Why Facebook Is Not Good for Professional Networking

Word association: when I say "social networking," what's the first thing that pops into your head? If it's Facebook, you're definitely not alone; not only does the site have more users than Google these days, it even has its own movie. And with over 500 million active users, harnessing the power of Facebook's networks has become something of a holy grail—both for selling and, increasingly, for hiring.

Indeed, in a recent Vault survey of recruiters and candidates, three-quarters of companies reported that they were using Facebook as part of their recruiting efforts.

There's just one problem with that last stat: more than half of candidates don't use Facebook for career-related purposes. Not only that, but when the same pool of candidates were asked to rate their comfort with being contacted via Facebook regarding job opportunities, our average respondent gave a score of just 2.59 out of 5—hardly a ringing endorsement.

As one candidate put it: "It would be a little odd if an HR team was contacting you directly through Facebook and Twitter. We have LinkedIn and email for that"

Loic Venance | AFP | Getty Images

While the most common usage of Facebook from a hiring perspective is to promote the organization's brand—69 percent of recruiters do that—45 percent admitted to using it to communicate with potential candidates. And more than a quarter said they had used the site to source potential candidates.

But candidates remain unconvinced by the trade-off between being able to network with companies and the potential loss of privacy involved.

Only 12 percent of job seekers said they used Facebook to get information about specific companies, with even fewer—9 percent—using it to find specific job opportunities. That attitude is perhaps best summed up by one candidate, who told Vault that "Facebook is my personal space. I would like to be able to find employers on this site, but not be contacted by them or searched by them."

However, there are still plenty of opportunities for corporate HR departments in the social media realm. Unsurprisingly, candidates are much more comfortable with the concept of companies evaluating their profiles and tapping them for job opportunities if the network in question is a dedicated professional networking site. (Or LinkedIn, to give it its official title.)

The degree of comfort with being contacted about job opportunities via LinkedIn was significantly higher: the average score from candidates was 4.03 out of 5. And companies appear to be meeting that need—89 percent of recruiters told Vault they used the site for recruitment purposes, including sourcing and communicating with potential candidates (79 and 70 percent respectively).

As for the last of the big three social networks—Twitter—candidates there were also pretty uncomfortable with the idea of being contacted or followed by potential employers—the average comfort score was just 2.69 out of 5.

The bottom line in all this is to keep the expectations of users in mind when considering your social networking presence—and not just for hiring. If someone has created an account with the expectation that they'll be able to use it as an extension of who they are outside of a working environment, then they’re likely to feel threatened by requests to friend or follow them from potential recruiters.

As one candidate put it: "An email from an employer would scare me if it came on Facebook, because it means they might have seen something I didn't intend for them to see."

And just in case that sounds like a reason to check out candidates, bear in mind that most people aren't trying to hide WikiLeaks-style disclosures or trash-talk about previous employers. Often, they just don't want employers to know how they spend their free time, lest they be judged negatively because of it. As the following comment shows:

"Do you really want potential employers to get a notice every time you play Farmville?"

That works both ways: do you really want to get a notice every time an employee—potential or otherwise—plays Farmville? If not, the message is clear: stick to LinkedIn!

All stats and quotes are taken from the Vault Social Media Survey, conducted in the summer of 2010. Approximately 150 companies in a variety of industries took the employer survey, and over 3,500 job seekers (34% of whom were students) took the candidate survey. To learn more about the survey results, contact Brian Dalton (bdalton@vault.com).

Phil Stott is a staff writer at Vault.com in New York. Originally from Scotland, he has also lived and worked in Japan, South Korea and Eastern Europe. He holds an MA in English Literature and Modern History, and a Masters in Research in Civil Engineering, both from the University of Dundee.©2011 Vault.com