Just when you think you’ve mastered the Internet, along comes a new generation that is changing the way we use the Web. It will be incumbent on today’s recruiting innovators to rethink and shift their recruiting tactics in response to the changing dynamics of the Web’s second generation.
Ten years ago, leading companies identified that the habits of their target audience were rapidly changing. The Internet, once an exclusive haven for techies and geeks, was now becoming an indispensable resource for everyone from college students to experienced professionals.
This shift enabled a virtual revolution in recruiting, with large recruiting teams, high costs, and long hiring cycles giving way to faster, more agile recruiting departments that could do much more with less and more quickly.
This shift to online recruiting began with next-generation job seekers: namely, college students. Today we can see that the college audience is once again proving to be a bellwether audience signaling times of change ahead.
From the way they use the technology to the way they interact with and create social circles, their changing behaviors are behind the increasingly rapid evolution of the Internet as we know it.
Is There Really a Web 2.0?
We’ve heard hot buzzwords before like push technology, convergence, and custom portals. Not much materialized from these concepts except that fledgling businesses without viable business models raised large amounts of venture capital, threw lavish parties, and ultimately, crashed and burned (some in spectacular fashion). We fell in love with a sock puppet, but not enough to buy pet supplies from him. We watched the Furniturewarehouse.com Bowl on national television. If you were lucky, you saw Celine Dion or KISS at an IPO party. If you were unlucky, you bought stock in said party-thrower. And a few winners survived.
And now comes “Web 2.0.” Terms like user-generated content, tags, social networks, contextual targeting, and mass customization have emerged. Sites like MySpace, YouTube, del.icio.us, and Digg have become overnight sensations. There are 50 million blogs, with two new blogs getting created every second.
Websites are becoming much more dynamic and immersive than ever before, threatening to turn the “world’s biggest library” into the “world’s biggest form of interactive entertainment.”
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I believe that Web 2.0 is a convenient, easily understandable phrase that represents a much broader set of changes happening online. Yes, there are some technological changes underway allowing new sets of innovations. There are some new (and recycled) approaches to business problems that would have never been possible without the level of online participation that we see today (for perspective, 75% of U.S. households are online, and it took only five years for the Internet to reach 50 million people vs. 38 years for TV and 13 years for radio). The Internet and the technology and processes behind it are maturing.
More important for recruiting is that the audience is changing. They’re using the Internet in entirely different ways than the original Web generation did. Some of the changes happening with this new generation include:
- The Web is a hub of social interaction. It is no longer just an information resource, which results in this generation forming fewer close friends and more “weak ties,” or people they do not know well, but unite with around common interests.
- Privacy is no longer an issue. This generation seems quite comfortable publishing all of the gory details of their lives online. Some of these details will shock you. Get used to workers who are perfectly functioning members of the work world, but who perhaps make decisions in their personal lives that you find appalling.
- More time spent online than watching TV. During this time, they visit dozens of sites vs. congregating in just a few, hopping from social networks to friends’ websites to blogs and music-sharing sites like Last.fm.
- The Web is always on. This generation is always connected and never sitting in one place long enough to get their attention. They work faster but have a myriad of distractions to keep them occupied before, during, and after work hours, and they expect their employers to be okay with this as long as they’re working hard and producing.
- An inherited Gen X cynicism. This generation may not trust the marketing messages they’ve been bombarded with throughout their lives. As such they are harder to communicate with through traditional and mass media.
The Next Generation of Job Seekers
Job-seeker behavior and expectations are also beginning to change. The implications on how companies find and connect with people will be significant. While some of the old habits of previous unwired generations carried through to the first generation of Internet users (i.e., writing a great cover letter will get you that job!), the new Web generation will completely redefine the job search and bring new expectations to the workforce.
Here are a few examples of the changes underway:
- Because they don’t trust marketing messages, the “culture section” of your website or the employee testimonial will no longer add much insight into the work experience. Instead, they will use their broader set of connections to give them new, more honest insights into what it’s like to work at your company or even for a specific hiring manager.
- How you use technology will have a bigger impact on job-seeker perceptions of you as an employer. They won’t have patience with bad websites and user experiences. If something is broken on the website, the company will be perceived as broken and not worth working for.
- Many job seekers, growing up in the level playing field that is the innovation economy, will often expect to be judged by their ideas, not their experience. Resumes will become irrelevant (or at best, a meaningless formality that describes your work history, not who you are). View this discussion on Robert Scoble’s blog to see what I mean; it’s the inspiration for the title of this article. If this attitude exists, outside of the system or not, think about whether you could even interview someone like Robert with your current process.
- You won’t find as many candidates you’re interested in sitting in big databases. Instead, you will find them commenting on blogs, in user forums, on social networks, in niche sites, or reachable via opt-in and permission-marketing techniques.
- To gain credibility with passive candidates, you will need to be more educated on who they are and how they think. They will expect that you have read their blogs, seen their portfolio, or viewed recommendations from co-workers and supervisors who have vouched for their intelligence and work ethic. If you don’t do your homework, they won’t return your calls or be receptive to your offer. And once again, you can’t always expect a resume from a passive candidate.
- You can no longer control or restrict information, nor would I suggest trying. If your work environment is terrible, people will hear about it. Someone will blog about it, comment on it, or IM others about it. You have no choice but to treat your candidates, employees, and alumni well and encourage them to talk about their experiences.
If you think that these trends are only applicable to students, think again. Ten years ago, we thought that the newspapers would still remain the dominant media and the Internet would be a niche player in online recruiting.
Today, the Internet is poised to overtake newspapers in the job-classifieds market in the next five years. We already do what we thought only IT people would do. Soon, I predict that we will all be doing the things that this new Web generation does.