Irony Dept: Thanks to social nets, Craigslist, etc, pro recruiters may have to find new careers

If you're a professional recruiter (particularly one that works for a recruiting/headhunting firm), then it's probably time to start thinking about a career change. The reason?

If you're a professional recruiter (particularly one that works for a recruiting/headhunting firm), then it's probably time to start thinking about a career change. The reason? Once money starts talking, the mob of Internet users-cum-recruiters will be impossible to compete against. By "money talking," I mean, once employers start offering serious money to any Tom, Dick, or Harriet that can find them the talent their looking for, it hardly makes any sense for them to take the relatively monolithic approach of using single professional recruiter or recruiting firm to get positions filled.

Case in point?

While Facebook is the social network that's getting all the press these days, LinkedIn is probably ahead in terms of serving the business audience. With Facebook's sudden and recent rise in popularity outside of the student community, I've started to receive some Facebook invitations. But the number of invitations to join LinkedIn-based personal networks still far outnumber the Facebook invitations. Other businesspeople I've spoken to agree that the number of LinkedIn invitations still outnumbers Facebook.

In addition, I've noticed a sharp rise in recruiting activity through LinkedIn. This is where LinkedIn users publish job postings to their personal network of LinkedIn-based contacts.

If for example, I'm a LinkedIn contact for John (being so required my permission after John invited me into his network), when John is looking for a Director of Marketing, I'll be one of the people who sees the job posting via e-mail and in my Web interface to LinkedIn. If John has 500 contacts in his LinkedIn network, not only are those 500 potential recruits for John, they're also 500 potential recruiters for John since each of them may know someone that's perfect for the job that John is trying to fill.

So, who would you rather have working for you? One professional recruiter? Or 500 of your professional contacts? OK, so the recruiter makes a living out of recruiting whereas your professional contacts may not and theoretically, the recruiter should yield better results. But is that really the case?

As I said, as of late, I've been seeing a rise in recruiting activity on LinkedIn. In other words, more and more of the people who have me in their LinkedIn networks are pinging me about job opportunities. None are for me, and of the ones I've received so far, I probably know someone -- someone who might even be in my LinkedIn network -- that might be appropriate for the job. But one problem still exists. My time is my most precious resource and unless the recruiter and the potential recruitee are people I really want to do a favor for, chances are I'm not going to take the time to make the connection. Unless of course, money is involved.

As the stream of recruiting notices flows through my inbox, most of which I scan but do nothing else with, I haven't been giving this any thought until the other day when one for a Boston-based database marketing manager showed up in my inbox; one offered me $6,000 if I found someone that not only filled the job, but kept it for at least 90 days. The position, which as of the time this blog was published is still available, is with the online education advice site Edvisors.com and the posting was sent directly to me by the company's CTO Christopher Penn.

That $6,000 figure at the top of Penn's e-mail stopped me dead in my tracks. It's one thing to hear from your network of contacts when they're looking to fill some jobs. It's another to get paid $6,000 for a matchmaking excercise that probably takes no more than five minutes. $6,000 for five minutes worth of work and I don't even have to get out of my desk chair? Needless to say, my current job doesn't pay nearly that much for my time and who couldn't use cool 6 G's just for hooking a contact up with a pretty good job?

To find out more about how his recruiting effort was going, I called Penn (he's also host of the Financial Aid Podcast) and so far he's got a couple of hot prospects as a result of leveraging his contact network. To be clear, in this particular case, Penn used his own personal e-mail (as opposed to LinkedIn) to broadcast the job posting to contacts like me. But according to him, he also paid $95 to list the job on LinkedIn (and he could have used LinkedIn to handle the job broadcast as well).

Spotting someone $6,000 for five minutes of matchmaking sounded like a lot of money until Penn told me:

I used to be a professional recruiter and the standard fee in our business was 30 percent of base salary. In this case, I'm offering 10 percent. In addition to the savings it represents to us, I would rather pay folks in the new media community than a pro recruiter. It's not because I have something against pro recruiters. It's just that I feel like we're giving back our online friends. Recruiters are welcome to try to find someone for us. But the fee is non-negotiable.

Saying that "the days of being exclusive are over" (as in how employers used to work exclusively with one professional recruiter or recruiting firm), Penn agrees that tools like LinkedIn, his own private e-mail list, and even YouTube, are disintermediating professional recruiters. Earlier this year, Penn posted a video of himself on YouTube that described the developer positions he was looking to fill and (using a cup of coffee as well as all of the company's sources of caffeine as props) the benefits of working at Edvisors (limitless amounts of free caffeine). Continued below....

Christopher Penn on YouTube

Sure, you'll get free coffee at just about any place of employment. But in Penn's case, he was also showing that he's got a sense of humor and that both he and Edvisors.com might be fun, cool, and hip to work for. Even the job listing that Penn e-mailed to me (and others) says "Fun, friendly, team-oriented and collaborative office environment ."

It's not just the availability of the tools like LinkedIn, e-mail, and YouTube that's causing Penn to use them in lieu of professional recruiters. Said Penn:

It's a tight job market right now. My sense is that the people who are at the top of their game are gainfully employed. So, finding and hiring them means taking a more innovative approach to recruiting.

That thinking out of the box could be paying off for Penn. According to YouTube's stats on his recruiting video for a Director of Marketing, the video was viewed more that 990 times.

One tool that I've used (disintermediating the recruiters right here at ZDNet's parent company CNET Networks) is Craigslist. So successful was my first ad that I have another one up there right now. About a year ago, we decided to dive more deeply into video and, in the process, I decided it wasn't going to be a normal dive, but rather one that reinvents how video is produced by a media companies like CNET. Many of CNET's peers, particularly on the higher end, have entire teams and crews to produce their videos. I wanted high production value video but I didn't want the production process to be burdened with cost, gear, and crews. I refer to this as "near broadcast quality video on YouTube economics."

Somewhere out there, I knew in my heart, had to be some forward thinking people who could do it all: One person that knew how to frame a scene for video (or a camera for still images); a person who could handle video and audio production on location as well as in the studio (post production); a person who could publish anything (text, stills, video, audio) to the Internet. In other words, a real jack of all multimedia and Web trades. Using Craigslist.com, I published a job posting under that exact title (Jack of all Trades) and today, I refer to the person I ultimately hired out of the more than 50 resumes that I got in response, as one of ZDNet's secret weapons.

All this said, once you take on the burdens of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) recruiting, other, less sexy burdens follow. Penn pointed out that if his 10 percent non-negotiable fee works out to be $20,000 (which it could easily do for certain positions), he'll end up wasting his time on a lot of resumes and letters that a professional recruiter would have filtered out for him. Based on my experience with Craigslist, I could easily echo that sentiment. Even though I ended up making a great hire, my time was probably not best spent going through 50 resumes.

That said, getting qualified candidates is really what you pay a professional recruiter for. Penn agreed that once you have the list of qualified candidates, getting help from elsewhere in the company to whittle that list down (perhaps asking a knowledgeable administrative assistant to make the first cut based on some criteria) can balance the recruiting effort without turning to an expensive headhunter for what amounts to clerical help.

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