Why Real Recruiters Rank LinkedIn #1

Let’s get real here. Anyone who thinks LinkedIn is in the doghouse when it comes to recruiting the best talent isn’t a real recruiter, or they don’t know the difference between active and passive candidates, or they think sourcing is recruiting. So I’m going to use this article (and this webcast) to set the record straight.

First, let me first define a real recruiter:

  1. They have excellent relations with the hiring manager and the hiring team. As part of this, 100% of their candidates they present are interviewed by the hiring manager, and none are bad.
  2. They understand what it takes to maximize quality of hire, and achieve it on every assignment.
  3. They thoroughly understand real job requirements and why the job is important to the company. As part of this they can convince their hiring managers that using traditional job descriptions minimizes the opportunity to hire top performers.
  4. They are subject matter experts when it comes to knowing the company, the industry, the compensation ranges for the positions they handle, and the competition.
  5. They prepare sourcing plans and programs based on how the best talent looks for work, especially passive candidates.
  6. They are comfortable picking up the phone and talking to real people and getting outstanding referrals.
  7. The best candidates consider these recruiters great career advisors and proactively refer other top people to them.
  8. They can accurately assess competency and job fit on multiple measures including how the hiring manager and the person will work together.
  9. They maximize their first contact to final close yield (candidate opt-out rate) by recruiting at every step in the process.
  10. They can close the deal by emphasizing the career growth opportunity, not the compensation.

Being a real recruiter is less important if cost per hire is more important than quality of hire, and your management team is comfortable with hiring average people. However, if you want to implement a raising-the-talent-bar strategy, or facing a situation where the supply of talent is less than the demand, you need a real recruiter to pull it off, and in most cases they’ll need to target passive candidates. (Here’s a “real recruiter” competency model we created, if you’d like to rank yourself or your teammates. You need to score at least 35 out of 50 points to be considered a “real recruiter.”)

From a “let’s get real recruiting” standpoint, LinkedIn has a major edge over its current rivals. This is important since 82% of the professional fully employed categorize themselves as passive candidates. With real recruiting in mind, here are my top reasons why LinkedIn has a significant edge over Facebook, Google+, and those newbies who think they offer a better solution.

It’s about strategy, not tactics. Hiring top talent is not the same as filling positions with good people. Unknowingly, most companies employ a “candidate surplus” hiring model to fill their open positions, even the most critical ones. These means their hiring processes are designed around the idea of getting lots of people to apply, with the hope that a good person emerges. A talent scarcity model is totally different. In this case the hiring process is much more focused, designed around the concept that great talent is much more discriminating and a career opportunity discussion/decision dominates every step, from first contact to the final close. When viewed from a quality-of-hire perspective, LinkedIn’s advantages and options in the hands of a recruiter who actually recruits, rather than just screens, are far superior.

LinkedIn is a network, not a list of names. As mentioned in an earlier article, LinkedIn is not just a list of names to find and send emails. Instead it’s a 360° dynamic network of smart connections. Compare the flat list of Facebook to a clumsy hub-and-spoke distribution system (a one-to-many network) vs. instantly connecting everyone with everyone else by one degree of separation. This is almost equivalent to a point-to-point (everyone directly connected to everyone else). It’s this multi-level interconnectivity that allows a recruiter to Cherry Pick, PERP, and hopscotch (some advanced recruiter networking terms, see point 4) around his/her first degree connections and find a slate of pre-qualified candidates with a few phone calls and emails.

The short summary: a network is for networking, and real recruiters know how to network. On this basis LinkedIn is far ahead of its rivals.

Sourcing is not recruiting. If you have an excess of top talent to choose from who apply to your ads, you don’t need real recruiters. Microsoft was in this enviable position in the ’90s and Google claimed this space in  the ’00s. But selecting from a pool of top applicants is not recruiting; it’s screening and assessment.

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Equally important, getting a list of names is sourcing, not recruiting, no matter how clever you are at Boolean searching. For example, there was a recent blog about how cool it was to be able to find primary school teachers in Ireland using state-of-the art Boolean terms. As a comparison test, I found pre-qualified candidates for the same job by calling up three headmasters at private schools in Ireland whom I found using LinkedIn’s seemingly prosaic advanced search tool. Even better, these candidates were all pre-qualified (I asked who the best primary school teachers they would want to hire again were) and they all called me back right away because I mentioned the headmaster’s name.

Navigation and the UI is critical. If you’re going to use a network for networking, LinkedIn has no peers. It was architected with this in mind. Real recruiters are as interested in finding hot prospects as they are in finding a person directly connected to a hot prospect. Getting referrals who have already been vetted and will call you back is the key to maximizing quality (see point 3 for an example), time to fill, and recruiter productivity (number of searches handled). You can accelerate this benefit by asking your employees to connect with the best people they’ve worked with at all of their prior companies. This is a PERP (proactive employee referral program). Then, when you have a search, search on their first-degree connections (LinkedIn easily allows you to do this). This is a high-yield effort. You can also Cherry Pick these connections by asking your employees (or any of your first-degree connections for that matter) about specific people in their first-degree connections. While you’re at it, using LinkedIn you can easily hopscotch around any profile you find by clicking the “Search for Similar People” button, the “Viewers of this profile also viewed…” feature, and even a person’s Recommendations. A multi-point network like LinkedIn allows you to do this stuff instantly. No other social media provides this type of interconnectivity.

Sourcing passive prospects and sourcing active candidates are not the same, nor should the choice of tools be. At the root of much of the LinkedIn vs. Google+ vs. Facebook vs. whatever debate is the fact that finding and recruiting people who are not looking requires a fundamentally different process than the one used for screening and selecting candidates who apply for your jobs. LinkedIn is great for real recruiters who are willing to pick up the phone and network. If you have plenty of great people to choose from or you’re willing to settle on the quality-of-hire metric, LinkedIn is probably not the best choice for you. On the other hand, if you’re a real recruiter you know it was designed with you in mind.

Long before I became a recruiter (I was an engineer working on inertial guidance systems), my first boss asked me to explain how these two concepts relate and why they were important to understand and apply: “Energy = Mass times the Speed of light squared and you can’t push on a rope.” I guess I was slow, since it took me a few years to figure it out. For a good engineer, knowing both is essential. The same principle can be applied to recruiting. If you think sourcing is recruiting, or that LinkedIn is not the primary platform for recruiting, you’re stuck on only half the solution to any complex problem.

(Hint: it relates to the adage – to a person with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.)

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).


39 Comments on “Why Real Recruiters Rank LinkedIn #1

  1. Brilliant, Remarkable, and “The Truth” are the first 3 words that come to mind after reading this post.

    “Sourcing is not recruiting.” AGREED

    We all share the same DB on the “Interwebs” essentially, so your ability to “Influence/Persuade”, and Close will become harder and harder in near/long term. The recruiter that continues to learn the skills of influence and persuasion, will inherit the recruiting pot of gold in the future, BUT do you think that will happen?

    Best to ALL…

  2. Where is the “Search for Similar People” button on a LinkedIn profile located? That sounds extremely useful, but I’ve never seen it!

  3. Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts on LinkedIn, Networking, Social Networks, Twitter, Google+, etc… It’s a shame that recruiting has gravitated to being more impersonal lately. It appears that many “recruiters” are using generic emails to “shotgun” versus making a live connection with prospects.

    There was an article on Why FB will destroy LI posted on a major media outlet with an “interesting” conclusion.

    In my opinion, old fashioned phone work as well as a compelling message produces the best candidates.

  4. Lou, let me start by saying well done and that I really enjoyed this article. One point that really struck home was the point that great recruiters are also trusted career advisors. It drove home that building and maintaining trust through consistent and relevant communication is key. Good recruiters keep up to date in their sector and educate their clients and candidates. That is why content and word of mouth driven marketing is so powerful. Relevant content fuels conversations and conversations build understanding and trust and can pull communities of talent together online which is what Linkedin is also superb for. I strongly believe that in B2B face to face meetings and relationships are always the most powerful one to one but social media should be a critical extension and enhancement of those relationships. Look me up on Linkedin I’d like to catch up offline at some point.

  5. Amen Lou. I could not have said this better myself. I think there are a few important things to remember about your comments and this is a pervasive problem.

    You and I (as well as some others at the top of the recruiting food chain) started recruiting before fax machines and the internet. The only way to recruit was to get on the phone, talk to people, and build relationships. I still maintain these relationships even though I left direct recruiting 4 1/2 years ago.

    The other thing is that “recruiters” don’t get the training we did back then. The internet and social media have allowed recruiters to be lazy and sloppy. Given the nation of sheep that most people are, it’s easier to recruit on Facebook and the like because someone has said “It’s the in thing”.

  6. Lou:

    This opinion is my own. I couldn’t agree more with your points about what being a “real recruiter” means. But every one of those points reveals the truth that the competitive advantage lies in the ability to build and leverage relationships, not the tools themselves.

    So for “real recruiters,” LinkedIn is absolutely effective as it should be; only adding those you “know and know well” (which, since it warns you about adding people you don’t know, should ostensibly be every connection) essentially duplicates the relationships already developed outside of LinkedIn.

    82% of currently employed people might classify themselves as passive candidates, but LinkedIn blurs that active/passive line significantly. If someone checks the box that they’re interested in receiving job opportunities from my network (which is almost every LI member) then aren’t they, by definition, an active candidate?

    So long story short: if LinkedIn isn’t a tool for sourcing, as you claimed, then it’s as effective as the recruiter who’s using it. And if they meet all 10 of your points, they don’t need LinkedIn in the first place (but it can help).

    Matt Charney

  7. Right on!!! Real Recruiters are more than passive job posting leaches. A great recruiter has a vested interest in the Company and the Candidate. If not, then they disserve both parties.

    Definition #7 is so true: The best candidates consider these recruiters great career advisors and proactively refer other top people to them.

    If your candidates don’t feel this way about you, how do you REALLY think your companies think of you?

    Great article Lou!

  8. Lou,

    Marvellous article. It prompts me to delve deeper still.

    I am going to break the mould here and say it like it is…insofar as my experience has defined ‘it’.

    I am 60 years old and was scrapped via the redundancy route 22 months ago, in the middle of the most recent recession and following a takeover of my previous company. I have multiple degrees and long-term experience in my fields that are Project Management, Construction and Engineering in national companies and a spell of two years as a university lecturer.

    In all the time since redundancy I have applied for several hundred positions without success. What I have bumped into may be my own limitations (we all have them) but I suspect that it is more to do with ageism and more significantly, recruiters who should be more correctly defined as “sourcers” by your definition.

    What disappoints me is that professionals now are being judged and selected by people who are inexperienced, lack knowledge and follow few of any ethical or behavioural standards, let alone knowledge of the organisations they are supposedly recruiting for.

    It is extremely difficult for a candidate to discover real recruiters who are worthy of the name. I must ask why. Maybe my research skills are at fault but I have found it difficult/impossible to find truly professional recruiters.

    Unfortunately I have found many who claim to be ‘professional’ (a hugely abused and misused term) but most fail even in the basic matters of courtesy and personal behaviour, let alone ethics (professional) or not. No wonder our economies are failing. Experience (age in position) is is marginalised while PC speak and avoidance of reality are maximised.

    How we can have a world in which experience and qualifications can be dismissed by those who are barely out of nappies is a matter that baffles me and I suspect many others.

    We have many companies that complain of being unable to find candidates. Well, I suspect that is because they try to recruit via inexperienced, unprofessional, wannabe recruiters.

    Why are there not lists of professional, ethical, experienced recruiters available to candidates. If there are, I have failed to find them.

    In my professional career I focussed on my job responsibilities, not on networking. However, it seems that networking has become more important than any other qualification. We seem to be facing a world in which those with the loudest voices and least experience subvert those with the most experience who do not rely on volume to progress. If that is a good strategy for improving our economies, I’m afraid that I don’t agree.

  9. Linked just launched an integration with Salesforce.com, so if you think recruiting is like sales and marketing…rather than applicant tracking…and use Saelsforce.com as your proactive recruiting tool…life just got real nice.

    I’m not impressed by much, but embedding LinkedIn into Salesforce in the rights spots like they have done….this is a holy sh*t moment for me.

    Here is a link to their <1 minute video showing it. I've been customizing Salesforce for recruiting for 6 years now…it just tool a huge leap forward.


  10. Lou,

    good article, I also attended one of your webinars last year and it was fantastic. I can most certainly agree the ten principals you introduced on this article definitely build great recruiters and recruiting mentality, I practice as many of these as I can.

    However this statement I can’t quite get behind “100% of their candidates they present are interviewed by the hiring manager, and none are bad” lets be real here, the client/hiring manager is as fickle as the weather and there are times where any recruiter will present a strong candidate and get throw back, its inevitable no matter how strong you are in recruiting or how well established your connections are the client/hiring manager is always right, even if wrong.

    I also believe that its tough to say one thing is what establishes real recruiters, every industry presents it’s niche. There is no silver bullet to this. Now I agree Linkedin is a useful source and helped me out a few times but 90% of my hires come straight from the job boards, hard to admit but its true. In my case it’s the fastest in returned phone calls and emails.

    what are your thoughts?

  11. Disagree with everything written here. Once helpful, LinkedIn has become a Myspace-like spam trap, and I wouldn’t consider using a recruiter that relied on it.

    Why would great candidates throw their pearls before swine?

  12. It has been my experience that over the years, LI has become increasing harder for recruiters/sourcers to use,as they “tighten up”. I recently worked for a company that allowed practically unlimited InMails. The response rate was around 4-5%, and very slow. I have found LI much more effective as a place to find where someone interesting may be, and then pick up the phone and call them. Other than that, it is not a good tool to fill hot positions QUICKLY.


  13. Thanks Lou and yes Keith you nailed it with “tighten up”. Social networks atrophy quickly as the need to monetize destroys trumps user experience and the novelty of a new way to communicate gives way to spam.

  14. @keith – you pay for what you get. Why not buy the premium product and you’ll find that the cost/hire is actually lower than a job posting as long as you’re a “real recruiter,” – e.g., someone who can pick-up the phone and recruit and network.

  15. That’s a great point Lou and one that speaks volumes of the deteriorating terms of service and business ethics of LinkedIn.

    One thing to note, however, is that once you sign up for the premium service, you can’t turn off the payments. Your only option to prevent your credit card from getting dinged is to go to your credit card company and request that they refuse payment.

  16. @Gregg – somehow we’re mis-communicating. I think LinkedIn premium pay services are outstanding. I have no problem paying for something that works, and LinkedIn does. Real recruiters get this point.

  17. @ Gregg: Thank you. LI has been “squeezing” us practically since day one.
    @ Lou: We did have the premium service,and it seems useful in building a pipeline, but not not useful for quick hires.
    @ “Real Recruiters”: I challenge you to help Michael Fisher get a job making as much or more as he was making before.

    Keith “Not a Real Recruiter” Halperin

  18. @ Keith Halperin,

    Many thanks for issuing the challenge for Recruiters to assist. I welcome all potential solutions to my unemployed atatus. I am happy to consider all opportunities to use my skills in any business in any location, permanent, contract, part-time or full time. I am based in Glasgow, United Kingdom. My Profile is on Linkedin but, like you, I have reservations about the way in which it has developed. Any trawl through its discussions will reveal vast numbers of spurious nonsense that disguises the value-add items that are contributed by those with credible quaifications and backgrounds.

    @ All

    What I find intriguing and disappointing is that in the Recruitment business the online job vacancies flow thick and fast from a tidal wave of Recruiters and also from wannabe Recruiters. No doubt there are excellent professional and ethical people among them but they are well disguised and hard to identify.

    Having been through the mill in terms of unemployment I would never treat or use other people to gain advantage for myself in the way that so many so-called Recruiters do now. Admittedly some Recruiters may be struggling to earn a living for themselves but that is no excuse for them to throw away their moral compasses, if they ever had them.

    Q1: Who and where are the good, professional and ethical Recruiters? Any lists on a country by country basis?
    Q2: What checks can be carried out by candidates on Recruiters, their professionalism, performance and behaviour? After all, if Recruiters can check out candidates, why shouldn’t candidates have standardised ‘tools’ to check out Recruiters?
    Q3. It seems that almost anyone can start in the business or Recruitment. Isn’t it time that all Recruiters were licensed and with standard forms of service contracts?
    Q4. With the vast numbers of Recruiters out there, it is interesting to note that I have not found one who can or will use their ‘expert’ knowledge to start a business that will act on behalf of candidates to identify REAL opportunities. Now that’s a service that would sell like hot cakes in today’s market. Forgive me for jumping to a cynical conclusion but, isn’t that because most Recruiters don’t have the expertise or market knowledge that they claim to possess?

    To avoid any misunderstandings, I emphasise that I am not ‘having a go’ at all Recruiters, only the many for whom the cap fits. The good ones add value to candidates, employers and the economy, while the others do the opposite. Time for a clean up of the Recruitment industry?

    Have we have reached a point where the Recruitment business is significantly made up of illusions, allusions, half truths, unverifiable claims and outright lies? I have reached an age where I say it like it is, at least from my own experiences, stated here as truthfully as I can. Anything else only perpetuates illusions and partial truths. Surely that is not progress and it will never yield long-term success.

  19. Michael,

    I am an expert recruitment consultant and author of “RecruiterGuy’s Guide to Finding a Job”. In the US, 74-76% of all jobs are filled through networking. Lou mentioned using employees’ networks in his blog to identify top performers.

    Unfortunately it is more difficult for a 3rd party recruiter to earn a fee with an out of work candidate. Companies’ attitudes tend to be “We could find that person on our own without paying a fee.” Right or wrong (and in my experience mostly wrong) people need to deal with that attitude.

    Secondly, recruiters are not paid for “helping candidates find work.” They are paid for successfully finding and delivering top candidates for their clients.

    Therefore, it is imperative that you network with 4 new people per day. Instead of asking if they have any openings, ask whom they know who would be a good contact. When you are out of work your most important commodity is network names.

    Once you find a job, accept recruiter calls. Learn whom you feel meets Lou’s qualifications as a “real recruiter” and help them network. They are the ones to help you if you sense another lay-off.

    Third party recruiters (the “real recruiters”) fill a valuable role in helping their clients grow successfully.

    In your case, it was the timing that got you.

  20. Lou – Great article and the comments are strong as well.

    I will say however that a lot of the comments I am reading here and other places are based on “online recruiters”. It’s not a requirement for a recruiter to be online and use fancy tools. If a recruiter is not in the core group of twitter recruiters they are deemed irrelevant in most conversations.

    The truth of the matter is that those not involved in the online parade are more than likely the Big Billers with significant incomes and billings.

    I am lucky enough to have sat under a strong group of true big billers here in Philadelphia…The majority of which are not on LinkedIn etc. I am defining Big Biller as billing 1Mill plus. Everything about them is different. Their conversations, their work ethic, their confidence, their phone scripts.

    Just a thought.

    But I agree with your points in the article. the value of LI Recruiter to me is big. Search, Inmail and call.

  21. @ Michael, @ Bill:

    Michael, Bill put it very directly and accurately: if someone isn’t part of the small percentage of the total working population (the “Fabulous 5%”-and a MUCH smaller percentage of the unemployed population) that a company will pay 15-35% of their annual salary to hire, then a contingency recruiter is not going to be of help. I am unfamiliar with the social services available to the unemployed in the UK (though I suspect that like here, they’re getting cut), but you might see what services are available specifically for the older unemployed with the goal being of you returning to well-paid employment (Some agencies may not have this as THEIR goal). Beyond that, Bill has it right again-try to talk to 4 or more people a day who have contact with someone who might be able to employ you. Also, send me a private email and I’ll give you some resources (of which there are probably UK equivalents) to help with your job search.


  22. Excellent summary!

    Real Recruiters also know how to use online/CD Thomas Register and/or professional organizations.

  23. Good article, but you DO realize ~30% of Google/Facebook/Twitter/insert desirable place to work/ candidates are SOURCED right? It’s a myth that it’s instantly easy to hire for these companies. The people who can meet the engineering bar know that these companies will interview them in a split second if they wish. Sourcing is important to find the diamonds in the rough, maybe no Stanford degree, or to just flood enough inboxes to hit someone at the right time/right place.

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