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Social recruiting: How to use social networks to attract top talent

In a tight labor market employers must use every tool at their disposal to land the best talent. Social media, in particular, provide effective platforms for reaching the “passive candidate” who is not looking for a new position but might be lured by an attractive offer.

Hiring top talent has never been easy. With the current tightening of the labor market, though, it’s tougher than ever to find the best people. Gone are the days when an employer could post a help-wanted ad and enjoy the luxury of a long line of applicants.

“The nation is short workers,” says Mel Kleiman, director of Houston-based Humetrics, an employment consulting firm (humetrics.com). “With unemployment hovering around four percent, basically anyone who wants a job can get one.” That means there are fewer people around to fill your ranks.

The solution? Be more proactive in your recruiting. “A lot of people are not unhappy enough with their current positions to search out new ones,” says Kleiman. “But they might well be interested if jobs came looking.”

To grab the best people, then, you have to take the initiative. And that means taking full advantage of the Internet. “If you are looking to hire people, you have to go where they congregate,” says management consultant Terry Brock, Orlando, Florida (terrybrock.com).  “And today people congregate on social media.”

Network for success
At one level, social media represent a dramatic shift by the recruiting environment onto the Internet. At another level, they are just the latest version of the old tried-and-true networking paradigm. “Twenty years ago, the value of recruiters was often determined by the quality of their personal networks,” says Toronto-based management consultant Randall Craig (randallcraig.com). “And, really, it’s the same today. What’s different is the degree of visibility: Social media have, for the first time in history, exposed those networks for everyone to see.”

On the plus side, the modern-day networks are far larger than the old telephone and surface mail-based systems, so you enjoy an enlarged hunting ground. And there are plenty of social media to choose from. At one time LinkedIn ruled the roost, but today there’s a place in your recruiting arsenal for Twitter, Facebook, and a bunch of upstarts such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest (See sidebar, “Pick Your Social Network.”)

What do all of these electronic marketplaces offer that you can’t get with the familiar job boards such as CareerBuilder, Monster and ZipRecruiter? “If you post a notice on the job boards, you only reach people who are actively looking for new positions,” says Nate Riggs, CEO of NR Media Group, a consulting firm in Columbus (nrmedia.biz). “But if you reach out on a social network, you can attract the attention of top performing people who might not be looking to move on, but who are intrigued by an unexpected opportunity. This can greatly expand your candidate pool and can help you land valuable talent.”

There’s yet another way social media can put you in touch with more prospects: referrals. Most employers already realize the value of asking current employees for leads. Social media allow you to leverage that dynamic substantially. “Facebook, Twitter and other platforms let you invite your customers to help you in your recruiting efforts,” says Rebecca Mazin, a cofounder of the Tarrytown, NY,-based human resources firm Recruit Right (recruitright.net). “You might post a comment that says something like this: ‘We are looking for an individual with the following skills. Do you happen to know anyone like that who might like working for us?’”

Pick your platform
How do you know which social media to use? Your first thought is probably LinkedIn, which pioneered the concept of social recruiting some fifteen years ago. And that’s not a bad thought: While the platform once catered exclusively to professionals, it has recently expanded its reach to include employees at pretty much any level. “LinkedIn remains one of the top go-to social media sites for recruiting,” says Mazin. “You can find everyone from interns and administrative candidates, all the way up to vice presidents and CEOs.”

But is LinkedIn the best platform for you? Maybe the people who can best answer that question are sitting a few feet away from you. Ask your employees where they hang out in cyberspace, because your most promising job candidates are likely populating the same venues. Maybe they are posting images on Instagram, or using popular hashtags on Twitter, or posting comments in a career group on LinkedIn. Wherever they go, you follow suit.

Lay the groundwork
You want to become an active social media player far in advance of your candidate search. That’s because recruiting today is a two-way street: It’s not just you looking for a new employee; it’s a whole group of potential employees getting to know your business as a quality place to work. “It is not only you finding candidates but candidates finding you,” says Craig. “And they perform their due diligence also. They might decide you are not a good fit for them.”

People will be looking at the posts you make over time on your company Facebook page, and at what you do on all of the other networks. “Establishing a long-term presence will give potential candidates a lot to see and digest,” says Riggs. “They will be answering the question, “Would I enjoy working with these people?’” Your task is to establish your reputation as the best place to work. “The most common mistake is to focus only on the job at hand, rather than on establishing relationships with people,” says Riggs.

If you make a professional effort to create an attractive online image, you can demand an equal level of professionalism from people who apply for work. “You can help assess the seriousness of each candidate by finding out how closely each has studied your social media presence,” says Riggs. “Try asking a question such as this: ‘Tell me one thing on our Facebook page that you thought was interesting or made you want to talk with us?’ Anyone who can’t give a good answer may not be a promising enough contender.”

A related point: As you build a social media presence, think about more than just recruiting. “Ask how your social media activity fits into the rest of your organization,” says Mazin. “Be aware that what you post will impact your company’s marketing, sales and operations. Coordinate with others in your organization so you do not send out conflicting messages.”

Build your presence
Part of the secret to improving your online presence is to tie together all your Internet activities. Your social media posts can invite people to visit your web site, for example. And once there, those people should be invited to view employment information. “There should be an easy way for visitors to find out where the job information is,” says Mazin. “This can be as simple as a tab labeled ‘Join Our Team’ that takes visitors to your employment page.”

You can profile your business in other ways. “Establish company pages on LinkedIn and Facebook, and other social media as appropriate,” says Kleiman. On each, post invitations to visit your other sites, complete with links. “Each can complement the others in a complete recruiting effort.”

You can also connect with promising candidates by being active in your alumni and industry groups that are hosted by LinkedIn, Facebook and other platforms. “Post items about new activities, locations, launches, or whatever else is newsworthy about your business,” says Mazin.

You can post messages in those same group forums about your need for people with specific expertise. This gives everyone the chance to get involved with your success. “Everyone likes to receive a job invitation,” says Craig. “And people will appreciate the opportunity to make brownie points with their friends by suggesting them for available positions.”

Pay for play
Informal messaging isn’t the only way you can mine social media for new talent. You can also pay for employment ads. That can be especially effective when you are in a hurry to fill an opening. “Sometimes ads are successful and sometimes not,” says Mazin. “It doesn’t cost a fortune to try—maybe a few hundred dollars. Ads are good ways to reach candidates who are not actively looking for new positions.”

The key to success here is to pinpoint your efforts. “You can buy ads that can be targeted to your specific market and demographics,” says Kleiman. For example, you may want your ad to be seen only by people who live in nearby zip codes, work at a certain employer, or have experience in a specific job category such as sales. Ordering your ad this way will give you the most bang for your buck, or in modern day terms, the best candidate for your “pay per click."

Design your ad well. “Get expertise from a person who has done recruiting, and who knows what words and techniques to use,” says Brock. “Maybe it would be smart to link your ad to a video, or to a web page that talks about the benefits of working with your business.”

Due diligence
The value of social media goes beyond just extending your recruiting efforts to new pools of top prospects. You can also use the platforms to perform due diligence prior to hiring.

“In the past, due diligence meant nothing more than calling references,” says Craig. “You still do that, but you can go further with social media. Check if candidates’ profiles are consistent with their resumes and what they say in their interviews. Did they claim to have certain levels of expertise that conflict with their online descriptions?”

And there’s more. “Take a look at candidates’ blog posts,” says Craig. “Are they active in forums where they answer questions posted by others? This can be a real indication of expertise and enthusiasm.”

As the above comments suggest, the successful recruiting effort begins with understanding how your current employees are consuming social media, then designing your interactions accordingly. The key word there is interaction. “This is not about blasting out a message to people,” says Craig. “We don’t like to be blasted upon; we like to interact with others and develop relationships.”

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