Looking for Talent in the Siberian Tundra?

Steve Boese Recruiting, Social Media and Talent, Social Networking, Steve Boese

Last week, Facebook, (a plucky little social networking start-up from California, perhaps you have heard of them), released results of two groundbreaking studies of the network’s social graph – and the results provide some fascinating and even predictive insights into the typical Facebook user’s connections, and validation of sorts to the commonly held notion that large scale online social networking, essentially exhibited through Facebook, has effectively made the world a smaller place.

While the studies offer plenty of interesting insights, the one statistic that you probably saw reported about the findings was this:

(Facebook) we found that the degrees of separation between any two Facebook users is smaller than the commonly cited six degrees, and has been shrinking over the past three years as Facebook has grown, and now stands at 4.74 between any two Facebook users, no matter where they reside in the world.

Even more telling is when user’s social graphs are examined within national boundaries, the degrees of separation between any two Facebook users proves to be even smaller, with more on the order of only 3 degrees separating most pairs of users from each other. Process that for a second.

What this research tells us, and with a sample size of about 700 million as opposed the the 296 people that were a part of the famous ‘Six Degrees of Separation’, study back in the 1960s is a pretty valid and robust data set, is that no matter what obscure, challenging, and hard to find suitable talent for recruiting initiative you or your company are working on, that it is very much likely that the ‘right’ person is only a few short hops away from anyone in your company that is on Facebook today. Sure that assumes that the talent you are after is on Facebook as well, and quite frankly given the platform’s rapid growth and gigantic user base, is a pretty good assumption these days. Oh yeah, one more assumption inherent in the ‘degrees of separation’ gambit is you actually have to know you are looking for someone in the Siberian tundra as well.

What does this mean in a larger sense? After all just doing the math and concluding that the elusive perfect candidate can be algorithmically, (is that even a word?), found just a few hops away from anyone else doesn’t really help you produce that short list of qualified, interested, and likely to succeed in your organization collection of candidates that the hiring manager wanted last week. Finding the right people for hard to fill openings did not just turn into a simple ‘get more connected on Facebook’ strategy.

But there are a couple of relevant and important takeaways from these studies that have proved by data analysis some things that we have suspected all along. First, these statistics give those folks inside organizations that feel the need to proactively block access to Facebook one more data point to argue in their attempts to loosen these kinds of restrictions. Despite whatever concerns about security, time wasting, and whatever else the ‘blocking’ arguments fall back on, cutting off the access point to, well everyone, is long-term a strategy that effectively ties one hand behind your recruiter’s backs. And second, the people and organizations that can adapt faster, can cultivate large and diverse networks that can reduce their ‘degrees of separation’ between them and the talent they seek from 6 or 4.74 or 3 down to maybe 2 or even less, will possess an important and significant advantage in whatever passes for the ‘talent wars’ you’re fighting.

So all the growth of Facebook and the other social networks, and the data from these recent studies confirm what we’ve known all along, the best connected people can make things happen, often faster than anyone else. But the key difference today is that your company’s best connected person is just as likely to be the goofy dude in Shipping as it is one of your recruiters. Now the trick is to help them to tell you where the end point of the search is.