Word association: when I say "social networking," what's the first thing that pops into your head? If it's Facebook, you're definitely not alone; not only does the site have more users than Google these days, it even has its own movie. And with over 500 million active users, harnessing the power of Facebook's networks has become something of a holy grail—both for selling and, increasingly, for hiring. Indeed, in a recent Vault survey of recruiters and candidates, three-quarters of companies reported that they were using Facebook as part of their recruiting efforts.
There's just one problem with that last stat: more than half of candidates don't use Facebook for career-related purposes. Not only that, but when the same pool of candidates were asked to rate their comfort with being contacted via Facebook regarding job opportunities, our average respondent gave a score of just 2.59 out of 5—hardly a ringing endorsement.
As one candidate put it: "It would be a little odd if an HR team was contacting you directly through Facebook and Twitter. We have LinkedIn and email for that"
While the most common usage of Facebook from a hiring perspective is to promote the organization's brand—69 percent of recruiters do that—45 percent admitted to using it to communicate with potential candidates. And more than a quarter said they had used the site to source potential candidates.
But candidates remain unconvinced by the trade-off between being able to network with companies and the potential loss of privacy involved. Only 12 percent of job seekers said they used Facebook to get information about specific companies, with even fewer—9 percent—using it to find specific job opportunities. That attitude is perhaps best summed up by one candidate, who told Vault that "Facebook is my personal space. I would like to be able to find employers on this site, but not be contacted by them or searched by them."
However, that doesn't mean that companies should completely abandon the social media realm. Unsurprisingly, candidates are much more comfortable with the concept of companies evaluating their profiles and tapping them for job opportunities if the network in question is a dedicated professional networking site. (Or LinkedIn, to give it its official title.)
The degree of comfort with being contacted about job opportunities via LinkedIn was significantly higher: the average score from candidates was 4.03 out of 5. And companies appear to be meeting that need—89 percent of recruiters told Vault they used the site for recruitment purposes, including sourcing and communicating with potential candidates (79 and 70 percent respectively).
As for the last of the big three social networks—Twitter--candidates there were also pretty uncomfortable with the idea of being contacted or followed by potential employers—the average comfort score was just 2.69 out of 5.
The underlying message from job seekers seems to be that companies should acknowledge the difference between the networks and respect the boundaries that each implies. For example, if someone has created an account with the expectation that they'll be able to use it as an extension of who they are outside of a working environment, then they’re likely to feel threatened by requests to friend or follow them from potential recruiters.
As one candidate put it: "An email from an employer would scare me if it came on Facebook, because it means they might have seen something I didn't intend for them to see."
Quite apart from that fear, some candidates are of the opinion that companies recruiting via social media displays "a lack of class." One candidate insisted that they "would be shocked if one of the big 4 accounting firms used social media sites to contact potential employees," while another pointed out that "Goldman Sachs doesn't recruit with social media tools." (That last point is hardly surprising—Goldmanites, famously, are banned from accessing social media sites during working hours.)
As always, we'd love to hear your thoughts on this: what, if any, role do you think social media has to play in the hiring process? And what right do candidates have to expect that companies won't try to view their profiles or contact them?
All stats and quotes are taken from the Vault Social Media Survey, conducted in the summer of 2010. Approximately 150 companies in a variety of industries took the employer survey, and over 3,500 job seekers (34% of whom were students) took the candidate survey. To learn more about the survey results, contact Brian Dalton (firstname.lastname@example.org).
--Phil Stott, Vault.com