LinkedIn as a Screening Tool (Part 1)


The impact social media sites have had on our personal lives and professional careers is undeniable. While the young industry continues to evolve, Facebook has become as iconic to the thirty and under crowd as Coca-Cola and Levi’s to earlier generations.  LinkedIn, estimated to have over 21 million unique monthly visitors, is the most common networking tool used by business professionals. Social media applications (SMAs) are fantastic for re-connecting with long lost college friends and ‘linking up’ with business colleagues. Aside from these benefits, is there a role for SMAs in the executive search process? Can online profiles (or lack thereof) available on these sites be effectively utilized to assess subjective traits and behaviors of potential candidates?


Traditional Uses of SMAs in the Search Process

Facebook has played a minor role in the search process almost since its inception. It is unusual for something in an individual’s FB profile to actually improve their positioning for an opportunity. Many recruiters and corporate HR departments use FB solely as a disqualification tool. Many are the job offers which have been revoked upon observing candidates engaging in inappropriate activities or comments in online social mediums.

A growing number of firms are tapping into LinkedIn’s search features to identify potential candidates outside their existing networks.

SMAs have played a helpful, yet minor, role in the search process of numerous companies large and small.


Taking It to the Next Level

Our mission at Metis is to recruit world class CFOs for our clients. We accomplish this via our Executive Search Services and delivery of Interim CFO Services or Fractional CFO professionals. Success depends on our ability to identify and recruit the most talented professionals in the country. As a result, we relentlessly seek as much candidate information as possible from as many different sources as possible.

LinkedIn provides a window from which to more effectively assess a candidate’s skills. In particular, it offers a limited view of one’s ability to communicate within and across diverse groups of individuals and organizations. This can serve as additional affirmation of a prospect’s assessment developed from resumes, interviews, reference checks, and testing. Equally important, LinkedIn may highlight potential inconsistencies within a candidate’s current assessment. Any incremental information which can be employed to ratify, clarify, or nullify the perception of a candidate’s abilities possesses value. The success of a search is dependent upon the recruiter’s ability to accurately assess candidate skills, traits, and behaviors. LinkedIn should not be overlooked as a potentially unique source of information in this regard.


 LinkedIn Participation as an Assessment Tool

Much has changed since I was promoted into my first senior level finance position. The Enron fallout, AIG, Sarbanes-Oxley, etc. have fundamentally changed the role of the CFO. Today, CFOs are expected to be operationally, financially, and strategically adept, technologically savvy, and excellent communicators. I recently read an article which indicated 40% of vacant CFO positions were attributable to the previous CFO’s internal or external promotion to CEO. Wharton recently conducted a survey in which 88% of CFOs indicated their CEOs expected them to be active members of the top management team.  Financial executives are no longer perceived as glorified accountants but serve as ‘CEOs in-training’.

What does this have to do with LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is the most widely used SMA for networking by business professionals. I estimate that near 100% of professionals with whom I have an established relationship maintain complete and up to date profiles on the site. Of those currently outside the Metis network who reach out to us via email or phone, probably 70% have profiles on LinkedIn. The remaining 30% generally leave me with at least a slightly negative first impression.

CFO’s are tasked with effectively engaging fellow executives, employees, investors, vendors, trade groups and associations, peers inside and outside the industry, governmental entities, and the public. I have yet to encounter a CFO who admits to being a less than stellar communicator. Candidates either believe they truly possess exceptional people skills or are at least smart enough not to admit such a crucial shortcoming. Regardless, it falls on recruiters and HR professionals to correctly ascertain an individual’s communication and relationship building prowess.

How should one interpret it when a self-proclaimed “world class” communicator is unfamiliar with LinkedIn? The lack of a presence or participation on the most popular and widely used networking site for business professionals strikes me as a missed opportunity.

Last week, I discussed the perils of improperly eliminating candidates from consideration based on inflexible, preconceived screening criteria. I reiterate such caution here. While not automatically disqualifying a candidate from future consideration, an absence on LinkedIn is a warning indicator signifying a potential weakness which must be explored more deeply.  It is certainly possible the individual could possess outstanding communication and networking skills which could be affirmed by their participation in more traditional forums. Has the individual been active in industry and trade groups, professional associations, and community organizations?

More often than not, I find those with no or marginally developed profiles on LinkedIn have not proven themselves dynamic communicators in the course of recent assignments. This scenario is most common among CFOs who have worked at the same company for five or more years. Upon settling into a long term stable position, it is not surprising some executives become comfortable and minimize the value and effort placed on internal and external networking and relationship building.

Events ultimately transpire which spur the professional back into the job market. This is the point at which many CFOs and executive recruiters initially cross paths. Upon inquiring why they have no profile on LinkedIn (and I always check prior to a full interview!), the candidate usually continues to insist their communication skills are exceptional. This is frequently followed by an explanation that extensive communication and networking was not necessary in their previous position.  A large number profess an awareness of LinkedIn but admit they never bothered to sign up because they were “too busy working” or considered it as a “resume posting service”.

It is often a candidate’s own explanation of their absence on LinkedIn which serves to validate my initial concern.  Truly proficient leaders do not turn networking and relationship building “on” and “off” like a faucet. A proactive leader who values and excels at relationship building and interactions with others is never “too busy” to take advantage of new tools to expand their reach. Nor would they be likely to dismiss a site which brings together 30 million professionals as merely a “resume exchange” without evaluating its full potential.

With average CFO tenure now approaching three years, companies do not have time for their senior leaders to develop external relationships and networks with bankers, investors, acquisition targets, competitors, etc. Strong CFOs have developed ‘portable’ networks which can be brought with them from assignment to assignment. Leaders who have proven records of communicating successfully across organizations and diverse internal and external groups are highly valued. SMAs such as LinkedIn offer a useful tool for assessing the presence or absence of these skills when applied in conjunction with more traditional tools such as interviews, questionnaires, and references.


Chris Tiesman

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