept of recruiting on MySpace. To add a user’s perspective and some youthful credibility to this article, I have asked Matt Millunchick, my research assistant at the University — and the next Michael Jordan of hiring — to share his views and research on the subject in this article. He is an enthusiastic supporter of recruiting on these types of sites and cannot understand the resistance from “old school” recruiters.

What the Heck Is MySpace?

Simply put, MySpace and its competitors are online communities that allow members to meet and make friends by posting information and pictures about themselves. Although MySpace is the focus of this article, other communities include Facebook (#2 in market share), Tagged, Bebo, Bolt, and Friendster. If you have a minute, visit MySpace; it’s a fascinating look into the minds of Generations X and Y. MySpace has taken the world by storm, registering more than 65 million digital inhabitants. Its impact has been so strong that some media analysts have relabeled Generation Y the “MySpace Generation.”

MySpace Is a Major Player

To almost anyone under 30, MySpace and its competitors are the hottest thing in networking. The medium is such a powerful communication channel that last year media magnet Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace, a firm barely three years old, for more than half a billion dollars! Online traffic reports show that in January of this year, MySpace had the second-highest number of page views, coming in just behind Yahoo. Five out of the top 10 search terms entered into search engines for the four weeks ending March 4, 2006, were some variation of “myspace.” Compared to other more famous job-specific networking sites like Jobster and Linkedin, MySpace is huge and growing, registering more than 150,000 new users each day.

Who Can You Find On MySpace?

Although MySpace and its peers are designed to be social-networking sites, a smart recruiter will see the potential value right away. Not only does MySpace offer a huge number of participants, but statistics show that the average time a user stays on the site is approaching 30 minutes each day, an unheard of “visit time” for a website. At first glance you might think “MySpace is just for kids,” but don’t let the home page and your own preconceived stereotypes cloud your vision. More than 80 percent of the site’s registered members fall into the core demographic of 16-to-34-year-olds. Note that this demographic includes a large quantity of college-educated professionals with as much as 13 years of work experience. It has a phenomenal number of features and interest groups that represent potential hires, including business-related groups for Best Buy employees, mortgage professionals, realtors, and Web designers, to name a few. Quicken Loans is already using the site for recruiting sales and finance professionals. Obviously you’re not going to use MySpace to recruit the next CEO of a Fortune 100 company, but it’s a superior source for finding hourly employees, entry-level employees, military people leaving the service, college students, and mid-level management. The site is a great source for college students at campuses that you can’t afford to visit. It’s one of variety of tools that I recommend to smart firms that adopt a “remote college recruiting” strategy.

Targeting Specific Groups

Although MySpace is a very broad site, you can easily target specific groups by using networking sites that also target these individuals. Some of these other targets include:

  • College students. XuQa is a perfect site for recruiting college students because you can register without a college email address.
  • High school students. Sconex is a networking site which is limited to high-school users.
  • The military. Military members are heavy users of MySpace, including those currently in Iraq, who obviously, because of distances, have great difficulty meeting new friends and recruiters.
  • Retail employees. Retail workers are a diverse bunch, and MySpace offers access to hundreds of thousands of retail workers from top brands. For example, retail giant Best Buy has a member-supported group on MySpace full of current and past employees. There are also special-interest groups like softball and skiing, which are great sites if you run a sporting goods store or ski resort.
  • Geographic locations. Some of the smaller sites get most of their traffic from a single state and make it easy to target individuals that live close to your facilities. For example, 23 percent of the visitors to Tagged.com are from Illinois.

MySpace Features and Tools

If you already use MySpace, you are aware of its many features and the power of being able to read about and make friends instantly with people around the world. If you have yet to make your mark on MySpace and you’re not sure how it can help you recruit, below is a list of some of the most useful features on MySpace. Oh, and btw, u should also b familiar w/MySpace lingo. (That’s computer shorthand for “Oh, and by the way, you should also be familiar with the special language used on these web sites.”)

Browsing User Profiles

In the user’s profile, you can find out a great deal about a person, including their location, ethnicity, occupation, income, educational background (school, graduation date, degree level, major, clubs, and fraternity/sorority affiliation), professional work experience (company, location, position, department), and personal motivations. Once you find a person who meets your hiring criteria or basic skill needs, you can contact that individual either via an instant message if they are currently online, or by sending them a message or post via the MySpace server. Even if a person doesn’t qualify for your specific position, they might know somebody who does, so you should always leverage candidates for referrals.

MySpace Groups

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Groups are segmented by categories and can be used to connect to industry-specific individuals. For example, if you want to find computer programmers, a good place to start would be the Programming Language Development group, Programmers 1337 (C++, Java, Basic, Python, Actionscript) group, PHP Support and Discussion group, C++ Junkies group, or one of the many other computer programming groups. MySpace groups can also be used to find candidates in every other profession, including medical and healthcare (Medical Professionals, Promoting Health and Wellness group) and even sales professionals (Business Networking & B2B Sales Professionals group).

Affiliations for Networking

You can search by field, sub-field, role, and keywords, and then refine your search and relevancy by specifying sex, age ranges, and location ranges based upon mileage distance from postal codes. For example, you can set the search perimeters to find technology it developers within 100 miles of a San Francisco postal code, and more than 658 MySpace profiles would be returned. Within two minutes and on the first three pages of search results, more than a dozen people were sourced who were currently employed or have worked at some of the top tech companies like Google, Apple, and Sun Microsystems as software engineers.

Classmate Finder

Using the classmate finder you can find college graduates and students by searching colleges by name, country, or state. You can refine your search relevancy by age ranges, current students, alumni, graduation year, major, minor, department, fraternity/sorority affiliation, clubs, and keywords. Academic universities, professional, and technical training schools can all be searched using this MySpace feature.

Create a Company User Profile

Anyone can create a user profile, so it makes sense for a company to create a user profile as well and invite “friends” or potential candidates to join your company’s personal network of potentials. Under the user profile, you can specify who you’d like to meet and advertise that you are looking for talented people and a specific skill set with the possibility of working for your organization. This is where you would sell your organization to perspective candidates. From your user profile you can communicate and send mass messages to your “friends” list and build a strong company brand over MySpace at no cost. There are a few groups that have used the power of MySpace for recruiting purposes such as the Pilot Job Center, which acts as a portal for companies to find pilots. At the time this article was being written, only a handful of corporations had posted corporate profiles. Recruiters can also place profiles in order to attract contacts in the same way recruiters use blogs to attract traffic.

Possible Concerns

All recruiting sources have their limitations, and social networking sites are no exception. Some of the potential issues include:

  • Some profiles contain TMI, or “too much information” about the potential candidate. Recruiters need to know where a person works, their career goals and interests, but might not want to see racy pictures, racial data, odd hobbies, age, or that the person’s favorite sport is computer hacking or free-form rock-climbing. Recruiters can opt to ignore such information or hire a third-party to mine such sources for them.
  • You have probably heard that there have been several cases where criminals used such sites to find and molest children. That’s a fact that can’t be refuted, but telephones have also been used for mischief and that doesn’t lessen their value as recruiting tools.
  • Because these sites are not job sites, you have to use some creativity to track down the groups or the keywords that will identify your target candidates.
  • Because the site is so interesting and entertaining, initially, recruiters might get lost in it for hours and forget that they are there to recruit!

Before you dismiss a source that has such potential, I suggest you think back to other sourcing tools like Google searches, professional chat rooms, referral networks, and even wine festivals that initially seemed crazy but proved effective. If you’re not sure that the site will work, I recommend that you do a test. Pick ten of your best-performing current employees in hourly, entry, or mid level jobs and search the sites to see if you can’t find them. You’ll be amazed at the hit rate. We predict that you will find that MySpace will be “the” meeting spot for people under 35 for at least the next decade. It’s not just a website; it’s a phenomena. Try it and add it to your recruiting tool kit.

Note: Dr. Sullivan has no relationship of any kind with MySpace, but Matt Millunchick is an avid user both for social and recruiting purposes.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



10 Comments on “Outside-the-Box Recruiting: Using MySpace.com as a Recruiting Tool

  1. Indeed, this tool is gaining prominence. No wonder, the heavy price-slashing by the job-portals is doing them no good.

  2. Great article on some of the newest tools for students to connect with each other and, therefore, for employers to connect with students. A word of caution though: students view their entries in FaceBook and MySpace as being personal. Employers who troll these sites for background checking purposes or even for recruitment purposes may run afoul of the terms of service for these sites and also risk the very public wrath of a very well connected generation.

    My advise: don’t use these sites for negative purposes such as background checks and if you’re representing the military or other such controversial employer, be careful. In fact, be very careful. Connecting with students who have posted their resumes on-line at job boards or non-password protected sites is one thing. Connecting with students who have posted their profile at social networking sites is risky at best.

  3. It?s great that this type of ?out of the box? sourcing is being discussed (thank you, great article!). This is a simple way I source from MySpace.com (and others).

    I use Google as my search engine, just copy and paste these search strings right into the search box.

    To identify all the people on MySpace.com who list their occupation as a software engineer:

    site:myspace.com occupation ‘software engineer’

    If I wanted it narrowed down by school I add the school name like this:

    site:myspace.com stanford occupation ‘software engineer’

    As you go along you can add modifiers such as cities, like Seattle to the mix to narrow down your search.

    site:myspace.com seattle occupation ‘software engineer’

    If you wanted to narrow it down by company you can do this:

    site:myspace.com occupation companies Google ‘software engineer’

    It doesn?t have to be complicated to get results. You can reach out to the person you find by looking under the ?Contacting? section on a MySpace.com page.

  4. Thanks that was good stuff! I’m always looking for alternative methods for locating individuals.

  5. If you use it right you will not run afoul of the terms of service. They have a job listing page on myspace. I doubt posting there would be a violation of service terms. Build you network and post.


  6. How will this stand up with OFCCP and EEOC Regs..

    Steve, I think you may be on something as well.. This could get kinda shaky especially in consideration of their Recent changes to their user agreement.

    Can see Myspace get really annoyed when Hundreds of recruiters start mass emailing their members with network requests – as a pretext to offer employment

    It also mentions that Commercial Links will be removed does that mean that a company profile will be removed? Is that commercial?

    Maybe william has a good point -stick to the job board

    This is just an observation.

  7. I am a huge advocate of social networking but I think opening up myspace as a sourcing medium could open up a can of worms in the lines of discrimination.

    What if you were working with a particular candidate and while sourcing on myspace and happen to see that individual’s ‘interests’? -True as HR professionals we shouldn’t be biased but would you do if you found out one of your candidates was involved with unorthodox associations: Would it impact your hiring decision? Would you rule them out because of this?

    I personally find ‘friendster’ and ‘orkut by google’ more friendly and inline with the professionalism most companies are seeking.


  8. Searching through myspace.com is similar to trolling for fish, where the only candidates that are deemed desirable are the ones that bite on the opportunities that are pulled past their unsuspecting noses.

    Scorn is heaped upon the active candidates that jump into your boat with their cover letters and resumes.

    I would also say that using myspace to evaluate a persons apperance, age, or personal views will provide the can of worms useful when trolling.

  9. I agree with Dakotta and everyone highlighting the legal risks of sourcing / screening candidates from myspace. These social networks are exactly that, networks for managing social lives. They lack the processes and controls necessary to make a social newtork an effective recruitment tool. The most elegant example of a social network / recruitment tool I’ve seen is http://www.thecareermole.com. Not sure of it’s coverage across regions but it’s one to watch

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