Home / Work Life  / 12 cunning ways to use social media to hire hard-to-find staff

12 cunning ways to use social media to hire hard-to-find staff

Two years ago, commenting on the demise of recruitment site jobs.co.nz, Kiwi business manager Rory Walker predicted the death of the traditional job board within two years.

He was wrong. Online search sites like Seek and Trade Me, where recruiters pay to post job ads and candidates trawl through them, are still alive and well. Seek clocks annual global revenue of over $930 million, though has to work harder and smarter than it used to with, for example, clever algorithms to pull relevant candidate information out of the morass.

But Walker was right too.

Traditional paid job boards are being squeezed by free-to-air models like US-based www.indeed.com (which has 18,000 jobs listed in New Zealand, where it doesn’t even have a sales office, and 153,000 listed in Australia, where it does).  

And in tight recruitment sectors – IT, technology, engineering etc – job boards are all but dead. Posting an ad on Seek or Trade Me for an experienced Java developer is unlikely to get you the geek of your dreams, though it might land you a heap of irrelevant CVs to trawl through.

Instead, that elusive Java guy (or less likely girl) will be happily working for a company paying them a big salary. And if they are on the verge of quitting, they will likely be snapped up before they hit the pavement outside, let alone the recruitment agency.

Increasingly recruitment for scarce jobs is cut-throat, recruiters say, and it’s about finding already-employed people and luring them away from their existing employer.  They aren’t going to be looking at a job board, because they don’t want another job.

That trend isn’t new; what is new is how you find them. And the answer these days is often through social media.

It’s about engaging with people where they hang out – geographically and digitally, says Sean Walters, co-founder of recruiter-on-demand VirtualRPO. And for a lot of people that’s YouTube, Google hangouts, Instagram etc

You might not find your next accounting firm partner that way, but your new IT recruit? Why not.

Idealog brings you 12 cunning ways to use social media to recruit hard-to-find staff, brought to you following interviews with three canny recruiters: Walters; Troy Hammond, a former Vend recruiter who recently set up hiring strategy consultancy Talent Army; and Mark Sumner, director of recruitment business consultancy #Getin.

OK, so much of it sounds like stalking, but hey, it’s a competitive world out there. And if they didn’t want you to find them, they’d have set their privacy settings stronger.

Forget LinkedIn

It’s the obvious one. Finding people is what the networking site is all about. Trouble is, everyone’s using it. So much so that people with in-demand jobs use fake email addresses to stop the constant flow of unsolicited messages from recruiters.

Meetups, chat rooms, hangouts, forums, message rooms

There are meetups (read chat rooms, hangouts etc) for everything these days, including lots for tech and IT enthusiasts. Some are physical, many are online. Need an employee with a particular skill? Head to where people with that skill are hanging out and discussing stuff, find out who seems to be active and experienced – maybe someone who’s been asked to speak at a meetup – and engage with them.


Facebook used to be place you hung out exclusively with your mates. Not any more. Increasingly people are engaging with Facebook as a work platform, Hammond says. “I’m spending lot more time on Facebook.  And candidates are approaching me that way.”

Don’t just look at the main posts, check comments too. Say someone sees a well-crafted job ad, they might post it on their Facebook page, comment and share it with their friends, who might comment in turn. If the person putting up the original post is a mobile developer, chances are some of their Facebook friends might be too – and they could all be potential candidates.


The most obvious use of Twitter is to blast out job postings to your followers. So 2013, say the experts. Instead Twitter’s own recruitment team has a five-point tip sheet about using tweets to get staff:

  • Use employees to tweet jobs
  • Share news and events from your company to expose your culture
  • Harness the power of the hashtag
  • Leverage video
  • Connect with candidates


The photo/video-sharing website would seem the last place you’d go to find a staff member. Not so. Because users “pin” stuff they are interested in onto their pinboards, which are often organized around a central topic or theme, it’s possible to search around relevant subject areas. Imagine you are looking for a graphic designer – search for new boards or tag pins related to the job description.

Social for information-gathering

So you’ve found someone you think might be a good fit for your company. Don’t just flick off a standard “wanna work for my great company” email. Stalk them on social media before you approach them. Find out what they like doing, where they hang out at the weekend, what foods they eat. Then use that information to market your job/company to them. Looks like they are a mad-keen guitarist? Mention the band a few of the guys put together, and include a You Tube clip. They love Mexican cuisine? Tell them about the themed Friday drinks nights and send a photo of the latest one.

“If I’m looking for developer, I might spend 20 minutes doing an x-ray search, looking at their code, reading tweets, checking their Facebook, before I try to craft a message I think will work for them,” Hammond says.

Instagram is another place to find out whether someone might be a good fit for your organization and what approach might suit them. Do they post humorous quotes, or pictures of their family? Are they a big Hannibal fan?

What about searching profiles on two sites not likely to be included in your competitors’ recruitment search armoury – TripAdvisor and Airbnb.

Boolean searching

If you are a recruiter and you don’t not know how about Boolean searching (a way to use terms like AND, OR and NOT to make internet searches more effective) you are not going to find people, says Hammond. Use it to refine your searches on social media sites for potential employees with the right experience.


“Show and tell for designers”, this is a great site for companies wanting to find designers. It’s where a lot of designers host their work for feedback from the industry, and it’s searchable geographically.

They are geeks, they can’t spell, right?

Cunning IT recruiters are factoring in spelling mistakes into their web candidate social media searches, Sumner says. Try keying in “Haskel” or “Haksell”, for example, if you want someone with experience in “Haskell”.


Conference directory website Lanyrd.com is a mine of information on people who have presented at conferences. If you want to check out thought leaders in a particular industry, this is a clever way to do it.


This site is really clever, or spooky, depending on your outlook. Basically, Crystalknows.com creates a profile for people with an online presence, and then gives you tips of how to email them using the communication style Crystal reckons will best suit them. Nikki tends to say “Hey” at the beginning of her emails and uses lots of exclamation marks? Do the same when you contact her. Jonathan is formal and brief in his communications. Keep your emails to him short and to the point. The site will edit your emails as you go along so your email has the message you want but in a way that suits your recipient.  

Recruitment meetups

Earlier this year Hammond started a recruitment meetup in the capital and already has 170 members. The aim is to “share information so we can lift our industry”. Then recently Xero in-house recruiter Tracy Earl set up the Auckland version, which has almost 200 members registered in the first month – before even hosting its first session.

And finally, here are three interesting recruitment campaigns using unusual media

ASB and augmented reality.

Scan your phone over the work for ASB app, and someone pops out to tell you about the job

Fletcher Building and Snapchat

Ad agency Adcorp used Snapchat software from Mish Guru as part of the #FBYou! graduate leadership recruitment programme for Fletcher Building.  


Barminco and Oculus Rift

Australian mining company incorporates Oculus Rift virtual reality technology, so candidates can experience being in a mine, without having to travel to the underworld. And yes, it’s dark down there.

Chief editor at Idealog, Nikki's a veteran in the journalism industry. A former lecturer at AUT University, she was the chief reporter at NZ weekly business publication The Independent and was deputy editor of Canadian publication Unlimited magazine.

Review overview