Networking sites and social media have changed the hiring process. Most HR reps say it's a change for the better.

In a down economy, job hunting can feel like a track and field competition. The hurdles can be immense. But savvy use of social media and networking skills can knock down those barriers. Job searching and recruiting now take place on social networking sites such as LinkedIn, and job announcements can come from Twitter feeds.

By and large, companies have migrated from traditional hiring methods to online resources, where employers can post jobs and proactively search for candidates. "Ten years ago, if you wanted to find someone, you posted a newspaper ad, put a fax number or maybe a direct line number and waited for the résumés to come down. Everything is done electronically now," says Bruce Rowles, a recruiter with Experis, a part of the ManpowerGroup.

In the past decade, the advent of social media has been the biggest change in the hiring process. Recruiters, employers and applicants can now connect in ways that were once inconceivable. "Social media has forever changed the way we engage candidates, and the same holds true with candidates who want to engage employers," says Travis Triggs, social media recruitment program manager for Time Warner Cable.

By establishing itself as a professional networking venue, LinkedIn became the second-largest social site (behind only Facebook) in 2011. LinkedIn's ability to go beyond the traditional résumé has widened the job-hunting spectrum.

The rise of networking and social media recruitment has prompted HR firms to alter their search methods. "We recruit across industries for clients and have changed the way we've gone about recruiting. Often, we have to find professionals and technical candidates that aren't readily available from the old targets," says Aimee Houde, director of recruiting services for Sequent, a Dublin-based outsourcing and consulting business.

Some of Central Ohio's biggest organizations use a mix of traditional and new recruiting methods. But with greater frequency, the online posting comes first. "While print is still used frequently, all of our positions are first posted on our online job site, and the majority of our external advertisements are through online job sites and affinity organizations," says David Green, associate vice president for talent and workforce acquisitions in the Ohio State University Office of Human Resources.

Job seekers who don't hunt on the Web are limiting their chance of success. "The majority of sourcing for candidates is through the Internet. In Central Ohio, it's almost 100 percent," says Laura Morrow-Fox, director of employment for OhioHealth. The nonprofit health system also deploys employment kiosks in its hospitals and a helpline to walk people through the application process.

Sequent revamped its hiring strategy as a result of the explosion in social media. Instead of waiting on candidates to apply, it now pursues them more aggressively. "We were spending a tremendous amount of money and resources, but were not finding the type of highly qualified candidates we wanted to find. We don't wait to get a job order and fill it," Houde says.

Making Connections

Technology hasn't yet eclipsed all traditional hiring methods. Job fairs are still commonplace in some professions. "No technology in the near future will replace that all-important, face-to-face meeting that job fairs provide. I do see virtual job fairs becoming more prevalent," Triggs says.

The change from classified ads to computers hasn't changed every aspect of job hunting. Relationships and networking are just as important as they were before the Internet appeared. Applicants might not get one job, but if they build a relationship with the recruiter, they could be first in line when another position becomes available. "Often I meet someone for the first time for a position that might not be the best fit or the right time for them. But that connection leads to a placement down the line. That's all about building the relationship and the trust through networking," Houde says.

While the sluggish economy has driven up the number of applicants--OhioHealth received 62,000 applications for 2,200 job openings in 2010--technology has simplified résumé sorting. OSU also deals with heavy volumes of applicants, but can move through them quickly with an online process.

The university doesn't keep candidates hanging in limbo; as soon HR decides who to interview, an automated e-mail lets all other applicants know they are not in the running, says Green, a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). "This allows applicants to move on in their job search, rather than waiting and hoping for feedback. In the past, applicants would hand in an application, and then wait to see if they would be given an opportunity to interview. Sometimes these applicants would never hear anything back," he says.

The fact that résumés can now be transmitted with a single click is a boon for job seekers, but maybe not employers. Postings often have gluts of unqualified applicants due to the ease of application. "It also gives non-qualified candidates the ability to apply for multiple jobs at a much faster rate, increasing quantity and not so much quality," says Triggs.

The Immortal Résumé

While résumés are rarely sent in paper form anymore, appearance still matters. "If I'm going to send it to a company, I'm not going to send it to them by mail. It looks better in a PDF. You still have to worry about presentation," Rowles says.

Databases and applicant tracking systems (ATS) have amplified the importance of a strong résumé. Gone are the days when unqualified candidates were tossed in the trash. "Once a résumé is loaded into the company's ATS, it's there forever," Triggs says.

These days, résumés aren't always reviewed individually by the HR staff. Instead, a keyword search may be used to look for qualified applicants. All OhioHealth sites share a common candidate tracking system, so a qualified candidate who applies for a job at one facility enters the system for all. "If they apply for a job at Doctors, we know they have already been interviewed. Everything is connected. We will call them to let them know we have a similar position. Sometimes the Riverside person will call them directly," Morrow-Fox says.

Once an applicant has a profile in OhioHealth's system, he or she can apply for any job listing. The ATS allows OhioHealth to find the best fit for talent. "Our five hospitals have five different cultures. I make sure my team knows all the hospitals and their cultures so they can get a feel for a good candidate," Morrow-Fox says.

Many firms have taken the next step of using search engine optimization technology, which gets their opening before the right candidates more quickly. "Simply put, these platforms help ensure that when a candidate does an Internet search for a certain type of job, your career site with your opening for that role lands on the first page of the search results," Triggs says.

Most newspapers now partner with a job website such as CareerBuilder or Monster. Through a social media site, a job hunter might get approached without having prior knowledge of a firm. Such connections can't be made through traditional means. "If they don't have the online presence and the Web-based applications, they are behind where the rest of the world is," says Sharon DeLay, SPHR, who runs BoldlyGo Career and Human Resource Management and Adjunct Solutions.

The New Frontier

Social media's role in job recruiting has been a game-changer. Some professions, such as physicians, have dedicated networking sites. But LinkedIn trumps them all, operating as a "résumé on steroids," DeLay says. "It's Facebook-esque, but it's really the only professional social networking site."

Applicants should take LinkedIn seriously because a well-developed profile can help when applying for a job. Recruiters see that profile and it determines whether they inquire further.

Recruiters know the potential of LinkedIn. They can connect with candidates who hadn't considered applying--or even heard about the job. "You get a higher level of professional connection. It is definitely more successful with the director level or C-level candidate. You are able to tap into a much larger network than in the past," Houde says.

LinkedIn connections multiply quickly. Employees can affiliate with their employers, and recruiters can see the movement in and out of companies. Recruiters can leverage LinkedIn's ability to group people by different skill sets and target them for job opportunities. "When I want to find all my LinkedIn connections with English composition, I can pull up that tag and sort those people. Good recruiters are being trained to use these tools," DeLay says. Previously, recruiters had to piece together such lists through their Rolodex and email address books, she adds.

LinkedIn has cut in half the time recruiters spend finding qualified candidates, Houde says. "It is not only getting better candidates, but great candidates more quickly," she says.

Even as LinkedIn emerges as the dominant player in the recruiting game, it shouldn't be the only resource a company or recruiter uses. "The danger of using one resource reduces the amount of diversity you get in your candidate. You want to look at a lot of different avenues," DeLay says. If the hiring pool becomes too narrow, she says, it could lead to troubles with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Twitter has proven beneficial in the hiring process as well. In 140 characters, OSU can tweet a job opening, its department and a few lines about applicant qualifications. The university has begun to connect different accounts, widening its candidate pool even further. "We will utilize these relationships to broadcast job openings directly to the applicant pools to which the different departments across campus already have access," Green says.

Rowles uses Twitter daily, tweeting positions for which he is recruiting as well as articles and interviewing tips. Candidates still call about opportunities, but now Rowles can spread the word on available jobs to a wider audience. "I try not only to tweet what I'm working on, but what might help anyone who is following me. It lets me focus on other things instead of taking 20 to 30 calls a day," he says.

Triggs says the efficiencies created by technology outweigh the upfront costs. While companies and recruiters must invest in computers and databases, they can conduct more efficient searches and place qualified candidates more quickly. "The amount of time required to complete an effective applicant search and hire has decreased dramatically, lowering the labor costs tied to recruiting," Green says.

LinkedIn won't be the final development in online and social media recruiting. The latest business networking engine might not have arrived yet, but applicants need to be quick on their feet when it does, Rowles says. "The job seeker has to be able to grow with the technology. They have to network and understand that it's a process, not an event."

Bill Melville is a freelance writer.

Reprinted from the January 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.