February 23, 2009, 2:14 PM — Online social networks are a great way to recruit the "best and brightest" and employers only ignore them at their peril, experts say.
"To portray your company as worthy of having top talent, it's almost necessary to use those tools in some fashion," according to Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst at Toronto-based IDC Canada.
His view is echoed by another Canadian analyst.
Employers who fail to use social networking sites in recruiting initiatives miss out on an opportunity to target a specific demographic, according to Jennifer Pierrier-Knox, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.
She said new hires looking for work turn to the Internet first. "Nobody looks in the local newspaper anymore. Everybody goes online."
But other experts note that Web 2.0 sites are wide and varied, and your recruiting needs should determine which ones you focus on.
For instance, from an IT perspective, MySpace may not be the ideal location to look for new hires, as its audience is very young, said Lily Mok, research vice-president of the CIO workforce management group at Stamford Conn.-based analyst firm, Gartner Inc.
She said some companies use Second Life, but Facebook and LinkedIn are more popular.
Rather than passively sit back and wait for a bunch of résumés -- that may be totally irrelevant -- to come in, employers can use social networking sites to target who they want to apply for a role, Perrier-Knox suggested.
And from a recruiting standpoint, Web 2.0 sites offer other benefits.
For instance, these sites are very popular among younger prospective employees, Restivo noted.
And if recruiters seek recent or future graduates, they're likely to fine good candidates -- especially if hiring in the IT space, said Perrier-Knox.
More than 70 per cent of undergraduate students and IT pros in North America maintain a social networking profile, the Info-Tech analyst noted.
One big reason they do that, she said, is to track potential job opportunities and extend their professional network.
"It has to be a targeted effort"
She said social networking sites have taken a common recruiting practice and brought it to the Internet.
"Most people, at the end of the day, are hired through a referral -- a friend of a friend of a friend," said Perrier-Knox. "This is the basic structure behind social networking sites -- the trusted one-to-one-to-one relationship."
Larger firms are also establishing their own presence on LinkedIn and Facebook, the Info-Tech analyst said.
Used as recruiting mechanisms, these profiles resemble corporate Web sites. But they sometimes allow interaction between potential candidates and current employees.
Most companies also set up an information page presenting what they do, and the type of people who work there, noted Gartner's Mok.
As networking sites -- such as Facebook -- limit recruiting activities, companies that cross the line risk getting banned from the site, she warned.
"The original intent of the network is personal interaction, so any commercial activity is really limited, especially recruiting...They have the right to eliminate you and delete and wipe all your contact information. You have to be very careful about how you approach it."
Firms should use social networking sites as a bridge to their own interactive corporate Web sites, she said. That's using Web 2.0 tools effectively.
Knowing exactly where to establish a presence is also important. "You can easily cast a wide net, but not get much of a response It has to be a targeted effort."
Employers also use popular social networking sites to take a closer look at persons who've actively applied for employment, Perrier-Knox says.
"We've all heard horror stories about people's profiles on Facebook that have actually worked against them because of content on there," added Restivo.
While there are ethical concerns with viewing online profiles of potential candidates, it still helps employers get a better feel for a person, said Nigel Wallis, research director at IDC Canada.
A compelling "corporate careers" page is of first importance
Mok said firms need to be aware of the security-related risks. "For recruitment purposes, you have to be careful about what kind of data you can and can't use in the screening and selection process," said Mok.
She said using a personal profile to perform searches on job candidates is a questionable data collection method.
However, companies also use search engines to discover what job applicants are doing in the social networking space.
She said guidelines need to be set to restrict hiring managers from taking this too far.
It's difficult to determine whether blogs on the personal level accurately reflect the person's experience and what their opinions are and how much influence this will have on the hiring manager, she said.
Despite the growing use of social networking sites in recruitment, companies aren't traditional employment sites, such as Workopolis and Monster.
In fact Restivo says the two channels can complement each other.
Mok says companies should focus on creating a compelling careers page on their site.
If that's not up to par, it doesn't matter whether you use Monster or Facebook, she said. The first thing prospective employees want to see is your Web site and how you present the opportunity available to them.