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Big Data: A threat or opportunity for online recruiters

By Craig Aston, managing director of Cheshire-based Flo Software Solutions

By Craig Aston, Managing Director of Cheshire-based Flo Software Solutions

In the last five to 10 years, the internet – and a massive increase in technology usage – has led to a significant rise in the amount of data available to online recruiters. With the prevalence of social networks and the popularity of mobile devices, it is easier than ever to seek out top talent by accessing a wide range of information about potential candidates.

However, the abundance of online data can be challenging – generating legal and security risks, and making it difficult to manage the information, or leverage it effectively. In addition, both clients and potential candidates have expectations about how data will be used, making the threat of reputational damage due to mishandling a valid concern.

While failure to embrace technology isn’t an option, helping online recruitment professionals develop a greater understanding of the factors related to data management can help them strike a balance that allows them to both reap the benefits of this valuable resource and minimise risks.

Widespread use of the internet – and growth in the number of tools available to access it – has created a data explosion. By 2020, the amount of online information is expected to be 40 times higher than it was in 2009. Virtually everyone is connected to at least one social network, making sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook useful for seeking out or learning more about potential candidates and clients.

Additionally, the number of individuals using smartphones and tablets to access social networks or search for content online is rapidly increasing. These sophisticated devices allow individuals to seek, share and store vast quantities of different types of data, ranging from text to photos. Although technology is providing recruiters with more opportunities to assess and market to potential candidates, the value of online data – and effort required to manage it – depends largely on its structure.

Structured data – such as that found on a traditional CV – constitutes roughly 20 per cent of all information available about individuals online. This material – historically accessible to all recruitment professionals – is familiar, simple to find, easily searchable and can be managed and accessed in a standard database format with little effort.

The remaining 80 per cent of online data is unstructured – ‘Big Data’ – consisting of information spread across the internet in the form of social media profiles, news articles, user-generated content and photos. Traditional data tools don’t work here, making these sites difficult to search and potentially requiring online recruiters to manually sift through the content to compare candidates – a process that is both inefficient and time consuming.

Unstructured data creates significant issues in terms of storing and analysing it once it has been captured. For example, candidate photos and portfolio images take up a large amount of space, not only raising questions about how and where to store them, but also, how they can be used efficiently and legally in the online recruitment process.

Most companies are storing a wide variety of candidate, client and industry information, but have no idea what to do with it. A recent survey found that 93 per cent of business leaders believe they are losing revenue by not exploiting their data, highlighting the scope of the problem that online recruiters face in the digital age.

Those that fail to harness the potential of big data will rapidly fall behind as their competitors find ways to identify the emerging demand for new skills, and act upon this information to quickly target desirable candidates online. In addition, the pervasiveness of mobile technology, social media engagement and online communication has given rise to expectation – among both clients and candidates – that recruiters are embracing these tools and using them effectively to achieve results.

Failing to fill client positions due to the inability to properly tailor online job adverts, identify passive candidates, or develop a sufficient social media presence on key networks, will inevitably impact an agency’s bottom line. Likewise, candidates who use mobile devices to search for jobs or engage with recruiters expect access to frequently updated information, streamlined communication and platforms that are easy to navigate.

Candidate information can be collected from a variety of sources, including online application forms, social media profiles and CVs. Some of this data is in the public domain and widely available, while sensitive data – such as that related to an individual’s health, race, religion, disabilities, etc. – requires a higher level of protection and must be handled carefully.

Should a data breach occur, the possible legal ramifications and damage to an online recruiter’s reputation could have a significant impact. In addition to potentially losing current clients, mishandling of online data could affect future business opportunities as well as instilling doubt about an agency’s level of professionalism.

Recruitment professionals are accountable for knowing where their data is and who has access to it, making compliance a key business consideration. Regulatory requirements on data security can vary from country to country, so companies that target international candidates or store data off-site should be particularly aware of their obligations.

Online recruiters can avoid these potential risks, by clarifying what they want to do with their data and creating a plan to effectively use and manage it. Once the primary objectives have been established, recruiters can identify what data sources are available and relevant to them. Information should be assessed to establish its overall quality, as well as how it links to other sources, areas of redundancy and how the data will be captured – both now and in the future.

When this preliminary work is complete, online recruiters can plan how their data will be captured, establish policies to maintain security and protect sensitive information, and create processes that allow it to be easily accessed. Milestones should also be developed to assess how effectively the data strategy is at achieving the recruiter’s overall objectives.

By learning how to properly manage the abundance of candidate data available, professionals can maximise their online recruitment efforts while minimising risk.