Social media – the future of IT recruitment?

IT recruiters deal with very niche job-seekers, often searching for candidates with narrow sets of skills for specific roles, from web designers to PHP developers, writes Robert Leggett, managing director of recruitment outsourcing firm Omni RMS.

Despite the IT jobs market currently being saturated with candidates as a result of the downturn, there are constantly fluctuating skills shortages within the IT sector, so its recruiters must be on their toes when it comes to sourcing contract or full-time IT expertise. At the same time, IT candidates should also work harder to make themselves stand out from the crowd. Social media could be the answer that both IT recruiters and IT job seekers are looking for to respond to these respective challenges.

The Three Pillars

There is an assortment of social media sites that recruiters and candidates in the IT sector are exploring. From micro blogging site Twitter to photo sharing app Flickr, the list seems to grow longer by the day. But there are currently three main social networks where IT recruiters and IT job candidates are most likely to be found – LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

LinkedIn - not for dummies

LinkedIn connects professionals. When users join, they create an online CV outlining their qualifications, career history and specialist experiences. Professionals at the niche end of the IT skills market should input as much detail as they can in their profiles, while being as specific as possible about their services. Using keywords that you know a recruiter or headhunter will search for is essential. Ensuring this relevancy helps increase your chance of receiving meaningful contact from an agent, and securing a contract suited to your skills. Typically, the most connected IT job candidates have integrated other website features and plug-ins, such as those from job boards or contract bidding sites, on LinkedIn.

From an HR standpoint, one well-known tech darling is using LinkedIn to allow people seeking employment in its ranks to connect with its current employees. The firm scores another point on transparency using social media by making job openings 'portable,' letting anyone post, message or update their status across all the major social media channels.

The typical IT worker on the network is most often seen posting links to projects, 'Plan Bs' and connecting with organisations they think they could be of service to. Crucially – just because a skilled IT worker is not job hunting right now, it shouldn't mean this site is overlooked. As they say, it's not what you know, but...

Face(book) the commercial, and the social

Facebook is an example of how social tools have been adopted for commercial means. Although it was almost unheard of for organisations to have a Facebook presence a year ago, now many companies – including IT recruiters – are logging on for business purposes. Much like LinkedIn, IT recruiters can use Facebook to bring potential candidates altogether in one place, advertise their current positions and initiate conversations. This last, social-sounding activity should not be overlooked: creating dialogue among a targeted audience was often the first step by those IT professionals who report receiving the most relevant business leads from social media.

However given Facebook's more informal tone as a social network, IT candidates on-site should take extra care to delete those incriminating photos from last weekend to disappoint any prying employers/clients. As with LinkedIn profiles, Facebook can be used to present your work and set up groups with interests that you define, particularly useful for open source or collaborative projects.

Twitter - not for twits

It's not just freelance brand managers and marketers who are exploring Twitter for better returns for their client companies. The site works by posting updates (or 'tweets' as they're known in the 'Twittersphere') of no longer than 140 characters. Although this limitation, or 'USP,' depending on your view, can be initially daunting, the results can be creative.

Posting links to news articles, asking questions or 'retweet'ing information you think may be of interest to others are all standard practices on-site. IT groups and recruiters, including in the contract market, are using Twitter to connect with influential people in the sector, start conversations, contribute to 'memes' and form alliances.

Simply tweeting a FAQ about your services, preferred language or industry has proven itself to be an effective conversation starter which, on its own, has convinced Twitter-phobes to sign up, overcome with wanting to have their say on the issue. On a daily basis, Twitter also sees IT vacancies linked to by interested parties, with users able to feed information to their 'followers' from their website or blog.

Don't rule anything out

There's not a 'right or wrong' way, as such, to use social media. The medium is constantly changing so, not dissimilar to those skills gaps in the jobs market, the best IT recruiters and IT candidates will stay on top of the evolving trends. Whereas LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are popular today, that's not to say they'll be the most effective tools tomorrow. Plaxo, 'your address book for life', as well as location-based social networks, like FourSquare and Gowalla, are already trying to hog the social media spotlight. So for all IT-business professionals, the minimum you should do for social media is to log on - keep an open and ethical mind, and enjoy exploring how to use these tools for their own benefits.