When headhunters approach your employees directly to hire them away on behalf of their clients, that’s called employee “raiding.” Like stealthy cats, it’s their job to spirit resources away–your firm’s trained & capable team members. Even if your employees are happy, who wouldn’t be tempted to move on for more money or other incentives?

Fox In The Hen House
Headhunters charge fantastic prices, up to 30% of the first year’s salary. That’s because the booty is worth the loot and it’s hard work to make the connections. Great employees are hard to find. This back room recruitment dynamic has always existed and always will.

Now, radical social media tools, hidden in otherwise innocuous networking functionality, have made the headhunter’s job frighteningly easy. Friend-finder tools, in social media settings like Facebook and LinkedIn, make building a niche’ professional community much easier these days. Connect the dots as to how savvy headhunters use these “friendships.”

Here’s an explanation of how Facebook social media headhunters search candidates by location/job title and by raiding specific firms:

[Author’s note: In order to honor Facebook’s Terms Of Service & Code of Conduct, we’ve created fictional users, photos, companies and screen capture mockups. They mimic actual Facebook information design, using NO Facebook data, public or private. Resemblance to any company or person is totally coincidental. Also, aimClear does not advocate use of walled garden Facebook content for professional purposes which violate TOS. This post is simply about targeting new friends.]

Social Media Headhunting By Job Title
First We’ll search for the job title we’re hypothetically recruiting for. In this case I’ll type in “web designer Duluth.”

(Remember, this is fictional data) In the results, we easily locate a lady by the name of Ruth Anderson, a graduate of University of Minnesota Duluth. Good! She went to college in our city, which makes her a good candidate to start.

By drilling down deeper into Ruth’s profile, which she has designated as visible in her privacy settings, we learn that she is actually the Lead Web Designer for Acme Web Solutions. Ruth designs, builds and coordinates the development of websites for a variety of clients. Cool! It’s easy to “friend” her, which starts the relationship by introducing ourselves. It’s rare that folks refuse friendships from aligned local businesses.

Also in the results we find Billy Johnson.

Billy is potentially a prize fish. He’s the Interactive Director of Kolstad Advertising, a venerable and well-respected regional advertising agency.  Sure Billy was just promoted, but scripted courtship and cash often have a way of shaking great people loose to pursue exciting opportunities. Groovy! We smile a wry grin as we invite Billy to be friends.

It’s easy to see how searching Facebook for job title & city names result in mining friendships that could lead to deeper professional relationships. Let’s look at another, more aggressive method.

Social Media Headhunting By Competitor
Here we’ll search for Northern Llama, a decade+ old web marketing company in Duluth. We find Samantha Butler, a Senior at The College Of St. Scholastic in Duluth.  (BTW Samantha, you might want to eliminate the rammy pic.)

Samantha works part time as a Web Specialist @ Northern Llama. Add her to the recruitment list (or not 🙂 )

Facebook displays as much of someone’s employment history as the user includes. That’s how we found Nicholas Martin, who shows up in the results because he used to work @ Northern Llama.

He’s an awesome prospect who happens to now work at Acme Web Solutions. Since users often post their entire job history in their profiles, the search for Northern Llama yielded this interesting candidate who no longer works there. Bingo! This guy’s the real deal.

Watch Your Back
We love getting cold calls from executive recruiters, employment agencies, executive search firms, staffing and personnel agencies. Invariably they work hard to sell themselves as a conduit to our next employee hire. Given the value of social media to assist such services, we laugh and suggest that they instead hire us to help them find candidates via social media networking sites.

Finding qualified employees in any community is as easy as a few minutes of research, friend making, networking and a carefully placed private message. Social media headhunters can now search by company, job title, college and many other criteria. We’ve talked about Facebook here but other social sites also lend themselves completely to human resources recruitment.

Employers, be realistic. Your staff’s propensity to list their employment situation on social media networking sites leaves YOU exposed to headhunters who can line them up and pick them off.

  • Todd Mintz

    Of course, there’s an art to recruiting successfully via social media. Everything you know about “relationship-building” in social media applies in the recruitment context and folks who forget this fact do not succeed in their efforts.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Todd Mintz: That’s sure right! Social networking is a delicate art indeed. My personal approach is to make friends for the sake of…making true friends. The rest tends to take care of itself 🙂 . Speaking of true friends–it’s always nice to see you in these threads Todd. I hope things are great Portland-way.

  • MN Headhunter/Paul DeBettignies

    A great post detailing what my colleagues and I do.

    There is a barrier to using a sites like Facebook, MySpace and the hundereds of others.

    Most people are not on the site looking for jobs. Facebook is not LinkedIn where most expect to be contacted. Most recruiters forget this part and try to recruit right from the site. This frequently does not get a great response. After all, most people are being social, making friends, talking about stuff, posting pics. The last thing they want is a recruiter like me or one from the corporate side checking their stuff out.

    Some delicate communication is usually needed.

    Of course, if an employer is keeping the employees happy they have little to worry about anyway.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Paul DeBettignies: Yes, as with all sales endeavors, it’s best when the customer comes to YOU and ASKS to buy. Social media headhunting is not about hitting on people directly. It’s about becoming known in a regional/professional community, establishing credibility, soft sell, letting them think they thought of it, etc…

    BTW, sometimes happy employees are available for hire. That’s why companies have going away parties where the staff cries, hugs and wishes well.

  • Search Engine Optimization Journal

    30% of the salary? I think I just found my next job! Haha… kidding of course but great article — I like how in depth you got and how you took the time to create the examples. This certainly is a reality and seems to be easy and I never quite knew just how easy it was.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Search Engine Optimization Journal: Thanks. It was in fact rather laborious. We appreciate the comment.

  • Nick Wilsdon

    Good post Marty.

    Of course the real issue here is how you draw the line between encouraging your staff to build their own online identity and making them an ever larger and more inviting target for headhunters or competitors.

    This is a particularly big problem in Russia as the web market as skilled employees are scarce but demand is sky high. Like the late 90’s in the UK everyone wants the good programmers/designers and they are willing to pay well for them. We’ve lost graduate programmers to blue-chip companies in Moscow who are happy to pay $4-5k/month (USD) – which is a good salary by Russian standards.

    Unfortunately once these companies/headhunters realise your company is a good source, they will keep returning for additional workers. In one case, the acquiring company offered a bonus to an old staff member to help recruit from our company. This is a common practice here.

    When I first arrived here I broke the mold and actively encouraged my employees to build out their online portfolios. Since then I’ve learned that isn’t the most sensible move in such a competitive market. While I still believe that is a good path in the West, where applicants are more available, it simply doesn’t work here. You have to be more careful about what information is publicly available.

    I do still believe in pushing my staff and helping them develop their online career but I will only be so vocal about selective members of the management team from now on. We do work hard on making a good work culture though, providing bonuses, free lunches, private gym membership and days out. As Paul suggests, sometimes the work environment is a bigger attraction than the salary.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Nick: I had not considered how social media headhunters (and the hunted) might be different in emerging tech economies, third world countries or even repressive political environments. Thanks for starting my morning with such thoughts.

    I can imagine the intensity of marketplace idiosyncrasies in locales like China or Saudi Arabia, when it comes to the intersecting dynamics of social media and employment. Wow.

    It’s always nice to see you in these threads Nick. Thanks for lending such thoughtful perspective on a chilly Minnesota mid-September morning.

  • Steven Leung – Integrated Marketing

    Agree with Paul above about LinkedIn. It’s business networking more than pure social networking and there are settings that you can use to show what you’re interested in being contacted for (e.g. “opportunities”).