The job hunt gets social

Gary Bacon spotted a Web designer job posting online several months ago and shot an email to a recruiter at Medifast Inc. But that was just the beginning.

Bacon connected with a recruiter, Caitlin Goldstein, and the conversation moved to Twitter. They tweeted back and forth, and Goldstein got to know Bacon, found links to examples of his work — and eventually felt confident enough to invite him to Medifast's Owings Mills headquarters for an interview.

Welcome to the brave new world of recruiting, which has expanded into social media. Just a few years ago, much of the action took place on online job boards, but now social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have supercharged the experience for recruiters and job-seekers alike.

"Everyone is using LinkedIn, and if you aren't, it's probably a little bit of a concern," said Jessica Lee, vice president of talent acquisition at the Washington communications firm APCO Worldwide and editor of Fistful of Talent, a popular blog about recruiting.

LinkedIn's many online networking tools have struck a chord — and opened a source of revenue — for the company in the recruiting industry. The company, valued at more than $8 billion after going public this year, derives much of its income from job ads and tools it sells to companies and recruiters looking for talent.

While job boards still fill a major need, such sites tend to attract mostly active job-seekers. Recruiters, always on the prowl for top talent to poach, are using social networks to better identify top professionals in their fields, connect with them through "word-of-mouth" approaches and lure them away with job offers.

Nowadays, a typical executive might have a resume posted on LinkedIn, a Facebook and Twitter account, a blog or their own website — and recruiters are busily mining those sites, Google and more for the right candidates.

Recruiters often are directed to find "passive" candidates — working professionals who are employed and who might not have considered changing jobs until they were made the right offer.

"LinkedIn is a gold mine for passive candidates," said Jay Feeley, practice leader and account executive at MRI GlobalSearch inTimonium.

Even as the major social networking sites are plumbed by corporate and third-party recruiters for job candidates, the debut of Google Plus — the search giant's own social network — is being widely seen in recruiting circles as another good potential tool for scouting the best workers.

Jobvite, which helps companies use social media to recruit, reported last month that nearly two-thirds of 800 employers surveyed had used social media in their recruiting.

And more than half — 55 percent— expected to increase their budgets for social recruiting.

Medifast, which sells weight-loss products and plans, is recruiting for about 160 positions — 40 in Owings Mills and another 120 at its weight-loss centers around the country. The company started promoting itself and recruiting on Twitter in January and on Facebook in May.

Goldstein, the Medifast recruiter, says she uses such sites so frequently that she added a second computer monitor to her work station four months ago so she can better track LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

The refining of these tools has given rise to a specialized role in the field of recruiting: the online sourcer. Sourcers such as Kelly Dingee use the Web exclusively to find prospective candidates for the positions they're hunting to fill.

Dingee, the strategic recruiting manager for Staffing Advisors in Frederick, says that in a typical day she mines her 4,700 connections on LinkedIn and interacts with groups on that site. She cross-checks potential recruits on Twitter and Facebook and other online databases she pays to access. Some professionals publish frequently in journals and other online publications, which she also searches for leads.

And she uses Google fervently, crafting Boolean searches with keywords to drill down and find professional talent across the Web.

Dingee said her job has changed radically since she started recruiting in 1998.

"My job is incredibly more efficent now than it ever has been," she said. "The sheer volume of what I can find because of the advent of social media and social networks is just huge."

Recruiters interviewed for this story put LinkedIn at the top of their list as a tool.

The Reznick Group, a top-20 accounting and consulting firm based in Bethesda, has hired half a dozen professionals through LinkedIn in the past eight months, according to Chris Van Bavel, a national recruiting manager based in Baltimore.

The group maintains a Facebook page to help connect with recent college graduates, Van Bavel said. It's still trying to decide on the best use of Twitter.

"We've definitely dipped more than our big toe in social media," Van Bavel said.

Luring senior-level, seasoned and older professionals poses a different challenge than tapping the college crowd.

Van Bavel says the Reznick Group avoids direct headhunting on LinkedIn, but shares job opportunities with users in online groups, and lets others pass on job leads to their connections on the site.

The thinking is that someone might consider a job lead on the recommendation of a friend or colleague more seriously than a direct pitch from a recruiter.

"You give the opportunity to let people float the job in front of their friends," Van Bavel said.

With the rise of the Web, the challenge for recruiters and job-seekers has shifted from finding jobs and candidates, to filtering the thousands of options available online.

Social media sites and other third-party applications have developed tools to help.

A recruiter could use LinkedIn, for example, to find engineers with experience working at Apple Inc. and IBM, but not at Hewlett-Packard — a search not possible before the Internet connected people, according to John Sullivan, management professor at San Francisco State University who studies human resources strategy.

Another challenge for companies now, in the faltering economy: How do you sift through the many job candidates to get the right ones interested in your position?

"Recruiting has shifted from finding a name, which is easy now, to 'How do you convince him to talk to me?'" said Sullivan.

That's where Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can play a useful role for companies and headhunters. It's easier to collect professional and personal details on those you might want to hire. And those details can be useful in approaching a candidate for a conversation.

Sullivan said job-seekers today should be less worried about the polish of a written resume and far more concerned about their visibility on a Website such as LinkedIn and through Google searches.

"If you're not coming up on the first page of a Google search, you have a problem," Sullivan said. "It's that visibility that's critical if you want to get a job."