No, Recruiters Aren’t Ruining LinkedIn (Yet)

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Aug 8, 2012
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Do you think recruiters are ruining LinkedIn? Do you see some of the tactics your peers in the field use and shake your head about them?

That’s what Glen Cathey asked this week (and, shameless plug alert, Cathey will be speaking about LinkedIn at SourceCon next month in Dallas). The post is fantastic and the evidence is damning. And even though he personally doesn’t believe recruiters are ruining LinkedIn, I think he makes a good case as to why a lot of people–including some recruiters–think recruiters make LinkedIn a less awesome place to be.

I would argue that, for most users, recruiters being on LinkedIn is generally a good thing. As LinkedIn’s business model continues to depend more and more on revenue from recruiting activities though, that might change significantly. Recruiters may have no choice but go along with it, too.

The argument against recruiters

Cathey lays it out as clear as day in his post and concludes:

Do I think recruiters ruin LinkedIn?

No, of course not.

However, I do think that thoughtless and careless recruiters definitely detract from the LinkedIn experience for many people through job spamming, blatantly disregarding group rules/policies, and sending embarrassingly poor messages to people.

I also think that collectively the recruiting community can, at the very least, police other recruiters’ behavior in groups.

As a group owner of groups full of recruiters, I too can attest to the thoughtlessness of recruiters who mass post job reqs across all kinds of groups. I’ve seen all kinds of job postings (from unrelated business development opportunities, to developer opportunities and everything in between). We’ve gone to great lengths to moderate and apply rules to the type of postings we allow in groups. We have laid out clear rules in our groups. Still though, the spam continues to come. And every time I’ve approached a recruiter about it, they seem completely clueless about it. Some are new and are following the guidelines set forth by their managers and trainers. Some didn’t think it was a big deal. Everyone is interested in job opportunities, right?

Ultimately, group owners are responsible for their groups. There will always be recruiters who come in and mass post. And marketers. And thought-leaders. And gurus. I know that’s my headache as a group owner but it is a small headache compared to those messages getting through as discussions to thousands of people.

InMails are another thing that gets abused by a handful of recruiters. The awful form letters have to end, especially when we’re talking about a dozen or so highly-considered candidates. It seems as though LinkedIn tries to do a bit more with these though to combat the worst practices. Outside of a few industries where recruiters are desperate enough to consistently use obnoxious tactics, it seems like the worst practices are easing up though. And I’ve heard that users are very responsive to bad InMail practices.

Recruiters help LinkedIn

But worst experiences don’t necessarily equate to most experiences. Most professionals on LinkedIn are not in highly recruited fields. For people like my wife (with a biology degree and background in wine production), LinkedIn is generally a lonely place. Save for a few connections with professionals she has networked with in real life or people she has worked with in the past, there isn’t much going on.

And as recruiters, it is easy to forget that most people aren’t LinkedIn open networkers or super users. Most people have connection counts under 200 and most of those have much less.

So if you are a professional in a lower demand industry, I imagine the presence of recruiters is generally a positive. I can tell you that the times I’ve been contacted about possible jobs have been generally good experiences. I’ve been able to refer them to other people in my network seamlessly.

Job opportunities being on LinkedIn is one of the main reason why non-recruiters come to LinkedIn in the first place. Whether in the midst of a hardcore search, a soft search or maybe just peeking around and seeing what your network contacts are up to, LinkedIn is a great place to start. And being able to connect with a real human being when you might not be in resume-blast mode but definitely in the mildly interested stage is a huge plus for both recruiters and job seekers.

LinkedIn’s path forward

So do some recruiters ruin LinkedIn? Absolutely. Are some industries harder to recruit for on LinkedIn because of this? Of course. But I will stress that this is generally not the norm. In fact, if anything, LinkedIn is rather boring for the average user.

And that’s a problem. A LinkedIn problem.

Last month, I wrote that I thought LinkedIn had two paths forward (open versus closed). I figured that they would be tempted to pick the closed route. The reason? Revenue:

For the first quarter of 2012, LinkedIn announced revenue. The not-so-shocker: hiring solutions makes up over half of their revenue and it is increasing (it was 49% in 1Q 2011 versus 54% in 1Q 2012). As LinkedIn becomes more dependent on recruiting income, there is going to be a temptation there to continue the lock down until they are a glorified job board and resume database.

While LinkedIn might not be maxed out for members worldwide, its US growth will continue to slow. And considering nearly two-thirds of their income comes from the US, there will be increasing pressure to get the most out of that.

So how do you do that? You start to make names and other information unavailable to anyone without a paid account. And even if your members want to be contacted and networked with, you won’t allow it (unless they pay, or the people who want to contact them pays). And certainly, if someone is using your API, you charge them or disallow them to use it (even if the product is pretty great).

Part of that increase in revenue LinkedIn? More ways to get the jobs recruiters want to fill in front of the faces of the people they need to reach. Recruiters will gladly pay for that privilege too. That could make LinkedIn a place that is less boring for users. And there is a possibility that it could ruin the LinkedIn experience for people who aren’t necessarily there for a new job.

Imagine an automated e-mail matching you with jobs based on your profile information? How about recruiters paying for a featured slot up there? How about featured jobs showing up everywhere in LinkedIn?

At some point, it could be hard to get noticed on LinkedIn without being obnoxious. If anything is going to ruin LinkedIn, it won’t be recruiters. If LinkedIn sticks with the status quo, good recruiters will always be able to differentiate themselves from the pack. But if LinkedIn pursues a super monetization strategy, it will be LinkedIn themselves that shoots their own feet.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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