February 19 2016

Recruitment in a social media world

Dr Nico Pizzolato Middlesex UniversityMiddlesex University’s Dr Nicola Pizzolato reports on Dr Alessandro Gandini’s research into the transformative role of social media in the labour market.

The digital revolution has brought enormous change in the way people work, but scholars are still grappling with the contours of this epochal transformation – one that, for sure, is still in its infancy. It is not only the workplace, but the labour market in all its components that has been radically altered. My colleague Dr Alessandro Gandini has illustrated how the labour market has been disrupted by ‘social recruiting’, the system through which the labour supply and demand meet on social media. Alessandro and his research partner, Ivana Pais (Catholic University of Milan), in collaboration with Adecco, have surveyed 17,000 job seekers and 1,500 recruiters to examine the way they meet and interact online. The results have pointed to both a greater scrutiny of prospective candidates from employers, but also a greater autonomy of job seekers in managing their ‘self-branding’.

Photo by Jason Howie (Creative Commons 2.0)

Photo by Jason Howie (Creative Commons 2.0)

Highly disruptive

The use of search engines and social media has proved highly disruptive to the way employers select a candidate. Practices vary from checking the accuracy of a CV through a search engine to the invasive one, more common in the United States, of requesting the candidate’s Facebook password. This would confirm how social recruiting represents a threat as well as an opportunity. On the other hand, job seekers are able to understand, through sites such as Glassdoor, where users leave anonymous reviews, how a specific company recruits and operates. Sometimes interview questions and experiences are shared online, providing important insights into the process.

Gandini suggests that the existence of a shared cultural conception of reputation as value has a large impact

Data show that 29 per cent of job seekers in the sample have been contacted by a recruiter for an interview at least once via online means. Yet, only nine per cent of them ended up getting the job – a figure that witnesses how the interview event, and the face-to-face meeting this entails, maintains a strong relevance in the hiring process.

‘Social’ recruiting

LinkedIn is no doubt the major player in the field of ‘social’ recruiting. Recruiters scout for talent on the profile pages of the website, with the result that desirable individuals are inundated with expressions of interest in their CV. This is particularly the case for IT and knowledge workers, but it is a phenomenon that it is extending in other sectors too. This pairs up with the now-common phenomenon of start-ups and digital enterprises that, not owning large HR budgets, regularly use digital media and especially LinkedIn to search for talented employees.

From the point of view of job seekers, the platform, now valued in billions, provides the chance to manage one’s own self-branding and in general one’s own online reputation. Gandini argues that one particular aspect that is valued by employers is the size and quality of the network of contacts that a candidate is embedded in. This is an indicator of professional competence and maturity, and possibly beneficial to the employer. Conversely, traces of inadequate or offensive content on social media can easily disqualify a candidate. Overall, online reputation has emerged in the past few years as a key element in the assessment of a candidate.


Gandini suggests that the existence of a shared cultural conception of reputation as value has a large impact. It may affect not only the way in which supply and demand meet, but also professional advancement, autonomy and control, as well as work performance – particularly in contexts traditionally characterised by flexible and precarious employment, such as the cultural and media industries.

Dr Gandini presented his findings at the monthly Middlesex University Interdisciplinary Labour Studies Group seminar, which is organised by Dr Pizzolato and his colleagues Richard Croucher, Daniel Ozarow and Janroj Keles. The next will take place on the 21 March 2016 and feature Joseph Choonara speaking on ‘The challenge of measuring precarity’.

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