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Donkin on Work - Social Networking

July 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 university students.

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 now.

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 selves.”

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 external affairs

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 lighten up.

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 why bother?

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 collegiate workplace.

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 candidates.

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 recruitment agencies.

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 separation

   
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