How to leverage job references and social media to find the right fit for a vacant role
Recruiters go out of their way to gather information about job applicants beyond their jobseeker personas. The most obvious way to learn about them would be from their former line managers’ or colleagues’ references, which give the prospective employer an idea of how the candidate works within a team – whether they tend to be reconcilers or troublemakers, learn from criticism or resent it, embrace change or dread it, get ready ahead of schedule or well behind it.
References from previous employers, however, are not fit-for-the purpose for a couple of reasons. First of all, both chasing and writing them are time-consuming exercises, and – unlike the prospective new employer – the former employer doesn’t have a vested interest in providing one. Moreover, some employers have to comply with the basic reference policy of their company and aren’t licensed to provide any information on the candidate beyond employment dates and job roles.
Although the costs of repeating the recruitment procedure if a new employee underwhelms are well-known, HR departments often adopt a frugal approach to getting references – even if it would be money well spent. Carefully designed, GDPR-compliant questionnaires completed by former co-workers can provide a treasure-trove of relevant information about the candidate, especially if it’s completed by more than two referees (recruitment specialists recommend requesting five to seven references for senior roles).
What can turn references into an even more powerful recruitment tool is timing. Thanks to the cost-saving mindset mentioned above, references are typically provided following the job interview. After a successful interview, by that time – more often than not – the halo effect has kicked in and the references serve only as a confirmation of a decision that’s already done and dusted. Therefore, any disconcerting details from former employers at this stage are likely to be overlooked. Bringing reference checks forward in the selection process may give more weight to their findings and contribute to better choices.
How can social media inform recruitment decisions?
Although some statistics suggest that 94 per cent of recruiters use social media, the extent to which they rely on this channel ranges from informal checks on personal accounts, to hosting job boards on the brand’s Facebook site, to directly messaging talent in a sector-specific LinkedIn community.
Running social media checks on job applicants is a bit of a grey zone. For recruiters it’s a great opportunity to take a peek into the candidate’s informal self and natural habitat. Job seekers, on the other hand, are either blissfully unaware of the damage their personal social media activity can do to their career or play catch-up by changing visibility settings and removing dodgy pictures to make sure no future employer is deterred by their account.
As for the charge of businesses stalking prospective employees on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, although a clear-cut line could originally be drawn between private and professional social media sites, this distinction is getting increasingly fuzzy. For small businesses a social media account on Facebook is a great opportunity to build an online presence at low cost, while big brands use theirs as a marketing tool. Very often, individuals also set up a professional account on these so-called private websites to have better exposure.
From serendipity to an established HR practice
Social recruitment or the sourcing of candidates through social media platforms is a much more resource-intensive and strategic exercise than the screening of candidates on social media discussed previously. It involves building up a corporate hub on social media by providing online content, infographics, posts and videos of current employees and updates of company events.
The strategic purpose of this social media presence is to create a talent pool of individuals interested in the company’s values and activities, and who have skillsets that make them potential future candidates. Some businesses even grant special, insider status to these individuals, which enables them to participate in Q&As, chats with employees about the work culture, corporate values or even open positions. Company advocates, inspired employees who highlight the advantages of working for the company on various platforms, have a major role to play in making this social media community more robust.
Although social recruitment is regarded as rather resource-intensive and requires a separate social media-savvy recruiting team, there seems to be a consensus about its efficacy. Advanced search features of social media sites can help identify the right talent. By setting up or joining groups specific to a sector or industry, recruiters can approach and engage with potential recruits, who will be more comfortable about being solicited for jobs as it comes from someone in their online community.
The biggest potential of this emerging recruitment method lies precisely in the ability to reach out to passive candidates, who aren’t active jobseekers but may be ready to jump ship for an irresistible offer. This is more head-hunter territory than the remit of online job boards.
Currently, however, online jobsites are still the first port of call for corporate hiring teams. But if a study of Boston-based marketing company Aberdeen Group, which found that 73 per cent of millennials (those between 18 and 34) found their last position via a social media platform is anything to go by, this may change rather soon. As they, and the digital-native Generation Z cohort after them, are gradually becoming the backbone of the labour force, they will set the trends that the rest of us – including jobseekers and recruiters alike – will need to follow.