Engagement? It's Overrated. 5 Reasons Why We Are Overstating The Case For Candidate Engagement In Social Recruiting

It’s hard to be in a building for two days with some of the best brains in social media and recruitment, and not learn a thing or two about this industry we’re in. And yet for all the education I received from such luminaries as Matt Alder, Andy Headworth and Felix Wetzel, amongst many many others, I learned something else too: I am allergic to dogma.

Dogma is an opinion or a belief that is not to be disputed, doubted or be divergent from it’s accepted form by it’s practitioners or believers.

One theme was a recurring motif throughout the days of TruLondon 3. And I believe that the idea is in serious danger of becoming dogma: this is the notion that the application of social media to recruitment has to be about engagement.

I think we are guilty of overstating the case. Here are 5 reasons why I think Engagement Is Overrated:

1. We are a clique and do not represent

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A quick scan down the delegates list would reveal to anyone with a passing familiarity of the social web that what we had at TruLondon 3 was the gathering of an elite. Make no bones about this – this is exactly why we all paid up and turned up – but when you get people with the same interests, in the same place, saying the same things, there is a massive danger that conclusions will be drawn in a bubble of our own making. And sometimes those conclusions do not map at all well onto the experience of those in the outside world. I enjoyed immensely the contact and communication with thought leaders in the space, but at the same time, I was acutely aware that the people ‘in here’’ were nothing like the people ‘out there’. Those outsiders – by and large – do not tweet. They do not know about, think about or care about, ‘Personal Branding’. And their attitude to ‘engagement’ is largely unknown because they never touch us and we never touch them. Can an unrepresentative elite – a clique of experts – really make generalisations about what the outsiders want or need?

2. Case studies are idealized & flawed by sampling

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There’s nothing like a good idea illustrated by real life examples. Let’s chain that hypothetical down to concrete e.g’s on what actually happens. No dispute from me. However, illustration is not the same as representation. Case studies, are, after all, preselected on the fact that they worked; I’ve yet to go to a conference where I’ve seen a company rep step up and say, ‘well, we fucked this right up’. Yet it must of happened. Perhaps many, many more times than we know about. Sampling is the problem with case studies as a rule because we look for success, polish it up, and present it as the case from which to draw conclusions. And the slow accumulation of these examples ossify into the collective subconscious, further strengthening the dogma that engagement is key.

The pattern is familiar and the effects are the same; it is the practice of indoctrination. It’s the reason why no one anywhere, at anytime has ever been able to predict anything, unless they are iconoclasts or exiles from the community.

3. We ignore the fact that job seekers are often pragmatic

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As the great philosopher Dave Martin once said, ‘work is an unfortunate interruption to the weekend’. A joke of course, but it contains a kernel of truth recognised by everybody. Certainly it’s been the case for many of jobs I’ve ever had, and I don’t think my experience was in any way unique. The essential truth to a lot of work is that it is a practical exchange of time + labour for resources. Obsessive focus on ‘engagement’ ignores this reality, and leads to an overestimation as to how important engagement is to people looking for work. For every job seeker that needs to be ‘engaged’, I suspect that there are 10 more who might just need a fucking job. People find themselves on the market when they don’t want to be and, typically, want off that market asap. They know it’s no joke out there. They have bills to pay, And they are prepared to compromise. We forget this essential pragmatism drives a great deal of job search, and that the average job seeker journey is often very unlike that idealized by those who (over) subscribe to the talent community ideal. In the end, I suspect engagement might mean very little to people if they don’t get a job at the end of their effort.

4. Social media can be great for post and pray

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There is no doubt that broadcast techniques can be effectively, creatively and ingeniously used in recruitment. What made me realise that we had segued from evangelism into dogma was that these techniques were routinely dismissed for no other reason than they did not put engagement at the heart of what they do. They were criticised not because they ineffective, or that people did not get jobs, or that employers did not get hires. It was simply considered wrong because ‘engagement’ wasn’t core to the project. No explanation ever seemed to be offered why this was the case, other than the tautology that……‘it wasn’t engagement’. I thought it was great that foursquare pioneers like Craig Fisher uses guerilla advertising tactics to lure candidates in for his clients from their direct competitiors. I don’t see anything wrong with AllTheTopBananas producing ever more intelligent ways to distribute vacancies to users of their mobile application. I’m pretty certain there’s plenty wrong with Gordon Lokenberg, but nothing at all wrong with his innovative use of Augmented Reality as a metaphorical lighthouse for those Engineers with the skillset to see it.

Sure, we’re not using geo location or augmented reality or mobile to ‘engage’ with candidates, but so what? Broadcast is still OK. Broadcast with social tools is also OK. Nothing is abuse if the players in the game agree that it isn’t. And yet we have developed a very real sense that ‘non social’ use of social media is somehow….wrong. That feeling is an emotional response to an idea that we have allowed to embed into ego, and is subsequently no longer under the scrutiny of sober assessment.

5. We mistake presence for participation.

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Once ideas become embedded, they spread like fungus. And like fungus, they often appear in places where you might least expect them. Nothing brought this out more clearly than when an assertion was made on one of the tracks ‘that most people are on LinkedIn are there in order to engage’. Not so. Not at all in fact. This assertion not only didn’t feel right, it’s also not backed up by the facts – facts produced by LinkedIn themselves. It took one of my sourcing heroes – Irina Shamaeva – to summarize the counterpoint that, ‘most people are on LinkedIn.…..because think they ought to be’. In essence, setting up profiles when they need to look for work, and then, more or less forgetting about it when looking for work became less important. We’ve all the seen the figures and the graphs of social media sign up – they are spectacular – but it is a mistake to assume the hockey shaped curve represents greater participation or engagement. The 80/20 rule still applies – the vast majority of activity on two of the three major social networking platforms comes from a small and shrinking (in terms of overall share) percentage of the ‘community’. There may be more people there, but it’s more people doing very little. Indeed, it would seem that most people sign up because they feel they should, then don’t see the point – or maybe don’t like the point – and in fact, disengage.


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Understand this: I am not criticising Engagement. Engagement, conversation, dialogue is what makes the social web the transformatory force it is, in recruitment as well as in other places. It creates a new space, with fuzzy parameters, giving room for the sorts of experimentation that is easy to get passionate about. It is what makes social recruiting special, and I’m glad I’m in it. But we need to remind ourselves that we are playing with models, no more. These models do not mesh very closely with the reality of job search for the majority of the people who are looking for work, and the engagement we have conditioned ourselves to see as ideal may not always be what job seekers want, expect or need. Social media, used for recruitment in ‘non’ social ways is not any worse for the fact that it doesn’t have ‘engagement’ at the core of what it does. We should simply applaud when it works. And there is nothing wrong with looking at LinkedIn as it might well actually be – a giant database of self updating information, to be mined for candidates, by recruiters, looking to fill jobs.

Feel free to disagree. Engage, I guess

Views: 593

Comment by Suresh on February 25, 2011 at 12:51pm

Very good points made..


Also, a jobseeker is generally looking at Recruiters only as a necessary middleman to get the job. There is no love in that relationship.

Comment by Martin H.Snyder on February 25, 2011 at 1:21pm

#2 goes by the name Confirmation Bias, and I dont see very much social about LinkedIn.  

Comment by Michaela on February 25, 2011 at 2:43pm
All of these points are spot on.   I couldn't have said it any better if I wanted.   I have been cynical about "engagement" via social media especially when every job board is implementing new "social recruiting" tools which, to me, is just getting in on the act because, well, they think they have to.  "Engagement", in my opinion, is just the jargon of the day.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on February 25, 2011 at 6:06pm

I love this post.  My other thought about engagement is that it is a lot easier to become engaged than it is to break off an engagement.  I can't even remember some of the people i "engaged" with a year ago for a specific job.  Some of the ones i did engage with have driven me nuts trying to stay engaged when i wish i had never engaged in the first place.

I asked a candidate yesterday if she had set up a Linkedin profile.  She indicated that she had looked at some of the profiles of people she knew and had worked with in the past.  Her take was that they were so overblown, inflated and just flat untrue that she didn't want to set up a profile and connect with them much less engage in any networking.

Comment by Michaela on February 25, 2011 at 8:13pm
@ Sandra:  "it is a lot easier to become engaged than it is to break off an engagement"   Brilliant!  My experience is the same.  Too many people I have engaged with before have people they are engaged with that are trying to engage me.   I closed my Linkedin profile because I had way too many people asking me to join their network - and then came the emails with people asking me to network - I suppose it was through an email contact list?  Not sure how it happened but I wish it would stop.
Comment by Valentino Martinez on February 26, 2011 at 2:16am

Social networks can beget social engagements that beget some ties that bind with complete straingers...and there you are.


So be careful for what you ask for, or allow to happen--even if you are a "people person". 


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