Originally Published MX: Issues Update
Recruiters Face a Networking Challenge
LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter vie for the most popular social media tool used by HR execs and job seekers.
The vice president of human resources at a Boston area medical device company oversees recruitment and, like all heads of HR, is seeking top talent. But as he surveys the field of social media tools he can use to attract the best recruits, he is confused about how to proceed. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Ning—the list goes on. “How many flower beds do you want to have?” he asks. “Because you are going to have to weed them all.”
Another HR leader, who heads staffing for a surgical device company north of Boston readily admits “I don’t know what I don’t know” when it comes to social media recruitment. And yet a third HR executive at a device firm near Boston says, “I think we are going to see a proliferation of social media, but with all these communication mechanisms, sometimes I am overwhelmed.” Many medical technology HR executives are in the same boat, with some identifying and effectively using social media for recruiting, while many others are just beginning to test the waters.
As a first step in understanding social media, it’s instructive to categorize some of the most popular tools. Jim Durbin of Durbin Media (St. Louis) recruits exclusively in the social media space. He offers this straightforward snapshot of how to understand three of the most popular social media sites:
• LinkedIn: Tells others who you are.
• Facebook: Tells others who you know.
• Twitter: Tells others what you are doing now.
A recent survey of seven Boston area medical device companies conducted by my firm, Biomedical Search Consultants, shows that LinkedIn was used the most as a recruitment tool, with Facebook a distant second.1 The use of Twitter was almost nonexistent. Don Cummings, talent acquisition director for Salient Surgical Technologies (Portsmouth, NH), says, “When I need to become a headhunter, when I need to be ‘proactive,’ I use LinkedIn.” Cummings says he can identify and e-mail up to 20 potential candidates on LinkedIn in an hour when he is initially starting a search.
Cummings believes that the kind of talent he is seeking—experienced medical device professionals with very specific skill sets—used LinkedIn. For the most part, he is right. A 2008 study by Anderson Analytics and SPSS determined that LinkedIn attracts users with the highest average income compared with other social media tools.2 It’s no surprise as well that the approximate 50 million users of LinkedIn join for professional networking purposes. The study indicates that about 20% are hardcore job seekers. Seventy percent of this group is employed full-time but actively looking. It’s interesting to note that this group is 52% female, earning just over $87,500 per year.
Close to Desired Candidates
Clint Berge, vice president of human resources at iCAD (Nashua, NH) also uses LinkedIn. “LinkedIn has allowed me to cross a line that I have not crossed before. Before, I’d throw it on the [job] boards and encourage employee referrals,” Berge says. “Now I am able to recruit passively in the market for candidates who are exactly in my space.” Berge is very intent on enlarging his LinkedIn network. “I invite a large number at once—HR people, recruiters, prior people I’ve worked with. They are helping me get closer to the candidates I want.”
Amie Cafferty, marketing recruitment sourcing specialist at Philips (Andover, MA), also views LinkedIn as her favorite social media recruitment tool. She finds it useful in solidifying her relationships with hiring managers, who are often located in different parts of the country. She invites them to join her network, and then has access to their contacts, which can serve as a source for employee referrals, or in some cases, “backdoor references” on candidates already in the pipeline.
Cummings, Berge, and Cafferty join the LinkedIn special interest groups. This further expands their network, and also allows them to post jobs on LinkedIn for free. In larger, geographically dispersed companies, such as Philips, the groups offer another advantage. Cafferty says they are considering creating a group that restricts membership to Philips recruiters. They will use this group to share best practices and hot sourcing leads worldwide. In addition, Cafferty and her peers find LinkedIn so useful that they all have upgraded paid accounts, which allow greater direct access to candidates, advanced search capabilities, and more detailed candidate profiles.
While LinkedIn appears to have gained wide acceptance as an effective recruiting tool, Facebook and Twitter are viewed with skepticism by the device companies surveyed. Overall, the group did not believe Facebook and Twitter reaches the experienced professionals they are seeking, viewing each as either purely socially focused or for a younger demographic with predominantly entry-level skills. However, this latter assumption appears to be off target. According to Durbin, the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is age 35 or older. And according to Quantcast, 28% of Twitter users are age 35 to 49 (with the largest percentage being the age bracket of 18 to 34).
Facing Big Challenges
One of the biggest challenges for medical device company recruiters is how to incorporate Facebook and Twitter into HR recruitment strategies. Facebook in particular is a huge target, with estimates indicating that there are 200 million active users. More than half of these users log on once a day. In addition, they spend more than 6.5 million hours on Facebook each day worldwide. The vastness of these numbers strongly suggests that every company should have some presence on Facebook, if not for recruitment then at least for branding and messaging purposes.
“I think every employer should have a Facebook fan page,” says Ken Jeffers, founder of GreatPaths, which is developing a social media application that will connect employers and candidates through the Facebook platform. The application will be released in the first quarter of 2010. “Facebook fan pages are part of how candidates are judging corporate culture and how ‘hip’ you are. But it is more for branding than for recruitment,” he concludes.
Cafferty says Philips is just beginning to consider using Facebook to recruit candidates for its medical device business. A visit to the Philips Consumer Facebook page reveals it has more than 10,000 fans. But try to find any link or information on career opportunities at Philips and you will be disappointed. Cafferty says this may change in the near future. Berge at iCAD can also take advantage of its Facebook page for recruiting purposes. Even though a much smaller player than Philips, iCAD does have a Facebook presence. In this way, Facebook’s accessibility, ease of use, and low cost evens the playing field for smaller players to also showcase themselves.
From the viewpoint of a job seeker, though, Facebook is far from an ideal search tool. In order to uncover potential opportunities at target companies, the job seeker has to become a fan of each company’s Facebook page and then visit each page to try to track and identify new job postings and then apply online through the corporate Web site. This is cumbersome at best, although there are some success stories. “Ernst and Young is one of the best pages out there with 30,000 fans,” says Jeffers. “They were one of the first to have a Facebook presence, but they also have a pretty impressive cross-media strategy, with a channel on You Tube, a Twitter account, and their corporate Web site.”
The numbers of persons using Twitter is not as well documented as that of Facebook. A privately funded start-up located in San Francisco, Twitter keeps the data close to the vest. Best-guess estimates from Quantcast range from 1 million to 10s of millions. Another source, Compete.com, indicates that Twitter had approximately 23.5 million unique visitors in September 2009.
The survey conducted by Biomedical Search Consultants reveals that respondents viewed Twitter as the most ineffective recruitment tool, with a limited number using it to search for qualified candidates. However, Marilyn Santiesteban, director of career services at HR services firm King & Bishop (Waltham, MA), says Twitter should not be overlooked by employers or job seekers. “It’s a great place to know what thought leaders in the medical device field or any industry are thinking in the moment,” she says. Santiesteban, who uses Twitter strictly for professional purposes, has chosen the moniker “LayoffLady.” She follows 65 people, and manages the flow of tweets by checking her laptop (with an open browser to Twitter.com) six to eight times per day, instead of routing tweets directly to her cell phone. When she tweets, her messages go out to 146 followers, and often are “retweeted” to hundreds more.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal notes that a number of companies have adopted Twitter as a useful recruitment tool. Many are turning to a third-party service to tweet their jobs. One of the most popular is Tweetmyjobs.com, which had more than 100,000 unique visitors to its site in September 2009, according to Compete.com. For as little as 99 cents per job, employers can have their jobs tweeted instantly to job seekers. Job seekers join for free and select among 30 different industries, including a category titled “healthcare - medical device,” to learn about fresh openings in their geographic region.
Legal Problems on Horizon?
It’s interesting to note that none of the companies surveyed by Biomedical Search Consultants mentioned employing MySpace as a recruitment tool. Once the most popular social media site in the U.S., MySpace was surpassed by Facebook in April 2008, according to comScore. Compete.com indicates that MySpace had 50 million unique visitors in October 2009, down from about 60 million five months earlier. Perhaps in response to its waning popularity, MySpace laid off 30% of its workforce in June 2009. Perhaps MySpace’s story is a cautionary tale to anyone who believes in the permanence of social media sites. If MySpace becomes obsolete because of the surging popularity of Facebook, one wonders what new social media player will emerge to be the next challenger.
As companies begin to formalize the use of social media as a recruitment tool, they need to keep an eye on the horizon for potential legal issues. In a recent Workforce Management article, Jessica Roe, a managing partner at Bernick, Lifson, Greenstein, Greene & Liszt (Minneapolis), says, “Social networking sites are problematic because the population is limited and highly selective. I anticipate more race and age claims over the next two years, and a significant portion will be from sourcing through social networking sites, where the users are generally white and age 20 to 40. We’ll see lawsuits.”
. Social media users by ethnicity.
(click image to enlarge)
According to Quantcast, only 3% of LinkedIn users are African American and only 2% are Hispanic, with 9% categorized as Asian. The large majority (85%) is Caucasian. Quantcast demographics for Facebook and Twitter are similar, as viewed in Table I.
Quantcast demographics also indicate that while 32% of LinkedIn users are 50 years of age or older, only 17% of Twitter users and 13% of Facebook users are 50-plus in age.
There is additional risk in using Facebook, or MySpace, for recruitment purposes. Since these sites offer information on potential candidates that would normally be shielded from prospective recruiters (such as religion, pregnancy, age and sexual orientation), it is dangerous to incorporate this into the evaluation process in the event that information gleaned becomes part of the hiring decision. This could potentially be deemed prejudicial and opens companies up to the risk of litigation. Of course, it is possible that as these technologies are more widely adopted the demographic these networking sites reach will reflect more of the population as a whole, so stay tuned.
Nonetheless, all the medical device companies surveyed by Biomedical Search Consultants indicate they foresee an increased use of social media for recruitment purposes in 2010. As device companies determine the best strategy, it is clear they will need to experiment, and in some cases pursue a trial and error approach, given the newness of it all. Even if many choose not to make it a major tool in their practices, using social media is inarguably an effective way for employers to increase their recruitment reach by connecting with target candidates—and lots of them.
But how much social media will change the fundamental practices of corporate recruitment remains to be seen. As Cafferty of Philips aptly states: “I think it’d be definitely a part of our future and those who are not open to it won’t move forward, but there is still a big piece of recruiting that is about the touch and the feel…and right now we are not getting that in social media.”
1. The medical device companies surveyed were Bard EP, iCAD, Hologic, Medtronic, Philips, Salient Surgical Technologies, and Thoratec.
2. “Social Networks Provide Richest Source of Opinions From Members Willing to Share, LinkedIn Study Reveals,” SPSS Inc., November 11, 2008; www.spss.com/press/template_view.cfm?PR_ID=1067.
Kathy Provost is managing director of Biomedical Search Consultants (Waltham, MA), a recruitment firm for the medical device industry and a division of King & Bishop. Provost holds a master’s degree in organization development with a focus on qualitative research. Provost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through LinkedIn.
© 2009 Canon Communications LLC