When Aaron Strout, vice president of new media at Mzinga, needed to fill a couple of positions last month, he threw out the rule book.
First, he posted the job openings on his blog rather than a traditional jobs board. Next, he insisted: "No résumés. At least not the kind written in MS Word." Another command: "DON'T E-mail me."
It makes sense, because Mzinga is all about social networks. The Massachusetts company provides services and software that enable online chats, comments, and discussion forums for companies like ESPN, ABC, and AOL.
Still, this could be the new face of regular job searches, as recruiters increasingly head to social networks. Strout talked with U.S. News about whether or not it worked. Excerpts:
How has the hiring process gone?
I've had probably 12, maybe 14, people reach out to me. All of them have been pretty well qualified. Some have been geographically challenged. By that I just mean we really would like to have someone local for these particular positions. So, I've had five or six interviews, and we have two candidates—one for the PR role and one for the social media senior marketing role—to one of which we're probably going to make an offer this week or next week.
How do those results compare with those of a more traditional hiring process?
I would say that we got probably one third to one half the number of responses, but all were very well qualified, and I was able to really kind of get down to brass tacks right out of the gate. By going in to LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook—which is usually how I got contacted, across all three channels, by these candidates—I was able to get a really good picture of who they were, what their writing style looked like, whether they fit the bill, even geographically, how well they sort of tied into it. So it made my job immeasurably easier.
Were most of the applicants social network veterans? It didn't look as if people could jump on LinkedIn and create a profile to apply.
I wouldn't call them veterans. Interestingly enough, there were a few that hadn't been doing social media for a long time. But you're right: Part of my thinking was that I didn't want them to be able to fake it. It made it a lot easier to separate the wheat from the chaff. And interestingly enough, because of the way I asked the question, people who didn't really know much didn't bother applying, because they realized it's too much of a transparent process to try to fake it.
Is transparency one of the key benefits to this sort of job search?
Absolutely. I wanted the transparency. The problem with traditional résumé interviewing is it's so one-dimensional and it's so easy to paint yourself as something. If I can look at your social network, I can see much more. This took a level of trust for the people who were reaching out to me. But I did say that I'm a big enough boy, that I'm OK if you talked about partying or things that you do in your personal life. I want to know who you are. I'm a human being as well, and I don't care that you do things, because I expect that human beings would do these things.
I've reciprocated. I've let everybody see who I am. You can see my Flickr photos. You can see who I am on Facebook; you can see who I am on LinkedIn, etc. So, hopefully, my transparency made people realize I was being open and honest when I was going through this process.
Was Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulation a concern, because you're looking at photographs and personal information?
It was. But it's going to be a concern for anyone, and there's got to be some sort of a way to get over that. I did offer people the opportunity to have blogged and reached out to me through LinkedIn or through Twitter. In all of those cases, you don't necessarily have to show a picture of yourself; you don't necessarily have to share your birthday.
I think anyone who goes down this process has to be respectful of people's privacy...and be flexible in terms of how they are asking people to reach out to them and allow them to sort of look into their private lives.
Does this recruiting process make sense for other industries and jobs?
Absolutely. I pushed the envelope in terms of wanting it to be very social-media focused. I think that you can ask people to go down this path without necessarily pushing the social-media envelope so far. Just: "Show me the blog posts you've done," and—I know that people already do this—do a Google search on someone. If you've spoken at events, include that. So think of it more as an online résumé that has a lot more dimensionality to it.
Some people are getting in trouble for blogs or online profiles that employers don't like. How do people navigate this new gray area?
It's a tricky question, because really it boils down to the company. I guess I would say that people need to be true to themselves, and if you work at a company that you don't feel is a "we" company—an open and honest culture that focuses on conversations and would never fire someone because of something that they wrote in a blog—and you want to be open and honest, you want to be a "we" person, you want to embrace those types of activities, then you need to be looking at working for a company that is true to what's important to you.
Do you see social media changing the job search process for everyone?
I don't see how it can't. Say I'm looking for a salesperson: I'd like to see that they've got 1,000 people on their LinkedIn network, and those are people that might be beneficial to the Rolodex that I'm asking them to come through with.
Taking it a step further and looking at their other social behavior through some of these other tools shows what types of content they read, who they share it with, how they share it. How do they lay out their Facebook page? What types of information flow to the top? Do they strike you as an organized or disorganized person? So a lot of things you'd try to infer from an interview, you can definitely streamline.
That said, I'm not comfortable enough yet to hire someone without sitting with them and feeling that chemistry. It has nothing to do with looks, age, or whatever, but I think that's sort of an old-fashioned gut check that people do. But this helps with the gut check, so it may expedite that, and it may make phone interviews a lot easier in the future.
Do you ever want to look at another résumé again?
You know, once I get far enough down the path, it doesn't hurt to see the résumé. So yes, I do want to see another résumé again. But I want to see it maybe third, fourth, or fifth in the process—not first.