When I started recruiting a little over ten years ago, I always looked forward to meeting candidates in person as they arrived for interviews. It was mostly curiosity, but I also wanted them to feel welcome and begin building a relationship regardless if we were destined to become colleagues. Today, as our geographies continue to expand and technology connects people instantaneously, I no longer see my candidates in person. And it has drastically impacted my relationships — for the better.

What was once a handshake and few minutes of small talk about the candidate’s ability to find a good parking spot has transformed into long-term, interactive relationships. Social media and web technologies give us the ability to communicate and build real relationships with people we’ve never met. Much like with in-person relationships, trust can be built, mutual interests recognized, and bonds formed without ever meeting an individual face-to-face. These aren’t just “relationships” in the sense that we’re connected on LinkedIn and see each other’s updates on a daily basis, but people that I consider friends—I know their kids’ names, their birthdays and all that we have in common.

In fact, I once co-owned and operated a company with a business partner I had never met in person. We had 25 employees, none of whom we ever met in person, and we ultimately sold our business to a publishing company who—you guessed it—we never met in person. These people, my former colleagues, have become close friends of mine.

As recruiters and talent developers, our business is inherently about building relationships; but our daily work is increasingly being completed online. Instead of user groups or conferences, candidates are registering for webinars. They are spending more time online and expect to be engaged this way. And yet, many recruiters struggle with forming strong, online relationships.

For those looking to turn a corner, here a several tips for forming real relationships in an increasingly virtual world:

1) Be personal:

Self-disclosure is a fine line, particularly in professional relationships. But common ground is so essential to even professional relationships that your connections need to truly get to know you in order to give you their trust. It can be something as simple as your love for cats (or dogs), your favorite soccer team or even your passion for cooking; being personal can go a long way in relating to your connections and knocking down barriers or hesitancies.

2) Be helpful:

Small, unexpected acts of kindness can act as a building block of virtual relationships. In person, it can be simple acts like holding open a door, picking up lunch or buying treats for your colleagues (You can’t lose with Thin Mints). Online, it might be taking someone’s survey, re-tweeting a unique Twitter post, or donating a small amount to a person’s meaningful cause. Be helpful, but also be sincere.

3) Be rich:

Using rich media like posting pictures and videos instead of just text messaging, for example, helps increase emotional connection with your audience. The more you showcase your ‘realness’, the deeper the connection you’ll have with your network.

4) Be yourself:

Just like in real life, your online persona can’t be all things to all people. The honesty and transparency will be appreciated.

5) Be consistent:

Using social media to recruit is a journey, not a destination. Too many recruiters simply throw out LinkedIn status updates with jobs and wonder why they’re not successful. You can’t disappear from your connection’s consciousness then reappear when you need a candidate. Your goal should be to always stay in their consciousness, so when they realize it is time for a career change or need a change in scenery, you are the resolution that comes to mind.

6) Be engaged:

Although tweets and status updates connect you to your network, they merely set up the ability to connect with someone one-on-one; direct, personal engagement lays the groundwork for a relationship built around trust, honesty and openness. Interact with your network on an individual level, not just an aggregate one. As a recruiter, you’ll likely have to initiate direct, personal conversation; if someone posts on Twitter about cats, direct your next cat-related tweet at them. Silly perhaps, but relationships won’t develop if built solely around, “Looking for a new career opportunity? Apply here today!”

As technologies improve and people become more accustomed to building virtual relationships, recruiters need to master the techniques of building them effectively. With frequently changing technologies, this isn’t a natural process for anyone. But by transitioning offline relationship-building techniques to the online world, you can grow your virtual network into one filled with valuable relationships.

Author: Adam Godson can be contacted via Twitter @adamgodson or LinkedIn.

photo by: qthomasbower

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