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The Danger of Digital Natives

When it comes to recruiting ‘Digital Natives’, a generation raised in the post-digital, media saturated world who grew up with computers and the internet as an ever-present and natural extension of their ‘real’ life world, the recruitment process for those seeking to employ them, can look very different from the traditional face to face interactions used to recruit previous generations

When it comes to recruiting ‘Digital Natives’, a generation raised in the post-digital, media saturated world who grew up with computers and the internet as an ever-present and natural extension of their ‘real’ life world, the recruitment process for those seeking to employ them, can look very different from the traditional face to face interactions used to recruit previous generations.

With a recent CareerBuilder survey showing that 39% of managers and HR professionals now use social networking sites to research job candidates, it’s clear it’s not just recruiters who rely on online content to help when finding a new employee but is there a danger inherent in this reliance on a two-dimensional online presence?

For the generation who grew up with no recollection of life before the internet, creating an impressive online profile comes as second nature. A prominent visual web presence, clever use of software and even pithy online communication either through social media or more formal emails can all add up to a striking virtual persona. It goes without saying that moving much of the recruitment process online has streamlined the procedure and made it far more efficient, but moving too quickly and relying too heavily on an impressive online profile may mean recruiters are missing the warning signs of an unsuitable candidate.

We often hear of candidates whose first ‘human’ contact in the recruitment process is when they turn up to interview. It’s only on meeting candidates that recruiters can identify the glaring gaps in the candidates’ soft skills. Quite simply, there are things you can only read in a person through inter-personal, not virtual, interaction.

Working with business professionals at all levels and from a wide variety of sectors, we regularly come across individuals who are much more comfortable behind a keyboard and screen than presenting themselves in front of people in real life. In business however, face to face meetings and telephone calls still have relevance and a recruitment process that fails to weed out those candidates who struggle to interact beyond the virtual world, only to see the candidate fall at the face to face interviews, is ineffective and a waste of everyone’s time.

Although a streamlined recruitment process is obviously desirable, missing out the stage of interpersonal interaction, or leaving it until the last minute, is actually a false economy.  ‘Digital Natives’ who have been raised on emails and texts as their main communication channels may find that picking up the phone and speaking to somebody feels foreign and, to some, even archaic when modern technology seems so much slicker but taking them out of their comfort zone can be revealing.

Undoubtedly, online recruitment is one of the greatest contributors to the industry’s productivity in the last 20 years and has profoundly transformed and positively enhanced the ways in which we are able to interact but email can’t replace the benefits and nuances that come from live conversation.

Human beings are social animals and our brains are wired to take in information that is missing from virtual communication but very much present in live speech. We are primed to assimilate not just the words (i.e. the text in an email or an online profile) but also the tone of somebody’s voice, the gaps between their words, the speed of their sentences, the emotions, the timbre of their voice and the back and forth of a naturally paced conversation. These rich pieces of information are massively important in human relationships and just don’t come across in a one dimensional  email or profile. Recruiters need to be mindful that crucial pieces of information will be missing in online interaction.

The way in which online communication has transformed our business interactions is absolutely staggering. 108.7 billion emails are sent and received every 24 hours in the business world and the average working professional sends and receives an average of 121 emails a day. Indisputably an invaluable business tool, it’s important to remain aware that information delivered by email is digested differently to vocal communication, filtered through our own mood or agenda. It’s not uncommon to skim read an email or profile, only taking in the information you are looking for and missing other important parts. A survey of 113 people in northern California led a San Jose State University professor to conclude that people reading on screens take a lot of shortcuts and they browse, scan and hunt for keywords.

In contrast, I believe the fast paced back and forth dialogue that takes place during a phone call gives us a chance to react instantly to the other person’s responses instead of carefully composing a written reply which gives us far more information. Vocal or face to face communication can offer far more authenticity because it’s harder to hide. Even a brief phone call can highlight the incongruence between an applicant’s online persona and their personal presence. The challenge for a conscientious recruiter is to identify and explore the gap between how a potential employee presents themselves online and how they would handle a live business situation.

Meeting face to face increases the quality of connection with somebody even more - you can see their expression as it changes, you can look them in the eye to see if you trust them, you can read their facial movements and body language signals. Perhaps because this sophisticated interpretation of subtle signals in voice and body are so instinctive to us, we don’t value the added richness these nuances provide in helping us make accurate judgements and decisions that can make or break the relationship between an applicant and a potential employer.

Of course online profiles, social media, email communication and the plethora of other virtual tools at our disposal should form the basis of a succinct and thorough recruitment process but ideally it should be a mix of both online and ‘real life’ interaction. It’s all too easy to hide behind a screen, especially when dealing with a generation of applicants who have never known anything else, but just because technology means we can go through the entire process without speaking directly to the candidate, it doesn’t mean we should.

Effective recruitment means finding that balance. Or, to wilfully misquote, man cannot recruit on text alone. 


Deon Newbronner is Managing Director of The Pitch Perfect Club (www.pitchperfectclub.com), an exclusive public speaking network and business growth forum for business owners, entrepreneurs and directors who wish to develop and improve their presence across multi platforms.