Social Media Impacts Both Geospatial Job Seekers and Employers

By Tyron Touchard

Every week of every year, at organizations around the globe, managers meet to discuss their recruiting strategy. They review reports that monitor the number of days it takes to close a requisition, the number of candidates applying, and the costs associated with filling each requisition. The data supplied from HRIS databases refine an organization's recruiting focus. Managers look at their sources of hires to figure out what is and isn't working. They look at trends and watch for deltas that indicate a change in the market. And even when the data look good, at every one of these meetings, managers solicit new ideas from the team.

Candidate behavior changes all the time. The best-selling job-hunting book, What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles, was first published in December 1970 and it is revised (sometimes completely rewritten) and republished annually. It is republished every year because the workplace is always in flux. Candidates looking for an edge in their job search sometimes do extreme things like renting a billboard or standing on a corner at Times Square with a flashing sign. Most mainline job seekers simply monitor hiring trends because they, too, are continuously looking for new ideas.

Today, more candidates than ever need practical new ideas for their job search. The global economic downturn has resulted in an incredible 10.2% unemployment rate. That translates into nearly 16 million Americans who are now looking for work. The activity will be dizzying from now until the U.S. returns to full employment. The geospatial market has fared better than the universal market but every market has been grim. The market is ripe for another paradigm shift in the way employers connect and hire job seekers.

Traditional tools for both geospatial employers and geospatial job seekers have remained mostly the same for the last two decades. Since the birth of the Internet, hardcopy paper tools like newspaper ads and printed resumes have all but disappeared. A faxed resume, for example, will be shredded upon receipt to avoid the administrative burden of scanning it into a compliant format. Virtually all career transactions today take place via Internet job boards and corporate applicant tracking databases. The online job board trend has worked well in the industry but it is also the trend that is starting to change.

Conventional Internet job board revenue outpaced print newspaper employment advertising for the first time in the second quarter of 2004, according to the Newspaper Association of America. From there, the numbers for online job boards get better. Earnings for publicly traded online employment companies (MWW, DHX) reached a peak in 2007 before trending to lows in March 2009. Yet, in July of this past year, comScore Media Metrix produced a study revealing that the top three sites in the career services category (CareerBuilder, Yahoo! HotJobs and Monster) had achieved substantial growth in the past year, with 21.7 million unique visitors for CareerBuilder, Yahoo! HotJobs with 17.9 million visitors (up 23 percent vs. year ago), and with 14.5 million visitors (up 6 percent). These numbers expose the relevancy of online job boards.

However, online social media has experienced explosive growth in 2009. reports that the active user base for Facebook exceeds the U.S. population, at over 350 million. Estimates place the user base for LinkedIn at 10 million, followed by Twitter with 8 million. Every career expert will acknowledge that the best way to find a job is to get a job lead from a family member, friend or associate. Traditional networking to find a job has proven to be the most effective method to land employment since the beginning of time. Electronic connections with every colleague, insurance agent and teacher can add up quickly, but the value of each digital connection is hard to measure. Still, it stands to reason that online social media in one form or another will displace traditional online job boards.

The "new idea" that candidates have discovered is that they can use job boards as a research arm to find relevant opportunities and then leverage their social media contacts to get an interview. One approach is to collect hundreds of followers on Twitter in hopes of connecting with a hiring manager. However, would it really pay off to "friend" Kevin Bacon on Facebook? At some point, a friend of a friend of a friend saturates. Large connection caches are probably too diluted to make a difference for the average job seeker looking for an inside track to decision makers. Connecting with professional recruiters working for hiring managers, on the other hand, has proven valuable for many.

The reason candidates are turning to social networking sites to get their resumes in front of a hiring manager is because the feedback loop in the traditional process seems to have vanished. This social media approach is the result of too many applicants for too few jobs. The job board method isn't broken but in this employer market, candidates have grown increasingly frustrated with their personal success on job boards. The sound of the click on the "apply now" button seems to be the only feedback for most candidates submitting to a database repository. This is a problem that social media won't solve. Only a table turn in demand will correct poor employer etiquette.

Also, the "new idea" for employers is to brand their company by creating pages on MySpace or LinkedIn and use those accounts to locate suitable candidates. They are posting jobs on relevant group pages via LinkedIn and Spoke. Corporate recruiters are building giant networks of contacts and updating their status to inform scores of candidates that they have a new opening. New software platforms have been developed to link current company employees' personal social profiles in order to mine their networks for new candidates in place of an employee referral program. Incentives are provided to employees who participate.

Pitfalls and hazards loom with this "new idea" for both job seekers and employers alike. The most obvious danger for a job seeker is an online profile that is unprofessional or worse, downright objectionable. Maybe that tweet you sent trashing a former employer or supervisor surfaces and suddenly your chances of getting on the short list evaporate. Those all important contacts and associations that can be a social networking asset can also become a liability, thanks to cousin Vinnie. For all the success stories, there are as many stories that went the other way.

To employers, social networks pose a compliance threat. Federal, state and local governments mandate non-discrimination in the selection, hiring and promotion of employees. Those metrics that managers review each week are also subject to auditing agencies that look for an "adverse impact" or statistical evidence of discrimination in an organization's hiring practices. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) took until 2006 to issue guidance for electronic job board applicant tracking. It might be difficult for HR departments to collect EEO data from certain tweets without revised guidance for new candidate sources like Twitter.

The impact that social media is having on career hunting activities is just beginning. Quickly, job board operators, employer applicant tracking systems, and even some public agency portals will develop software integrations that will blend the traditional process with this social media phenomenon. Best hire practice manuals will be revised and innovative job seekers will continue to use new technology to get noticed. To stay on top of the trend, don't forget to click the "follow" button on those geospatial recruiting blogs.

Published Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Written by Tyron Touchard

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