Mitchell Langbert

The Social Media Staffing Revolution

How accounting firms are leading and engaging people.

October 20, 2011
by Mitchell Langbert, PhD

In a telephone interview, Penelope Trunk, author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success (Warner Books, 2007) and principal at Brazen Careerist.com, says it straight: "If you're not using social media, you're antiquated. The majority of communication now is through social media. Even e-mail is antiquated." And that's not to mention the antediluvian technologies, telephone, the U.S. Post Office, and face-to-face conversation.

Social networking is as important to staffing as it is to marketing. Trunk notes that the Big Four accounting firms have been among the leaders with respect to recruiting applications. The reason is that accounting firms have high turnover at the associate level, and one of the best uses of social networking is the maintenance of alumni networks. Social networking has driven down staffing costs for firms that hire middle level alumni. Accounting firms such as Deloitte, have developed first rate networks that capitalize on Facebook and Twitter. Trunk says that the Big Four firms frown upon those who lack social-media skills.
For those new to social networking, Arthur L. Jue, Jackie Alcalde and Mary Ellen Kassotakis (Social Media at Work: How Networking Tools Propel Organizational Performance, Jossey Bass, Kindle Edition: 2009, p. 5) define social networking as:

… the many relatively inexpensive and widely accessible electronic tools that enable anyone to publish and access information, collaborate on a common effort or build relationships. This may sound like the ‘same old thing’, but it’s the advance in technology and the changing behavioral norms that have brought a whole new meaning to these activities, supercharging the volume of exchanges among people and extending their reach to every corner of the globe.

Social media include wikis (websites that allow mark-ups and editing), blogs, podcasts and pictures. The term Web 2.0 refers to technology that allows users to create online information.
That is, part of the reason for social networking's importance in recruiting is its popularity among Millennials, those born between 1977 and 2000, who are the largest cohort since the soon-to-retire baby boomers. According to Jue, lcalde and Kassotakis, nearly half (48%) of college students report using a social-media site and just under two out of three (59%) read blogs. As a result, nearly three out of four (69%) of businesses have adopted social media in some form by 2008.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn combined have over 535 million users, according to Tiffany Black in an Inc.com article (“How to Use Social Media As a Recruiting Tool,” Inc.com, April 2010). Alih Wright, of the Society for Human Resource Management ("Wanted: HR Professionals with Social Media Skills," SHRM Online, Paid Access), points out that from May to August of 2011 more than 1,000 advertisements for HR occupations included computer-based social networking skills, nearly a 160-percent increase over 2010. Nowadays, staffing personnel need to know how to use sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, along with blogs and wikis, to encourage visits to corporate websites by prospects not necessarily looking for a job.

In her Inc.com article, Black notes that even small accounting firms can inexpensively leverage LinkedIn by posting jobs for $195through LinkedIn Recruiter, which enables them to identify "passive candidates." Ordinary retail accounts with LinkedIn enable members to access a few members whom they know. However, LinkedIn Recruiter allows you to see everyone. More than two-thirds of the Fortune 100 use it in part because you can contact many candidates simultaneously.

Accounting firms can recruit in innovative ways, such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Job seekers can subscribe to Twitter feeds to learn about opportunities. Your firm can also recruit with sterling YouTube videos of your company’s operations.

Trunk points out that social media are tools to achieve corporate goals. In spirit, social media do not differ completely from old-fashioned networking, but they require a new set of skills. Firms need to leverage online communities to achieve staffing and other HR goals, but these goals have to be set before firms engage in social networking. "The way people hire in San Francisco is that you e-mail a friend," says Trunk. "If you know one right person, you don't need stacks of résumés. Anyone who measures recruiting success by the number of résumés is behind the times."

I raised the possibility of discrimination. It is an issue that tech-savvy recruiters need to consider. First, adverse impact can occur in all size firms, from the smallest to the largest. Second, there is reason to hypothesize that access to computer technology and ability to use social networking sites is skewed along socio-economic, racial and gender-related lines. Moreover, there are issues specific to the new technology. SHRM's Wright quotes attorney David H. Black of Jackson Lewis LLP in Seattle: "HR professionals should always proceed with caution." Jim Stroud of The Recruiter's Lounge says, "Knowledge about personal characteristics of candidates may lead to the appearance of impropriety and leave the company vulnerable to a lawsuit."

The solution is common sense and a working knowledge of Title VII and other protective legislation. All firms, including small accounting firms, should integrate consideration of the risk of adverse impact while developing staffing strategies that utilize exhilarating new technologies to reduce costs and raise the enthusiasm of entry- and middle-level employees.
Trunk emphasizes that it takes time to learn how to recruit and find a job through social networking. "People who say it doesn't work don't take the time."

For three decades, organizational theorists have observed that technology is changing organizational structure, and social networking takes this trend further than ever. As Jue, Marr and Kassotakis point out (p. 183), organizational boundaries are increasingly blurry and online community participation will create new boundaries. Job prospects will increasingly be colleagues rather than applicants. Recruiters need to redefine themselves as participants in social networks where they learn about fellow professionals in a participative community.

Besides staffing, social networking is an important source with respect to talent development and encouraging employees' involvement. Cisco Systems has used a Wiki to perform training-needs analysis, relying on subject matter experts from around the company (via video and other forums) as well as the wiki. There is likely to be a revolution in job analysis as wikis replace the traditional questionnaire, interview and observational methods. Jue et al. also emphasize (pp. 180-1) that retiring baby boomers will be accessible through social networking technology. And CPA firms can also tap into the previously largely untapped and talented disabled employees can who use such new technologies.


It is likely that the pace of change will continue to accelerate. The recruiter of tomorrow will need to be a skilled social networker and have the ability to advance along with the technology.

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Mitchell Langbert, PhD, is an associate professor at Brooklyn College. Widely published on the subject of human resource management, Langbert has consulted and served as an expert witness.

* DISCLOSURE: Readers should assume that all views expressed in this column are the author's unless otherwise noted and does not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or the AICPA Career Insider.