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Hire Better: Recruiting 2.0

How entrepreneurs are using social networking, blogging and other internet tools to hire the best employees

While searching Twitter for comments about his clients, San Francisco PR entrepreneur Jason Throckmorton noticed a post from a University of Oregon undergraduate. Searching further, he found a blog from the same student discussing how the PR industry was evolving. "We said, 'This is the kind of person we're interested in,'" says Throckmorton, 34. The co-founder of $5 million LaunchSquad contacted the student, invited her to visit and wound up adding her to his staff of 35.

Throckmorton isn't the only entrepreneur using social networking, blogging and other Web 2.0 tools to recruit employees. Ben Swartz, co-founder and president of Chicago-based interactive marketing advisory firm Marcel Media, estimates he's hired three-quarters of his 21-person staff using Web 2.0 resources. Swartz, 34, is particularly enthusiastic about using LinkedIn and Facebook to learn about candidates in depth. "In a typical resume, you might get a line on interests," he says. "On LinkedIn, you can find out who they associate with. On Facebook, you might find some groups and associations and even pictures. It gives us more dimensions than a static resume can offer."

In addition to these well-established general-purpose services, the staffing industry is beginning to offer Web 2.0-style functionality for staffing-specific websites. InsidersReferral.com Inc.'s job site Jobirn (jobirn.com) hooks up candidates, employers and recruiters via IM rather than conventional but slower e-mail. "A lot of deals should be done interactively," says Bruce Ge, founder and CEO of the company. "Instead of sending e-mails, they should send instant messages."

TheCareerMole.com sets up a channel for current employees to mentor candidates and provide information about company culture and jobs. "Opening new lines of communication between potential candidates and small companies has a significant impact on candidate experience and conversion rates," says director Oliver Perry. Candidates who know what's expected of them and what life in the company might really be like tend to be easier to hire and perform better.

The mushrooming of Web 2.0 technologies coupled with employers' heightened understanding of how to use these tools to find and hire attractive employees promises to radically reshape the recruiting landscape, say fans like Throckmorton. "There's never been a better way to proactively go out and find and hire people you think are a good fit for your position."

Cost represents a major attraction. "You really can't get any more cost-effective than web recruiting," says Caren Goldberg, an American University HR researcher. During its introductory phase, Jobirn charges nothing, and LinkedIn only charges for sending e-mails to candidates. Many other sites, such as Twitter, are ad-supported.

The prices are especially compelling compared to recruiters' fees for successful placements. "Facebook and LinkedIn don't charge 20 to 30 percent fees if you hire someone," Swartz says. "Some recruiters may hunt me down for saying this, but in this economy, everybody needs to be watching the bottom line."

The ability to search through resume-like job histories on LinkedIn, blogs, social networking sites and other Web 2.0 resources offers employers some appealing new communication and research channels, to be sure. But Web 2.0 recruiting has a few rough edges, as well. For one thing, Ge reports that his initial plan to emphasize employee referrals on Jobirn suffered when he realized that more recruiters were joining than employees. "When we launched the site, we thought there ought to be a lot of employees signing up for referrals," Ge says. "But it turns out we got more recruiters."

Referrals can work if employers encourage employees to post information about job duties and corporate culture, says Perry. "If your employees are your biggest assets, why not leverage them to help you differentiate your company and attract and recruit future talent?" That's what Swartz does, urging employees to create blog entries about Marcel Media, which earns more than $3 million in annual sales, plastering the company website with employee comments and even placing podcasts of company news on the website.

Another problem is that popular sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace are designed for person-to-person networking, not job recruiting. These sites rely on e-mail, which is slower and less interactive than IM, Ge says. "Even though Twitter offers [real-time] messaging, people get a lot of noise. On Jobirn, everything is about the job."

Relying heavily on Web 2.0 recruiting can also hamstring efforts to recruit a diverse work force. For instance, notes Goldberg, if you use Web 2.0 technologies to recruit minority or older workers, their lower rates of computer ownership and internet usage will make them harder to find, not easier. Likewise, top executives are probably not best recruited using a Web 2.0 strategy. "If it's a vice president or senior vice president, the likelihood we're going to find someone who's a good fit isn't as high when you're using these social networking tools," Throckmorton says.

Ultimately, no one sees Web 2.0 as a substitute for human recruiters and interviewers. "It cannot and will not ever replace face-to-face conversation," Swartz says. "It should and can only be used to cast the net wider to find more qualified individuals who have a better understanding of what you're looking for and to get a better understanding of who they are."

As various services enter the world of Web 2.0 recruiting, including some that were never designed for that kind of work, Swartz is excited about the concept of "cloud recruiting." "That's the ability to leverage all Web 2.0 opportunities at the same time," he says.

Until then, the Web 2.0 recruiting pioneers will find a slightly clunky but, according to fans, highly effective and little-populated world of recruitment strategies. But it may not be thinly peopled for long. Says Goldberg, "Given that it comes at a very low cost and does have such a strong influence on attitudes toward the organization and intentions to pursue employment, organizations would be foolish not to make this part of their recruiting package."

Mark Henricks writes on business and technology for leading publications and is author of Not Just a Living.

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This article was originally published in the February 2009 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Recruiting 2.0.

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