How Social Media Hurts Recruiting and What to Do About It (Part III)

Feb 2, 2011

This is the final piece in a 3-part series exploring the negative impacts that social media is having on recruiting departments across the world, and offering strategies and tactics to mitigate this downside exposure for corporate recruiting departments. As always, reading the first two articles is recommended before diving into this one.

In Part I, we explore the Social Gap … the gap in expectations created by the intersection of social media with what is a highly transactional process designed to be reasonably efficient and effective and scalable, at least at most companies. This is primarily a gap of expectations, because most corporate recruiting practices are currently incongruent with supporting the social graph. In part II, we discuss the issues related to Social Proof, and how social media is fueling the reputation economy which places far more pressure on organizations to create candidate marketing impressions that are true.

The third problem that social media creates for recruiting is The Back Door Problem: The social graph has plumbed new conduits for communication, and these create material operational inefficiencies for departments operating at substantial scale. Part 1 and Part 2 of this series allude to this issue: candidates are reaching out to contacts in their social network to learn more about companies. But it goes beyond simply validating the value proposition or finding out more information; this uber-networking phenomenon has created a large breach of (admittedly candidate-unfriendly) processes as modern-day candidates are forgoing traditional application mechanisms (e.g. applying through the career website) and instead networking their way into companies. The problem with this is that it does not scale: corporate recruiters are responding to referrals from inside their company in numbers never before seen. This is one reason why corporate recruiting departments are so busy and feel overwhelmed.

The second facet of the Back Door Problem works in reverse of the first: hiring teams are now using their social network to conduct unauthorized references on candidates in numbers never before seen. Now, we all know that these ‘back door references’ happen at all companies and in many different ways and that this is not a new development. But never before have we seen this back door reference’ mechanism be executed so efficiently. Now, it’s simple for hiring managers to find references in their social network and invite them to chime in on candidate viability. Because social media brings such efficiency to managing relationships, it also proliferates the number of backdoor references.

The problem with this practice is that these backdoor references negatively impact recruiting yields with little substantiated correlation to quality of hire. This makes sense: the more backdoor references that one obtains, the more likely one is to find “evidence” (unsubstantiated as it may be) that the candidate should not be hired. For example, at Google, the company’s evaluation of the Google hiring process using multivariate regression analysis is widely documented … but what is far less often discussed is a simple analysis that was done to correlate number of interviews to quality to hire. As you might suspect, it turns out that there is a ‘tipping point’ for interviews after which the quality of hire does not improve, but recruiting yields decrease. In simple terms, if one puts a candidate through enough interviews, eventually one is going to find someone on the interview team who torpedoes the candidate. So more interviews past this tipping point simply erode yields with no lift in quality of hire.

The same is true for references, and with social media accelerating the rate at which unauthorized, unsubstantiated references are being conducted, recruiting yields are suffering. This is again one of the reasons why corporate recruiting departments are underwater.

To recap, there are two facets to the Back Door Problem created by social media. The first is that candidates are inadvertently redrawing the recruiting process by networking their way into your company. The second is that hiring teams are using their social graph to execute ‘back door’ references in ways that are unprecedented.

There are tactics that smart recruiting leaders are deploying to mitigate The Back Door Problem:

  • If ever there was a time to invest in a scalable, automated, employee referral program, now is the time. If your company doesn’t have one (many companies do not), make it a priority for 2011. If your company does have an employee referral program, spend time in 2011 evaluating the effectiveness and scalability of its operation.
  • Invest more in job spec creation and validating success criteria for key jobs for which you recruit; train your recruiters in conducting effective launch meetings.
  • Educate hiring teams at the launch meeting on the value of references and protocols for using them effectively.
  • Control the number of interviews. Above eight or so interviews, most organizations see little increase in quality, but recruiting yields start to deteriorate. If you are still letting hiring teams put candidates through 12 or more interviews, you are simply wasting resources and saying “no” to candidates who may actually be a fit.
  • Train hiring managers and recruiting staff on authenticated selection and assessment methodologies. This goes beyond interviewing skills, and includes validated job performance analysis, competency model development, and related job specification refinement skills.

Social media clearly provides significant utility to recruiting, but it also bring substantial negative consequences. As has been the case before Social Media, the key to driving effective recruiting strategy is leveraging the upside while mitigating the downside and related risks. Social media is clearly changing the landscape of recruiting, but by scrutinizing both the positive and the negative impacts, recruiting leaders will produce the greatest levels of success.

As always, sound off in the comments.

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