That’s one of the questions my colleague (and founder of OPP), Robert McHenry, posed to delegates at the European Association of Test Publishers (E-ATP) at their annual conference recently. Below are some of his thoughts on how they answered, the future of the recruitment industry and how the method of searching for top talent has been changing rapidly over the past two years.

Ten years ago, companies used newspaper and magazine advertising to attract applicants. Then the job board came along, and for a decade it became the preferred medium. Now, in 2013, social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn are transforming recruitment – chiefly because this is where the next generation of talent is to be found, and it therefore makes sense for companies to attract passive candidates and build pools of potential recruits via these sites. The simplest example of this would be a candidate who scans Facebook looking at the pages of companies they might like to work for. Candidate Carol sees the friendly faces of members of a company’s recruitment team and sends one of them a message asking if there are any positions open. Correspondence or a Skype call follows, even though there are no current vacancies that would suit Carol. A month later, a suitable role becomes available and the recruitment team use the notes from their earlier contact to build Carol’s interest, and coach her through the recruitment process. The role is filled within four weeks and the company saves £15,000 by not using an external recruiter.

A variation on this method is to encourage employees to include their employer on their Facebook contacts and to say something complimentary. Friends or even strangers strike up a conversation with them and say that they would be interested in working for that employer should a suitable vacancy occur; the employee passes that information to the recruiters at their company and details go into the database. This can mean big savings – at the CIPD’s 2013 Social Media and Recruitment Conference, some large companies were reporting that they saved £6m on agency fees by using social recruiting through Facebook or LinkedIn.

So how does an employer build an image so attractive that talented people are willing to wait for a vacancy to occur? Employers use various methods simultaneously, one notable example being a recruitment video intended to define the employer brand, and to some extent give a realistic preview of what it is like to work in that company. In most of them, however, viewers are presented with an ideal image of a company with no faults – one that provides exciting, challenging work with stimulating colleagues, and where the CEO is inevitably 'cool', informal and very approachable.

It struck me that this method of self-presentation is similar to what is required on a dating website, and that what companies are hoping is that talented candidates will look for a 'match'. That is why I played several of these videos to candidates at the E-ATP conference and asked them to describe the characteristics of individual companies as if they were people. I also asked, “If you were single and in your early 20s, would you date this company?”. Only one member of the audience wanted to date Apple (“Too pleased with itself”); many would go out with Google, but almost everybody was attracted to McDonalds (“Relatively modest and willing to admit it has a mixed reputation”).

Is social media recruiting here to stay, and are the days of the job board, the applicant tracking system and the head-hunter numbered? The answer to all four questions is “Yes” as far as recruiting the younger generation of top talent is concerned, but this doesn’t mean that we should throw the baby out with the bath water. Psychology can still offer great help to companies wanting to recruit the best – in particular by facilitating ‘matches’ between a company’s culture to a candidate’s personality. This is something I’m really interested in exploring, and we’re looking at ways to measure company culture so as to be able to do this.

Recruiters want quality and not quantity, and they believe that recruitment via social media is giving them the former. Whether this is true or not, time will tell. However, if recruiters want to recruit quality and keep it, then the continued application of psychology to the candidate matching process will be essential.

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