eBay Bids on Social Recruiting

By the Numbers
• With 10,000 employees at eBay participating in the referral program with an average of 634 social media connections per person, there are 6,340,000 potential prospects for the company.
• 349,065 job openings were viewed through the referral program during the first six months, which would have cost $349,065 on
a traditional job site.
• It would take four full-time recruiters to hire as many employees as eBay did through its referral program.
• There were 13 job views per employee during the first nine months of the program.
• Sixty percent of hires made through referrals were of mid- to senior-level employees.
• The new referral program increased hires based on referrals from 20 percent to 32 percent of all hires.

Referrals work. The logic is simple: candidates who come through referrals already have been vetted by an employee and are typically a much better fit with the company and job. What’s not so simple for large employers is systematizing the referral process to generate referrals in a predictable, organized fashion, ultimately being able to tap into the employee population as a first-round recruiting force.

Thanks to social networks, this is changing. With everyone in the world now linked digitally, the infrastructure is in place to allow recruiters to tap into their employee networks to find referral candidates. The key is doing that in a manner that is manageable and consistent with company policies.

That’s the code eBay unlocked with its social employee referral program in 2011. By leveraging its employees’ social networks, eBay was able to generate 13,000 referrals, 4,000 job applications and 158 hires in nine months. As a result, the company is now getting 32 percent of all new hires from in-house referrals.

Prior to launching its social referral program, eBay had a manual employee referral process in place that was unwieldy and lacked tracking capabilities. Referral rates hovered in the 20 percent range, which was lower than desired.

EBay’s HR team had to manually reach out to individual employees or deliver blanket messages, encouraging them to recommend candidates. If employees did make referrals, they needed to go about the process on their own, reaching out to individual contacts, describing the open position and then filtering responses back to the appropriate HR point person.

At best, when results did come in, they were delivered in an inconsistent format and often required as much manual sorting as a job application from an unknown. At worst, employees were not doing justice to eBay’s employment brand by sending out inconsistent information to prospects, and good referral candidates were getting lost in the shuffle. The system was in need of an upgrade that would unify, automate and modernize.

The company’s problem was not uncommon. For as long as employers have been incentivizing employee referrals with cash bonuses for successful hires, talent managers have been dealing with erratic response rates, clumsy tracking systems and labor-intensive alert mechanisms.

To remedy that, the eBay recruiting team decided to find and deploy an automated system to improve the employee referral process and boost the hiring numbers through that channel. It chose SelectMinds’ TalentVine social recruiting program to help with the task (Editor’s note: The author is an employee of SelectMinds). The software as a service program gives eBay employees a custom-branded interface to receive alerts on open jobs in the organization and automatically matches these opportunities to each participant’s social connections and then offers referral suggestions.

By implementing this, eBay was able to convert the fragmented process of posting jobs on Facebook and Twitter, communicating with current employees and updating career sites into a single process managed from a central hub.

Because the process is managed centrally by the HR team, all recruitment branding and vital position information can be delivered consistently to all participants. This ensures every prospect’s interaction with eBay is consistent from a brand and user-experience perspective, and it allows the HR team to dive deeply into its employees’ social networks without losing control of the message.

With eBay’s new system, once a job opening becomes available, an alert is automatically sent to employees asking them to recommend the job to relevant people in their social networks. This process can be sorted by job type so, for example, the sales team is sent sales openings and the marketing team is sent marketing openings. Employees can then choose to recommend the job to a contact by clicking an icon, or instantly click to share the post with their social networks via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Once the eBay employees’ contacts receive the notification, they can choose to apply to the job immediately or sign up for alerts and consider applying later. This creates a referral community of qualified talent the eBay HR team can communicate with regularly for future hiring needs. All activity on the system is tracked electronically, so referral bonuses and referral performance can be tracked over time.

A formal program to acclimate employees to the system was developed prior to rollout. This included demonstrations and related internal communications efforts to ensure employees were comfortable with the system before the program was officially launched.

The improvements to eBay’s referral program were welcome. Recruiters made 158 hires within the first nine months of deployment, which represented an increase of more than 10 percent. Initially targeting a 30 percent new hire through referral rate, eBay reached the 32 percent mark in nine months.

During the nine-month period, job openings were viewed 349,065 times by referral candidates who came through the social recruiting system. Companies recruiting electronically with pay-per-click models pay an average of $1 per click, meaning this level of exposure would have cost $349,065 had the company not first looked to employees for quality leads. Further, companies using traditional recruiters are typically able to hire 40 employees per year per recruiter. At eBay’s rate, it would take four full-time recruiters to mirror these results.

In contrast with more traditional recruiting, the eBay results speak to the efficiency of using employees as the first-round filter. The company’s current employee population of 26,589 generated 349,065 views of open jobs, meaning that for every one employee, 13 candidates saw the job post. And, for every 59 applications the program generated, one person was hired.

The results also speak to social recruiting’s ability to transcend traditional hiring notions at different employment levels and in different regions. A common knock on social recruiting is that it’s great for Gen Y, but more seasoned talent isn’t participating as seriously in social networks. However, 60 percent of all applicants hired through eBay’s referral program in its first nine months were mid- to senior-level positions. The remaining 40 percent were at the intern/associate level. And, while the bulk of the program was focused in the U.S., with 78 percent of hires occurring domestically, 22 percent were international positions.

Further, the system’s referral tagging capability has improved the tracking process. This technology allows eBay to know where the lead came from — either the platform or another employee referral source.

This ability to market particular jobs to particular people and departments through employee emails has proven especially effective. The results are increasingly felt in eBay’s international operations. Its Irish market and Indian development center have experienced successes with the program, and China just rolled it out.

Going forward, eBay will track how referrals rank in terms of the quality of hire to see how original hiring assumptions pan out over time. One criterion the company plans to evaluate is performance of hires against employee referral source, effectively creating a feedback rating system for top referral sources.

This level of referral-to-retirement career span tracking represents a new frontier in talent management. Particularly for firms with large, geographically dispersed employee populations like eBay’s, the ability to know exactly how much employees referred by a particular source outperform other hires over time could alter the future of recruiting and even employee compensation.

On its own, social recruiting has come to be a catch-all phrase that can mean everything from trolling LinkedIn for candidates to tweeting job openings. But social recruiting as a discipline is bigger than that. It is a new communications channel that unlocks talent management capabilities that were once thought impossible. Now, with a few clicks, pre-screened talent can be delivered to a talent manager’s inbox, all powered by the existing employee population.

Jim Milton is senior director of product strategy and marketing at SelectMinds, a social recruiting program developer. He can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.