LinkedIn has changed the way businesses hunt talent


(Illustration by Mike Byers)

John Hazlett wasn’t looking for a new job.

But when he received a LinkedIn message from a recruiter at the Advisory Board Co., it instantly piqued his interest. The recruiter was looking to hire for a position at the health care consulting firm and said Hazlett’s skill set might be a good fit.

Hazlett, then a vice president at an education software start-up, wasn’t particularly happy in his work. So he began exchanging messages with the recruiter through LinkedIn.

Soon he was hired as a principal at the District-based company, and he has since been promoted to executive partner.


John Hazlett an executive partner at the Advisory Board Co., came to work at the company after being recruited on LinkedIn. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post)

“I look at it as a small way that I was able to land a dream job and really grow with a great firm,” Hazlett said.

Hazlett was what’s known in the recruiting world as a “passive job seeker” — someone who isn’t deliberately looking for a new position, but could be lured to accept one if the right offer came along.

And LinkedIn, with its more than 238 million members and vast well of profile information, is upending the talent industry by giving recruiters access to these workers on a massive scale.

As LinkedIn has exploded — perhaps because it has exploded — there has been a major shift in the way employers find new workers. Gone are the days of “post and pray,” a recruiter’s adage for the practice of advertising a job opening and then idly hoping that good candidates swim up to the bait.

Now the process of talent acquisition is something of a hunt.

“We’re really at a point now where all of your employees are vulnerable to being poached. Every single one,” said Josh Bersin, principal and founder of talent consulting firm Bersin by Deloitte.

The change is happening rapidly: A 2013 study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 77 percent of employers are using social networks to recruit, a sharp increase from the 56 percent who reported doing so in 2011. And among the recruiters using social tools, 94 percent said they are using LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has also shaken up the job candidate experience for workers of all sorts. Satisfied employees in high-demand fields are frequently getting unexpected nibbles to gauge their interest in new opportunities. And active job seekers might now face increased competition, as they’re often vying with candidates who don’t necessarily need a new job.

Here in Washington, where the cornerstone of the economy is the professional services sector, it may be particularly important to take note of LinkedIn’s rise. Recruiters say they are especially likely to use LinkedIn to fill mid-level and senior professional positions, precisely the kinds of jobs that are in great abundance here.

While a basic LinkedIn membership is free, many employers are paying thousands of dollars a year for a special suite of “talent solutions products” that LinkedIn has built for human resources professionals. The most distinctive of these offerings is a tool called Recruiter, which allows users to conduct sophisticated searches of member profiles.

The search functionality allows recruiters to sift through members based on a variety of characteristics: years of experience, job title, current or past employer, or even the size of the companies at which someone has worked. They can then send them a message called an InMail or invite them to become a connection. Or, if they don’t want to make contact immediately, they can simply “follow” that user.

Cynthia Dodd Adcock landed in her new job at Washington-based nonprofit network Independent Sector thanks to a recruiter’s search of LinkedIn.

Adcock received a cold call earlier this year, based on her LinkedIn profile, to gauge her interest in a position as the organization’s vice president of communications and marketing.

She had always aspired to move into the nonprofit sector, and so even though she hadn’t been in her current job very long, the offer proved too attractive to resist. That the recruiter found her on LinkedIn, she said, illustrated the network’s power.

“You are being looked at and scrutinized very carefully by a whole cadre of recruiters, whether you know it or not,” Adcock said.

And while LinkedIn has become recruiters’ primary hub for chasing passive talent, it’s not the only place they’re looking: Facebook, Twitter and niche sites such as GitHub have also become channels for identifying prospective job candidates.

**

On a sunny morning in a small conference room at LinkedIn’s sprawling Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, Dan Shapero took a marker to a white board to explain how members’ job-seeking behavior breaks down.

Shapero, LinkedIn’s vice president of talent solutions and insights, drew a circle and sliced it into three parts. Through regular surveys, LinkedIn has determined that 20 percent of its users are actively seeking new positions and 20 percent couldn’t be happier in their jobs. The remaining 60 percent fall into the passive job seeker category.

“This 60 percent only cares if it’s the right thing,” Shapero said. “So we need to do a lot of math behind the scenes to try to predict what the right thing will be.”

LinkedIn serves up suggested job candidates to Recruiter users via a feature called “people you might like to hire,” which uses complex algorithms to identify qualified job candidates.

“We can look at similarities between the type of people that the user has viewed and messaged and make connections that are less obvious,” said Parker Barrile, LinkedIn’s senior director of product for talent solutions.

For example, Barrile said, LinkedIn has calculated that its users who have worked in sales frequently move into marketing jobs. But recruiters often ignore sales professionals when they’re trying to fill a marketing position. Through the “people you might like to hire” tool, LinkedIn can recommend these and other outside-the-box candidates who have the skills or experience for which a recruiter has previously searched.

LinkedIn can also supply corporate users with insights as to how their brand is performing in a certain geographic market. The “Talent Brand Index,” as it is known, measures how many people are aware of a company and, of those people, how many have taken an action on LinkedIn’s site that suggests they might be interested in working there.

LinkedIn offers clients insight on how employees tend to migrate from one metropolitan area to another. For example, more members have moved to the Washington region in recent months from Chicago than from Richmond or Norfolk, even though the midwest city is farther away.

About 20,000 clients are using LinkedIn’s talent solutions products. These tools have fast become the company’s financial backbone: Of the $364 million in revenue that LinkedIn reported in the second quarter, $205 million came from this division.

In order to ensure that these products continue to be optimally valuable to recruiters, LinkedIn will have to work to ensure that it is not impeded by its own fast growth and popularity. As more members and talent professionals familiarize themselves with the tools, some recruiters say LinkedIn risks becoming an environment in which it is harder for their overtures to stand out from those of competitors.

Jennifer Boulanger, director of talent acquisition at Arlington-based Opower, said she’s already seeing this happen in certain high-demand job categories.

“Most engineers, they get probably 10 to 15 LinkedIn mails every day,” Boulanger said. “So we actually got away from doing a lot of LinkedIn for engineers.”

Still, she’s using LinkedIn Recruiter to fill a host of other positions. In fact, she has nearly 11,000 candidates in her applicant tracking system that were identified through this platform.

And while LinkedIn has increasingly become a search mechanism of choice for recruiters, some solid job candidates might still be flying under its radar. Many workers are not on the network, and some users have skeletal or out-of-date profiles.

Kathleen Smith of ClearedJobs.net, a career site for people with government security clearances, said that hers is a niche in which many qualified candidates are not easily found on LinkedIn.

“When you’re talking in the cleared community, people are not very comfortable sharing a lot of information,” Smith said, since they often work on classified projects and are accustomed to maintaining a certain level of privacy about themselves and their work.

Even some of the basics can be difficult to discern, as workers are typically advised not to disclose in their profiles that they have a security clearance. Smith said a good recruiter can often read between the lines as to whether a prospective candidate has one, but it still requires guess work.

“When we try to find the silver bullet tools, people are not going to find the talent that they want,” Smith said. “Social media is great, but it’s just another relationship building tool.”

Many local companies have made LinkedIn a core part of their strategy for finding top talent. McLean-based media giant Gannett has about 40 human resource professionals using LinkedIn’s Recruiter tool. Since it began using it extensively, the company has seen a drop in the amount of time it takes to fill an open position, according to Virgil Smith, vice president of talent acquisition.

Contracting company Science Applications International Corp. said it began investing more heavily in LinkedIn last year. As the company has ramped up its use of LinkedIn, Chris Scalia, SAIC’s vice president of talent acquisition, has noticed a change in the types of candidates he can find there.

“LinkedIn was always known for where you would go to find that really critical, challenging hire,” Scalia said. “It was never really where you would go for a PC technician or something at the lower end of the career mobility scale. Now I see both. It is completely flooded.”

At Advisory Board, recruiters have been able to zero in on promising candidates faster.

“We’ve found a real uptick in quality, [that] is probably that biggest tangible impact,” said Chad Chow, the firm’s director of career management. With traditional job boards, Chow said, “You spent a lot of time interviewing candidates in order to sort of narrow down the pool. Linkedin is a much more targeted tool.”

In addition to its use of the Recruiter, Advisory Board has had success with the Job Slots tool, another LinkedIn offering that allows HR professionals to post job openings.

With that functionality, Chow said, “the job actually finds the candidate.”

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economics news.
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