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Social media turns hiring upside down

Increasing use of social media by job applicants is changing what companies look for when they hire.
Increasing use of social media by job applicants is changing what companies look for when they hire.

For many job seekers today, there are usually three “doors” to getting hired. There’s the front door (apply online with most of the world), the side door (offer a company a specific proposal on how you can help their business), or the back door (a friend inside gets you an interview). Now there’s a fourth way to get hired that’s getting plenty of attention: the social media data door.

In a lively panel discussion yesterday hosted by Zynga at their headquarters in San Francisco, company leaders from LinkedIn, Evolv, and Entelo shared insights with attendees on the changing job market and how a combination of branding, online visibility, and data analysis are driving hiring decisions for businesses around the world.

The panel was put together by the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) a San Francisco-based nonprofit who helps people build skills and find work at no cost to the job seeker. Despite the recent boom in technology employment throughout the Bay Area, there are still 23,000 long-term unemployed in San Francisco alone and the panel discussion was live-streamed on the JVS website in hopes that others would watch and learn from the insights.

And the insights were somewhat surprising. For example, resumes are becoming as out of date as DVD players. The footprint provided by online social media data is becoming the more significant factor in hiring, as companies will often just “google” candidates to see what shows up. “A number of companies don’t even look at a resume anymore,” said Max Simkoff of Evolv. His firm is a big data company that uses predictive analysis tools to improve workforce productivity and quality.

In today’s faster paced digital world, it’s not so much about what you’ve done over your career as what you’ve done lately. Many companies seeking to hire technical talent will keep an eye on sites such as GitHub, where software programmers can try out new code they developed themselves. “It’s now learn skills, demonstrate skills, be found by an employer,” said Jon Bischke, the founder of Entelo. His company works with recruiters to leverage social media tools in the hiring process.

For many job seekers, it’s also about how they “brand” themselves online using networking sites such as LinkedIn. Recruiters will often look at the LinkedIn groups that a candidate has joined to gain a better understanding of their interests. Like going into a gym and working on different muscle groups, it’s now a process of “creating connective tissue,” as LinkedIn’s Bryan Breckenridge described it yesterday.

Data analysis and the conclusions drawn from it are playing a larger factor in employee hiring and retention as well. Evolv’s Simkoff described how his data shows that something as basic as the kind of web browser you use can be a key indicator of how long or how well you perform in a job. Employees who just used a “default” browser were not as successful as those who upgraded to a different one (such as from Google to Google Chrome).

Simkoff also revealed a somewhat startling bit of news. His data shows that employees with a criminal history, including convictions, will outperform their peers and stay longer. “That’s one example that’s more counterintuitive,” Simkoff admitted.

The panel also talked about how companies can do a better job of branding themselves. Hiring good people can become more difficult if there is a largely negative perception of a firm in social media, through sites such as Glassdoor (which posts employee generated reviews) and others. In this respect, each employee becomes an “ambassador” who can help raise the image in social media and create pipelines for recruitment. “It’s amazing how often you hire people already connected to your staff,” said LinkedIn’s Breckenridge.

What emerged from yesterday’s discussion at Zynga was a clear sense that the hiring process is being transformed by the volume of information now available in social media and other online sources. But the speakers also cautioned that data should not override the most critical factor of all: who the job seeker is as a person.

Simkoff related a story about interviewing an applicant for Evolv whose technical skills were well below the rest of the final candidate pool. He asked him to describe the most challenging goal he had set for himself and the candidate described the arduous, disciplined process he went through to train for his first and only “Ironman” triathlon.

He got the job.

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