Web 2.0 provides new opportunity for recruiters to find tech talent

Technology talent scouts scour blogs and social-networking sites looking for interesting candidates

To find the top network professionals and managers, recruiters have to go where the talent is -- and, increasingly, the talent is online.

There's more to recruiting online than posting jobs and searching résumé banks, however. Whether it's done by the hiring manager or a recruiter, a sophisticated online search takes parts of a traditional search -- finding candidates, for example, or checking their backgrounds -- and moves them online.

Kent Altena, a network administrator and blogger in West Des Moines, Iowa, knows firsthand that recruiters look for candidates on the Internet. He receives several e-mail messages a month from recruiters who have read his blog -- which covers professional topics, such as certification, but personal ones as well, such as how he lost 200 pounds. Some are simply form letters, he says. But the "more intelligent" recruiters mention the skills Altena has discussed in his blog, or say they're looking for candidates near where he lives.

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"I know that they've at least figured out something about me and what I'm capable of doing," says Altena, who works for a large insurance company. And although none of these contacts so far has made him want to leave his job, Altena does answer the more thoughtful letters.

One indication of how job searches are expanding online: Corporate recruiters are using online resources to find more than 40% of their executive-level candidates, according to a recent survey by ExecuNet, a job-search and recruiting organization for senior-level executives and professionals. The recruiters who were surveyed found almost 10% of their candidates using search engines (including blogs), and 3.5% through online social networks.

Looking beyond sites that target job seekers is a good way to find so-called "passive" job-seekers, those who are putting their energy into working, not job-hunting. Experts suggest several ways to find these prized workers:

* Blogs. As Altena's experience indicates, blogs can be an excellent source of expert workers. Because many include personal notes, blogs also can be useful for recruiters trying to build rapport with a potential candidate, says Gretchen Ledgard, a partner at JobSyntax, a recruiting and employment marketing-consulting firm.* Social-networking sites. LinkedIn and similar sites are great for the recruiter trying to compile a list of candidates who have a particular job title or who have worked for a specific company, Ledgard says. A hiring manager who is active on these sites also may be able to use connections to make contact with potential hires.* Discussion groups. Ledgard calls discussion forums an "untapped area" in recruiting. It can take time for a hiring manager to understand who the smartest contributors are in a particular forum: "Who are the people out there who consistently are answering questions and answering them correctly?"Nicholas Tang, senior director of operations at social-networking site Community Connect, says knowing someone from an online discussion group or mailing list can be a big help in the hiring process. "It can give an indication of how they use the resources around them," says Tang, who hired as a senior system administrator someone whose work he recognized from such a group. Experts recommend looking at what questions participants ask, as well as how well they answer others' questions.* Book reviews. Terry Belian, principal of executive and IT recruiting firm Everest Group Enterprises, recommends reading reviews of technical books on bookselling sites to find reviewers who make intelligent comments on books about specific technical areas. This technique works best for a national search, because it's not always clear where the writer is located. "You start the contact there, and it could lead you to where they are located," Belian says.Finding passive job-seekers online can be time-consuming, however. "You can spend a lot of time just wandering around" reading blogs, Belian says. Ledgard cautions that because these workers aren't necessarily looking for a new job, the initial contact needs to be enticing. The first e-mail needs to have "'what's in it for me: Here's why I contacted you, here's why you're different from other people, but also here's why you might be interested in my company and this job,'" she says.

The Internet can help hiring managers even after they have developed an initial list of candidates. Formal background checks - which traditionally are done at the end of the hiring process - still take place, but hiring managers also are doing Web searches about candidates even before the interview stage, says Dave Opton, founder and CEO of ExecuNet.

When Tang was hiring, Matthew Barr's résumé came through traditional channels - from a recruiter. Barr was active in an online professional organization called the League of Professional System Administrators, however, and Tang recognized his name from that. "That was helpful to establish his demeanor and his technical background," Tang, who eventually hired Barr, says. Tang also uses what he reads online about candidates to see if "their real-world persona matches up with what they are presenting in interviews."

Companies also should remember that potential hires can do their own online research. Tang, for example, says it helps with recruiting if employees from his company are active professionally - both online and in such activities as speeches and conferences that are listed on Web sites. "If people are excited about the work you're doing, they're much more likely to want to work there," he says. Tang also has his own blog, and he sometimes posts company job openings on it.

The Internet hasn't changed one key to hiring, however: making a connection with the potential hire. "At the end of the day, I still think that the world basically operates on relationships," Opton says. The difference is that now, some of those relationships take place online.

Steen is a freelance writer. She can be reached at msteen@newsguy.com.

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