Jobseekers use online networking sites to find best-fit employers

Facebook can turn employees into firm’s best ad and provide new kind of reference check

Eight years into the new millennium and it would seem technology hasn’t made organizations much better at attracting and retaining top workers.

Many organizations are more short-staffed than ever, leaving human resources professionals wondering if social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Friendster, might help them find employees.

Critics have suggested these social networking websites are a fad. Tell that to Microsoft, which recently invested $240 million US for a small stake in Facebook, which was started by a Harvard University student in his dorm room in Cambridge, Mass., three years ago. Facebook is now arguably the most popular social utility on the web, with more than 55 million users.

Social networking websites are here to stay. They have become a fast, efficient means of communicating with friends and like-minded strangers. These sites can be of interest to employers because users post detailed profiles of themselves, including where they work and what it’s like to work for their company.

Young people are loyal to their peer group’s profession or trade, but not necessarily to their employer. Sharing information about your employer — even if it means airing dirty laundry — is deemed fair game if it can help another Gen Yer develop his identity.

Facebook allows users to search out company names and see the profiles of past and current employees. Free-form fields in the profile are often filled with user comments on their job or their employer. With a few clicks, the reader can quickly get a sense of how satisfied people are at their company.

Prospective employees can also get a sense of what kind of people work at a company based on their personal profiles. Are they fun and energetic? Chances are if their Facebook profile has lots of pictures of them socializing and enjoying leisure pursuits, their company is one that encourages a work-life balance.

They can also assess what people at the company are like in their personal lives and see if they have anything in common with the people who work there. For Generation Y, this is the best way to assess if they will fit into the work environment.

Popping up on the Internet are several other social networking sites that focus on careers and employment. Unlike Monster and Workopolis job boards, these sites give users a glimpse into the employee experience. Young jobseekers want more than a job — they want a job that’s right for them. To help them decide, they want to hear from employees, not just HR or the hiring manager.

The website is starting to gain popularity among Generation Y. The free website helps match workers with suitable corporate cultures. Users complete a series of assessment questions on what their current job is like and the site aggregates reviews and feedback from all users into a single company profile, including values and work style. Visitors can use this information to assess a company and see if it is a place they would want to work.

Social networking sites have made an impact because they connect people and allow the free sharing of information. Younger generations place more trust in content provided by each other, as opposed to the official party lines of companies and organizations. This should encourage companies to spend less time and money on marketing or branding and more on actually improving the workplace so employees will do the marketing for them. If managers follow this strategy, both companies and employees will benefit.

Organizations also have the ability to find out a lot more about potential candidates through these sites, compared to traditional reference checks. This, coupled with the ability to target searches for the ideal candidate, saves tremendous time and provides information on like-minded individuals.

Not for everyone

While these tools can be useful, not all organizations are convinced of their value.

“I have had it up to my back teeth with people saying, ‘Why can’t you find more ways to find more talent?’ The reality is that most of the ways to identify talent have been exhausted and the new ones that pop up from time to time (such as social networking tools, blogging) yield very little,” says Rob McIntosh, the national recruiting leader for Deloitte in the United States.

Using tracking data from his company, McIntosh says social networking sites generate fewer than five per cent of placements at Deloitte. Traditional sourcing channels, such as employee referrals, careers web pages, job boards, direct sourcing and agencies are more effective, he says.

But social networking sites and other innovative communication tools are here to stay, so does that mean these tools should be a part of an organization’s recruitment plan?

Kevin Wheeler, president of Global Learning Resources, a Fremont, Calif.-based recruiting consulting firm, believes the Internet will become even more central to the recruitment function and technology will continue providing innovative new techniques.

“Recruiting websites will become more and more interactive and offer everything from live tours to on-demand conversations with employees and recruiters,” says Wheeler. “Blogs, instant messaging, forums and e-mail will connect recruiters with candidates.”

Many recruiters agree. Dave Banns, a senior consultant at David Aplin Recruiting in Vancouver (and a member of Gen Y himself), says Facebook has a robust search engine, making it an online database of prospective candidates.

“Anyone who is a member can search for companies and see results of people who have listed that company in their profile,” says Banns. “Combine that with a geographic search and job title and Facebook can help find prospective employees who may have never registered with any recruiting agency before — which makes them a hot commodity for a recruiter.”

Greg Ford is a vice-president in the Vancouver office of national search firm David Aplin Recruiting and co-author of the new book Catch Them if You Can! He can be reached at [email protected]

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