In one of the more unbalanced blogs I’ve read on Forbes.com, Josh Bersin espouses the attributes of LinkedIn and how the company is effectively disrupting the corporate recruiting market. (Read first.) It’s a good piece, Josh, but there’s another side of the coin.

Doesn’t this all sound strangely familiar? It should. Anyone who has been around the recruiting game longer than five minutes heard how “disruptive” Monster was going to be – until it wasn’t. There’s always some whiz-bang, slick, shiny and sparkly new-fangled gizmogadgetwidget that’s completely going to change how companies recruit. And it’s cool for a while until everyone once again realizes the only thing that really matters in the recruiting process is the people.

A skilled carpenter can work with mediocre tools and still produce quality work. But give a layperson the most expensive tools money can buy and, well, I bet you’d be disappointed. Could there be a more appropriate analogy?

In the spirit of full disclosure, I love LinkedIn and I’ve used their LinkedIn Recruiter product with varying degrees of success. I think it’s probably one of the greatest passive candidate sourcing tools ever created – albeit by accident. But even as Bersin sings the praises of LinkedIn, there are some real deficiencies we shouldn’t ignore.

So let’s balance the scales a little, shall we?

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Sourcing (Sort of)
First, there’s a huge difference between hiring a contract recruiter and engaging the retained services of Korn/Ferry or Heidrick & Struggles. But I digress. Certainly, LinkedIn allows access to a greater network of potential candidates. But all the grass isn’t greener. To be found on LinkedIn, one must first BE on LinkedIn. And even if one is on LinkedIn, a good amount of member profiles are incomplete, causing sourcers to overlook suitable candidates. I once gave a talk on social media to a class of prospective MBAs at Loyola University Maryland’s Joseph A. Sellinger School of Business. When asked how many of them were active LinkedIn users, only a few raised their hands. Yet every hand in the room reached for the sky when similarly asked about Facebook.

But we’ll talk about that in a minute.

LinkedIn also seems to boast a potent concentration of high earners. Based on 2008 data, 28% of LinkedIn users had average annual incomes of ~$104K, 30% made an average of $93K. I doubt the data has changed significantly over the last few years. So, if you are looking to hire executives or high-techies (the highly compensated) then LinkedIn is a great source. My construction worker dad probably would consider it some sort of insult to have a LinkedIn profile. In the end, LinkedIn is a great source for certain kinds of positions, but it is not “the answer” in every situation. It really depends on your company and the kinds of people you recruit the most.

People
As the carpenter analogy above goes, all the shiny new tools in the world won’t matter if you don’t have the right people, and this is where technology falls flat. Companies do not recruit people. People recruit people. Where candidates choose to spend most of their days is as much an emotional decision as it is a logical one and the first people they connect with at a company (its recruiters and hiring managers) make all the difference. I’ve always said that if you wouldn’t put your recruiters in front of your best customer, then you’ve got the wrong recruiters. Often, corporate recruiting functions lie buried deep within the HR infrastructure and staffed with generalists who do recruiting as part of their overall HR responsibilities. I would argue that professional recruiters do not share the same DNA as traditional HR practitioners – and most HR practitioners I’ve spoken with about this would agree. LinkedIn Recruiter in the hands of anything less than a professional is akin to a shiny new skill saw in the hands of my teenage daughter. As soon as she turns it on, she’s likely to do more damage than good. Unless an organization is willing to ante up and hire professional recruiters, tools like LinkedIn Recruiter will be underutilized and those part-time recruiters could end up damaging your organization’s employment brand.

LinkedIn is Not Facebook
You are darn tootin’ it’s not Facebook. Do you know how much a single seat for LinkedIn Recruiter runs these days? Not to mention the additional expense of their Job Postings, Employment Branding services, and Talent Pipeline features – great if you have deep pockets. Recruiting on Facebook is significantly less expensive (at least for now) and platforms like BeKnown and BranchOut look to unseat LinkedIn as the professional network of choice. Let’s also look at the relative size of these social networks. By the numbers, there are approximately 150M total users (not all active) on LinkedIn, while Facebook boasts an active user population of almost 850M users (December 2011).

No one would argue that LinkedIn is very different from Facebook. But ask any professional recruiter and they’ll tell you Facebook has great potential – most are just trying to figure out the best ways to leverage recruiting on Facebook as its usability as a recruiting platform is relatively new. There’s no question that LinkedIn is a great tool – but it isn’t the only tool and others shouldn’t be ignored.

Side Two
Bersin states that “the hottest part of this market is tools for sourcing.” While that may be true, finding the names is (arguably) the easy part. What you do after you know where your target candidate is and how to reach them – that’s the real recruiting difference. It’s where you win or lose. No technology in the world can replace how a candidate feels the first time he or she interacts with a human from your company.

So before we get everyone fired up and on the LinkedIn bandwagon, let’s understand that a truly “disruptive” strategy is one that focuses on having the right people in place to take full advantage of tools like LinkedIn Recruiter, Facebook, and so many more. Like we used to say in the Corps when a Marine would (rarely) miss his or her target. “It is not the rifle. It’ is the Marine.” The best people paired with the best tools provide the best results.

A great person can be successful even without the best tools. But a mediocre person with the best and most expensive tools is still….well…mediocre.

Thoughts?

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