Is Content Searching the Future of Social Recruiting?

Oct 4, 2013
Rob Dromgoole
Rob Dromgoole

Rob Dromgoole had a search that would challenge any recruiter. He needed to find a purple squirrel who also spoke Japanese.

Dromgoole is director of recruiting at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. But he thinks of himself and his team of four recruiters as a search firm. “Everyone’s working a desk. We do a lot of esoteric searches. We’re like a retained search firm,” he says.

The lab has multiple government contracts, and works on projects as unusual as analyzing the chemical signature of certain agricultural fuels for the Internal Revenue Service. Other work is secret. Finding the PhDs and others with highly specialized skills, and, often, security clearances is all in a day’s work.

“We just find a way to find people,” he says.

What Dromgoole stumbled upon a few years back was the discovery that keyword searches — even on as large a site as LinkedIn — will only get you just so far, when your purple squirrel has to be a certain type of purple.

That discovery came when he was asked to find a nuclear engineer, experienced with fuels, who was a U.S. citizen with a security clearance, and spoke fluent Japanese. Be nice if he was a physicist, better still if he knew something about the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The req came in not long after a tsunami incapacitated the Fukushima plant, causing a meltdown. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was a lab partner and together they were developing plans on how to respond to the disaster and, not coincidentally, what to do here in the U.S. should something similar occur.

With no sourcing team, Dromgoole and his four other recruiters have developed the chops to, as he put it, “find really esoteric people.” One search, for an electrical engineer with radiation detection instrumentation experience and a few more requirements of an equally incomprehensible nature, turned up 300 people; the only people on the whole planet to fit the requirements.

For the nuclear engineer search, Dromgoole turned to LinkedIn. He found plenty of candidates, but the language requirement, plus some of the other requirements, would be the challenge. At the time, LI didn’t have a language filter; today it does.

One prospect, Dr. Akira Tokuhiro, a professor at the University of Idaho, had started a LinkedIn Group specifically about Fukushima. A look through the posts there and Dromgoole knew the professor was exactly what the NRC wanted. Within days Dr. Tokuhiro had taken the consulting position.

“What was unique for me,” explains Dromgoole, “it was the first time I used LinkedIn Groups to source a candidate. I always used keywords before. This time, that wasn’t enough. You couldn’t search language then. So I started checking some of the groups.”

There’s not much about Dromgoole’s experience that a good sourcer — or even just a fair one — wouldn’t already know. No new tricks or great revelations here. In fact, searching content sites is standard operating procedure for IT recruiters, who regularly prowl code discussion groups and forums like GitHub and SourceForge to find prospects.

Dromgoole’s the first to admit that. “The people who are at SourceCon (the conference that ended yesterday) do this all the time. From a recruiter’s perspective, there are thousands of these esoteric searches being done all the time.”

“What was a little different here for me is that the searching was on a candidate’s content,” Dromgoole said. “That, to me, is where it looks like social media sourcing really is going.”

With thousands of forums, groups and blogs on every subject, searching content for candidates is rapidly spreading beyond the IT and science arenas, where it is common for year for code to get posted and research to be discussed.

Today, professionals in every field are talking. There are more than 1.3 million groups on LinkedIn alone. Some are busier than others, but all can be a source of a prospect or at least information.

Social media recruiting has so far largely been a play on referrals. You reach out to your connections or the connections of employees, and then to the connections or friends of friends with a job description. Searching profiles on LinkedIn is not so different than searching the resume database of a CareerBuilder or a Monster. LinkedIn just made it cool and OK to have a public business resume; it’s networking, not job seeking.

Searching content for leads and to get beyond the basics of title, experience, and skills, that’s leveraging the social conversation.

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