from Starpulse.comThe Role of Recruiters in Social Media

Recruiters often struggle with social media because the medium does not lend itself well to traditional recruiting practices. Recruiting is typically a highly transactional process — the recruiter collects information from a candidates, decides if there is a fit, and moves on to the next step. It’s essentially a one-way street, running from the candidate to the recruiter with little or nothing going the other way. Social media requires two-way communication (the “social” part): conversations, sharing, and engagement. This is how talent communities are created, and the same makes it difficult for recruiters who are accustomed to being gatekeepers and in-control of the process.

The difference between traditional recruiting and using social media is akin to being the captain of a navy ship compared to that of a cruise ship. In the former case, the captain is king. She decides where the ship goes and who does what. The passengers have no say. On a cruise ship the captain has much more limited power and has to behave very differently.

The Cruise Director

Fans of The Love Boat will remember Gavin MacLeod in the role of Captain Stubing. But the more interesting role was that played by Lauren Tewes – the Cruise Director Julie McCoy. She was the one who had to keep everyone happy and having a good time — i.e., engaged.

This is the role the recruiter needs to play when using social media. You can’t act like the captain on a navy ship. The passengers are not going to stay with you for the voyage if you don’t keep them happy. The members of a talent community are largely there because they’re interested in what the community has to offer in terms of content, not because it’s the shortest path to a job. That may happen but it’s not the primary reason that someone joins a talent community. Talent communities are designed to attract the vast majority of people who are not active candidates. If there’s a high level of engagement they will stay there and may be persuaded to consider the jobs you have to offer.

In this situation a recruiter can’t succeed with a transactional approach. A recruiter has to be social — facilitating conversations and fostering interest in the community. It works best if the members interact with each other, since it’s physically impossible for a recruiter to meaningfully interact with all. The pace can’t be forced — it has to be allowed to develop. You can’t very well order people to have conversations and build engagement.

Again, it’s like being the cruise director, not the Captain.

The Cruise Director vs. The Captain

Watch The Love Boat and you’ll see that the job of a Captain is highly structured — the ship’s destination and path to it are predetermined and well travelled. There’s a lot to do to get the ship there, but there’s not much chance it won’t get there. It’s rare that much goes wrong and aside from the occasional iceberg there are few obstacles in the way. It’s Groundhog day most of the time. One has to be exceedingly incompetent to fail.

Compare that to the job of the Cruise Director where every day is a new day. Julie was dealing with a constantly changing collection of colorful characters. Beyond knowing that the job requires keeping the passengers entertained, there are few rules about what to do. Getting it wrong is easy — book the wrong act and you can bet that the passengers are going to be writing disparaging remarks on their Facebook pages and tweeting about it before their next turn at the buffet.

That’s how it works for recruiters trying to use social media. We know that success requires engaging with candidates but things get fuzzy after that. Despite what some claim, there aren’t any templates for success. Often you have to make it up as you go along.

It Takes Two

The Love Boat was based on a book written by a former Cruise Director — Jeraldine Saunders, who was also the main writer for the series. Her description of what makes for a successful voyage was that it required both the Captain and the Cruise Director. The same is true for recruiting with social media: to be successful means managing both the unstructured components. This is why recruiters find it challenging to use social media while also managing traditional processes. The two require fundamentally different skills. You can’t be the Cruise Director and the Captain.

Social media gets a lot of press. There seem to be millions of articles offering advice on how to succeed with social media, in business, in fundraising, starting revolutions, and of course, recruiting. A lot of that advice is as useful as a bicycle for a fish — since it’s often anecdotal or the wisdom of some self-styled guru writing about purple sheep or comparing anyone that doesn’t follow their advice to dinosaurs. So it’s great to read something that’s based on data and research, like a recent report from Gallup that has implications for recruiting.

The Medium vs the Message

There’s more going on offline than online.

A key finding of the research is that social networking is done more offline than online; the most common type of social networking is face-to-face or over the phone. This is a tough pill to swallow for those who worship the god of digital media, but the conventional wisdom is based on confusing the medium with the message. Social networking is what people are naturally driven to do; online social media is just the mechanism through which it’s done.

One size does not fit all. The research shows that social networkers have different reasons why they use their networks. These reasons are intrinsic to each individual: if you want to engage with them you need to tailor your message to them. If your social media initiatives are designed to reach the widest possible audience, then there’s a lot who will simply tune it out.

It’s About Engagement

The conventional wisdom about social media is that it’s a vehicle to reach the widest possible audience at the lowest cost — 467 first-level contacts connect you to 88,654 second-level contacts and 12,674,812 third-level contacts; Facebook has 600 million users, and so on. Getting dazzled by the numbers obscures the fact that success with social media requires engagement. And engagement means connecting with people who have shared passions and interests. Research on the effectiveness of tweets as a means to deliver a message shows that that happens most when tweets are re-tweeted — which only happens if the message resonated with the person reading it … an engaged follower. A “like” by a friend is more likely to be noticed than an ad, and even more if the friend commented on whatever it was they liked.

And engagement means that people are more likely to talk with their friends about the topic, whether it’s a product or a job, or interesting place to work. This is why talent communities can only succeed if they build engagement. The conventional wisdom about the talent communities is that they should include the largest number of possible candidates, with the idea that some will become employees. That approach doesn’t build engagement. It builds a database. The people in it are not likely to be retweeting your jobs or sharing them on Facebook.

The Gallup research shows that prospective customers are much more likely to try your product or service or advocate on your behalf if they hear good things about you from an engaged customer in their social network. They are much less likely to trust online advertising or corporate-sponsored Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. Candidates will behave the same way — if they’re engaged with you they will mention it to their friends, and those friends are more likely to be attracted to your jobs, more so than any amount of tweeting and self-promotion you may do through SEO for your jobs.

Old Habits Die Hard 

Much of recruiting has to do with advertising; the enduring popularity of job boards is testimony to that. Before that, so much of print advertising was devoted to help-wanted ads. It’s hard work to come up with leads on candidates and then reach out and try and to get them interested in your jobs. We’d all like to just post a job and wait for the resumes to roll in. When social media came along the most natural thing to do was to try and get those jobs in front of as many people as possible. That was the message peddled by ad agencies — the former middlemen in the job-posting business. Hence the obsession with click-through rates, impressions, views, etc. That may work for jobs where the requirements are a pulse and the lack of a felony (and sometimes only the first) but it usually doesn’t work for jobs requiring specialized skills. Do it too much and you’re just filling the channel with noise that no one’s paying any attention to.

Advertising doesn’t build engagement but a focused message, tailored to a narrow segment resonates. Talent communities are most effective when they include like-minded people who share a passion for their work. Do it right and you have passive candidates engage with you in ways not possible through advertising. Do it wrong and you’ve got the social media equivalent of spam.

The March 16, 1998 issue of Fortune showed a picture of one Roberto Ziche, a software engineer, and his bird, Reika, a little lime-green and red parrot. Demand for tech talent so outpaced the supply then that his employer had agreed to his demand to let Reika hop about Ziche’s office all day, jumping from his keyboard, across the top of his monitor, and stopping for a rest sometimes on Ziche’s head. “She’s a pleasant diversion,” says Ziche. But there are drawbacks. “When I am on the phone she gets jealous and starts screaming and biting and messing up everything on my desk.” And of course, unlike a dog, the bird was not house trained, so messing up on the desk meant more than mixing up the papers.

Nerds in Paradise

Well, if that story seems quaint, your next tech hire may be demanding she bring her pet to work too. Think that’s unlikely? Well think again.

Unemployment among many categories of workers tech is at or lower than 1998. The Boston Globe reports that in Massachusetts recruiters are seeing 3-5 jobs for every software worker. Workers with the right skills are being snatched up in as little as 24 hours. Contract developers are turning down offers of $130 per hour.

And the Bay State is no isolated example. The New York Times reports that while the rest of the city anxiously watches unemployment hover just below a demoralizing 9 percent and Wall Street braces for more layoffs, developers are complaining about being called with too many job offers. The shortage is causing salaries to skyrocket across all levels of jobs. Nationwide salaries for software engineers rose 20 to 30 percent in the past year and a half.

Employers are resorting to all sorts of creative strategies to attract and keep talent. Netlix offers employees unlimited time off under a program called “freedom and responsibility.”

This Time Is Different

Back in the 90s the talent shortage seemed to be a smaller problem — something that would not last, and was mainly in tech. This time the problem is more deep-seated and enduring. A recent survey by Manpower of employers found that just 27% believe their business has the talent it needs. Underscoring that gloomy assessment is a report from the World Economic forum that estimates significant shortages of talent in most major categories of professional jobs — tech, healthcare, education, biotech, etc. — through 2020.

A key reason the problem is bigger is because the supply of talent is just not there. Less than 1% of college students in the U.S. pick computer science as a major. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing estimates that the combined output of all nursing programs in America is 30% less than the demand. Shortfalls in talent that were made up by immigrants are no longer possible because the number of H-1B visas available has been stuck at 65,000 since 2007, and in the current political climate no politician on either side has the courage to push for an increase.

Weird and Weirder

Employers are getting increasingly desperate in their attempts to recruit talent. Among the more unusual approaches include having a wine bar at DPR Construction. All 17 of the company’s offices offer employees the option to open a bottle to toast accomplishments and at the Texas branch they have a full saloon. Chesapeake Energy offers employees botox injections and tanning beds. Taking a cue from Roberto Ziche, Kimpton hotels allows employees to bring pets to work and offers veterinary health benefits. But the prize for most unusual recruitment idea goes to Hipster, a San Francisco startup that gives each new employee a year’s supply of Pabst Blue Ribbon. There’s no accounting for taste.

Regulations are strangling job growth

Businesses are sitting on about $2 trillion in cash. That’s enough to fund 27 million jobs, or reduce unemployment to near zero. So what’s keeping them from spending? The economy is slowing from what was already a very tepid recovery. But even with greatly reduced expectations, job growth coming out of the recession has been far below what should have occurred based on historical precedents.

For a clue why this is, look no further than the environmental impact statement report on the proposed pipeline to bring crude oil from Alberta to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas. The project is estimated to create more than 138,000 jobs and invest over $20 billion in the U.S. economy. However, those benefits have to be weighed against such critical factors as “the impact on beetles” — a subject of considerable study in the report, among other things. The report concludes that there is no significant environmental impact because of the project, but tell that to the beetles. Since they have no legal standing, the government has come to their defense. The EPA is doing everything and then some to block the project.

I’m From the Government and I’m Here to Help

When it comes to job creation, the government’s public position is completely at odds with its actions. Take the newly minted ozone regulations proposed by the EPA. The agency itself admits that (I kid you not) the technology required to comply with its standards doesn’t exist and that the benefits are based on highly dubious assumptions. And just what are the benefits that the EPA seeks to achieve? A reduction in the concentration of ozone in the atmosphere by 10 parts per billion. And just to drive home the point about how smart an idea this is, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson concedes that scientific support for the new standards is “limited” and any benefits to people or vegetation (yes, vegetation) may be hard to measure.

Conservative estimates of the impact of these regulations show that it will result in the loss of over a million jobs in the already reeling construction industry over the next 10 years, as businesses are required to invest close to $1 trillion to meet the requirements. The EPA projects that the new standards would force about 20% – 30% of U.S. counties into non-compliance, requiring them to spend on expensive emissions control technologies (yet to be developed) or failing that, take industrial capacity offline … in other words, force several hundred thousand people into unemployment. Well, we already have 25 million people unemployed, so what’s a few hundred thousand more? Who would even notice?

And the list goes on and on. We also have the boondoggle involving the National Labor Relations Board’s opposition to Boeing setting up a huge manufacturing plant in South Carolina, instead of Washington — since the South Carolina facility will be a non-union site. That the plant will create 13,000 jobs is apparently not a consideration for the NLRB.

These are not isolated examples. Regulations of all sorts exist today to limit just about any type of project. The President keeps talking about funding “shovel-ready” projects, but it takes between three and seven years from the time a project is conceived to the time the first shovel can get into the ground, because of regulations. Amazingly, the government is unwilling to even help its own agencies that want to do something about job creation. The pipeline project mentioned above is being championed by the State Department since the oil originates in Canada. It was first proposed in 2008, but three years later the project is still in limbo because the EPA refuses to accept the claim that there’s little impact on beetles, and a much greater one on humans.

But then, no price is too high to pay if it means fewer parts per billion of ozone or happier beetles.

Recruiting strategies around social media are evolving. We’re seeing more emphasis on talent communities and less on broadcasting jobs over social networks. But anyone who’s building a talent community would do well to learn from the recently departed Democratic congressman from New York.

The congressman created a large community — more than 82,000 followers on Twitter and about 34,000 on Facebook, mostly based on his antics on the House floor and his dyspeptic public pronouncements. This is a common approach to starting a talent community: set up the infrastructure (links on the careers section, easy registration) and generate buzz by whatever means possible — SEO, content broadcast as widely as possible, etc. The goal being to attract as many prospective candidates as possible. But as many have learned, when it comes to talent communities getting it up is easy, but then it gets hard.

This may be a good strategy for building a brand, but it’s no guarantee of hires. It gets your employment message in front of a lot of people, many of whom will be attracted to you (or at least give the impression that they are). But closing the deal — getting from an online relationship to a real one — can be dauting.

While attracting prospective candidates is easy, few become hires. Most talent communities produce a tiny fraction of an employer’s total hires.

Size Doesn’t Matter

The conventional wisdom behind talent communities is that bigger is better. But don’t confuse popularity with influence. Influence is what’s needed to convert members of a talent community into hires. And real engagement is only possible with prospects who are attracted to an employer for the right reasons — they have the skills needed and already have or can be encouraged to develop a passion for working there. These are necessary conditions for having a useful talent community. Lacking one or the other, you can have a community filled with lots of unqualified or marginally interested people — hardly the kind you want to hire.

The goal of any recruiting strategy should be to build a reliable, repeatable source of hires. Getting a lot of people in a talent community does not mean that most are either qualified or really suited for the openings you’re trying to fill. You may get lucky (unlike the Congressman) and get a few hires, but that success may not be easily duplicated.

The recruiting leader for a large consulting firm recently told me that two years after his company established talent communities, it had registered more than 200,000 members but fewer than 1% of its hires were coming from the community. Lacking the staff and resources to try and engage with the community meant that what they’d managed to produce was just a marketing database. Worse, the lack of engament has resulted in disillusionment and created very negative feelings toward the company, which they now have to overcome in future recruitment efforts. His advice: “build micro talent communities” and then only when you have the capability to engage with them.

The Shortest Distance Is Still a Straight Line

The challenge for most recruiters is having the time to engage with people in a community. Ideally, the number in a community should be a manageable amount of qualified and interested people. This means the community is designed to attract the right kinds of people, or prospective candidates are channeled into micro-communities based on criteria that group similar individuals together.

This is an easier way to build engagement, because it also gives members of the community the opportunity to interact with each other. That’s much more likely when they have a lot in common. One of the more successful examples of this is Sermo, a community of physicians grouped by speciality.

Another solution to reduce the burden on recruiters is to use some form of social games. An example of this is TopCoder — a community where members compete for small prizes by solving problems. The point being that the community must offer something that keeps people coming back, without relying on recruiters to generate content.

That allows recruiters to focus on hiring without having to spend a lot of time on activities that, while essential, are not likely to show an immediate benefit.

Weiner on Talent

Representative Weiner long had something to offer to the talent acquisition community. He sponsored a bill to create a separate category of visas for fashion models. Regrettably it failed to pass.

We’d be wise to learn from his activities in social media. Many employers make this unnecessarily complicated. Focus on small communities of qualified, engaged people and converting them to hires won’t leave you feeling limp with the effort.

Texas Adds Over 700,000 Jobs

The line was “Go West, Young Man” — and it was true for a long time. That’s where the money and the jobs were: California. Well, it hasn’t been true for a long time. Over the last 10 years Texas has added 732,800 private sector jobs, including over a quarter of a million in the last 12 months alone. The Golden State has managed to lose over 600,000 private-sector jobs over the same period.

Winners and Losers

Private-sector job growth, aside from Texas, has been greatest in Arizona, Utah, North Dakota, Washington, and Virginia. But none of the states has managed to even top 100,000 new jobs over the 10 years from 2001 through 2011. The worst losses, outside of California, have been in Michigan (619,000), Ohio (460,000), and Illinois (363,000).

The Golden State was once a powerhouse for job creation, home to world-leading companies like Google and Oracle. But now Chief Executive magazine has ranked California the worst state to do business in for the last seven years. No prizes for guessing which state is ranked #1 for the same period.

California has the second-highest taxes in America (and again, Texas has the second lowest). California burdens businesses with highly restrictive regulations, has bloated government payrolls, public-sector unions that have been promised absurd levels of benefits, and a government that is positively hostile to private-sector employers. Texas has no state income tax; in 2009 California was issuing IOUs in lieu of refunds to taxpayers. Small wonder that every year about 100,000 more people leave the state than come in (legal residents, that is). Texas gains 150,000 new (legal) residents every year.

Texas is the polar opposite, rated by the 550 CEOs voting in the Chief Executive survey as having the highest labor market flexibility, weak unions, and a small government. The state gets low marks on its education system but California’s schools were labeled “A lesson in mediocrity” by The Economist magazine.

Home of The Unemployed

For some time, the early 1990s through 2005, the conventional wisdom held that places like California (and New York) had the winning formula: they were home to the best talent in America, if not the world … the so-called “Creative Class,” subject of so much writing by University of Toronto Urban Studies Professor Richard Florida. The basic premise being that a state that had trendy, happening places would attract the talent necessary to build great companies and create lots of high-paying new jobs.
This was always near-complete nonsense but it sounded good. Then the Internet bubble burst in 2001 and boring places like Oklahoma City did better at creating jobs in a sustainable way than cool places like San Francisco. That was because the fundamentals never changed — being home to lots of talent can’t offset the burden of high taxes and restrictive legislation, especially when the taxes are largely going to pay for public-sector pensions and benefits, not education or job creation. Talent follows business, not the other way around. By 2010 Texas was home to more Fortune 500 companies than California (64 vs. 51) and has unemployment of 8% versus near 12% — fully 3% above the national average — in California.

The Winning Formula

Writing in The Washington Examiner, Michael Barone puts it this way: “if you take a previously prosperous and creative state and subject it to high taxes and intrusive regulations, it loses 5% of its private sector jobs; if you take a previously somewhat less prosperous and creative state and govern it with low taxes and light regulation, it gains 9% more jobs, even as the nation’s economy is suffering.”

The states that are adding jobs — Arizona, Utah, North Dakota — all follow the Texas formula to a large degree: low taxes and a business-friendly environment. But this is a lesson that’s not easily learned, as demonstrated by the recent antics of the California legislature. The Business Roundtable estimates that the state’s new carbon emissions law will result in over half-a-million jobs foregone this year as businesses choose to locate elsewhere.

Need further proof that Texas is where the action is now? TNT is bringing back Dallas.

Build Social Capital to Succeed with Social Media

“The Whuffie Factor” is a book about using social networks to build your business. The concept of whuffie (rhymes with whoopee, but don’t confuse the two) refers to social capital built through connections among and between people in communities of shared interest. This creates a sort of “cultural currency” that an organization (or individual) can “spend” for its own benefit.

The Whuffie Factor is about marketing and sales but it does have some lessons for recruiting. The main one is that in order to succeed in making hires, recruiters must actively participate in social networks in — well — a social way. What most recruiters are accustomed to is using any media or channel to push ads.

The social media recruiting strategy of many employers can be described as one of getting as broad a network as possible (followers, connections, friends), getting to know major influencers, and getting write ups or posting jobs through those. That may well have worked in a Web 1.0 world, but it won’t do much in a Web 2.0 world, where people expect to have interactions with others — which is what social media is all about.

‘Tis Better to Give Than to Receive

Whuffie is about getting involved with a close-knit community, actively participating, and paying it forward. As an example, don’t just promote your company. Ask others about their companies. Participate in other’s online events and help them promote theirs. Don’t just ask them to attend yours. And help others get make connections that help them; don’t just ask for connections to people who might be interested in your jobs. Turn the bullhorn around: listen, don’t always be the one talking.

That builds up social capital and creates a currency that you can spend in pursuit of candidates. But you have to earn the currency before you can spend it. These principles are the same offline and online. Just how likely are you to help someone make connections who shows little interest in you and is only interested in using your network for their own benefit? But most people will help others they are close with and with whom they have regular interactions.

Talent Community or Marketing Database

Whuffie can be built up in talent communities, so long as they are real “communities.” Members interact with each other, share experiences and knowledge, and have a sense of belonging. But that takes time and deliberate design to ensure that there are meaningful common elements, good reasons for participating, and facilitators to make the interactions happen. This all takes time and effort and employers that can’t do so end up feeling frustrated with social media. A lot of so called talent communities are nothing more than a database of prospective candidates. They can be described as communities only if you believe that the phone book represents a community.

I signed up for one such community and the next thing that happened was I started getting emails telling me about every job that company had open, from the an entry-level administrative role all the way to a director-level position. Really makes you feel like you’re part of something special.

Some companies have decided that the returns do not justify the effort required for a talent community to be successful. The strategy of a major cruise line is only to post stories and articles on social media sites and direct candidates to their own website. That can be automated by a content management system. Given the volume of hires the company makes and the wide diversity (in jobs, locations, and languages), a true social media strategy is not practical. What they’re doing is using social media as a channel for broadcasting ads. There’s nothing social about that. It doesn’t build Whuffie.

Recruiters need to interact with a talent community to earn whuffie, which takes time and effort. There’s no way to automate that, though it can be outsourced. Some employers have established or hired offshore teams to interact with talent communities and create whuffie, much like gamers in multi-player games buy advanced levels from “factories” in China and other countries. That has to be less satisfying than doing it yourself (much like makin’ whoopee) but either way, you have to get it before you can spend it. It’s not a one-way street which is what makes it difficult for recruiters to build a reliable, repeatable process for getting hires through social media.

The central message of The Whuffie Factor is that your social reputation is your capital. It takes time to build a reputation but do it well and you can achieve a lot.

Charlie Sheen’s recent firing by CBS was likely well deserved. It followed a very public war with his producer and widespread publicity about his bizarre behavior and personal life. But scratch the surface and the decision seems illogical. His behavior today is no different than when he was hired for the show. The show is a hit and his antics haven’t turned off the viewers and he’s making money for his employer, so what’s the problem?

This is similar to what many employers do when recruiting: rejecting candidates for reasons completely unrelated to any ability to do the job.

With social media it’s very easy to do so now. Over 80% of recruiters consider personal data posted online when evaluating a candidate and look up social-networking sites, photo- and video-sharing sites, personal web sites and blogs, and even sites like Amazon, eBay, and Craigslist. This seems hypocritical since we’re supposed to make hiring decisions using job-related information assessed as objectively as possible. But most personal information collected online doesn’t meet those criteria. Much of it is unverifiable, and there’s no reliable way to know how it will impact the candidate’s performance on the job.

Keeping it Professional

There are some aspects of any candidate’s personal life that should get them rejected from the hiring process — convictions for violent crime or clear demonstration of illegal behavior — but most personal behavior doesn’t fall into those categories. I recently read an account of a hospital that rejected a well-qualified physician candidate because of some apparently embarrassing pictures found on her Facebook page. The explanation was that they didn’t want patients finding those. I wonder if a lot of patients go looking up their doctor’s Facebook page, and if they do are they going to refuse treatment based on what they find? Did the hospital administration think they were going to get calls from patients saying, “Hey, I can’t accept this diagnosis. Have you seen what’s on her Facebook page?”

How much of a person’s personal life is truly relevant to the job? Obviously even a single instance of some behaviors is completely unacceptable, but until it’s established that candidates actually demonstrate those, it’s foolish to reject them based on some arbitrary moral standard. CBS justified Charlie’s firing citing the publicity around his “dangerously self-destructive behavior.” That behavior didn’t have any negative effect on his show’s ratings. Before rejecting a candidate, think if customers or others the candidate will come in contact with really care — like the example of the hospital above. If they don’t, then does it really make sense to reject a candidate based on personal information?

The simple fact is that it’s near impossible to link most personal behavior to job performance in an objective way. Any attempt to do so requires uncertain judgement applied inconsistently. A candidate that changed the privacy settings on their Facebook page could hide any examples of inappropriate behavior and get hired while one who didn’t do so may get excluded. If a candidate’s Facebook page suggests he likes drinking, then it doesn’t prove that he’s in the habit of showing up for work drunk. Until someone completes a study showing job performance scores have a strong correlation with Facebook pictures of drinking it’s foolish to assume they prove anything.

Some suggest poor writing and bad grammar in Facebook profiles and in blog entries can raise a red flag about communication skills. That may be true, but blog-writing tools and Facebook lack spelling and grammar checkers, and the posts are examples of casual writing. How many people would show the same limitations if Word lacked those features?

The Charlie Sheen Standard

Using personal information to evaluate candidates is getting to be the norm. In Maryland the state recently suspended a policy that asked job applicants to provide their Facebook login and password. What they expected to find was never clear, but lacking a coherent policy any employer should consider the following when evaluating personal information.

  • Is it well established (by industrial psychology, behavioral science, or medical research) that people displaying a certain behavior in their personal life also repeat it in their professional lives?
  • Can the behavior that’s objectionable be defined? That’s not as easy as it may seem; take drinking, as an example. Drinking what — beer, hard liquor, wine? How much? Over what amount of time? How many examples of the behavior have to be displayed before the candidate is rejected? One? Three? Ten?
  • Can the behavior be measured through the medium being used? What would have to be mentioned in a post or picture to show that a person has been drinking? Is holding up a glass of colored liquid proof enough? This is why assessment tests are validated before being used.

Will customers or others who work with the candidate suffer any harm because of the personal behavior?

If the answers to the above questions aren’t “yes,” then candidates are being rejected based on personal prejudices and intangibles that have no link to job performance. Even if there were an objective way to measure inappropriate personal behavior, any “test” of the same may not be much use. Drug tests, considered highly objective, miss most drug users. About 8% of Americans are estimated to use illegal drugs, but a Federal Government drug testing program found only 153 employees testing positive out of 29,000 tested — about 0.005%. The Feds have a workforce most representative of the population, so it’s the test that’s failing. When something as precise as a drug test produces so many false negatives, just how likely is it that an evaluation of candidates based on personal information will be accurate?

I know several recruiters who rationalize their decisions by saying “I know it when I see it” or “I can always tell.” That’s right up there with the hiring manager that claims “I can judge a candidate by their handshake.” That kind of thinking has no place in a good recruiting process. Using the logic demonstrated by some in assessing people based on their personal lives this guy would be unqualified for the job he’s got.

We need jobs, and lots of them: unemployment is dropping but it’s a long road back to the days of 5% unemployment, and we’re not going to get there for a very long time. So where will the jobs come from? The old standbys of healthcare, IT, and education, will continue to add jobs, but there are more interesting and less obvious areas that will spur job creation.

Perhaps the most interesting are in energy, manufacturing, and robotics.

Energy

Let’s start with energy. Most of the jobs growth will be related to coal (yes, coal … that dirty, black stuff): getting it, burning it, and capturing the carbon emissions. It’s easier to get to than oil; it’s more abundant; and we need it. The two leading economies of the world — the U.S. and China — are heavily dependent on coal as a source of energy. The direct costs of coal are far lower than those of the alternatives in most circumstances. Coal provides 46% of the energy consumed in the United States today, and while oil is a major source, much of it comes from places that cause the price to fluctuate too much, creating uncertainty for business. By contrast, the U.S. is a net exporter of coal. Energy companies and others are making vast investments in technology to get more energy out of coal, clean the emissions from power plants, and even convert it to a liquid fuel.

Nuclear plants and the jobs associated with them — construction, operators, engineers, technicians, etc. – are another area related to energy that will generate jobs. Some 60 reactors are under construction worldwide, with that number expected to double in the next decade, including about 20 that are planned for the U.S. American companies are the dominant suppliers of components and expertise for building and operating these.

Now to alternative energy: wind, solar, etc. Well, don’t hold your breath for a lot of green jobs. There are virtually no commercially viable green technologies in existence. Three recent examples can illustrate why green energy is a pie in the sky for now. Range Fuels, which failed despite $400 million in funding, half of which came from the government; Evergreen Solar, which recently closed its doors after $685 million in losses and $60 million in taxpayer support; and finally the failure of T. Boone Pickens’ wind power venture ($2 billion). The simple fact is that green technologies are still in their infancy and incapable of producing jobs in any meaningful quantity (except for liquidators) without being subsidized by the government. All those Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs are going to have to be charged by energy from plants burning coal.

Robotics

Robots are going to be getting popular a whole lot sooner than we may expect. The big reason is caring for an aging population in developed economies. There will not be enough healthcare workers to help all those who need care and for increasingly longer periods, as life-spans keep increasing. Increasing immigration is an option, but unlikely, so that leaves robots to fill in. This is not science fiction: it’s already close to reality in Japan.
Within the next few years, Japanese companies will start marketing robotic home healthcare aides that can lift a person in and out of bed and perform tasks around the house. A Japanese company has produced a robotic nurse with realistic features and skin that mimics human behavior. Initially it will observe patients, collect data, and gauge patients’ reactions. It’s inevitable that we will see these here. That will spawn a huge new industry and by some estimates several hundred thousand new jobs in production, sales, maintenance, and support. And if you’re thinking of more recreational uses for robots then there are already production models of those.

Manufacturing

It may seem counterintuitive or absurd to suggest that manufacturing will be a source of job growth, but in the longer term we can expect that to occur. As developing economies — mainly India, China, and Brazil — continue to develop, they will have less of a cost advantage.
We’re already seeing the cost advantage being eroded as salaries continue to rise by 8%-10% annually in these countries. Products that could be produced in China move to Vietnam, and call centers in India move to the Philippines in the short term, but these countries do not have the capacity to take on even a fraction of the volume needed.
The second reason is that India and China will increasingly be forced to turn inward to serving their own internal markets rather than be able to export as much as they do today. Put these together and it seems obvious that some manufacturing will return, there not being enough sources of supply overseas.

Then again, maybe it’ll be done by robots.

What it takes to get your jobs retweeted

Tweeting jobs is an increasingly popular approach to broadcasting jobs. Ideally the jobs are retweeted, increasing exponentially the exposure one would get from the initial tweet. Tweeting is a social networking tool, so this can be a great way to tap the power of social media. Get enough people to retweet your jobs and you can reach a huge audience of prospective candidates. Well, maybe. Buy enough lottery tickets and you’ll win the lottery too.

First, some statistics to put Twitter use in perspective. While its popularity continues to increase, only about 8% of adult Americans use Twitter, That’s still a large number, about 16 million people, but Twitter users tend to be clustered into a few major categories: 18-29 in age, African-American and Latinos, and Urbanites. So it’s not the most representative group when it comes to filling jobs. Research by Sysomos — a maker of social media analysis tools — shows that 71% of all tweets produce no reaction. Twenty-three percent produce a reply and only 6% are retweeted. The implication being that the majority fall on deaf years (or blind eyes?). So a lot of those jobs being tweeted are likely not being noticed.

Retweets: Getting Attention

In social media circles retweets are the holy grail. A retweet means that the retweeter has read the original tweet and considers it worth passing on, so the likelihood of it being read is higher. And if even a small proportion of those who follow a company or a recruiter will retweet the jobs they received, a much larger number of people would see the jobs. So what does it take? Having a large number of followers is no guarantee of retweets, but using certain words can make it more likely that a job will be retweeted. Social media researcher Dan Zarella has a list of 20 words that when included in a tweet increase the likelihood of it being retweeted. The list includes “you,” “please,” “retweet” (please rt), “great,” and “check out.” I was underwhelmed too by this revelation, but apparently it works.

Hashtags are another way to get tweets retweeted. Hashtags organize tweets into groups, so people can follow them based on category. As an example, if you sent out a tweet for a job in sales and add #salesjobs to the tweet, it will show up in the feed for #salesjobs and everyone reading that particular feed will see it. Visit hashtags.org to see what categories are popular.

The timing of tweets is also a factor in their being retweeted. Dan Zarella has also found that tweets made during the morning hours are more likely to be retweeted than tweets made during later times.

The Illusion of Followers

The term “followers” is an interesting choice. It conveys a whole lot more power than “friends” or the more clinical (but the most accurate) “connections.” From the first time I heard about Twitter I thought this was the answer to the prayers of narcissists and stalkers everywhere, and the illusion has been perpetuated. The idea that one has “followers” can do wonders for a person’s self-esteem, especially for those with low self esteem to start with. Most of us know someone who’s very proud of the number of people they have following them. But a person has to be completely delusional or really full of themselves to believe they have enough interesting things to say on a regular, or even occasional, basis that any of their “followers” actually want to read. Having a large number of followers does not equate to influence over them, i.e., they don’t necessarily read or pay attention to tweets. This much was confirmed in a research study called “The Million Follower Fallacy” that analyzed data from some all active Twitter accounts.

There’s a very low correlation between the number of followers and the number of retweets. Many of those so-called followers do so out of politeness than any great desire to hear from the person they follow. One easy way to increase the number of your followers is to start following others in large numbers, many of whom will return the favor. But they aren’t just sitting around waiting for tweets, and most updates will be missed.

Tweets are very likely to get retweeted among followers’ networks when they meet certain criteria. Josh Gordon at Social Media Today has found that the most retweeted items are short (13 words, and 69 characters), use humor, and are personally connected. That suggests that tweets are best sent by recruiters and employees. Sending a tweet under an employer’s name is not likely to have much impact. And they should include something more than just a link to the job. And ask (beg) to have it retweeted.