Signium: Can Social Media Recruiting Replace Direct Professional Search Services?

Millions of employees nowadays present themselves in business-oriented social networks such as LinkedIn and Xing, publishing detailed CVs, hobbies, language capability, memberships in organisations and special skills. Horst Neller, Managing Partner and Vice Chairman of Signium, talks about databases, contacting candidates directly and the science and art of identifying, evaluating, choosing, committing and recruiting ideal candidates.

To what extent do social media and job websites threaten the business of traditional search firms?

Neller: Social media are basically databases people can use to further communicate. They are another way for employers and employees to get in touch. Partly replacing print advertisements, they give people the opportunity to make contacts for the purpose of personnel recruitment or job search. Human Resources departments increasingly use these databases for proactive sourcing, at least when it comes to specialists and young professionals. This does not affect us, however, as we do not focus on this target group.

As an executive search firm, Signium focuses on recruiting executive leadership and there are a number of facets to hiring this type of talent that the social media and job websites just can't provide.

To what extent do these executives use social media to present themselves?

Neller: It depends on the sector / specialism they operate in and their affinity with the Internet as to whether they present themselves online. Many of them have little or no online presence at all.

When Signium want to identify and approach qualified candidates, the traditional approach of sourcing and contacting them directly is therefore still the most effective search method for us.

How important are online or print advertisements for Signium?

Neller: Job advertisements, whether in print or online media, are a passive search method. They are rarely used, as they do not necessarily help to find the best candidate and pique their interest in our client’s company.

Using job advertisements we would have to depend on the right people applying for the position, and those that will apply to an advertisement are typically currently looking for a new job. By contacting potential candidates directly, we also motivate the large number of people who are actually satisfied with their jobs. Over 50% of those we contact originally did not intend to change roles or organisations.

The circle of potential candidates widens significantly by contacting people directly, also called executive search / headhunting. After all, we want to present the ‘best candidate available’ to our clients, and not just the best person ‘looking for a new job’.

To what extent does Signium use online networks such as LinkedIn and Xing as well as its own databases for the search?

Neller: We of course use these public databases as well as our own internal database, which reflects our active network of contacts that has developed over decades. Having been able to increase the number of personal contacts this way is very important for us, because it helps us to complete projects quickly and effectively.

Where are the limits of social media recruiting?

Neller: Client organisations are always faced with the make-or-buy decision, that is, they need to decide whether they would like to search for strategically important personnel themselves or commission a third party service provider. Organisations need to be clear on whether searching for and choosing executive managers is one of its own core areas of expertise or not.

Professional and experienced search consultants can offer their clients many additional benefits: For example, the opportunity for people intending to change jobs to contact them confidentially; the discrete and sensitive search for executive managers for companies; a large, lively network with top candidates; the stimulation and activation of candidates who are currently not thinking about changing roles or organisations; suggesting effective alternatives for ideally filling a vacancy based on experience gained in similar projects over many years.

How will digital offers change the market for personnel consultants in the next few years?

Neller: It will be hard for people who only act as agents, exchange apparently suitable CVs and do not have the comprehensive consulting knowledge of the industry and the experience needed.

However, Signium does not regard itself as an agent only, but as a consultant. Seeing that international business is becoming ever more complex and business processes are changing ever more rapidly, this type of service will be even more in demand in the future. In addition to analysing our client’s business situation and evaluating the candidates’ professional experience, we above all consider the so-called soft factors as well: We assess the candidate’s personality and their leadership style as well as if they will fit in with the team and the company culture.

In more than half of all cases, vacancies are not filled because the candidates’ personalities do not match the companies’ requirements. We consider personnel consultancy to be a highly challenging type of business consultancy, which will be in demand as long as organisations need to be aligned to a common goal, its people need to work effectively together and need to be compatible.

To read the full Q&A, click here.

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