Use of Social Networking Sites to Attract Talent Inches Up

October 29, 2008 ( - An SHRM research report, Online Technologies and Their Impact on Recruitment Strategies: Using Social Networking Websites To Attract Talent, indicates that searching for passive job applicants is becoming a popular use of social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the survey found that where in 2006 only 2% of respondents used social networking sites frequently and 7% used them occasionally, in 2008 4% of respondents said they always use the sites, 9% go to them frequently, and 13% use the sites occasionally. Eighteen percent of HR professionals surveyed by SHRM say they seldom use the sites today, and 56% say they never use them. By contrast, two years ago, 79% of HR professionals said they never use social networking sites.

However, more than half (53%) of HR professionals that use social networking sites use them to search for passive recruits or applicants using the sites’ search feature. In addition, half of survey respondents always or frequently use online search engines such as Google as an HR tool, 34% use search engines occasionally or seldom, and 16% never go to search engines to gain intelligence about applicants.

The leading reason cited by HR professionals for using social networking sites to recruit or contact applicants is that the sites reach passive applicants that organizations might not otherwise reach (69%). Forty percent cited the ability to target a specific job level, 38% cited the ability to target applicants with a specific set of skills, and 35% cited the ability to increase employer brand and recognition. These types of sites are used primarily to recruit exempt non-management and middle management professionals, according to SHRM.

The most common reasons why HR professionals do not use the Web sites to recruit or contact applicants is that they do not have enough HR staff to use this method in addition to other methods (49%), and they question the veracity of the information contained on the web pages (42%).

Many HR professionals have reservations about using the sites, particularly when it comes to screening potential hires. Fifty-four percent of organizations that do not use social networking Web sites for screening cited “questions about the legality of the process” as their reason. Other concerns included the ability to verify information from an applicant’s Web site profile (43% of respondents), respecting the privacy of applicants (40%), and the fact that information from the sites might not be not relevant to work-related potential or performance (36%).

About half of those surveyed said they spend no more than two hours a week recruiting or screening applicants on social networking sites. About one-fourth spend three to five hours a week, and 3% indicated that they use such sites almost full time for screening applicants.

The top advantages to using the sites for screening, cited by about half of respondents, are that the tools require little time and effort in relation to information gained and that the sites provide more information about applicants than can be found on resumes and cover letters.

Other than to search for passive recruits or applicants using the sites' search feature, 24% of respondents to SHRM's research said they use social networking sites to create a group or page on the with information about their organization for potential applicants.

HR professionals surveyed indicated they feel they have alternatives to social networking sites. Nearly half say they use national online job boards to recruit, 43% take advantage of employee referrals, 35% go to the career sections of organizations' Web sites, and 13% use industry-specific or niche online job boards. Lesser numbers take advantage of print advertising, job fairs, on-campus college recruiting, and other methods.

More than 60% of participants in the SHRM survey said that learning about an applicant's involvement in volunteer or civic groups from a social networking site would make them more likely to hire the person. A similar proportion of staffing professionals would be swayed positively by finding that the applicant is involved in professional societies or organizations.

About half of respondents said that their decision to hire would be impacted by information or pictures on social networking sites relating to applicants' romantic exploits. Ninety-three percent said information on an applicant's online profile that contradicts information provided directly to the potential employer would make them less likely to hire the individual.

Almost three-fourths (72%) of those surveyed say they have no formal or informal policy about use of such sites. Thirteen percent said they have an informal policy against use of the sites, while 10% said they have an informal policy allowing use of them.

The SHRM survey, fielded in May 2008, asked 3,000 HR professionals with recruiting or staffing duties how they are using online technologies and social networking sites in particular. More than 570 people responded.

The survey report is here .