Talent Communities: Come As You Are

People love to talk about themselves, and they love to talk even more online — often to a fault.

Honesty is not the best policy, especially online. Most of us know that an inappropriate picture or comment posted online can derail a person’s job prospects. In my view, recruiters and hiring managers make too much of people’s online posts and using them in a hiring process is fraught with problems, but online conversations can work to a recruiter’s advantage, especially in a talent community.

The tendency to act completely free of social restraints when online is known as the online disinhibition effect. At the extreme it’s a GIFT (Greater Internet F*wad Theory) showing up as rude language and harsh criticisms, anger, and hatred. In more benign forms it shows up as people sharing their secret emotions, feelings, fears, and desires — things that they would rarely mention in a face-to-face conversation. Someone I know posted a video of their colonoscopy to their Facebook page, as part of a conversation she was having about her health concerns. There are a million such examples.

Social networks promote uninhibited behavior because of the lack of social cues one finds in face-to-face conversations. In a conversation where one can see the other person, or hear them on the phone, even a slight disagreement can feel confrontational. This is especially true in situations like interviews or the workplace where it’s also apparent that there’s a power structure. A recruiter has power over a candidate; a manager has power over junior employees. By contrast online everyone seems like a peer. A person will send messages and requests to others far more senior than themselves when the two are connected on LinkedIn, but would hesitate to call them on the phone or start up a conversation in person.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

When it comes to using social media for recruitment, we tend to make things more complicated than they need to be. The basic requirement is to get engaged with prospective candidates, get to know them well and attract them to jobs. That means participating in conversations. But this is where it gets difficult, or awkward. The conversations recruiters are accustomed to having with candidates can be better described as interrogations. There’s a reason candidates are coached on how to interview, and telling someone to “just be yourself” can be really bad advice. In a typical job interview, everything from the location (an office) to the setting (typically with a desk or table separating the participants) to the mode of conversation (I ask, you answer) is designed to make it anything but engaging. Maybe that’s why in Britain when the police interrogate a suspect they call it an interview.

We would know more about candidates if we could have real conversations with them.

I worked for a company where the CEO conducted interviews by going for a walk with the candidate. Our offices were near a mall and he’d often take them there. He wanted a dialog to get to know them and them to know him. The people he hired tended to stay with the company for a long time and were generally high performers. One reason he did this was because it allowed candidates to avoid having to make constant eye contact, which often creates an inhibiting dynamic. This is the reason that the Catholic Church has for centuries separated priests from parishioners by a curtain in the confessional. But this runs counter to everything we’re taught as recruiters.

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Be Who You Are

Social media can make it easy to get to know candidates, and the best way is to do it in talent communities. People open up in communities if it’s a place where they believe that their views and opinions are respected and where they can have a dialog. Criticism and disagreement are normal parts of conversation, but are rarely tolerated in job interviews. It’s important to recognize that a talent community is a place to build engagement, not an echo chamber. But this goes against the grain, as demonstrated by the desire of so many recruiters (84% according to one survey) who use social media sites to look for evidence of undesirable behavior instead of building engagement.

If you’re looking to fill jobs that require unique or hard-to-find skills, then a talent community would be hard to beat as the solution for attracting prospective candidates — so long as you can let them be their true selves. A real talent community should be a place where participants feel comfortable sharing their views instead of engaging in a kabuki dance for recruiters. If they can’t engage in a real dialog then it’s just a place to collect names.

The online disinhibition effect, most evident on Facebook, is a phenomenon recruiters should take advantage of to get to know candidates. The absence of social cues, no need for constant eye contact, and the apparent lack of power structures can all work to a recruiter’s advantage in building relationships with candidates. Interestingly the same is not true on LinkedIn, where the few conversations that appear in groups are very stilted and formal and much of what gets posted reads like position statements rather than informal dialog. That may be partly because the site has a somewhat clinical feel to it, and also that it’s not particularly social, but more of an enhanced Rolodex.

The key is to create a forum for people to congregate and engage in dialog, with you and each other. If your idea of a talent community is a Facebook page where you post your jobs and collect likes then you’re not building a community. The truth isn’t just out there; it’s everywhere because people want it that way. Use it to your advantage, even if it means having to watch a video of someone’s colonoscopy.

Raghav Singh, director of analytics at Korn Ferry Futurestep, has developed and launched multiple software products and held leadership positions at several major recruiting technology vendors. His career has included work as a consultant on enterprise HR systems and as a recruiting and HRIT leader at several Fortune 500 companies. Opinions expressed here are his own.


13 Comments on “Talent Communities: Come As You Are

  1. Thanks Raghav. As a recruiter looking for candidates, I don’t want to get to know them as people, I want to get to know all the things I can (including their attitudes and personalities) about them that are relevant to potentially hiring them. To me, “knowing them as people” implies a greater degree of emotional intimacy than I feel is appropriate in a work setting. Other recruiters may be more comfortable with this than I am…..



  2. Something of a dichotomy here – can you know them without knowing them as people. After all candidates are people (there’s another article here). If we don’t want to know them as people (and many don’t) then I would think that a good job application should be all that’s needed. That is in fact how hiring was done for a long time, based on a resume, cover letter, and letters of reference. But in our supposedly enlightened age we claim to be able to discern all sorts of things about candidates from body language, the manner of responses, attitude, etc. All of that is what they are as people.

    While the Joe Friday approach (Just the facts, ma’am) may be sound in theory I doubt that it’s possible to do so in practice. Frankly, the challenge is that getting to know candidates as people is a lot of work and time consuming. Whether it’s worth the effort is an individual decision.

  3. Thanks, Raghav:
    I can act as a careful and dispassionate observer of their behavior without getting involved with their emotional life.
    If I observe that they are “friendly” or “irritable” or “nervous” or happy,” I can note that without going into why they are that way except as it may effect their potential job performance.


    Keith “The Iceman Recruiteth” Halperin

  4. As the second comment stated, it’s difficult to know someone without knowing them. As recruiters, we must walk along the fine line between forming an opinion based on acquired information and forming a judgment based on those facts. I have successfully owned my own recruiting and career management firm for the last 4 years by learning to walk that line. Simply “interviewing” candidates to gain facts that can easily be obtained from an 8.5X11 piece of paper will get me nowhere. I will not be able to fill a search to the satisfaction of any hiring manager if I’m simply shuffling paper. Spending time with my candidates in a comfortable setting allows the 2D information on their resume to have depth. What I also have to remind myself, however, is that I am not looking for a friend. If someone rubs me the wrong way or seems irritating or frustrating, that’s simply my personal opinion. As the professional recruiter I must look at those things without judgment and assess how/if these things might affect a placement or specific culture in which I’m hoping to place them. Ultimately, the questions I must ask myself is “What type of employee and team member does this person seem to be? What type of environment will allow this person to perform at his/her best?”
    Ken Schmitt

  5. Great article, Raghav. I think the key here is engagement with the community you are building. I think the power of the engagement does allow you to get to know a person at a much different level than just an interview. Part of doing this it to learn more about the person, but also, for them to get to know more about you and your company. This is the marketing part of the equation that haven’t mentioned in your article.

    Of course we are hoping that this engagement will also lead to this candidate sharing their experience with their network and so on. While this is definitely a time commitment by the recruiter, in theory, at the end of the day, you are building talent pipeline and building knowledge that in the end will help you recruit the best person.

    Just so put your mind at ease, I am schedule from my colonoscopy this coming week, but the video will be for my and my doctor’s eyes only. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the scope ….”

  6. @ Steve: Who has time for engagements? I need HIRES!

    Co·lon·os·co·py (k l -n s k -p ). n. pl. co·lon·os·co·pies.
    1. Examination of the colon with a colonoscope. Also called coloscopy.
    2. Jargon: Recruiting. Ordinary dealings with some types of hiring managers and/or staffing superiors. See also BOHICA (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again!)

    Happy Friday,

    Keith “Sorry Folks: I’ve Descended Again to My Usual Level of Intellectual Discourse” Halperin


  7. Too funny, Keith. Yes, you make a very valid point. You really bring up the fact that those who want to create an effective talent community strategy need to commit to resources to do so. At my last role at Deluxe Corp., we built an employment marketing team with a talent community focus. The recruiting team did not have time in which to engage, at least to the level that was needed to build the engagement we felt was needed.

    However, we had other resources that were in charge of our “presence management”, and engaged with key employees who were identified as “Brand Ambassadors” whose job was to create content, respond to comments, and feed potential candidates to the recruiters. It is difficult to do without being resourced appropriately and I agree, recruiters do not have time for this.

    So it comes down to your strategy, where you want to spend your money, and how you track your results to be able to measure the strategy’s effectiveness.

    Great catch!

    Ready For The Weekend

  8. @ Steve: Thank you. You hit my point exactly:
    Building talent communities is a very valuable and useful thing to do, as is building a pipeline for future candidates (which after building the communities, might be the next step from “marketing” toward “recruiting”.) However, it’s beyond the scope of what most of us can do, as we are responsible for immediate rather than future needs. IMHO, having the same people responsible for both (or all three!) is a situation destined for trouble….



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