In a bright, spacious room, the benches are neatly lined up in rows. A giant screen at the front is ready to play a PowerPoint presentation. Young people — some with spiky hairdos or unconventional outfits — take a seat. In walks a police officer who begins his pitch to join the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).
The only thing real here is the message. The police officer and potential recruits are avatars, computer-generated digital characters interacting in a virtual community known as Second Life.
More than seven million avatars — real-life players logging on from around the globe — inhabit this world, opening up a new, and very large, audience to recruiters.
“When I first heard about this, I thought it was kind of whacked,” says Const. Howard Chow of the VPD recruiting unit. “But it’s given us major exposure.”
Many organizations are turning to social networking sites, such as Second Life, Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, to find young, tech-savvy, leading-edge hires.
Some, such as the VPD, set up virtual recruitment booths or seminars. Others create company sites where they can post jobs and sell their organization’s assets to millions of people with a click of the mouse.
Ernst & Young started a “sponsored wall” a few years ago on Facebook. There are now 13,000 members — some are employees, others graduates interested in a job. The wall provides both information and interaction. It boasts of Ernst & Young’s success and achievements, what the organization has to offer and how to apply.
The site also lets surfers interact with employees, either by posting questions and comments on the wall or in discussion boards.
Daniela Carcasole, Ernst & Young’s national director of campus recruiting in Toronto, says Facebook has given the firm a brand and credibility in a sea of opportunities for young graduates. The company is not only hearing from recruiters, it’s also hearing from employees.
“Testimonials are big for Generation Y. To hear someone else, close to their age group, say ‘I’ve gone through this experience’ is really credible,” she says.
Carcasole says a major reason for using a social networking site is to tap into a demographic that favours technology over conventional practices.
“We could have just said, ‘Forget it, we want them to conform to us’ or we could say, ‘This is a new generation, they are taking over the marketplace and we need to start speaking their language,’” she says.
Unlike users of traditional job sites such as Workopolis or Monster, the people surfing social networking sites aren’t necessarily looking for jobs. Sometimes this works in the employer’s favour, says Brandy Douglas, an HR administrator at Labtronics, a technology firm in Guelph, Ont.
“Actively looking candidates are not always the ones you want to attract,” she says. “The best candidates are those who don’t know they are looking. Having our ad up and our name there on the site — where they don’t expect to see it — can draw those candidates in.”
Social networking sites expose companies to people beyond the typical borders, says Douglas. Facebook, for example, claims to have 69 million users worldwide.
“There are many options for fresh-thinking, skilled employees. It’s our job to come up with a way to brand ourselves and differentiate ourselves from other employers,” she says.
Sometimes, however, there are unintended consequences of this platform, for both parties, says Douglas. Potential recruits have requested to be her “friend” which potentially allows them to view her personal information or, at times, have given her “more information than I need as a recruiter.”
The casual nature of social networking sites is a reason for caution, says Lynne Perry-Reid, a graduate recruitment specialist with Corporate Connections in Calgary. She says the “barrier of professionalism” is often dropped online.
“When you meet face-to-face, you’re dressed nicely and you have your manners. That doesn’t happen in a casual place like Facebook,” she says. “You don’t get people who check their spelling when they send you a message.”
The other pitfall of these sites is also a great asset: Access to millions of potential employees, says Perry-Reid. What if thousands of them flood your inbox? And what if, after weeding through the resumés, only a few are even worth calling for an interview?
“It could be more work for the recruiter,” she says. “You automatically question the candidates’ credibility when they have spelling mistakes in their messages, when they want to add you as a friend or all these kinds of things that seem a little bit weird — that would not happen if you met face-to-face.”
There’s also the possibility an applicant who was turned down might take revenge online. At Ernst & Young, Carcasole says though people occasionally post disparaging remarks on her site, she doesn’t censor them.
“We want to be credible,” she says. “We respond openly and honestly.”
Considering many of these sites are free or cost less than $20 a month, many of these organizations say it’s not worth it not to be out there.
It’s about getting your company’s name out there first, to a generation of people who are less likely to be seeing your name in the newspaper, on television or walking down the street, says Perry-Reid.
“Generation Y is attached at the hip to technology — all the time,” she says. “You can’t change that force. This is interactive and it creates a presence.”
Const. Chow says he has no way of knowing how many police recruits have arrived through the virtual world. None of the other firms has found a way to keep track either.
But it doesn’t matter how VPD attracts potential hires, he says. Ultimately, they “still have to come in and face the same questions and go through the same procedures as the 21-year-old guy who’s wanted to be a police officer his whole life.”
Hopefully, there will just be more of them to choose from, he says.
Danielle Harder is a Whitby, Ont.-based freelance writer.
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