· Features

It will take time for the full impact of social networking in recruitment to be realised

While social networking is regarded as a promising tool for the future of recruitment, it has yet to be effectively or extensively harnessed.

Our research shows 4% of 1,264 senior executives surveyed said they have hired someone via social networking sites, while a third have used them to search for positions for themselves and 7% have actually secured jobs via this channel.

Respondents were asked how they use Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, Bebo and Twitter to find work or recruit staff. They were also asked to indicate how important they consider these types of sites to be in the recruitment process.

Social networking did to the recruitment industry what pollen does to honey bees; it created a feeding frenzy. There are websites with details of people, lots and lots of people, and most of those people have careers and with the click of a button you can access their details - it sounds like every recruiter's nirvana. Except in reality often you can't access them - not if they don't want you to, and even if you do find a way to communicate with them, they may not be looking for a job or have the right skills, or, for a whole bunch of other reasons, they might not be suitable. This is not an entirely dissimilar situation to when you place an ad in a newspaper or on a job board.  The fact is efficient recruitment is all about identifying the most appropriate candidates that have experience relevant to the organisation's priorities, amid the vast universe of possibles and hopefuls. Just because you can see lots of people does not make them the right people. For companies facing urgent business challenges, efficient access to the right talent can often be the difference between success and failure. 

Social networking sites fall into one of three broad types of activity: first, there are those sites geared to managing friends; second, sites for following the lives of celebrities; and third, there are sites dedicated to professional contact management.  With regard to the latter, our research indicated that the only professional social networking site of any standing is LinkedIn, with Xing occupying the same spot in some Continental European countries. If you are serious about managing your career and networking effectively it appears that swapping business cards is being strongly supplemented with an electronic invitation to ‘join my professional network'.  Therefore we can safely say that for business needs the dedicated professional business network is currently the best source of potential talent - and currently the most highly regarded is LinkedIn. So the question now is: how does this new phenomenon fit into the business of recruitment; who is using it successfully and what impact can we expect it to have moving forward?

David Norman, CEO of 600 Group, says: "Professional social networking is an enabler to keep people in contact in an embarrassment-free way because it offers a degree of professionalism.  It is far more suitable to approach an ex-colleague via a professional website for advice or with a recruitment strategy than to contact them out-of-the-blue without knowing their current employment status. A recruitment company should not see social networking as a threat but as a tool. I have turned to LinkedIn when filling consulting, interim or permanent positions - because I am taking less risk with people in my network."

Recruiting via social networking sites is not without its critics. Initial feedback from the research found that some think it is potentially dangerous for privacy and security reasons. One respondent commented ‘social networking sites are becoming trawling ground for shady recruiters' while another said "[Social networking sites] can absorb colossal amounts of time while their effectiveness is questionable."

The ‘time consumption' factor can be detrimental to the purpose. Dominic Rowles, global sales manager for Anite Telecoms, said: "I was looking for a new development manager for our Indian R&D office. It's quite a niche industry area so I was worried about the reach of local headhunters. I decided to use LinkedIn using the term ‘world class salary'. Unsurprisingly, I was inundated; some of the candidates were ridiculously inappropriate. However, I found a development manager and a sales and marketing manager as well; two for the price of one. But it was time-consuming weeding out the improper candidates. I find that hiring through executive recruitment saves me time."

In my opinion social networking sites do present some real opportunities to identify talent.  In contrast to advertising or traditional executive search, they may create a more targeted, speedier way to get in touch with people whose prior job titles or companies indicate they may be a fit for a particular role. However, they're far from the ‘be all, end all' solution - they're just one tool in an effective recruiter's box, whether that recruiter is the hiring manager, HR department or professional recruitment firm.  That initial glimpse of an interesting candidate is just the starting point. There will still be a need for significant amounts of the recruiter's time and judgment in the process, to screen and separate the suitable candidates from the rest, and to persuade them to join. Although social networking is becoming more prevalent in the recruitment processes it has significant limitations.  At Executives Online we view social networking as a promising and exciting new way to engage with prospective candidates.  Whether used as a screening tool, a directional tool or a cautionary tool, social networking sites are here in the recruitment industry to stay.  It may sound clichéd but the presence of social networking puts recruitment in the dawn of a new era.  It is here but it is going to take time to make its impact. 

Anne Beitel is managing director of Executives Online