Social what? A Brief History of Social Recruitment

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success. 

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What you just read is one of the most famous job advertisements in history. Arguably one of the greatest advertisements ever written, Sir Ernest Shackleton used this famous job ad to put together the crew of the Endurance. 5,000 men lined up to apply. 

The Old French word 'advertir' means to notice. How employers have gotten people to notice their job opportunities has changed throughout the years. That change is usually due to technological disruption: a new piece of technology is introduced, and on it change pivots. 

The first job ads were pieces of paper posted onto lamp posts, bulletin boards, or on the windows of the employers in the area. This local approach limited the number of candidates available for the job, but it was still the best way to recruit in case your neighbour's grandson didn't want their job anymore. In the 1600s, movable type resulted in one of the most powerful means of advertising - the newspaper.

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You may remember the 'Help Wanted' section of the paper. Even if not, the image of someone drawing circles around jobs has been used numerous times in movies. It's been used so much that it is universally understood. If you describe that scene to someone, and ask them what the person is doing, nearly all of them would say “looking for work”. 

The first newspaper adverts were often short, as they were paid by the line, and resembled more of a tweet than a job ad. Each page of the ‘Help Wanted’ section might have hundreds of adverts.

The 'Help Wanted' was used well into the 90s (and still to a small extent today); when technology gave birth to one of the most revolutionary changes to date: the internet. Job adverts were disrupted and went online. was born in 1999, and it has been one of the most dominant job boards in the United States. In its prime, employers were posting over a million jobs a day., and other job boards like it, gave us the ability to reach more people than ever before. Job postings were not limited by location. The content was also able to change because the price was not determined by length, allowing job listings to illustrate more than just “Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness”. As employers could include more text, pictures and videos in their job advert, they could create a narrative for the role and the organisation. The job board allowed more people to see the job ad, and people to see more in the job ad.

With more people turning to job boards to find listings, those that were advertising on the boards could reach more people better, and fewer turned to the “Help Wanted” section of the newspaper. Those sticking with the newspaper were advertising to a continuously shrinking population. Disruption rewards early adopters and punishes traditionalists. 

Social media is not new, but it is changing significantly, and changing recruitment with it. The number of social media users has increased year-on-year since 2005. This year, there are approximately 3.6 billion social media network users (3.6 million in New Zealand), just under half the planet. In 2005, 12% of young adults were on social media. Most estimates, now, have it at 90%. It has given audiences access to more information, and information that is presented in much more engaging ways. For better or for worse, it has had a profound effect on how people find their news, their relationships, and their jobs. 

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People use LinkedIn to advertise and look for jobs, organisations are increasingly creating their own careers Facebook pages, and we even train our graduates on how to use LinkedIn - we all understand the value of it. Our audiences are increasingly on social media - 114 minutes a day, on average. With new and innovative ways to communicate - more text, interactive components, engaging videos and cunning cookies, we can create better and more engaging narratives for the roles and organisations we’re drum-beating for. Social media allows more people to see our job ads, and people to see more in our job ads, combining elements of employer branding and recruitment marketing.  

The market is changing. The market is changing, and we can't stop it. Not so long ago, students would be 'forever grateful' for an opportunity in any business. These days, small, medium, and large employers have to give them reasons to accept their job offers. Because they have access to more opportunities and information. The narratives they see are more engaging, resonate more, promise more. The competition for junior talent is getting more complex; there are more layers that we need to consider.

This behavioural change is happening because we are dealing with the most educated generation we've ever seen, which makes Gen Zs very discerning individuals. One of their most distinctive personality traits is curiosity which explains how well-informed they are. Asking for reasons to accept an offer is just part of who they are.

Disruption rewards early adopters and punishes traditionalists.

Some people might find this new empowerment of the younger generation uncomfortable and almost unacceptable. I, for one, am not one of them. I think it's incredible that students know their worth - and more importantly - that they can decide for themselves whether a job is right for them or not. Graduate programmes had a big part to play in all of this, but that's a topic for another day. We can't ignore the fact that we need new strategies and ways of attracting emerging talent. 

The market is changing, and we can't stop it, but there's something we can do about it. Learn from it and adapt. Among a highly perceptive psychographic (who knew psychographic was a word), we need to step up our game to attract the best people, and social media is the way to go. Because our target psychographic is Gen Zs, Instagram will be the new leading player in emerging talent recruitment. To those who agree, what are your plans to include a social media component in your recruitment campaign? If you're interested, get in touch. 

The use of job boards skyrocketed with the introduction of the internet. Job boards were incredibly attractive, and naturally, people started using them more than the newspaper. Are people still advertising in the newspaper these days? I don't think Gen Zs like the use of printed materials.

One of the reasons that could've swayed people to choose online job boards over the newspaper is that job boards are easy to use, and they allow you to apply to many jobs from your own home. With social media, we make it even easier. How much easier can it get than having your job opportunities on the app that your candidates are already using? Now that's what I call reaching passive candidates. They don't have to do anything, well, maybe just follow the account. People only need to follow an account to get job opportunities at the same time as they stalk their friends - it's a win-win.

Instagram allows you to give candidates what no means of advertising has given them before, the opportunity to interact with an organisation before they apply for a job. Candidates don't need to wait - and hope - to get an interview to gauge whether an employer is for them or not. They can interact with an employer and go straight back into their daily stalking routine on Insta. The key is the interactive nature of these campaigns.

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Despite its popularity, less than 10% of recruiters leverage this channel, which represents a huge early mover opportunity.

If all of that isn't enough, you can get robust analytics from social media campaigns which makes it ideal for business. You can see ROI in as little as five days. It helps you learn about your audience and their online behaviour. We have the tools to know what our candidates like or not in a matter of days, which means you can make changes if required, halfway through a campaign. If done successfully, you can increase not only applications but conversion rates. I know this because I've done it.

I don't think that Instagram will replace the job board; they have different functions. Instagram gives you a peek into organisational culture, and it focuses on employer brand and engagement - its a marketing tool. The job board allows us to articulate what the job entails and the requirements, and it is the best option for more experienced roles. They complement each other, and they work very well together.

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The strategic use of technology and social media and the understanding of your target audience will strongly decrease the hazardous nature of your journey while contributing towards your success, honour, and recognition.

Have you had any experience with social media recruitment? If so, I'd love to hear what you have done.



Poncho Rivera-Pavon is the GM at NxtStep, the leading emerging talent platform in New Zealand. He specialises in employer branding, candidate experience, and graduate recruitment marketing.