Social Software makes critical business connections.

Headhunter Matt Ocken was looking for references recently for a vice president of engineering he was considering recruiting for a client. He knew of a CIO at one of the companies on the candidate's resume, but he couldn't get the man to return his calls. Then he tried Visible Path, social networking software his firm had implemented four months before. In no time, he had the needed reference.

Social networking technology helps connect friends, business partners and others using a variety of tools such as search and data mining.

Ocken's firm, Kindred Partners, deployed Visible Path to enable its employees to gain access to a network of professionals who have relationships with other Kindred Partners staffers. Through this "trusted relationship network," Ocken, who is managing director at the executive search firm, found the name of a co-worker who knew the CIO he was trying to reach. That connection helped him get through.

"The return rates on cold calls are exceptionally low, but the likelihood of the individual calling you back if it's a warm call [meaning someone has given you an introduction to the person you are calling] is dramatically higher," says Ocken.

Social networking is gaining lots of attention as a promising but still-nascent technology for recruiting, akin to online job boards of 10 years ago. There are few statistics on how many companies use social networking for recruiting or how many hires or referrals have resulted from its use, but Lisa Rowan, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC, says the technology could gain wide acceptance. "As individuals increase the seriousness [of job searches] and use every tool available, they will use [social networking] more," she says.

A Natural for IT

The technology is used across a variety of industries and for a variety of job positions, Rowan says. But it may be most popular in IT, because IT professionals are more comfortable with technology than people in other fields.

Moreover, it can be useful for finding software engineering-type employees who might be less inclined to form networks than extroverted sales and marketing types, says Mike Ahearn, human resource partner at Boston-based venture capital firm Greylock Partners. Ahearn uses Contact Network from Contact Network, also in Boston, for his IT recruiting efforts. He says it's a good way to find people who aren't actively searching for work and may not otherwise come up on the recruiter's radar screen.

Social networking applications are deployed across a corporation to comb through e-mail folders, contact databases and other corporate content to discover who within the company knows someone at another company.

Using data mining techniques to collect information such as job titles, former employers and colleges attended, the software can reveal the network of acquaintances that exists between you and someone you want to meet.

Visible Path, from Visible Path in New York, can weight the value of relationships by calculating the number of e-mails sent and received between parties and giving more weight to e-mails that garnered a response.

There are also social networking Web sites that specialize in business relationships, including LinkedIn, ZeroDegrees and Ryze. In these online communities, members send messages inviting people they know to join the site, creating a network of people they know and from whom they can request introductions to people they don't know. These sites are used to recruit, find references, make sales and otherwise secure business connections.

Recruiters use social networking to find people and check references. For instance, Contact Network helps recruiters identify job candidates who are known by other recruiters in their firm. "If you can get [people you know] to refer candidates, you wind up with a candidate pool from which you are far more likely to get a finalist," says Ahearn.

Juliet Flint, a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers in California, agrees. Flint is responsible for recruiting for companies in Kleiner, Perkins' investment portfolio. She has a personal database of about 10,000 people, but counting her partners' contacts, she has a network of about 170,000. With Visible Path, she and her partners can find valuable connections they would not otherwise be aware of, she says. (Kleiner, Perkins has an investment in Visible Path.)

Social networking software can also help recruiters find people who have worked with the job candidate but whom the candidate hasn't listed as references. These references offer a level of trust that's missing from those provided by the candidate, Flint says. "That trust element is very important in recruiting and very difficult to find," she says. "It's had a really profound impact on the way we do recruiting."

Kindred Partners' Ocken uses Visible Path that way. He says the technology saves at least an hour per candidate and improves the caliber of references. For the vice president of engineering position, for example, he was able to find and contact references on six or seven candidates. "We found a whole bunch of references we didn't know existed," Ocken says.


Social networking technology is still so new that its potential is anyone's guess. Geoffrey Hyatt, CEO of Contact Network, thinks that it's valuable primarily when filling mid- to high-level positions. "Entry-level candidates haven't built up their networks, so you can't find them," he says.

And its value is only as good as your own employees' relationships. Some observers note that "A" players are more likely to know other "A" players. If you use an internal platform like Visible Path or Contact Network and your company is filled with "B" players, you will be networking mostly with other "B" players.

A company's size also matters. A very small company is unlikely to have much of a network if it relies entirely on an internal application; it might do better using a public site. Hyatt says he's seen companies successfully deploy a private network with as few as 50 employees, but 200 to 300 is usually the minimum.

Cost is another consideration. It doesn't cost anything to join LinkedIn, but posting a job costs US$95. Contact Network costs US$30,000 to US$100,000, depending on the company's size.

Social networking technology is no panacea for all of the challenges of finding IT workers, but it does offer the prospect of greatly expanding your network and introducing you to both candidates and references you would otherwise miss. Horowitz is a freelance business and technology writer in Salt Lake City. Contact him at

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