size-mattersI recently read Matt Charney’s blog post about how the corporate recruiting market is using big data for in-house talent acquisition (great read, and I swear he didn’t even pay me to say that). The relative size of “community,” whether measured in terms of social fans and followers, the number of qualified candidates in one’s database or the overall reach of their recruitment marketing and advertising initiatives, is something that lots of people talk about in the agency recruiting and staffing markets, too.

While many recruiters think that they in fact have done an effective job scaling and sustaining these communities, the reality is, most of these networks are small and mostly insignificant, statistically speaking – teensy enough to give most staffing professionals with any basis for comparison some sort of complex.

In agency recruiting and third party staffing, the term “big data” is seen as a literal statement – it’s about having lots of data, and the erroneous underlying assumption that all this data is good data, not necessarily how relevant or actionable those analytics actually are.

Which kind of misses the entire point, really.

Tiny and Pointless: Big Data and Recruiting Communities

so-smallIt’s no secret that there is, indeed, “lots of data” out there, but for some reason, many third party recruiting firms still choose to ignore the hard numbers for the soft stuff they’ve always used for measuring success, hoping that good will, a good reputation and serendipity alone will continue being enough to find and place top talent at their respective clients.

The problem with this approach is that its limited largely to leveraging a recruiter’s existing network, and these networks just aren’t big enough to keep pleasuring most agency customers and clients over the long term – at least not anymore, since personal and professional information are no longer proprietary property, communities having been made a commodity by such technologies as search and social media.

Consider the third party recruiter on LinkedIn or Twitter, two of the most commonly utilized platforms for building “communities” at agencies and staffing firms. The “average” recruiter has only 940 connections on LinkedIn and 290 followers on Twitter.

These are literally a drop in the bucket – and while those numbers might look big without a basis of comparison, they’re laughably small by social media standards; consider that fully half of recruiters with Twitter accounts have under 50 followers, and even the estimated 92% of recruiters leveraging LinkedIn have networks that average 14% smaller than their non-recruiting counterparts.

Why is it that a profession so obsessed with social media and volume metrics are suffering from such a persistent and pervasive case of shrinkage?

This is often because:

  • Agency owners, leaders and managers don’t put much stock in social (# is still a pound sign to most of these ardent cold callers) or care about online communities as a success metric for staffing, thus driving down these statistics. #getonthephone
  • Neither social nor talent networks are fully integrated or even tangentially interconnected with any part of agencies’ standard workflow, processes or procedures, and most agencies don’t gather or leverage the networks or data easily obtainable through their recruiters’ own profiles. #ownership
  • Recruiters have no idea what the hell “good” looks like, and have no benchmark for realizing that a community of, say, 1,000 connections or followers on LinkedIn does not, in fact, rock. #sizematters

Now, this isn’t even bringing Facebook, the world’s largest social network in terms of number of users and information shared, into the conversation about communities, since most recruiters still see this as a personal network, and leveraging this professionally represents some sort of giant breach of personal privacy! Of course, my views on Facebook in recruiting are a whole other post entirely, formed mostly around the maxim of ‘get on it’ instead of the standard ‘get away from me’ attitude so many staffing practitioners seem to have.

Of course, individual networks aren’t nearly as large – or potentially powerful – as taking those of every recruiter at any given agency in aggregate. Of course, on social every recruiter’s network – and relative size – is visible. And while you might think that those couple hundred connections are a sign of a pretty awesome community, chances are they don’t stack up to most of your candidates, clients and competitors.

Don’t believe me, just do a quick comparison. Most of you will be surprised at how teensy and insignificant your communities actually are.

I’ll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours

So, thanks to social, the average recruiters’ community – and its relative size – is on display for the entire world to see. And they’re probably smirking at how small your talent tools really are. Here’s a fundamental fact: who you are connected to directly impacts who will connect with you. 

This networking effect is one of the most integral and important things for anyone trying to build a community – on social media or otherwise – needs to understand and anticipate when developing an approach. But looking at just the major social recruiting platforms as a microcosm of this maxim, consider that each has a behaviorally targeted algorithm which utilizes your existing contacts and communications to try to match you with suggested new prospects or connections automatically.

This means that if you’re not doing “the right things” with your social tool, you’re going to have to overcompensate to build a community proactively rather than develop and grow one organically, and this is going to create more work for less reward than someone whose connections are a true reflection of their actual talent pools or available candidates within their existing communities.

Not that this is anything new; this is no different than the previous iteration of agency recruiting, where success was determined by the size of your stack of resumes and CVs submitted for any particular position, and the relationships and connections in those communities that each respective recruiter could leverage on any given search.

The only difference between the legacy Rolodex or little black book of candidates recruiters have always relied on and the emergence of social and online communities comes down, again, to size.

Seeing the Big Data Picture Is Hard When You’ve Got a Bag On Your Head.

denialWithout exception, every recruiter I know actively wants to develop their “personal brand,” digital reach and overall profile to potential candidates and clients online and on social. This is perhaps the closest recruiting practitioners will ever come to a consensus on anything, but all of us seem to know that deep down, this is going to be a critical competitive advantage for sourcing and attracting talent, filling jobs and ensuring repeat business from a loyal base of satisfied customers.

Again, the business model and workflow processes in place at the average staffing firm or third party agency does not align with this objective, nor is it geared up to help recruiters actually grow or utilize their communities.

Excel Powertools Shally Steckerl

In fact, it’s more likely that there are policies in place preempting the practice of building online networks and increasing community engagement, the very things most recruiters need to do more of to win today’s top talent.

Fixing this isn’t rocket science; for most recruiters, it really comes down to the basics. Take Twitter, for example, a network that lots of recruiters simply ignore, either out of ignorance, fear or just because they can’t get a firm handle on what the hell a Twitter actually is.

This is why those who are on it tend to automate their feeds into more or less a repository for spamming jobs into a stream that’s got no content other than crappy jobs and crappier careers content. This is because most recruiters have the same Twitter “strategy” that, is in fact, nothing more than another iteration of ‘post and pray.’

Taking a job brief, removing a few words, chucking it onto your website and adding some social sharing functionality, along with #pointless #job and #recruiting #related #hashtags that are both gratuitous and pointless, will not ever lead to any really measurable or demonstrative return on investment. But the opportunity cost of this crap is probably killing whatever community you might already have; the more you turn up this noise, the likelier they are to tune you out.

I still meet recruiters who think they’ve somehow cracked the code because they’ve figured out how to integrate their LinkedIn and Twitter accounts so that they can post to both networks with one update. Sorry to break it to you, this isn’t the rock and roll approach you think it is. Duplicating content on multiple networks doesn’t make worthless crap any more compelling or valuable to the candidates you’re ostensibly targeting.

Fighting Shrinkage in Your Talent Pools

d0a6fae92d364b125f87e09b34cb88e1Sorry to be the one who breaks it to you that your community, if you’re at least “average” for a recruiter, is teeny weeny. I don’t want to give you a complex, but even if you’ve got a thousand connections, that’s not going to be wide enough to satisfy most searches, particularly if you’re recruiting for really niche positions (like a lot of my clients).

In fact, these little bitty communities are probably a turnoff to candidates and clients, since the fact is many judge your efficacy as a recruiter by the size of your followers, connections and fans, and this theoretical candidate database is now fully visible for the world to see.

We know in staffing, size matters. In the not so olden days, recruiters used to use the size of their database or networks as a selling point, and business was won based on who had the biggest and most relevant network of qualified talent in their community. At the moment, I’m writing a lot about how recruiters can learn to love their candidate relationship management (CRM) or applicant tracking systems (ATS) as this, for many recruiters, could become a massive unique selling proposition (USP) in a market which suffers from a complete lack of USPs these days.

I truly want recruiters to be able to go back to the days where they could safely point to their networks and say, “you need to pay me for the privilege of accessing my data to fill your positions” or “76% of the placements I made last year were through my own internal systems, na na na na na nah!” 

Social is a salve, but these databases are where community turns from a commodity into actual placeable candidates, closed reqs and billable business.

Everyone Knows You’re Faking It.

small rulerYou can no longer fake or fabricate how big your community really is, which means that size matters more than ever in recruiting. Yes, you can make the argument that you’ve not yet connected to every potential candidate in your talent pool on social, but having to explain your visible lack of connectivity, no matter what your justification might be, is in fact a disruption to your usual conversations and interactions with your clients and candidates.

You’ve got more convincing arguments to make than this if you’re like most agency recruiters I know – and that time and energy is better spent on developing or closing business than justifying your community’s small members.

Recruiters need to get a handle on data – after all, it’s the most powerful currency we’ve got.

But simply seeing big data as “big” rather than appreciating the value those numbers represent means missing out on the potential payoff of mining that data. This means that not only does size matter, but it’s increasingly all that matters when it comes to scoring in staffing or building lasting relationships instead of simply a bunch of one night stands.

Trust me: if your data isn’t big enough, word is going to get around – and you’ll soon see your staffing success shrivel up. Because no one in your talent pool is willing to settle for small when they can work with someone who’s really packing their pipeline.

Lisa JonesAbout the Author: Lisa Jones is a Director of Barclay Jones, a consultancy working with agency recruiters on their recruitment technology and social media strategies. Prior to Barclay Jones. Lisa worked in a number of Recruitment, IT, Web and Operations director-level roles. She is a technology and strategy junkie with keen eyes on the recruitment and business process.

You’ll see Lisa speaking at many recruitment industry events and being a recruitment technology and social media evangelist online. She works with some of the large recruitment firms, as well as the smaller, agile boutique agencies.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter @LisaMariJones or connect with her on LinkedIn.