The “New” Job Hunt Strategy: It’s Who You Know, On- and Offline

On January 27, 2013, The New York Times published an article titled “In Hiring, A Friend in Need is a Prospect, Indeed.”  The article charted the recent and radical evolution of the process of job-hunting, and the impact this trend has on the placement and executive search industries.

First, some digital “backstory.” The emergence of Facebook and LinkedIn has changed how firms do their recruiting. It is now possible to spend time and effort searching these and other discovery systems in addition to combing through hundreds of resumes and vitae.

But even as social media sites gain acceptance, a surprise trend has come into focus, too. It turns out employee recommendations are taken more seriously, and such recommendations are culminating in new hires at a much higher rate.

The numbers bear out the change; the article says that at Ernst & Young, employee recommendations resulting in a hire stand at 45 percent of nonentry-level placements, and that is up from 28 percent in 2010. The employee recommendations have the effect of “fast-tracking” candidates. So once again, it’s “who you know” that can lead you to new employment opportunities.

This trend is based on personal relationships that are not necessarily begun online, but instead encompass everybody we know.  Of course, the use of Facebook and LinkedIn has its benefits, and Ernst & Young also says it reviews all print-based applicants. But this growth in effective referrals suggests that personal contacts are trumping digital community as a source of new employees. This strikes me as an unforeseen development, but when you think about it, it makes sense. Personal contacts carry a sense of reassurance and can contribute to the growth of trust, especially in recruiting. Moreover, now as always, employers with high appeal are inundated with candidates. The sheer challenge of making oneself “distinctive” among a cast of thousands seems like a remote possibility.

If this trend expands and affects the job market beyond professional boundaries, it may be time for job searchers to revisit their strategies. Building a personal network might bear more fruit than the conventional application process does. If so, LinkedIn in particular stands to benefit, because a personal network transfers handily to the digital sphere. It is also common to develop cordial and collaborative ties from associations that begin on LinkedIn. This is not necessarily a new feature of online life; I experienced a “stone age” version of digital networking in 1994, when the Web was beginning its commercial and ubiquitous expansion. I had read the writings of a Belgian information professional, and reached to him via email. In short order we were co-authoring articles, and a year later I was invited to make a presentation at a conference in The Hague. Email was the platform for the networking then, just as social media is now.

LinkedIn strives to recreate the good aspects of interpersonal networks so that they can be transformed into productive work. But if a “friend in need is a prospect, indeed,” job searchers might be well-advised to work on a network that encompasses not only the digital, but our “analog” lives. And perhaps LinkedIn and Facebook need to enhance their functionalities to encourage this trend online, as they stand to benefit.

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