The other day, my colleague told me a crazy story about a candidate who was instructed to log into her Facebook account during an interview so the hiring manager could see it. Surprisingly, the candidate – in relaying her story to my colleague – seemed more concerned with whether or not she would be hired than she was with what many would consider an abuse of power and invasion of privacy.

The whole thing left me wondering: When it comes to using sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for recruiting – what we call social recruiting – how far is too far?

With so many nuances, and so many (as yet) unwritten rules, how can recruiters best utilize social media to source quality candidates and assess whether they would be a good fit? Thankfully, there are some best practices emerging to help recruiters know when they’ve pushed the proverbial envelope too far – as happened with my colleague’s friend.

Beyond learning the hard way what works and what doesn’t, hiring professionals are discovering a new line of recruiting applications and tools designed to help them rise above the same old hashtag to better identify, connect with and place viable candidates.

Powerful Tools, But Often Misused:

Oftentimes, recruiters open the floodgates of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, with only a vague idea of how to turn these networks into powerful tools for sourcing and screening candidates. Though hiring professionals are doing their darnedest to develop sound strategies for utilizing social media in their recruiting efforts, it’s easy to become overwhelmed or misstep their bounds.

For all their good intentions, many recruiters using social media to source and screen candidates are stumbling over the same issues. Here are the top three:

  1. Spamming job posts: The surest way to alienate yourself from your talent pool and render your social recruiting efforts ineffective is to spam people with your job opportunities. You know, things like regularly flooding Twitter streams with the same job openings, or sending every “great opportunity” to passive candidates again and again. It becomes all too easy for even the best jobs to come off as white noise. The key is to be social and engaging. Share industry news and articles of interest, exchange personal messages and keep track of members of your network.
  2. Prying rather than researching: Some positions certainly require a flawless social media presence (e.g., marketing or public relations reps, executive-level employees, etc). For the rest of the folks looking for jobs, though, your screening shouldn’t be focused on thumbing through photos to see if candidates indulged in one too many eggnogs at the family Christmas. There’s a fine line between professional research and what I call “eStalking.” When using social media to screen candidates, look for things like relevant experience, professional work samples or overall impressions of their personality and interests to see if they would fit within your company culture. Ask yourself, if you were the candidate what information would be appropriate for the hiring company to assess about you?
  3. Penalizing candidates for level of access: Many candidates – especially Gen Y’ers – dichotomize their social media presence. It’s not uncommon for a candidate to deny recruiters access to their personal social profile (i.e. Facebook), and invite them to connect via LinkedIn instead. Be careful not to write off candidates for showing a bit of backbone and managing their public image – it’s hardly something to penalize. Rather, it could serve to answer any questions you may have about their ability to represent your organization.

Lessons Learned from the Trenches

As in everything, some people are experiencing more success in social recruiting than others. Some of these are pioneer recruiters who have learned from their mistakes. Others are born with the knack for plugging into social networks, and have picked up a few tricks worth sharing. Carolyn Betts, CEO of Betts Recruiting, describes herself as falling somewhere in between. Recently featured in a New York Times article, Betts has been leveraging social media to grow her recruiting success since 2004. She and I chatted last week, and she shared some of the lessons she learned from the trenches.

Focus on strategy. Social media offers hiring professionals a great opportunity to take recruiting efforts to another level, but you need a strong idea of what you want to accomplish and how you want to accomplish it. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting valuable time. “You can spend a lot of time looking at profiles, rather than getting an idea of their qualifications,” says Betts. She suggests starting with one social media site, familiarizing yourself with it, and then growing your presence as you get a stronger idea of how things work.

Have realistic expectations. “I have never had a candidate that a client wanted to hire, and didn’t hire, based on their social media presence,” says Betts. However, according to a study conducted by Reppler – an online image management service – 69 percent of hiring professionals rejected a candidate for just that. Bottom line: Hiring professionals need to determine upfront how much weight they are giving a candidate’s social media presence. When you consider the industry you’re in and the position you’re hiring for, are your deal-breakers realistic?

Leverage the right apps and tools. Many of the more successful social recruiters owe their success to the tools they’re using. They know that in order to make the most of your social recruiting efforts, you need to leverage the tools that have emerged to make social media more manageable for businesses. Why go it alone when there are applications, plug-ins and add-ons with built-in social recruiting best practices to source and screen candidates more effectively?

Software Expanding Recruiters’ Reach

Software developers are following these trends, and taking note of where recruiters are spending the majority of their time. As social media has expanded its reach, so too is HR software growing to help recruiters make best use of things like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in their hiring strategy.

Before recruiters can fully harness the functionality and features of these tools, however, they must first determine whether or not they are in the right social media playground to reach their desired candidates.

For example, many recruiters are finding LinkedIn overcrowded. One study by JobVite estimated 85 percent of U.S. companies used LinkedIn for recruiting last year. However, the same study found that only 30 percent of active job seekers are on LinkedIn. So where are the candidates, then? According to JobVite’s report, 80 percent are on Facebook.

But here’s the catch: the data recruiters are looking for – education, work history, experience, references, etc. – isn’t as readily available on Facebook as it is on LinkedIn. Some third-party software developers are stepping in, however, to help catch Facebook up to speed on the sourcing and recruiting front to put more actionable candidate information into the hands of recruiters quickly and efficiently. These new social media recruiting solutions can be broke down into two categories:

Standalone applications that tap into employers’ networks. These applications exist outside of your core HR software, though they may have some integration capabilities (most vendors would say integration is “forthcoming”). Facebook applications like BeKnown create a portal within Facebook where recruiters can review candidates’ skills, experience, and education – as well as check out candidate endorsements and socialize.

Other standalone applications like HireOrbit) designed to automate and promote an enhanced employee referral program. Employees can share links to your jobs across any number of networks or via email. These tools can track where in the web your referrals are coming from, and identify which of your employees shared the link.

Full-function applications designed specifically for automating social recruiting. Bullhorn Reach is one of the few systems in this category that I’ve seen that successfully adapts the recruiting process to include changes social media has had on the industry. Not only does Reach constantly scrape relevant information from your social networks, it uses this information to track and source potential candidates across your social networks. For example, a list of qualified candidates in your network is automatically generated every time you create a new job.

Furthermore, Reach can also help enhance referral programs, engaging employees and making it easy for them to share your openings via their own social networks. What I also found interesting is the “Engage” function within the system, which allows users to share interesting articles with your network. Links posted feature a branded bar with information on your company, specialty, and open jobs.

Clearly as social media matures and new software continues to emerge, we’re in store for more changes when it comes to social recruiting. But what do you think? What experiences have you had so far with social recruiting and what mistakes are you willing to share? Or what strategies and/or tools are working well? Feel free to share your comments below.

Author: Kyle Lagunas is the HR Analyst at Software Advice – a company that reviews human resources and applicant tracking software.

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