The Truth about Social Networking, Web 2.0 and Recruiting

(I posted this article on my site yesterday, it gives a good plug for this site, thought it would be good to post it here - SL )

There’s a reason why most third-party recruiters flounder when it comes to using the internet for their businesses, specifically the aspect of social networking, also called web 2.0. They believe that Linked-In, Google, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media sites and blogs are the silver bullet of recruiting. These topics make for the hottest webinars and are the most-attended sessions at industry conferences. In the same way that my son wants to spend all his time playing with the newest toy, search firms and staffing agencies are investing a considerable amount of time and energy devoted to finding ways to make good use of this potentially powerful tool.

If the only tool you are using is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.

Web 2.0 brings with it not just new applications and uses, but a new way of thinking. Businesses who fail with the web ask questions like, “How can we use this tool for our business?” Instead they should be asking, “How can we re-shape our business model to use these tools?” Or one step further, “Can and should the web really help us with our business? And if not in every aspect, then where specifically can it help us?”

And that question leads to the most important question you can ask about your practice: “What business am I really in?”

When you finally get to that question, then you’ll see that Web 2.0 is not the great solution that so many executive search firms and third-party recruiters were hoping it would be. It’s a good tool, but it’s just a hammer, not a fork lift or a high-rise crane or a bulldozer.

Here’s what I mean.

Web 2.0 is about open connectedness and communication. People who want to communicate make themselves available with social media. That’s why the great blogs for our industry offer value through learning, education, training, information, industry gossip, tips, industry intelligence, and building relationships with potential trading partners, and feeling a sense of camaraderie with your peers. (Check out and the Fordyce Letter’s social media site at In my opinion, these two sites offer the best value for the time you spend on them. Plus, they won’t send you three emails a day trying to sell you stuff. They are real organically grown social media sites and weren’t fabricated through email blasts of purchased lists).

Web 2.0 is built on permission marketing, meaning that people who want to hear from you will allow you to come into their world and even actively invite you into it. This is an amazing concept when it comes to recruiting, to know that some people want you to tell them about the opportunities you have to place them with one of your clients. It makes a lot of sense for active candidates who want to hear about opportunities and eagerly pursue them. But who else can get access to these types of candidates? Everyone with a computer, like your clients.

If you are a third party recruiter, you have to show value to your clients. That means that you have to be able to do things that they can’t do on their own. Otherwise, what’s the point of your existence? Can your clients surf the web and connect with these people? Yes. Can your client download resumes of active job seekers? Yes. Can your client open up portals of opportunities that active job seekers will find? Yes. If this is how you do business, then you are now irrelevant.

What value are you offering? What value does surfing the web and connecting with active job-seeking candidates and downloading resumes offer? If you believe this, then you will watch your own clients become your competitors and for many of you, it’s already happened. Fortune 500 companies send their own internal recruiters to the same seminars that you attend on how to use the web to find resumes of passive candidates, how to use the job postings and how to use social media to find and connect with them.

So what’s the point? Why should they use you? If they can do what you are trying to do, how can you bring value to them? If the only difference between what they do and what you do is that there’s a big fee involved, then what’s the point of having you around?
They should use you because you are able to reach those people who do not want to communicate about job opportunities and are not open to hearing about them. A big part of your business is based on interruption marketing. There’s nothing wrong with that, if you do it properly. You have to interrupt people, engage them in a dialogue about opportunities, be persuasive in opening up their minds, and lead them down the scary path of interviews that is built on their greatest fear, the fear of change. And yes, it really can be done. This is why so many people fail and so many people make a fortune in our business: their single greatest core competency is to become an expert at building authentic relationships and to ethically influence other people to (1) make decisions based on the fear of change and (2) to take action.

What business are you really in?

If you think you are in the networking business, you are in the wrong business. If that’s the case you might as well form a book club or a supper club. You are in the business of facilitating change in other peoples’ lives through active engagement and that isn’t going to happen just over the web. It can start there, but it won’t end up there.

A few years ago I keynoted at the annual sales meeting for the International Cemetery and Funeral Association. (A big part of my business is to keynote at other industry conferences on sales and leadership through my other speaking brand). When talking with the attendees, the people who sell funeral services and pre-need cemetery lots, it became clear to me that the web will never replace a good sales person. Who the heck wants to consider or make a decision about their own death? You can buy life insurance from the web. But there are still thousands of life insurance sales people who are making six figure incomes because they are able to help people face the fear of change and the fear of death. That’s also why there are no more travel agents. What’s the fear in making a decision about which airport you should fly through? Unless, of course, you have to route through O’Hare.

As a third party recruiter, you offer value to your clients by getting candidates they can’t access interested in opportunities that they originally are not open to. That’s the business that you are in. You are a professional influencer.

Web 2.0 is a fantastic forum to network with people and begin to open up doors. You can build a large network quite easily with people in your niche, and you really should do that. You should be visible in your space. You should learn how to find information from the web. You should harness technology to make your life easier. But when it comes to prioritizing how you develop yourself and your team to master core competencies in your business, your efforts to become a master of influence will give you the greatest value and greatest return on investment.

Copyright © 2008 Scott Love

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Hi Scott, I apologise for the lack of value in this response, I prefer to add something of merit when I add stuff to posts, but I can't resist this.

Great post Scott thanks for sharing... straight to your website for me.


Awesome post.

'Love' your stuff........
great article. Thanks for sharing - I just forwarded your post to my entire team.
Thanks for sharing this Scott.
Scott, you're spot on!

Web 2.0 and all the social networking sites are wonderful tools and great assets, but it's the interpersonal contact that makes the difference. Referrals continue to be the best source of quality candidates. When someone refers someone else they are putting their own reputation on the line, something we hope isn't being done casually.
Hi Scott,

I hope you have been well! Great post and I fully agree! Every tool recruiters use - whether utilized over the web or not and whether considered Web 2.0 or not - should be considered for it's ability to help build a recruiter's bottom line. Some of the new tools made available via the web offer intrinsic value, but you are completely correct in suggesting that recruiters should question and define that value. Having 1,000+ connections on LinkedIn and spending hours on end keeping up on up to the minute recruiting news does not close deals.

Closing deals happens by executing on something that nobody else can, will or does. Utilizing your networks and reach on the web to facilitate that execution should simply be a means to an end.

With the economy acting the way it is, I imagine 2009 will force people to either figure out how to monetize their time spent on social media, or find the next "big thing."

Thanks again Scott for this post.

hmmm. While I find the overall direction of the post to be appropriate, you threw in some real whoppers there and missed some very vital aspects of social media.

1) No one worth listening to thinks social media is some kind of silver bullet. The proof of that is anyone who has seen success (defined as placing candidates) recognizes that time is a precious resource, and social media takes time, which is the biggest reason recruiters are reluctant to invest. While webinars are well attended and industry sessions are full, it's not because recruiters are looking for a silver bullet. It's because the world has changed drastically, and a threat and an opportunity are perceived. As you pointed out, internal recruiters are learning how to use social media. Failing to engage and leaving the field open to internal recruiters is tantamount to sticking your head in the sand. No owner wants to wake up and find themselves obsolete, but they struggle with the openness of social media. Thus they go to the events, and look for ways to engage without throwing open their rolodex to the world.

2) Your point about the business we're in is your strongest, as selling two parties on an employment decision takes more than a resume and a job description. Recruiters who are great at networking but not at closing don't stay in business long, and we're all in the business of closing (even if you're internal).

3) That said - social media has two very different components. It's a set of tools that can make aspects of recruiting easier (sourcing, messaging, reference checking, sales). But it's also a social phenomenon that shakes up existing hierarchies and explodes information bottlenecks that recruiters have traditionally used to make their large fees. This second component is of more danger than the first, and I think you not only missed it, you offer dangerous advice to recruiters about bringing candidates not involved in social media to client.

4) Facebook is adding a million people a day, and LinkedIn is adding a million people a week to their network. MySpace already has 70 million users in the US and you can bet that other networks like Twitter, Second Life, and Ning private networks are rapidly becoming the destinations for top talent. Executives, who spend time in private offline networks are finding that they can share that information online faster, and are building their walled gardens online. The space is growing so fast, and the data and computing power are moving so quickly, that in 3 short years, most people we would recruit are involved in a social network in some way. Add another 2 years, and I'd say that everyone worth recruiting in most industries will be online at some site.

5) Why is this important? The very tools we use to source and message are available to the public, and they are using those networks to leapfrog information brokers (and recruiters are information brokers) and extract value from their own networks. They're learning how to use these networks to make connections, share information, and yes, even find employment. The problem? The growth of electronic resumes overwhelmed internal departments with too much data. Social Media is so much worse. Building an online profile and messaging candidates is a very time-intensive business, and when you throw in that social media is all about transparency, you're faced with the monster of the public demanding access and you not having time to give it to them.

Recruiters still have a valuable role to play, but it will be the role of persuader that you eloquently point out. That role requires having a reputation, and increasingly in industries that are online, that reputation requires you to be active in the networks where you source. To a large extent, your ability to influence will be dependent on your online profile. Your ability to "interrupt" will also be dependent on your online profile. We've all seen candidates that don't answer phones, return emails, or respond to communications of any kind from unknown recruiters.

So by all means work on your skills as an influencer, and recognize that we are the in the business of persuasion. Just don't make the mistake of treating social media like some fad technology. It's a revolutionary change in the way the world communicates. As recruiters we can't afford to miss this wave.

Recruiters pride themselves on finding candidates not on Monster. That's a good niche, and a profitable one. Finding candidates that aren't accessible in some manner online is an increasingly small niche. We're better off working to build those profiles that attract candidates in a way that internal recruiters can not (variety of companies, best negotiating position, compete understanding of the industry) then we are ceding the internet to our clients in an attempt to be original.
Very ,very well said.

Thanks for this interesting article. I agree with the need for a recruiting firm to add value by bringing unique passive candidates into a client's hiring process. With the advent of social media and the fact that so many bios are online now, many search firms and internal recruiting departments have access to the same possible passive candidates. Moving forward we will compete on how well we engage and not who we know.

Scott, cool article. I'll tell you something you might get a laugh out of:

At Sourcecon 2007, the major gist was the research piece of the puzzle, meaning little to no focus on candidate development or recruiting. I mean, it was still a super conference - I learned a ton. There was just no focus on much outside of research. So anyway, Danny Cahill gives the keynote . . . at which point he says something along the lines of:

"Pretty soon, all of us are going to have access to all the names. Yep, pretty soon, most of the names and profiles are all going to be easily findable on the due to new technologies. And when this happens, Recruiting will once again return to its roots as a game of sales and, more importantly, persuasion."

Since this was 2007 and many Sourcers at the time were pulling pretty impressive bill rates without focusing on candidate development, you could have heard a pin drop through the audience :) The conversations in the hallways mirrored more, "Who does this guy think he is talking about sales and persuasion?" more than, "Hey, this guy might have a point here." There's nothing wrong with that - it's just how the world works :)

SM will evolve, and I think there will come a time when great Recruiters will make better use than we do today (I think of this as a move toward "dealing the drugs instead of taking them.") For example, 30 years from now, current Gen Y-ers and Millenials will be the candidates most Executive Recruiters are focusing on (I say that because most of my experienced candidates today are 35+). Because of the human race's innate desire to connect, I can't imagine what things will really be like tomorrow. (Jeez, just think 18 months ago - was anyone talking about Twitter?)

So when the future does get here . . . and the time comes when we're all exponentially better connected than we are today (a scary thought!) . . . will it really matter (even a little bit) if you aren't adept at the skills of sales and persuasion as they relate to recruiting? Building rapport with candidates who are ready to leave their current employer will be just as easy . . . while building relationships with candidates not interested in making a move will be just as challenging.
Scott- I partially agree with what you are saying but I do have to admit that linkedin is often a valuable tool for recruiting. I don't think Facebook and other sites that aren't business oriented are as valuable. One thing that is very valuable in a cold call vs a linkedin inmail is that on linkedin they can see who you are, endorsements and see that you may not be a "schmuck" salesperson who is just smiling and dialing. Believe me, I spent my career not as a recruiter and got into this business as 80% of the people who were calling me were totally clueless/and or unprofessional.

Consequently, if you use linkedin effectively, it can be a very valuable tool for both referrals and potential direct connections. It also depends on your "niche" whether calling folks or emailing them via linkedin or other means is more valuable. I recruit engineers who more then often don't like to talk on the phone and feel like it's an invasion of privacy to call them.

I do think social networking has changed some of recruiting and can be a very valuable tool. Of course, I got into recruiting as social networking was starting to take off in 2004 and have found it very useful to add credibility vs calling someone "blind" where there often is no relationship.

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