The Future of Recruiting: Impact of the Social Web


Over the next few years, recruiting will make a sharp departure from the recent past. With a looming talent shortage – complicated further by pent-up demand among employees to change jobs – the rise of the social Web as a communications platform, and the higher expectations of the Millennial generation, recruiting is entering a new, more challenging era. Understanding these trends, especially the benefits and limitations of the social Web and the very different and concrete ways that Millennials differ from older generations, will be crucial for recruiting success in the future.

In this new era, recruiters and hiring managers will have to focus on building relationships with pools of talent, using both existing tools and the social Web to engage professionals, as well as changing the mix of the rewards they offer – both monetary and not – to attract the most highly skilled and experienced workers.

Recruiting Becomes More Challenging

Skills shortages are appearing again. Yes, it would seem almost impossible given that U.S. unemployment is nearly 10% after nearly two years of recession. But it’s not. For example, in the United States, despite 15.3 million unemployed workers in April of 2010 (1), there are still about 2.7 million jobs that employers have been unable to fill (2). And, the unemployment rate for college-educated workers is only 4.9%, about half that of the general population (3).

To give just one example of the talent shortage, Siemens, the German engineering group, told the Financial Times that it currently has about 600 vacancies for engineers in the U.S., up from 500 last year (4). And the shortage isn’t limited to the U.S. A global survey from Manpower Inc. found that 31% of employers worldwide are having difficulty filling positions because of the lack of suitable talent in their markets (5).

In the past, U.S. employers responded to skills shortages in technology and engineering by using H1-B visas to import workers from abroad, or in some cases, outsourcing jobs to countries where talent was readily available.

However, these safety valves are not as open as they used to be. The U.S. has tightened restrictions around visas, lessening the inflow of talented professionals. Meanwhile, demand for skilled workers is increasing throughout the world, especially in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), thereby reducing the global talent pool. Adding to the problem is the fact that U.S. students have largely turned away from science, engineering and technology studies. Unbelievably, the United States had fewer college students pursuing engineering degrees in 2005 than in 1985 (6).

The shortage of skilled professionals is likely to become even more acute as the Baby Boomers, those born after World War II and before 1960, reach retirement age. Even if the Boomers delay retirement, there aren’t enough younger workers to take their places. Gen Xers, those born in the 1960s and 1970s, number only about half the Boomer cohort. Unfortunately, these shortages are likely to be felt hardest in the fastest growing segments of the skilled labor force: professional and business services and healthcare and social assistance (7). This is not the ideal outcome from a public policy perspective.

A more immediate challenge for hiring managers will be the surge in employee turnover over the next few years. During the Great Recession, many professionals stayed put in their jobs. This has created pent-up demand for changing jobs. A recent survey by, the leading career website for technology and engineering professionals, found that 70% of technology professionals expect mass turnover in their departments as the job market recovers (8). Similarly, a survey of employees by a Manpower subsidiary revealed that 60% of people intend to pursue new job opportunities if the economy improves this year (9).

As you can see, hiring managers and recruiters should prepare for a very different skilled labor market.

The Social Web Raises Expectations and Concerns

The social Web, most often identified with sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, has created new ways for people to connect and interact online. Through the social Web’s functionality, users become both content producers and consumers, enabling a higher level of engagement and connectivity with one another. Individuals also have greater access to detailed information about companies, products and even other people generated by the parties themselves or through other individuals’ comments. This has created a rich set of information for users to access and raises expectations for how people and institutions should interact online.

Companies and recruiters need to recognize these higher expectations and provide robust profiles of their companies and employment opportunities online. They need to “get their message out” or someone else will shape it for them. Further, successful companies and recruiters will offer ways for candidates to connect directly with them online, offering a more personalized experience. One-to-one communication is gradually becoming the norm.

While the social Web has raised expectations, it has also raised concerns. With so much unfiltered information available online, individuals are increasingly concerned with what information is “out there” about them and how it will be used. They are seeking more control over their information and its use. Job hunters, for example, have learned that prospective employers can glean substantial information about them from what they have written, photographed and shared on the social Web, and that their online “paper trail” may not always leave a positive impression. Privacy settings, an obscure concept even five years ago, is now a prime topic of discussion. Many companies have learned the hard way that mishandling personal information can lead to a public relations disaster.

Companies and recruiters need to handle personal information with great care and work to create trust within a safe environment. The breadth of information available online can even be dangerous. A social network created for another purpose may contain information which should not be considered in the hiring process. Recruiters in particular need to be careful to avoid viewing information that might be inappropriate for use in recruitment. Age, race, religious affiliation and sexual orientation are often listed or referred to within social networks. Even if this information is viewed accidentally, such knowledge could create the appearance of biased recruiting in hindsight and unnecessarily expose hiring companies to frivolous failure-to-hire lawsuits. Recruiters should seek out services that filter information or minimize such exposure.

Millennials, The Fastest Growing Part of the Workforce, Expect More

Part of the challenge facing recruiters is how to tap into the talent of 20-somethings. Whether you call them Millennials, Generation Y or the Trophy Kids, they are twice the number of Generation X. Already they are 15% of the workforce and its fastest growing segment. According to Forrester Research, 30 million Millennials are ready to join or have joined the workforce. Another 46 million are coming soon (10).

This generation appears to be dramatically different from its predecessors, holding very different values and views of the workplace. According to the Pew Research Center, this generation, born after 1980, is very comfortable with technology, integrating it into their lives in ways that far surpass earlier generations (11). Three-quarters have created a profile on a social network (versus 50 % of Generation Xers and 30% of Baby Boomers). One in five has posted a video of themselves online, and slightly more than 80% sleep with their cell phone close at hand.

What they want from a job may startle older generations. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, has found that on a scale of rewards, Millennials place dollar compensation fifth (12). She believes that Millennials (and to a degree, Baby Boomers) are looking for what she calls a “remixed” set of rewards. Most important for Millennials is a sense of what Hewlett calls “odyssey.” According to her, Millennials crave a range of new experiences: global assignments, three-month sabbaticals, and new ways to search for meaning. The chance to give back to society – maybe done during a sabbatical – trumps the size of the pay package.

After odyssey, according to Hewlett, Millennials want a rich form of flexibility, giving them a measure of control over how work is done. They want their work to have a meaning and a purpose, and they want to be challenged. They want to work closely with a range of colleagues and they want a measure of altruism in their work. Millennials, it should be noted, eagerly embrace volunteer work. These desires are not that different from those of prior generations. What is different, however, is that the Millennials expect to fulfill them in the workplace.

Millennials believe they can afford to be choosy as they watch Baby Boomers retire. In the words of one Millennial, “They (employers) are finding that they have to adjust work around our lives instead of us adjusting our lives around work. What other option do they have? We are hard working and utilize tools to get the job done. But we don’t want to work more than 40 hours a week, and we want to wear clothes that are comfortable. We want to be able to spice up the dull workday by listening to our iPods. If corporate America doesn’t like that, too bad (13).”

What This Means for Recruiting

First and foremost, the war for talent is back. With the shortage of skilled professionals, recruiters and hiring managers will have to compete more aggressively for talent at every level. This will require more time, energy and focus than in the recent past, and the way recruiting is done and the rewards offered candidates will have to evolve as well.

Turnover will increase and companies will need to hire — and perhaps hire repeatedly — for the same position. Recruiting will evolve from an intermittent exercise to a continuous commitment, even for smaller companies. This will mean a significant change for businesses as they devote more resources to finding candidates to support their needs.

To succeed in this new era, companies and recruiters will have to increase their presence online, offering robust information and resources to promote their employment brands. The notion of employment branding will become more nuanced as Millennials will expect to be sold not only on the job opportunity but also its greater meaning. In addition, highly skilled workers will expect to connect on a one-to-one basis. This means that recruitment will have to evolve from a transaction-driven activity to more of a relationship-building process. Companies will need to identify and nurture multiple candidates and stay engaged with them over time, and recruiters will need to extend their networks to ensure a sufficient flow of candidates. The most efficient way to succeed in this new era will be to develop pools of talent that can be drawn upon as needed. Companies and recruiters should start building these pools by networking in communities of qualified workers, developing relationships in an environment that is safe for the individual as well as the recruiter. This represents a new way to do business – and a greater commitment to human capital.

This new era of recruiting is one that will shake up how recruiters, companies and individuals engage and interact. For those who understand the trends and take advantage of new capabilities, this can be a time of great reward as they find the best talent to propel their companies and clients forward.

(1) BLS Employment Situation,
(2) BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey,
(3) BLS Employment Situation,
(4) Financial Times, html
(5) Manpower, cfm?releaseid=4717516
(6) National Science Foundation,
(7) BLS Employment Projection 2008-2018,
(8) Dice Retention Study, 2010
(9) Manpower, cfm?releaseid=458528
(10) Forrester Research, “Social Recruiting is a Competitive Advantage,” 2009
(11) Pew Research Center, “Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next,” 2010
(12) Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Laura Sterbin and Karen Sumberg, “How Gen Y and Boomers will Reshape Your Agenda,” Harvard Business Review, 2009
(13) Ron Alsop, “The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace,” 2008

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