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Sourcing Via Social Networks

Beyond the Job Boards: Using Social Networking to Source Candidates

By Gaby Mergenthal, Executive Vice President

In the midst of a shrinking job market flooded with applicants who are growing increasingly desperate for employment, sorting through potential candidates to find those who are truly qualified for the positions they’re seeking is becoming a more complex job for many recruiters, especially those looking to fill highly specialized positions that demand relevant industry experience.

Furthermore, in an economy where everyone – recruiters and staffing firms included – is looking to cut costs, placing advertisements in large publications or online job boards may not be as affordable or practical an option as it once was.

To make sourcing more effective and affordable, many recruiters have begun incorporating online social networking in their recruitment strategies. But how do these networks stack up against more traditional online sourcing methods like job boards? We took a look at some of the pros and cons of this potential new recruitment tool to find out.

The Advantages of Social Networking

Social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Spoke, and MySpace, are rapidly becoming the most frequented spots on the Internet, particularly among young adults. According to a recent survey by the Bernard Hodes Group, 89% of young adults between the ages of 16 and 29 reported spending time on social networking sites at least once a week. Baby Boomers, too, are slowly beginning to gravitate toward these online communities. According to the LinkedIn website, their network alone has more than 34 million registered members in over 170 industries. By gathering voluntary personal and professional information from millions of users, these sites have the added value of acting as a priceless resource of information and networking for advertisers, businesses, and yes – recruiters.

Online social networking mimics the dynamic of word-of-mouth networking, but – thanks to the speed and ease of the Internet – it takes place at a faster pace and often requires less effort. By connecting to friends and colleagues on these sites and then viewing their network of contacts, recruiters can obtain access to an extensive, interconnected web of professionals who may share some common skill sets, industry knowledge, and expertise.

Among the benefits to using social networking sites as sourcing tools are:

  • Cost effectiveness: Most social networking sites are free to join, and require only the time commitment necessary to create a profile and begin building your network of contacts. Some sites also offer the ability to advertise job openings in the form of paid ads placed in a particular geographic region or targeted at a specific group of network users. These ads vary in price but often are less expensive than (or comparable to) the cost of advertising on a job board such as Monster.com.
  • Filling specialty positions: Because social networks are often built around common interests and industries, finding one highly specialized individual on a networking site can often quickly point you in the direction of many others who are members of a common job-specific group on a site like Facebook or LinkedIn. You can also search within smaller, industry-specific online networks; there are a number of such sites designed for engineers, medical professionals, legal professionals, and others.
  • Targeting the younger generation: Social networks are an excellent way to engage and build relationships with Generations X and Y for the purpose of recruiting. According to Bernard Hodes, these generations “are considered the most technologically advanced group in the workforce…and an increasing number of them (47%) are considering social networking sites as an outlet to receive career and employment information.”

Why Job Boards Still Matter

Though social networking sites may be a valuable resource for recruiters looking to access otherwise tough-to-reach networks of highly specialized workers, don’t expect them to replace traditional job boards anytime soon. The key difference between traditional job boards and social networking sites as sourcing tools can be summed up in two words: candidate motivation.

Individuals on social networking sites are primarily using them for just that: socializing. Unlike job board applicants, candidates sourced through social networking sites are generally passive jobseekers; while they may have the industry experience and expertise to fit the position you’re looking to fill, they’re most likely not actively seeking a change in employment. For recruiters, this may result in a tedious, time-consuming process of contacting and re-contacting passive candidates, a process that could potentially result in a frustrating number of delayed responses and/or dead ends.

Traditional online job boards, on the other hand, may be far less time-consuming, since they offer the ability to quickly search and scan candidate resumes, and to easily contact a pool of job applicants who are highly motivated, eager to hear about potential employment opportunities, and likely to be far more responsive.

What’s Next?

Ultimately, recruiters looking to sharpen their competitive edge by accessing a larger pool of potential job candidates should consider cultivating an active presence in social networking sphere, if they haven’t already. For those nervous about entering this potentially unfamiliar territory, creating a profile on a site such as LinkedIn is an excellent place to begin: the site is driven by a focus on networking rather than socializing, and offers a user-friendly, business-driven platform on which to build your web of contacts. As you become more familiar with the ins and outs of online social networking, you may wish to explore more niche networking sites focused on a particular industry, or target a particular age group or demographic by joining a broader, more comprehensive social network like Facebook or MySpace.

In any case, recruiters should consider social networking a supplement to more traditional sourcing methods, rather than a replacement. When used effectively, social networking can provide a cost-effective resource for identifying and reaching out to younger members of the workforce or those with highly specialized skill sets. When used ineffectively, it can result in multiple dead ends and hours of wasted time.