Use Online Networks to Find Your Star Employee

Recruiters can find valuable leads with online tools such as blogs, virtual communities, social networking sites, and biography-analysis software.

Your dream employee is lurking out there. How do you find him or her? To track down those stars, recruiters are aggressively using online tools such as blogs, virtual communities, social-networking sites, and biography-analysis software. Here are some best practices in those areas:


Referrals: Recruiting firm Accolo has created a confidential referral network comprised primarily of people who have applied for jobs with them in the past. Using patented technology and methods, Accolo creates a small referral community for each of its jobs, selecting members based on the likelihood that they will know the right person. Accolo focuses on making sure the applicant experience is positive. Every applicant has a genuinely fair shot for each job and receives follow-up and closure regardless of the outcome. This is in stark contrast to the 94% of today’s companies that never even acknowledge an applicant.

That approach helps generate future referrals, and personal referrals are widely considered the ideal way to find great employees. Accolo averages eight personal referrals for every job, which is the highest documented number we’ve seen. (It’s no surprise then that the firm, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, recently was named 2005 Recruitment Process Outsourcer of the Year at the HRO World Conference in New York.)

John Younger, Accolo’s CEO, points out that “Every applicant may also be a customer, investor, referral source, vendor, future employee, and many other things. When they are treated with courtesy, respect and fairness, it establishes a solid foundation for a relationship.”

Here are three principles of Accolo’s success that may help you:

Describe your job accurately and in a compelling way. This may take a little more time up front, but it will pay big dividends. You can’t bore someone into action. Let the job title reflect the personality of your company, team, and hiring manager. This is not a fluffy marketing piece, but a personal communication to your future star performer. The use of humor in job descriptions and online interview questions can also be valuable. To see examples, check out Accolo’s job listing page.

Cast a wide net to find your star performer. When a job description evolves to be more of a compelling personal letter to your future star, more referrals surface and the large volumes of inappropriate candidates will be less likely to apply. Therefore, use a variety of targeted and generalized resources beginning with your own address book. If you are like most people, you have 20 to 30 people in your personal network who might know the right person. Use tools like Microsoft Outlook to easily create a distribution list. Then ask the top performers in your company to do the same. The key is to understand that you are asking only for referrals – people who have they worked with, for, or around that might be your future star. Job distribution companies like eQuest, AIRS Oxygen, and GoJobs make it easy to get your compelling job description out to several job-listing sites simultaneously. Some other companies like infoGIST also allow you to search multiple resume databases simultaneously. Finally, other companies, such as ZoomInfo, deliver powerful Web search solutions to help you find the latest information on top candidates and use that to network and get more referrals.


Create a simple and single process by which people can refer others, or apply and answer a small number of questions that indicate talent, not just skills, related to your job. (You can teach a skill, but you cannot teach talent.) This does not need to be a fancy piece of technology, just a clear process with an email address that ensures people are fairly considered and receive follow-up. At the simplest level, include with the job description specific questions you want applicants to answer when applying. Not only do you get meaningful responses along with the resume, but you also see if they actually read and understood the description. Be sure to respond to each applicant, even if he or she is not a good fit. You will be surprised how grateful people are to be noticed, even if they are not selected.

Blogs: Microsoft has recently hired some of the most visible e-recruiting gurus, such as Shally Steckerl, Glenn Gutmacher, and Jim Stroud. Microsoft has been particularly active in blogging, with more than 1,200 bloggers out of 60,000 employees. Heather Hamilton, a staffing specialist at the software giant, says that blogging has completely changed how recruiters find candidates and candidates find jobs. (Hamilton connects with marketing professionals via her own blog, Heather’s “Marketing at Microsoft” Blog.) In 2005, nearly 3,000 people applied to Microsoft through one of its JobsBlog source codes, of which 137 accepted an offer—a very high yield rate.

A primary key to successful blogging is spending some time getting to know the industry players and to lurk (view without commenting) on various industry sites. In a short time, with a few well-thought posts, you can develop professional contacts and a reputation in the industry as a thoughtful observer.

When asked what makes Microsoft blogs so valuable for recruiting, Microsoft recruiter Jim Stroud writes, “It’s the ‘secret sauce’ of every successful blog. In a word, authenticity… People recognize and appreciate our honest voices. When people read what we have to say, they are hearing ‘us’ — Me, Gretchen, Jenna and Julie. Not a sanitized press release or a brown-nosing fluff piece to appease upper-management, but us… Sure, we cannot divulge company secrets (there is some common sense in play here), but we pretty much can say what we feel about our employer and what life with
Bill’ is really like. Fortunately for all concerned, we love it here! (Smile).” Among the other noteworthy blogs covering the recruiting industry:;;; EmpBlog;; Recruiting Blog; and Talent Management Blog.

Biographical Analysis and Online Communities: Case study number three is my own firm, Nitron Advisors. Nitron provides institutional investors and law firms with direct access to frontline industry experts. When a hedge fund or venture capitalist or lawyer wants to speak with an expert in, for example, poultry economics, Nitron taps the members of our Circle of Experts. We pay them by the hour to participate in a brief consultation with Nitron’s client. Most of the time Nitron already knows the right person … but not always. Sometimes, Nitron is forced to speed-recruit someone in two to three business days and needs to use all available resources to find the right person. Nitron has access to all the traditional recruiting tools, e.g., job boards such as Monster, and has also developed some proprietary methods and databases for this purpose.

First, we use biography-analysis software, such as ZoomInfo. This type of tool synthesizes data from countless sources of biographical data: public resume databases, SEC filings, and so on. It’s particularly helpful for recruiting passive candidates (people who are not actively looking for a job) as opposed to people who are actively looking for a new job. Second, Nitron has developed a proprietary database of thousands of online communities where different sorts of experts reside, and has gained entry to most of these communities. When Nitron has a particularly obscure need, the firm can readily go in to find the right person.


To find a community that suits your interests, we suggest starting with the tools below:

Any search engine. Try looking up the name of the function, industry, interest, or location that you are targeting, along with a phrase such as “mailing list”, “networking group”, “community”, etc.

Yahoo has a comprehensive list of association Web sites by industry.

ASAE (American Society of Association Executives,

Lastly, Nitron runs two corporate blogs, Brain Food and New York Events. By being an active participant in the blogosphere, Nitron’s search engine ranking goes up dramatically, and Nitron has more tools to connect with influencers and candidates relevant to its corporate mission.

Online networks offer a vast array of opportunities to recruiters to find top people. Make sure you take advantage of these new resources to find your next star.