Can Facebook Be a Sourcing Tool for Recruiters?

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Facebook has always been a tough nut to crack for corporate recruiters. Although the world’s largest social media platform has approximately 1 billion accounts, most Facebook users aren’t actively searching for a new job on the site, and extracting accurate, reliable and even usable candidate-sourcing data has been difficult at best.

However, a new software application from Work4 Labs in San Francisco could be the Facebook nutcracker and candidate-sourcing tool that recruiters have been waiting for, according to the company's CEO, Stephane Le Viet.

Work4’s Graph Search Recruiter marks a major turning point for social media recruiting,” Le Viet told SHRM Online. “Facebook is a data monster, and we believe that we now have the tool to tame this monster and help bring Facebook recruiting into its own.”

Work4’s recruiting application operates with Facebook’s new Graph Search function, which was rolled out to the general public in July 2013. The search feature combines data acquired from all of Facebook’s users with information from other Internet sources to create a search engine that can provide user-specific results. Graph Search allows users to search for people, places, likes and interests, workplaces, and schools within their own online networks.

Le Viet claims that this new access to the “big data” available on Facebook can be a gold mine for corporate recruiters looking to find qualified job candidates–especially passive ones. The Work4 application links employers’ online recruiting tools with the powerful Facebook search engine.

“Preliminary feedback from recruiters who have beta-tested it has been very favorable,” he said. “Several recruiters have told me that they are very excited by the potential of being able to use Facebook as a sourcing tool.”

Prior attempts to use Facebook as a recruiting and job-networking platform—such as BeKnown from Monster and BranchOut—also were touted as the latest and greatest job-search and recruiting apps. However, neither lived up to the initial fanfare. What’s more, usage by employers and job searchers has not met expectations.

Work4’s sourcing application is different, according to Le Viet, because the search function can draw publicly available data from all active Facebook users—not just the ones in your network. “The sourcing information available through Graph Search Recruiter is unsurpassed, because 1 billion Facebook users is the very definition of big data,” he said.

Recruiters can search for candidates using a variety of parameters, such as job title, experience, skills and location. For example, Le Viet said a recruiter could easily input search criteria like software engineers who have worked for Google and live in the San Francisco Bay area.

“And Graph Search Recruiter would immediately identify all the Facebook users who meet those parameters,” he said. “It can be a very powerful way to identify potential candidates whom you might not be able to find through other traditional searches.”

The Most Social of Platforms

Identifying candidates is one thing, but some social media experts wonder just how many of those candidates actually want to be found? . Facebook is known as a social platform where users interact mainly with friends and family, instead of working on professional connections or job searches.

“LinkedIn is much more the career-oriented and job-search site, and many people use LinkedIn specifically for professional purposes and Facebook for personal social interaction,” noted Elaine Orler, president of Talent Function LLC in San Diego. “But that is changing, and the number of employers using Facebook as a sourcing and recruiting tool has been growing steadily for the past few years.”

In a social media recruiting survey released by Jobvite in September 2013, 65 percent of respondents reported that their companies have used Facebook to identify and recruit new talent.

“While LinkedIn is a very popular recruiting tool, it is a closed platform [employers must pay to use LinkedIn’s recruiting functions],” she said. “Facebook, on the other hand, is an open platform, and recruiters can use it as they want, and that is very appealing to many businesses.”

The main drawbacks to using Facebook are the site’s sheer size and the fact that many users may not be open to being approached by companies.

“If a person has a LinkedIn profile, then you are pretty much guaranteed that they will be open to queries from prospective employers,” Orler said. “Facebook users can be a bit of crapshoot, and some people could consider a job query as an invasion of their privacy. So some employers have been more reluctant to use Facebook as an active sourcing tool, but that, too, is changing.”

Keeping It Legal

Le Viet said software developers at Work4 strive to ensure that the sourcing tool complies with all privacy statutes and constantly review changes to the law.

“We are doing our best to make sure that Graph Search Recruiter complies with Facebook’s privacy standards and with all federal or state laws,” he said.

The legal aspect of using a sourcing tool like this can be tricky, according to Jon Yarbrough, an attorney in the Asheville, N.C., office of Constangy Brooks & Smith. Because employers may see candidates’ photos and Facebook profile information, they may be able to determine their age, race, religious preference and family status before ever meeting the individuals.

“So there’s a range of laws that come into play here,” he cautioned. “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] and the ADEA [Age Discrimination in Employment Act] could all be issues and something employers must consider when looking at Facebook information. But if the searches are done right, and businesses can show good business cases why certain candidates were selected, then they will be operating in safe territory.”

Many states are looking at how employers use social media information in their recruiting processes, so Yarbrough suggests consulting with your organization’s in-house counsel or attorney to determine the best and most legally effective way to use the information.

“Right now the law is several years behind the technology, and it’s very hard playing catch-up,” Yarbrough said. “Some of the current laws just don’t match up very well to how employers are actually using the Internet to recruit and conduct background checks on new hires.”

TMI: Too Much Information

Most Fortune 500 companies have a Facebook page with links to their job openings and recruiting function.

“And Facebook has worked very well as a more ‘passive’ recruiting tool,” observed Steve Boese, co-chair of the HR Technology Conference and a technology editor at LRP Publications in Rochester, N.Y. “The results of trying to use Facebook as a sourcing tool have been mixed at best, but that doesn’t mean recruiters won’t keep on trying.”

Boese said the new Graph Search function adds a new wrinkle to available online recruiting tools, though it may not be applicable for every organization.

“It depends very much on each employer and what their staffing needs are,” he said. “The amount of data available through a search function like this could literally overwhelm some recruiters.”
The number of responses from 1 billion users that might match candidate search criteria could be in the hundreds—possibly the thousands—depending on the job skills and experience the employer desires.

“Some corporate recruiters are set up to handle and sort through that kind of big-data response,” Boese said. “Others won’t be, and, frankly, the idea of sorting through that many potential candidates could intimidate some people.”

And just how efficient is it for an employer to sort through hundreds of possible candidates to fill a single position? Le Viet said his company’s application is designed to help recruiters automatically sort and find the best candidates possible.

“You might be able to identify the best ones, but there’s still no guarantee that the candidates you pick are even open to a discussion about a new job,” Boese pointed out. “I think the Graph Search recruiting app is definitely a good sourcing tool. I just don’t think it or using Facebook as a way to find job candidates is going to be for every employer. My advice to those interested would be to give it a test run and see what the results look like.”

The accuracy of information available on Facebook is also a factor employers must consider. Most HR professionals know that some people tend to exaggerate their skills and level of experience on their resumes. Several high-profile cases prove that even top-level executives are guilty of lying on their resumes. Former CEO of Yahoo Scott Thompson, for one, was fired after four months on the job for falsely claiming that he had earned a graduate degree in computer science.

“If you expect that people are going to fudge some details or exaggerate on their resume, just imagine what they’re doing on Facebook when they’re trying to impress friends and most likely aren’t actively searching for a job,” said Yarbrough. “So definitely keep this in mind when looking at potential candidates. ‘Verify; don’t rely’ is always the advice I give to my clients.”

Boese agrees, adding that these extra layers of sorting and verifying candidates’ credentials most likely will keep Facebook’s appeal as a recruiting tool to a niche market for the foreseeable future.

“Technology and attitudes are always changing, though,” Boese said. “And sourcing functions like Work4’s app will certainly adapt and improve. And five years down the road our whole concept of how to search for and identify the best job candidates could be vastly different.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.


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