twitter-fail-whaleHere’s the thing about being a recruiter. If you want to sell a job, you’ve got to sell a story. Hell, it’s a working life that often feels like something out of some weird fantasy novel, some esoteric world of weirdos and outcasts. That’s why when I tell a story, I always feel like I have to point out that it’s true – as a recruiter, some things are just too weird to put out there without putting out a disclaimer.

But I’m not going to lie to you – even though, I am a recruiter, as we’ve established. In fact, I’ve got to say on those particularly hellish days where you’re dealing with a particularly hellish hiring manager, I think I should just pack up shop and write a workbook, as it were.

The way jobs get created is one heck of a fable, and you probably wouldn’t believe it even if I told it to you, which is why I’ve decided to stick to sourcing and screening instead of storytelling. Besides, it’s not like anyone cares what have to say – who the hell am I? Frankly, I wish I knew, but that’s a tale for a different day.

The Social Recruiting Saga: Our Tale Begins.

“Speaking on behalf of candidates, social recruiting involves two way engagement with candidates before they ever submit a resume or access a career site. Without two way engagement, ideally in real time, it’s just regular old recruiting using the latest cool toys.”

— Karen Siwak

true storyThis is a true story about social recruiting. It should serve as a cautionary tale at best, a warning at worst, but hopefully you come away with the moral of it all, which is that if you think you’re doing social recruiting right, you’d better think again. A lot of people think it’s trolling on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

If you’re one of them (and you know who you are), you need to look away from the computer screen and take a look outside at the world around you. Because it’s beautiful out there, and the thing about social is it’s nothing if not nasty.

The thing I worry about is, the more time we spend on social media, the less social we all seem to become.

It’s like being alone, together.

I know this sounds weird, but I just did a little digging to see what all was out there on social recruiting, and instead of milquetoast statistics and stuff, I found a hotly debated, hate filled stream of solid rage dedicated to this admittedly esoteric subject.

Hell, there are full conferences out there dedicated to social recruiting and every single one of them has a bunch of so called “thought leaders,” most of whom have never had an actual thought in their lives, much less led them (or a life, come to think of it). And these “Influencers” (always a capital I, you know, the kind that isn’t in ‘team’) spout out a bunch of complete crap that has nothing to do with social or recruiting – it’s really just a bunch of thinly veiled product placement mixed with some shitty superficial charts and graphs. Inevitably, these innovative technological feats of recruiting futurology rely on PowerPoint, which means the future doesn’t look great.

But forget the future of social recruiting for a second. I want to figure out if there’s actually a ‘present’ present, presently. So, I did what anyone would do. I went to Google “social recruiting definition,” and summoned my sourcing powers to find this take, which obviously is completely objective because, well, it was crowdsourced on the internet and happened to rank at the top of the page. The world makes me sad.

Anyway, here’s what the Internet has to say about social recruiting:”

Social Recruiting (“social hiring” or “social media recruitment”) is recruiting candidates by using social platforms as talent databases or for advertising. Popular social media sites used for recruiting include LinkedIn, Facebook, Viadeo, XING, Google+ and BranchOut.”

Right. First off, what the hell is a Video, and secondly, is it contagious? Also, BranchOut? Really? I had forgotten that was even a thing. Just goes to show you that social recruiting is one fickle mistress, frankly.

Social Recruiting: The Legend Continues.

hqdefault (3)You know what anyone – recruiter or not – does these days when they need an answer to something? They search a database – it’s called Google, or, I guess, Bing, for those 4 of you out there who might by some chance be reading this. Alternatively, if you’re a good recruiter, you work your database, be it Boolean, Semantic or old fashioned guess work (which always seems to work). When you find a name, you figure out the best way to get in touch with them.

What the hell is social about that? For that matter, if that’s not sourcing, what is? It’s just stalking people on the internet who might be good for any particular job order you happen to be working on.

If you really, truly want to be a social recruiter, then do me a favor and shut your laptops now. Thought not. But really, there’s a great big world out there beyond your computer – and unlike social media, it’s actually, well, social.

Sometimes, I power down Facebook and LinkedIn and venture out there, and I can safely assert that the networking functions and industry events I’ve been known to turn up to – in person – have seen their attendance dwindle as people concentrate on what’s going on in their networks without understanding how networks really work in the big picture.

I’m going to make a controversial claim. But the truth is, not every candidate you’re looking for can be found on the internet. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, because your proclivity towards avoiding actual human interaction is making a killing for those few of us who turn off and turn up in real life. Don’t believe me?

Let me tell you a little story about social recruiting.

A Little Story About Social Recruiting

lamp_1A long, long time ago, when I was still working in the agency and we were still using stuff like fax machines and telephones (where the hell are my pipe and cardigan?) to actually go out, find and feed our account managers the resumes of qualified, interested, available and more or less preclosed tech candidates in Phoenix.

This wasn’t a big market, at least not compared to some technology hubs, but it was big money, or at least more than most recruiting gigs. Which meant we could live a little larger than the average desk jockey, who in those days was still using industry directories while fervently dialing through switchboards. Suckers.

As young recruiters making good money, we of course were totally subtle and classy, which meant that once a week, our team meeting consisted of going to lunch at one of the swankiest steakhouses in town and basically filling our faces while indulging ourselves in whatever libation happened to be next. Damn, I miss those days.

I admit, when I joined the firm, I still had to get used to this bougie boozefest, because I was not too far removed from having been one of the have nots in the not all too distant past, and it was a memory that was never far from the front of my mind.

Besides that weekly steak on the company card, I discreetly hid my brown bag special discreetly in my desk or else slipped out to the nearby Taco Bell, where you could fill up quick on the .99 cent menu. It was an odd double life, those days back in the day – when going out on a date and springing for a twenty five buck dinner at Houston’s seemed like splurging one night, and the next day, it’s all red meat, red wine and retreating from reality.

I made it a point to be there every week, obviously – but there was one time where one of my clients just. would. not. shut. up., and made my account manager Mike and I too late to tuck into a T-Bone. So, dejected, we went over to the McDonald’s next door (don’t judge), and did the only thing a man who’s just missed out on a good meal over a shit account can do to feel better: stuff his face with a Big Mac and Fries. I’m telling you.

But like I said, I was frugal (cheap, if we were romantically involved), and there was no way I was going to spring for anything more than I had to, since I hadn’t brought my normal brown bag with me and therefore had to do something different than my normal PB&J. Hey, it takes a minute to build a book (or did, in the day), and before that first placement check, it’s a struggle to survive. Which is why so few recruiters make it out alive, I’m pretty sure.

Social Recruiting: The Great Treasure Hunt

journeyThe added bonus in that Mickey D’s run, besides the extra value, of course, was that it meant while all our colleagues were gorging themselves on good food, we were back at the office getting a running start on those 10 help desk reqs our client needed closed, like, yesterday. And was willing to pay a premium to make sure that happened.

Besides myself and Mike, there were two other recruiters working those reqs, and it was kind of like the recruiting version of the Hunger Games.  Game on – and good luck, because there aren’t a ton of these type of people stocking the database of most tech recruiters, although we’re smart enough to know that somehow figuring it out is going to somehow be far easier than finding the everyday engineer, which is what most of the profiles piling up that sourcing stockpile were made up with.

I felt better at least knowing that if I was going to be cold calling, I’d probably get an answer if I was looking for customer service reps. If only I could make it through the damned line – I was still a half dozen people deep into the lunch time rush, and I was losing time. The other recruiters would probably be moving onto creme brule before I even moved forward, back before I fulfilled my Mac Attack.

What the hell? Figured I’d pull out the job descriptions (this was in the days when we actually printed the damn things out and carried them around with us, like a smart phone, but neither smart, nor a phone. Still worked).

Mike and I stood with those positions that we had just gotten (bad client, hell of a result), and knew that this might mean big business, which meant we’d need to come through big time. Even though this kind of role was, well, not exactly our kind of role. I’m not going to lie, we prided ourselves on only working with the best talent in town, and these kinds of people, at $18.50/hr to pick up the phone, didn’t exactly fit the bill.

Which left us having to look outside our database, something every agency recruiter hates. Even the best pipelines require some just-in-time once in a while.

And so I trudged ahead with the line as another McCustomer was served. I was probably another billion off by this point, which left plenty of planning time. Mike and I talked first, naturally, about going after the job boards – but we realized it was a lot like waiting in that damned fast food line on a simmering day in the Sonoran. We were going to get nowhere fast, and frustrated even quicker.

Besides, we’d have to take our turn behind every other recruiter out there looking for an easy, convenient way to satiate their immediate hunger, coming away with nothing more than some empty calories and a whole lot of regret. Man, I really wanted that f-ing Big Mac, already.

Social Recruiting: Under the Golden Arches.

mcdsFinally, after what would have made me around $18.50 were I one of the hourly customer service guys I needed to get back to the office and get after, I made it up to the counter. And I eyed that menu board, savoring the smell of grease and meat and salt and America.

Of course I knew what I wanted. Two burgers, special sauce, and as soon as possible. I told the guy behind the counter my order…and then, the system crashed. The register screen faded to black after a few bleak blips. And it didn’t look like it was coming back.

There I was, having survived the arduous march to the counter, only to have my Big Mac all but ripped out of my hands. Needless to say, that Mike had chosen the line next to me and was ordering with glee while I was yelled at by some kid not to cut trying to edge in behind him, made it all the worse. I was alone in my despair. Mike went off with his tray to fill up those little ketchup cups. Asshole.

I lost it. I mean, we’re talking tantrum level – don’t mess with a recruiter who’s late, hungry and being held up by some outdated technology. Slammed my fists on the counter, demanded to see a manager – the whole privileged white dude routine. Then, out of nowhere, from somewhere behind a fryer, came a guy with a name tag that said Carlos.

He was dripping in sweat, but had an odd smile, and that spark in his eye that said, “Oh, man. This again.” Clearly, I wasn’t the only guy to lose it in a McDonald’s, but at least I was in good company – only I guess Michael Douglas had a shotgun, so at least he got his damned breakfast.

Carlos wiped his hands with some napkins, leaned over the clunky tower of circuit boards and wires that used to power even the simplest of systems back then, and opened the machine. “Give me just a second, I’ll get it working.” Sure, I thought, as the fry cook slipped out the mother board. He looked at it and leaned down. Yeah, I thought. The best way to reboot the system is literally by greasing it up. 

But wouldn’t you know it? Within seconds, the screen blinked to life. Carlos stood up, wiped his hands, tipped his cap and casually walked back to the fryer. The cashier, bless her heart, smiled and asked me to repeat my order. I was, frankly, astounded. What in the McHell just happened?

How did freakin’ Carlos – back there lowering a bucket of frozen Ore Idas into a tub of lard, know how to configure the hard wiring of an enterprise POS system? That used to take like an army of consultants with a couple of electrical engineering degrees a couple hours to do, and Carlos had it back up and running in no time.

It was like Luke Skywalker back toiling away his talents in the barren lands of Tatooine. This guy clearly didn’t belong here, flipping burgers for minimum wage.

I had that feeling of having discovered something, some innate talent, completely by accident, like Alexander Fleming discovering penicillin, Marie Curie finding radium (although hopefully with far better results), or figuring out that people actually paid you to find people willing to work in decent paying, somewhat prestigious jobs. Dumb luck is damn lucky, sometimes.

I went to Ketchup Island, where I knew just by looking at Mike’s face he’d somehow seen Carlos’ unexpected miracle play out. We realized we had hit the motherlode – the fry cook who could both calm down a wired up customer and rewire a downed system simultaneously. So, we did the only sane and logical thing any recruiters would do. We waited for Carlos to go on his break. Which, by some miracle, he did before we had even finished our fries.

A Most Unexpected Journey. With a Side of Mayo.

journey (1)We cornered Carlos, who was sitting down for a well deserved few minutes off his feet, and asked him about what he had just done. He shrugged it off – no big deal. He looked at us like we were crazy for bringing it up.

But not nearly as crazy as, after a few minutes of small talk, I handed him my card and asked him to send me his resume. He gave me that, “whatever, Mister – leave me alone now?” kind of look, tucked it into his front pocket and tucked into his burger. I figured at least we’d tried.

Adios, Carlos.

But sure enough, later that same afternoon, an e-mail appeared in my inbox. Carlos had just gotten off his shift, he wrote, and his resume was attached. If there was any job I knew of that didn’t involve coming home smelling like frying oil, he’d be interested – but I figured with that kind of attitude and aptitude, I could at least make a placement.

That is, until I opened his resume. It was, as you might expect, pretty rough – and, after calling him to talk through the help desk role (and audibly whistled when I told him the starting salary), I set out rewriting the damn thing, word for word. I hate reading resumes, much less writing them, but somehow Carlos had become kind of a passion project.

I finally finished polishing his resume, added a cover letter to my client about how this is one candidate no employer could do without, added a bunch of superfluous adjectives about how awesome he was, and submitted my first ever fry cook for a third party search. I wasn’t sure if it was crazy smart or just crazy, but it sure was different than the same old candidates from the same old job boards, picked over and passed on by every other recruiter out there.

I felt good about myself after I pressed send, knowing if I could just get Carlos an interview, I could maybe give the guy a shot at changing his life. I even went the extra step of calling Carlos to let him know I’d sent him in, and, after his first recruiter encounter, actually responded by asking if I was open to referrals.

Turned out, he had talked to some of his friends from school who were stuck in similar McJobs, and all of them asked for an intro. I asked if they could do the job we had talked about. He promised me they could, and since we had 10 roles open, it couldn’t hurt. Besides, the client needed them to start ASAP.

He sent his friends my way, I talked to them, I submitted them. Within a few days, Carlos not only had a new job in customer service, but so did 8 of his friends – out of the ten total hires we needed on a project we’d gotten only a week before. I mean, you’ve got to feel good about that – I got my placement fee, and eight people got a new chance to get a new start.

I’m not going to lie, that felt pretty damn good. It was a moment of triumph – but then Carlos started his new job, I started a new req, and like any agency recruiter, I soon forgot about that temporary passion project once the placement had been made, the invoice collected, the client satisfied.

The Once and Future Candidate.

2015-07-15_06-30-34It was nothing against Carlos, really; it’s just that I didn’t really normally deal with candidates for roles like customer service. It wasn’t my specialty, certainly, and was about as far from our normal high end search model as you could get.

I guess, looking back, I really didn’t see a pervasive need to keep in touch with Carlos after he had started (ostensibly successfully, since he made it through his 90 day guarantee),  and other than the referrals I had already placed into those roles, I didn’t think there was likely much more he could offer me – or really, that I could offer him.

We’d done our business, and then business moved on for both of us. Or so I thought.

Fast forward a year. The phone rings – I pick up and the front desk receptionist lets me know that there’s some dude waiting for me in the lobby. This wasn’t necessarily out of the ordinary, since under company policy, I brought in all of the executive candidates I was working with for an in-person prior to sending them off for active searches.

While we told the candidates the reason for this was to coach them on presentation skills and specious shit like that, it was really a policy in place specifically so that we could press the flesh, look them in the eye and pre-close them if we thought that there was a shot in hell there might be an offer coming in down the line. Most of the time, it worked like a charm. So, I expected to see one of my CIOs or PMs sitting there, but as I walked into the lobby, there was a familiar face waiting for me. Like I said, it had been a while, so it took me a minute before I realized I was looking at the same face that once looked back at me from behind the counter at Mickey D’s.

But other than the face, I was looking, more or less, at a changed man.

Carlos was sitting, legs crossed, impeccably dressed in an Armani suit (I knew it was Armani because I had been looking at the same suit just a few weeks earlier, but decided against buying it due to its prohibitively expensive price tag). His hair slicked back, he looked like a cross between Gordon Gecko and Pat Reilly. Only Carlos still had that same infectious half grin slapped across his face as the first time I met him.

“Hey, man. What’s up? How are you? Did you change your number?” I asked, feeling instantly guilty that I hadn’t spoken to him since collecting the fees for him and his friends. He laughed and shook his head, and told me the reason he stopped by is that he wanted to see the man, to use his words, who “changed his life.”

Whoa. Wait, what?

Carlos proceeded to tell me what had happened in the months since we last spoke – and it was one hell of a story.

There Be Dragons: Mapping An Uncharted Career

HTBDCarlos went on to tell me that since taking the customer service role at my client, he had been promoted twice, and in a relatively short period of time had risen from front line support to overseeing a team of 10 direct reports, responsible for managing the company’s help desk center for an entire department – no small job, even for someone with a ton of experience. Much less for a guy who, not too long ago, happened to be cooking fries and flipping burgers.

He went on to tell me about how happy he was, how much he loved his job, and how much he owed me – me – for making it all happen.

I just sat there, stunned for a minute, muted, not quite knowing what to say. I hadn’t kept in touch, not sent a single e-mail or follow up call, and now suddenly this guy shows up out of the blue to thank me for a search I’d already forgotten about? I felt grateful, I felt guilty, and most of all, I wondered why, you know, he didn’t just shoot me an e-mail like everyone else.

Carlos went on to explain that he had come because he had been given yet another new career challenge: he was tasked with starting up a new team within the organization, and, because sometimes the full cycle comes full circle, he desperately needed 10 new help desk support professionals placed as soon as possible.

His requirements were as unique as his background – he was looking for people who had no experience, but like him, were hungry, so he could work with them closely and ensure that they, like him, would be able to beat the odds and become an unqualified success, even if it was “only” in the customer service group.

And he knew just the recruiter for the job. Which is why he was suddenly standing there in reception, asking if I could take on the search and go out and find him 10 people to pay forward the opportunity that he’d been given, and leave a McJob for an actual career. Most recruiters, he explained, wouldn’t be able to see what I had seen. They were too inside the box, too unwilling to ignore prerequisites and look for potential. Given our history, he told me the job orders were mine if I wanted them.

Unsure how to respond, I excused myself and went back to grab Mike and the owner of the agency. Figured as long as a new client was in the building, it might make sense to do a formal meet and greet – particularly since technically, this was Mike’s account, and the account management duties ultimately rolled up into him.

Carlos listened to this explanation that he’d have to work through Mike – it was our policy, after all, to commit to clients and preempt internal poaching. Carlos said he understood, but then, as politely as possible, insisted that the only person he wanted to – or would be willing – to work with was me.

After all, I was the one who had taken a chance on an eight dollar an hour fry cook who now looked like he’d stepped out of a GQ ad. It was a Cinderella story, and I guess Carlos saw me as his Fairy Godmother, someone who could work magic because, well, that was the only way to explain what had gone down in our previous experience working together.

Carlos, whose job used to be asking, “Do you want fries with that?” actually laid out his terms very plainly and politely to the agency owner, and said that if we wanted his business, we were going to have to make an exception to our policy. After all, he said, no one else would be willing to go out of their way to just help give someone a first chance at a second life. “Derek was the only person who actually gave a shit. So I don’t give a shit about your policy. Those are my terms.” His words. Whoa.

The owner quickly agreed to make an exception. Mike looked at me, shook his head, then shook my hand. We were in business.

The Moral of the Social Recruiting Story

social quoteIt took me less than two weeks to fill those 10 jobs – in fact, I was so inspired by this Dickensian tale I’d perpetuated that I didn’t work on anything else. I was working for more than a placement fee; the agency owner, after that meeting with Carlos, had informed the firm that we were going to switch up our business model to start aggressively going after “lower level” kinds of roles.

All this because of a broken computer, a chance encounter, and the fact that I was actually social when I actually recruited a candidate by simply talking to him and taking a leap of faith.

How did this happen? How did I turn a trip to get a burger into a cash cow of a client? I did it by – wait for it – being social.

All recruiting is social – it always has been – but it’s got nothing to do with Twitter, or Facebook, or a talent community, or anything anyone could do online. It comes down to who you know, sure, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to actually get to know your candidates and customers, and that’s something social media will never, ever be able to do (at least not independently).

The moral of the story: you’re not going to find every candidate you place in your database, or even on the Internet, no matter how complex of a Boolean string you can string together. Hell, the only tool any recruiter really needs to find talent is an open mind – because doing the same thing as every other recruiter out there and relying on technology makes you as much of a tool as any sourcing or social solution out there on the market.

If you think recruiting is a 9-5 job, you’re sorely mistaken – and probably suck at recruiting, come to think of it. If you logged off Facebook or shut down Twitter long enough to pay attention, you’d realize that all around you, humans are doing what they’ve always done: met people and made connections at bars, restaurants, conventions, pick-up basketball games, hell, even in line at McDonald’s.

You never know who you might meet, but you’ll never meet them if you’re not willing to pound the pavement and press some flesh. That’s the real social recruiting, and it has nothing to do with trolling people on Twitter.

I’d like to finish this post by doing something I’ve never done before – I’d like to dedicate this post to a few key people who made this a true story worth telling – and who make a huge difference to our industry and our collective reputation. The first shout out is for the people who actually took the time to read this post, and all the other stuff I put out there – I know it’s blather, but it’s my blather, and it still stuns me that people take the time to read it. But a lot of you do, and I appreciate you more than you’ll probably ever know.

The final shout out is to one of those readers in particular. Her name is Karen Phong, and she just started out in this crazy little business of ours as a new recruiter not too long ago.

While Karen lives half the world away in Singapore, somehow she stumbled across my stuff, and shot me an e-mail saying – and I shit you not – that my posts gave her some hope in what she had considered to be kind of a hopeless business. That gives me hope that somehow, I’m still making a difference – even if I’m not changing lives like Carlos, at least I might be helping a few recruiters out there learn the lessons I had to figure out the hard way.

Social Recruiting: Happily Ever After?

the-end-The-EndFor the first time in a long time, I’m actually optimistic about this industry, because as long as these conversations keep going, it means we might live happily ever after, after all.

Karen isn’t the only person who’s sent me similar sentiments, but I pick her in particular because she’s just beginning to write her social recruiting story, and I’m hoping that you’ll join me in reaching out to Karen (click here to say hello to her on LinkedIn) and showing her what social is really all about in recruiting.

Social isn’t a source of hire. It’s not a “candidate engagement platform,” nor is it a “talent community.” It’s a way of reaching people and building relationships with the Karen Phongs of the world, who, even though they might not work in your market or industry, are helping write the next chapter of our industry.

And for those of us who have seen it all, you probably already know you never know what might come out of the most random of connections – that is, if you scrap the media and just be, you know, social.

After all, you never know where your next Carlos might just happen to be hanging out.

The End.

Derek ZellerAbout the Author: Derek Zeller draws from over 16 years in the recruiting industry. The last 11 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared Intel space under OFCCP compliance. Currently, he is a Senior Sourcing Recruiter at Microsoft via Search Wizards.

He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines and technologies. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, military and college recruiting strategies.

You can read his thoughts on or or his own site  Derek currently lives in the DC area.


By Derek Zeller

Derek Zeller draws from over 20 years in the recruiting industry, and he currently is the Director of Recruiting Solutions and Channels with Engage Talent. The last 16 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared IT space under OFCCP compliancy. He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, and military and college recruiting strategies. Derek currently lives in the Portland, Oregon area. Follow Derek on Twitter @Derdiver or connect with him on LinkedIn.