How Social Media Disrupts Recruiters – and Your Career

You decide to update your LinkedIn profile. Suddenly, out of the blue, the executive recruiter you had worked with years ago gives you a call. What’s going on?
“When you change your profile on LinkedIn, it usually says, ‘I’m starting to market myself,’” says Alistair Cox, CEO of recruitment company Hays. “If we can know that, as you’re thinking it, then we can start to present opportunities to you just at that point when you’re starting to think about what’s out there.”
Hays, which has offices in 33 countries, is at the cutting edge in the use of social media in business after teaming up with LinkedIn last year. In the process, it is upending the traditional relationship among recruiters, clients and job candidates, including CFOs, financial controllers, treasurers and other finance professionals in Asia.
Cox and Christine Wright, Hays Operations Director, Asia, spoke to CFO Innovation’s Cesar Bacani about the changes being wrought by social media on the global recruitment industry, the impact on candidates and clients, and other issues. Excerpts:
Tell us about Hays and LinkedIn.
Alistair Cox: There’s a number of factors to the relationship. It’s exactly a year ago when we went over to Mountain View and sat down with them and put this whole thing together.
First off, from a technology standpoint, we’ve invested over the last five years something like £60 million in upgrading all of our own front office and database systems. We’ve got Google fully embedded now as a global system.
By serendipity, when social media came along, we found that we could actually integrate some of these new systems, the networks being built [into our upgraded systems]. So we talked to LinkedIn: We think it would be very powerful for us if we can take your LinkedIn information and real-time updates on what people are doing, and link that straight into our own database.
Then we’ll have two views of the same person. We’re getting the historic view where we’ve got their CV, we’ve got various meetings with them, we’ve got discussions, we know what they’re looking for, and here’s an up-to-date profile on LinkedIn.
It gives my consultants more and more accurate information on exactly what’s happening right now in that person’s mind in terms of their career.
When you change your profile on LinkedIn, it usually says, ‘I’m starting to market myself.’ If we can know that, as you’re thinking it, then we can start to present opportunities to you just at that point when you’re starting to think about what’s out there.
So you've have access to LinkedIn’s 260 million members worldwide for a year now.
Alistair Cox: There’s a number of other facets to the relationship, which are also very powerful. The way you search at LinkedIn changes and becomes more sophisticated, so you can narrow down exactly what you want and find the needle in the haystack. We work with LinkedIn on how we can develop search techniques, which we then turn into training programs for all of our consultants.
We work closely with LinkedIn about how we can market ourselves through their platform [to 260 million members], so that we become a better known professional services business. If you think about what you’re interested in as an individual, it’s your family, your health, your wealth and your career. We know a lot about careers, so we have a lot of information.
Today, we’re the 29th most followed company on LinkedIn. We’re ahead of HSBC, we’re ahead of Unilever, we’ve just overtaken Coca Cola and Nike. No. 1 is Google and No. 2 is Microsoft. We’re in esteemed company.
We have today around 390,000 professionals who follow us on LinkedIn. Every month, we have about 2 million impressions on our content on LinkedIn . . .  It could be our LinkedIn group, it could be someone looking at our salary surveys, it could be someone looking at a job post, it could be someone looking at my blog.
Are others in your industry going the same route?
Alistair Cox: There are three camps in terms of social media in the recruitment world. One camp says: It’s a passing fad and it will go away; I can ignore it. Another camp says: It’s a problem to me and I don’t know how to deal with it, so I’ll do nothing and try to fight against it.
And the third camp says, Look, this is a complementary route to our market. If we embrace it and use it in an intelligent way, it can be incredibly powerful to us and our clients. Hays is in that third camp.
If you had said to me three or four years ago, what’s your social media strategy, we wouldn’t have had one, probably. We wouldn’t have even really known what impact social media might have on our industry and on ourselves.
But over the last two years or so, the social media world has evolved and matured. It’s become quite a common, in fact the usual normal way, that people in many countries communicate and get content and information, and how they build their own networks.
CFOs in Asia don’t seem to have taken to social media as readily, however.
Alistair Cox: Asia is still a relatively small population of the total [260 million] LinkedIn membership. The States is the biggest population. Europe and the UK in particular, they are big populations as well.
But when you come out to Asia, there’s something like 3.5 million in China, but there’s something like 550 million Internet users in China. Just over 1% of LinkedIn membership is out in mainland China. It’s tiny.
Japan is a market that’s been very slow to grow in terms of LinkedIn membership. I think here in Hong Kong we’re just shy of a million, about three-quarters of a million LinkedIn members. Singapore is a little bit over a million. LinkedIn is not yet at the level of penetration that it has gotten in the States and to a large extent in the European countries.
It’s been a year. What is your assessment of the accuracy of all these LinkedIn entries? Are they useful?
Alistair Cox: I wouldn’t put a number on [inaccuracies or omissions in LinkedIn entries]. The advice I would give to people is two things.
Make sure that your own online brand matches your offline brand because people will check. If there are variances between the two, that raised a question mark. Secondly, references are still very important, particularly references from your previous boss. If you think that the reference has gone, think again.
The CV, maybe, is morphing into something that’s a bit more of a LinkedIn profile. But the CV is still important. There’s more data in there, there’s more detail. Your mobile phone number is not on LinkedIn, for example.
My advice would be, be careful how you use social media. Do use it, but be absolutely honest because people check.
Christine Wright: So someone says they’re a Chartered Accountant in X place, we will go and check it. In fact it’s easier to do that than we ever used to before we had the Internet. You can do it online these days. It’s even less of hassle [for recruiters] to do it.
Do you find people are actually inflating their qualifications?
Christine Wright: No. As a rule the majority of people out there have integrity and know that everything has to match. You get the odd person who does it. That’s misrepresentation. It could be a genuine mistake, but as a rule we’ll work with people who misrepresent themselves. We’re the filter for our clients.
Alistair Cox: It could be a genuine mistake, so you discuss it with them. “There’s a mismatch here between your CV [Hays has on file] and your LinkedIn profile, what do you have to say about it?”
LinkedIn has recommendations and endorsements, which seem to be analogous to references. Are those useful?
Alistair Cox: They’re not as useful as references. I don’t think you can get away from a reference, because a referee knows that person. They’ve worked with them. They’ll have views on their technical skills and their softer skills. Are they punctual? Are they articulate? Can they present well? Are they clear thinking? Do they fit well within the team?
Christine Wright: We would still phone the person [who is a referee or made endorsement or recommendation on LinkedIn] to verify.
The other point about this is that when people put things on social media, it’s out there for everyone to see. So if they’re misrepresenting themselves, someone will see it and they would know. “That’s not your title.” “You’ve never led that project.” “You weren’t responsible for the outcome of that initiative.”
That can actually deter people from misrepresenting themselves.
Who would make the best referees?
Christine Wright: Your direct manager. As a rule, we would always want to get references from someone who has a more senior position than that person, whether it be their direct manager, their manager’s manager. Peers could be friends, so we’re quite rigid about where we go for references.
There are also opportunities to get to customers that they’ve worked it as well in a sales role. How was your experience in working with this person?
In Asia, what are the most powerful sites for recruitment?
Alistair Cox: LinkedIn is one of the more powerful sites, but it is less penetrated. There are other sites in China. I’d be interested to see the progress that LinkedIn makes particularly in China and to some extent in Japan as well. That’s been a relatively slow market for LinkedIn to take off. They’ve got dual language now; that’s been an obstacle in some Asian markets.
In terms of sectors, I imagine that banking and financial services in Hong Kong are not as hot as they used to be?
Alistair Cox: If you’re in investment banking, then it’s tough; it’s been tough for a long time. It’s stable, but it’s subdued. People have closed research desks, equity trading – a lot of banks have pulled out of these areas.
But anything to do with compliance and regulation and risk, those are red-hot. That’s true everywhere in the world.
If you go to commercial banking, it’s actually quite OK. Retail banking is quite OK as well as people are bringing out new products, as they try to bring new growth to their topline.
In terms of finance posts – CFO, FCs, treasurers, FP&A . . .
Christine Wright: IT, telecom, retail – they’ve been three areas where we see a lot activity, companies looking for finance people. This is across Asia, Hong Kong in particular. Singapore would be fairly similar.
In China, manufacturing has had a bit of a dip since last year, but that’s come back a bit. There’s a lot of activity in banking [in China]. IT across the region is doing very well.
Alistair Cox: Insurance is doing well too.
Can people jump across sectors?
Christine Wright: Yes. If you look at our own CFO, he had been in logistics. Alistair is an engineer who worked in IT, and now he’s in recruitment.
Certain industry types will tend to group together. If someone works in a manufacturing company, they have a better idea of cost accounting, that sort of thing. If they then go to banking, that’s a bigger jump.

There is a tendency for people to recruit from the same sector or related sector. But clients are becoming more open about that because of the skills shortages [in Asia]. 


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