Talent Communities: Come As You Are

People love to talk about themselves, and they love to talk even more online — often to a fault.

Honesty is not the best policy, especially online. Most of us know that an inappropriate picture or comment posted online can derail a person’s job prospects. In my view, recruiters and hiring managers make too much of people’s online posts and using them in a hiring process is fraught with problems, but online conversations can work to a recruiter’s advantage, especially in a talent community.

The tendency to act completely free of social restraints when online is known as the online disinhibition effect. At the extreme it’s a GIFT (Greater Internet F*wad Theory) showing up as rude language and harsh criticisms, anger, and hatred. In more benign forms it shows up as people sharing their secret emotions, feelings, fears, and desires — things that they would rarely mention in a face-to-face conversation. Someone I know posted a video of their colonoscopy to their Facebook page, as part of a conversation she was having about her health concerns. There are a million such examples.

Social networks promote uninhibited behavior because of the lack of social cues one finds in face-to-face conversations. In a conversation where one can see the other person, or hear them on the phone, even a slight disagreement can feel confrontational. This is especially true in situations like interviews or the workplace where it’s also apparent that there’s a power structure. A recruiter has power over a candidate; a manager has power over junior employees. By contrast online everyone seems like a peer. A person will send messages and requests to others far more senior than themselves when the two are connected on LinkedIn, but would hesitate to call them on the phone or start up a conversation in person.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

When it comes to using social media for recruitment, we tend to make things more complicated than they need to be. The basic requirement is to get engaged with prospective candidates, get to know them well and attract them to jobs. That means participating in conversations. But this is where it gets difficult, or awkward. The conversations recruiters are accustomed to having with candidates can be better described as interrogations. There’s a reason candidates are coached on how to interview, and telling someone to “just be yourself” can be really bad advice. In a typical job interview, everything from the location (an office) to the setting (typically with a desk or table separating the participants) to the mode of conversation (I ask, you answer) is designed to make it anything but engaging. Maybe that’s why in Britain when the police interrogate a suspect they call it an interview.

We would know more about candidates if we could have real conversations with them.

I worked for a company where the CEO conducted interviews by going for a walk with the candidate. Our offices were near a mall and he’d often take them there. He wanted a dialog to get to know them and them to know him. The people he hired tended to stay with the company for a long time and were generally high performers. One reason he did this was because it allowed candidates to avoid having to make constant eye contact, which often creates an inhibiting dynamic. This is the reason that the Catholic Church has for centuries separated priests from parishioners by a curtain in the confessional. But this runs counter to everything we’re taught as recruiters.

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Be Who You Are

Social media can make it easy to get to know candidates, and the best way is to do it in talent communities. People open up in communities if it’s a place where they believe that their views and opinions are respected and where they can have a dialog. Criticism and disagreement are normal parts of conversation, but are rarely tolerated in job interviews. It’s important to recognize that a talent community is a place to build engagement, not an echo chamber. But this goes against the grain, as demonstrated by the desire of so many recruiters (84% according to one survey) who use social media sites to look for evidence of undesirable behavior instead of building engagement.

If you’re looking to fill jobs that require unique or hard-to-find skills, then a talent community would be hard to beat as the solution for attracting prospective candidates — so long as you can let them be their true selves. A real talent community should be a place where participants feel comfortable sharing their views instead of engaging in a kabuki dance for recruiters. If they can’t engage in a real dialog then it’s just a place to collect names.

The online disinhibition effect, most evident on Facebook, is a phenomenon recruiters should take advantage of to get to know candidates. The absence of social cues, no need for constant eye contact, and the apparent lack of power structures can all work to a recruiter’s advantage in building relationships with candidates. Interestingly the same is not true on LinkedIn, where the few conversations that appear in groups are very stilted and formal and much of what gets posted reads like position statements rather than informal dialog. That may be partly because the site has a somewhat clinical feel to it, and also that it’s not particularly social, but more of an enhanced Rolodex.

The key is to create a forum for people to congregate and engage in dialog, with you and each other. If your idea of a talent community is a Facebook page where you post your jobs and collect likes then you’re not building a community. The truth isn’t just out there; it’s everywhere because people want it that way. Use it to your advantage, even if it means having to watch a video of someone’s colonoscopy.

Raghav Singh, director of product management at Salesforce, where his role is to build commercial products for HR, particularly recruiting. Prior, he was director of product management at Korn Ferry, where he developed and launched multiple software products and held leadership positions at several major recruiting technology vendors. Raghav's career has included work as a consultant on enterprise HR systems and as a recruiting and HRIT leader at several Fortune 500 companies. Opinions expressed here are his own.  

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