Hi, I'm Dave Mulder. This is my website, where I write about user experience and product design.

Originally Published: May 13, 2010

How many people really find jobs through social media?

Career services professionals have been touting the value of social networking for a while now, encouraging college students to establish a presence online. But how effective are these tools, really, in getting recent college graduates hired? Eve Tahmincioglu of MSNBC.com wrote a piece this week asking exactly this question.

Tahmincioglu makes the claim that social networking seldom gets new grads hired. The meat of her argument comes from the results of one survey:

A 2009 poll of large U.S. employers conducted by CareerXroads, a staffing and recruiting company, found that less than 1 percent of external hires — which includes new openings filled by people who are not in-house — could be attributed to social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Among that 1 percent, LinkedIn represented 60 percent of hires. “Despite the hype, hires are not easily attributed to social media,” according to the survey’s authors.

1 percent? On its face, that’s a damning and discouraging number.

But what does 1 percent really represent? Taking a look at the major sources of hire (referrals, career sites, job boards, direct sourcing, etc.), we can guess that this figure represents job postings that were pushed onto LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, where someone random responded, got an interview, and got the job.

In this model, social networking sites are used as a communication tool about a job posting. Very few companies use social networking sites as the sole way to publicize an open position, and when you see jobs mentioning online they’re often just links to a career site, or a job board, or something else. Kate Tykocki, the chief communications officer at Capital Area Michigan Works, uses Twitter to pass along links to job openings; when a candidate is finally hired for those openings, the hiring source ends up being the website where the job was posted—not Twitter.

As Nicole Ellison‘s research points out, social networking site (Facebook) use is associated with social capital. By maintaining weak ties with a diverse set of people, we can cultivate our social capital into a very powerful tool.

The top source of external hires, as noted in the survey, is by referral. Social networking sites and social capital work in this domain, the domain of word of mouth and maintained weak ties. For this reason, the 1 percent number is likely a gross underrepresentation of social networking’s value in the job search.

What else does Tahmincioglu have to say? She offers some quotes from recent graduates:

Renbaum got his gig with no help from social media. “I viewed sites such as Facebook and Twitter as nothing more than trivial ways to avoid face-to-face communication with people,” he said. “To be honest, I believed that Facebook, and especially Twitter, were geared more towards young females who love to gossip and chat about idle events.”

But it’s not all one-sided criticism of SNS-philes. Tahminicioglu points out that job hunters should not be putting all their eggs into the social networking basket. Traditional approaches, like interning and attending career fairs, are still very useful.

My main concern with this article is the way it portrays social networking use as without value. We can use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites to maintain relationships and build social capital. This is an essential step to improving long-term outcomes (those that go beyond entry-level positions) and one that Tahminicioglu does not seem to recognize.