2007 – Recruitment and social networking
There I was minding my own business last week, writing
one of these columns in fact, when I broke off briefly to
check an email.
That was probably the first mistake. The second was to
be distracted – as often happens – by the one
from an old friend. It was Nikki, one of my crewmates on
last year’s Round Britain and Ireland sailing race.
“I've requested to add you as a friend on Facebook,”
it said and there was a link. My eldest son had told me
about Facebook, the social networking web site. He used
to take great pleasure in explaining that it was only for
I knew, however, that the entry requirements had changed
so that anyone could join. Nikki is a friend so I was happy
about the request and registering was easy.
There were the usual things that you never read but to
which you click the “yes” button. One of these,
however, must have enabled the web technology to search
out people in my email log and send them all requests to
“be my friend” on Facebook. Within seconds faces
and messages were appearing out of the ether.
The outcome is that I now have a lot of new Facebook “friends,”
some of whom I wouldn’t know from Adam. Some will
remain no more than a face on the internet but at least
now I can, if I wish, flesh out some of the names on my
emails. More arrive every day. Introductions to this site
are shifting through the internet like a contagion just
Unlike the rather staid business networks like “Linked-in”,
Facebook allows people to show their human sides, what some
in business, but not me, might call their “authentic
Social networking on the internet is a phenomenon that
none of us can ignore. It has already come to the attention
of recruiters, some of whom routinely check out candidates
using internet search engines as a way of obtaining a more
rounded picture of individuals.
In response to such checks there have been warnings suggesting
that people should take care about the pictures they post
and the comments they make.
Feedback from nearly 300 recruitment consultants in a recent
survey carried out by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation
highlighted concerns among recruiters that comments on networking
sites could damage candidates’ recruitment chances.
The vast majority of those questioned – some 86
per cent – thought people should think carefully about
the material they publish online lest it should ruin their
chances of getting a job.
“As more employers take interview shortcuts and
rely on internet searches to filter out unsuitable candidates,
it's vital that job seekers take their internet footprint
seriously and keep in mind that it could affect their job
prospects,” said Tom Hadley, the REC's director of
While the advice is worth bearing in mind I suspect that
employers who take a dim view of affiliations or exchanges
revealed on a social networking site are going to find themselves
deprived of some first rate people. Where is the rule that
demands formality in every situation?
The notion that says work must be forever divorced from
play is ridiculous. Why should we assume that when it comes
to work people must suppress the lighter – the human
– side of their character? Good professionals know
when they must be serious and focused and when they can
There remains a traditional, image-conscious constituent
in the workplace, usually within the higher levels of companies
where Facebook membership would be viewed with caution.
Those who seek and gain promotion have learned to tread
carefully through the managerial ranks. Austerity and conformity
are alive and well in many of the largest boardrooms. But
technology is finding ways to slip under that boardroom
door and expose our frailties.
I was told the other day about a very senior figure in
Oracle who had gone to painstaking lengths to prepare his
staff presentation using all the latest technology, including
a roving microphone. Except that he forgot to turn off the
microphone which he wore when paying a visit to the toilet,
much to his staff’s amusement. It’s difficult
to maintain a sense of dignity in such circumstances, so
If you laugh off that kind of thing along with everyone
else you suddenly find yourself sharing in a moment of human
warmth. Those moments are vital in maintaining a healthy
A more worrying aspect of social networking is the way
it can divert people from their normal work routines. What
are employers to do? Should they seek to stop it?
There is no doubt that visiting such sites can be distracting.
I can vouch for that. My full immersion introduction to
Facebook – not to be recommended – cost me some
precious writing time.
I think that most people in the workplace will recognise
that they cannot allow such distractions to become a habit.
But posting on these sites can be seductive to those with
addictive personalities and you need only look at the number
of Blackberry addicts to know that the continual erosion
of attention spans is an issue for business.
You know when an activity is entering the mainstream when
you discover that the human resources community is taking
notice. Last week Symposium Events announced plans to hold
a conference on HR and social networking.*
The conference is timely because the HR and recruitment
community must learn to live with these developments, and
that includes examining the good they can do before responding
with wholly negative comments about productivity risks,
corporate security fears and worries about the possible
affects on the reputation of companies and potential job
Social networking has the power to change the recruitment
industry. Already recruitment websites such as Jobster.com
are promoting networks to increase the number of job referrals.
The REC has recognised the potential for social networks
to eat in to the volume of candidate placements made by
The challenge in recruitment is to harness social networking
in a positive way just as it is beginning to tackle other
advances in communication. “The new generation entering
the workforce has grown up with technology and consequently
there is a huge gap appearing between them and the people
recruiting them.” says Rob Brouwer, the chief executive
of Monster UK and Ireland, the web-based job board.
“Five years ago employers didn’t believe in
online recruitment – but employees did. Now we have
the web 2.0 generation who are running their careers and
social lives on social networking sites – and expect
to find jobs the same way.”
*Why HR Needs to Understand Social Media - How blogs, wikis
and social networks can help and hinder HR strategy is planned
to run in September, www.symposium-events.co.uk
See also: Small
worlds and Six degrees of