Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

The LinkedIn Effect

By Rick Devine, CEO & Founder, TalentSky

For all the criticism LinkedIn has received as of late, they will be forever credited with blowing the roof off the employment system by forcing enterprises to accept the open employee profile. What is now commonly accepted as standard practice by employees across the world didn’t come without a fight. LinkedIn forced the hand of enterprises by giving their employees a platform that actually inspired them to share their work histories.

As the world of work faces its next major transition—moving away from a system that speaks in terms of job titles, descriptions and resumes, and toward a system that speaks in terms of skills and skill proficiency— it’s important to remember how we got here and what it will take to get where we’re going.

Before there was LinkedIn there was the closed intranet—a place where employees’ work histories and details went to die…if they went at all.  Similar to their relationship with company-issued phones, most employees put little information on their employer’s intranet knowing that it would just become company property once they leave.

When LinkedIn came onto the scene, companies watched on as the same employees who had resisted updating their internal profiles opened up willingly and enthusiastically online. The good news for companies was that they could now scan the work histories of external candidates who hadn’t even applied. The bad part was that the same was true for other companies, who could see external employees’ information too.

What all of this quickly revealed was that work profiles needed to be open to the public, not just to HR departments, or users wouldn’t use them. The public nature of the profile wasn’t only appealing to users because it meant that more people would see it; it was popular because it was portable. It was the user’s property, not the employer’s. They could take these profiles with them through their careers and update them over time to create comprehensive work narratives. The moral of the story? People want to self-manage and self-regulate their own work on their own terms.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Employers could try to block employees from using LinkedIn—and some certainly did—but if their employees weren’t using it, then these companies were left without any insights on them. Over time it became clear that attempts to keep employees off the platform were futile.

With their workforces now vulnerable to poaching from outside recruiters, companies quickly turned to LinkedIn for their own recruiting (and poaching).

With visibility does not necessarily come insights.

Before LinkedIn, recruiting was a thoughtful, relationship-based business and being good at it took time and talent. The promise that LinkedIn made to talent professionals was “more”: More candidates, more knowledge, and more access. The first and third were accurate.

Recruiters who once focused on the “what” (experience and skills) and the “who” (cultural fit and character) to qualify candidates for work positions, slowly adopted this new paradigm, which eliminated the “who” altogether. A disproportionate focus on candidates’ experience, as shared on LinkedIn, however, offered no more insight than a standard resume. It was just another user-generated work narrative with no third party vetting, verification or added insight. Understanding candidates’ character beyond their resumes had been a critical component in talent professionals’ ability to validity candidates’ qualifications. Rather than replicating this component of the recruiting process digitally, LinkedIn completely eliminated it.

Recruiters go on autopilot.

Recruiters who entered the game after LinkedIn are at a distinct disadvantage. Like airplane pilots who learned to fly planes equipped with autopilot technology, today’s recruiters are learning the methodology and philosophy of recruiting but aren’t required to apply it without the safety net of LinkedIn. Relying on a tool isn’t necessarily a bad thing, assuming that tool gives you what you need to do your job.

Qualifying candidates now is a matter of sending job ads to thousands of potential candidates, followed by a waiting game to see who responds and who ultimately applies. This “spray and pray” process results in a group of self-identified applicants rather than hand-selected candidates screened against an array of important criteria.

The new talent professional is now in a position of presenting their hiring managers with resumes they can’t substantiate or defend. Should their manager ask which ones have the best skills, or which will fit in best with the company, or with them personally, the talent professional is at a loss. This is a symptom of a system lacking insights. 

Where things went wrong.

This trip down memory lane isn’t meant as a frivolous, nostalgic homage to the “way things were.” The contrast between then and now becomes important in trying to isolate what’s working and what’s not.

Opening the employee profile is one of the best things that ever happened to recruiting and human resources. And technology has a ton of potential to aid candidate identification and qualification. But somewhere along the way, things went terribly wrong. Just as quickly as LinkedIn broke down barriers, it began building walls.

LinkedIn caught itself along the way, recognizing that serving as a digital resume alone wasn’t enough; they needed to provide recruiters with more granular insights. They reacted to this by introducing their now familiar skills feature, which allows users to generate the skills they think best tell their work stories. Users’ connections, no matter their relationship with the user, can then endorse them for these skills. The more endorsements the user gets, the heavier their skills are weighted relative to others in the system.

In theory, this gives recruiters insights about who ranks highest for the specific skills their open roles require. In practice, it’s an unregulated skills system that simply gives users more poetic license to paint the picture they want. Skills aren’t standardized, meaning that the same skill often shows up in several different iterations. And the weight of endorsements are the same whether the person endorsing a user is their family member or boss.

Making things right.

Contrary to popular belief, the most pressing employment issue in front of us isn’t a lack of skills, but a lack of universal visibility into employer skill demand and worker skill quality.

Without insight into employees’ skills and skill proficiency we’re left with a largely fabricated skills gap where companies assume there are no candidates who fit their needs while talented, qualified employees assume there are no jobs available to them.

The implications of increased skills visibility are vast. At the company level it would mean opportunities to recruit from within, develop existing talent, improve retention, minimize the impact of mass layoffs, and eliminate discrimination and bias in the hiring process. Businesses would be able to identify candidates who previously seemed irrelevant and workers could discover new opportunities.

On a macro level, the ability to quantify work could lead to data the government needs to shape job policies and a significant decrease in US companies’ need for offshored workers.

The only way to get the data (insights) back at both the micro and a macro level is to leverage the popularity of the open professional profile. LinkedIn is credited with having proven this paradigm. What they haven’t done is transform employees’ and candidates’ profiles intto actionable insights that drive all jobs-related decisions.

The next step in the evolution of professional social media must be the introduction of the skills-connected enterprise, which will connect the skill needs of companies to the skill development of their employers. All of this information is already available, it just isn’t in the right format yet.