Social media have limits as a talent search solution

JULY 21, 2016

Social media have changed the face of recruitment and going forward have the potential to change it some more. But it is now clear social media are unlikely to supersede established methodologies. They are a supplement, not a replacement.

When social networking became a global trend, some predicted industry meltdown. It would supposedly enable DIY recruitment and talent acquisition, putting recruitment specialists out of business. Online profiles would replace CVs. Even job interviews might go.

In fact, social media have confirmed the importance of established talent acquisition practice.

Even so, change has been dramatic.

Social media have transformed recruitment from a passive function into active pursuit. Traditionally, adverts were placed and recruiters awaited a response. Today, ready access to tens of thousands of individual profiles makes it vital that recruitment professionals constantly conduct proactive searches and environmental scanning of available talent.

‘Head-hunters’ seek talent in the market not just on the market. Thorough, original research is the tried-and-tested way of finding these high performers. Recourse to LinkedIn, Viadeo, Xing, APEC and other sites is one dimensional and fails to reveal the full picture. 

Today’s recruitment professionals are tech-savvy. They follow social networks and blogs and may even participate in webinars (web-based seminars).

Companies are equally proactive. Many create online corporate hubs to attract recruits. They also google potential candidates for any reference to scandals.

You don’t need to be a mega-corporation to go online. In the UK, more than 80% of companies use social media for recruitment and candidate identification at entry- and middle-management levels.

Changes within the social media environment might also appear threatening as social media have morphed into a space for work as well as play. Even Facebook is reportedly eyeing the online career space.

There are hundreds of millions of social media users, but few have post-graduate degrees and high earners form a small minority. This explains why entry-level positions are often the focal point of social network recruitment.

What’s more, profile information is often sketchy. Be aware what you post. Essentially, you are using a public billboard – both good and bad are splashed about.

Candidates know companies can use key words to ‘filter’ recruits. Therefore, they hesitate to list the universities they attended, their age and race.

Experience shows senior and executive candidates feel safer working with recruitment professionals and will then provide demographic data they previously withheld.

Sometimes key information is missing because the candidate believes (rightly) that an employer would not want the world to know about marketing and project successes achieved by the individual concerned.

Sensitive and strategic information therefore goes unrecorded, though career successes in strategic areas are key to any appraisal of a candidate’s value-add.

On other occasions, profiles are seductive rather than sketchy. Candidates present their most attractive career features. For greater accuracy an employer (or executive search professional) needs to get much closer to the candidate.

Which explains the continuing relevance of key components of the talent search toolkit such as judicious candidate identification, meticulously conducted interviews and rigorous evaluation.

Getting it right first time is crucial when recruiting top talent. This is simply not possible without the personal touch and deep professional insight. Social media provide a broad perspective. For depth of view, traditional practice is essential.

*Annelize van Rensburg is a director of Talent Africa, a leading South Africa-based executive search and talent management company with Africa-wide reach.