How to Search For Candidates on Facebook

Posted by | March 09, 2009 | Facebook | 16 Comments

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you already know I am a fan of highly searchable, “deep” sources of human capital data. Unfortunately,  Facebook isn’t deep on professional data nor is it very searchable. When it comes to social media/networking sites, nothing comes close to LinkedIn when it comes to the “searchability” and depth of professional information that can be retrieved and analyzed. However, sourcers and recruiters can not and should not ignore the 130M+/monthly unique U.S. visitors to Facebook, so I am dedicating this post on how to search for them.

While there are actually many different angles you can take when attempting to search for talent on Facebook, I am going to focus on what I think are the 3 highest ROI methods: Coworker search, Profile search, and Yahoo’s linkdomain search.

Coworker Search

Using Facebook’s “basic” search interface, you can specify a company and search for “coworkers,” even if you’re not employed at the company you are searching for. Simply enter a company that you suspect might employ people that you would like to target. In this example, I’ll use Verizon.

Click “Search for Coworkers” and you’ll get over 500 results:

While it’s great that we can find “coworkers” at Verizon, through this kind of search we cannot control what these “coworkers” actually do for a living at Verizon, or where they live (how’s THAT for shallow and searchable?).

Leveraging Facebook’s coworker search is perhaps most effective with smaller to mid-sized companies that have fewer locations, as that would assist in narrowing down the location of the people and perhaps even roles to a limited extent. However, the intrinsic limitations of Facebook’s coworker leaves it to be largely a name-generation tool as opposed to a precision talent identification tool in my opinion.

Profile Search

UPDATE (1/15/2010) – Facebook has dropped their “advanced search interface” – making Facebook even more unsearchable than before, much to the chagrin of sourcers and recruiters. I’m only keeping the following paragraph and explanation for posterity, and a nod to what you could do with Facebook in the past. :-(

Moving on to Facebook’s “advanced” search interface, you get more fields to search, but you are limited to searching only your “networks and friends,” OR people you can “see” that live in the same area that you specified on your Facebook profile – even if it’s only in the “Education and Work” section of the “Info” tab of your profile. In my case, it’s Tampa, FL, because that’s the HQ location of the company I work for and I did fill this field out on my Facebook profile.

I personally think it’s odd that “Tampa Bay, FL” shows up under “Network” when someone views me in a search result. Rationale?

So beyond my network and “friends” on Facebook, I am limited to searching for people who specified the Tampa, FL area on their Facebook profile as where they work.

Notice I said “where they work” – it is very important to realize that many people do not fill in their address on the “Contact Information” section of their profile on Facebook (I didn’t), and if they do, they can choose to make it so that only the people they specifiy can see it (which probably won’t be you if they don’t know you and you’re not already “friends”).

Let’s leverage Facebook’s Profile Search to look for people who work at Verizon and have the title “Software Engineer” (limited to Tampa Bay, FL in my case):

Here are some of the results of the search:

As you can see – because they are not my “friends,” I cannot see any details about them, yet I do know that they all list Verizon as their current employer, they all mention the title “software engineer” as a job title on their Facebook profile (the yellow highlighting gives it away, although we can’t view the profiles to see the actual “hits”), and they all list Tampa, FL as their location somewhere on their Facebook profile as well.

I can send them a message or try to add them as a friend – and I’ve heard that some people get as high as a 60-70% positive response from well-crafted messages/requests.

Of course, when it comes to the results of my Verizon/software engineer search – I certainly don’t know what KIND of software engineers they are (Cobol, Java, C#, etc.) – which goes back to how shallow a source of human capital data Facebook is, and how difficult it is to try and search Facebook with any precision.

As always, searching for a single title such as “software engineer” is horribly limiting, so I highly recommend going back and changing the target title as many times as possible to flesh out a quasi-org chart of sorts to get more and different results.

Now, if you were to change the location specified on your Facebook profile to another metro area – you would then be able to search for and see people in the new metro area as well….

Yahoo’s Linkdomain Search

While it’s cool that Yahoo now inserts Facebook profiles into search results, I personally haven’t seen this as anything of significant value to sourcers and recruiters. It’s certainly a nice feature, but if you want to specifically search for and target people on Facebook, Yahoo has a much more effective search capability – linkdomain.

Yahoo’s linkdomain command allows you to search for and find websites/pages that link back to a specified site. For example, we can leverage Yahoo’s linkdomain functionality to search for websites/pages that link back to Facebook groups and pages.

Let’s look for websites/pages that mention groups, organizations, or associations, “accounting,” CPA, and “New York” as well as link back to Facebook:

linkdomain:facebook.com (group OR association OR organization) CPA accounting “New York”

This search returns nearly 12,000 results of pages that mention our keywords and link back to Facebook.

Clicking on the first result (crainsnewyork.com), we can use CTRL F to search for and find the reference to Facebook:

Clicking on the link, it takes us here:

Leveraging Yahoo’s linkdomain functionality, we’ve found the Facebook page for the American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants in NY, and its 49 members who have a Facebook profile. And that’s just the first of 11,600 results that yahoo returned!

Let your imagination and creativity run wild – using Yahoo’s linkdomain search functionality you can target Facebook groups of minority groups, industry groups, skill groups, etc.

For example:

linkdomain:facebook.com (group OR association OR organization) women engineers

Linkdomain Limitations

All is not perfect in linkdomain-land. Yes, 11,600 results from my CPA/Accounting search above is impressive – but when you click through many of the results you can see that there are more false positives than relevant results.

As you could see from the screen shot – some of the hits are job postings that happen to have a link to Facebook somewhere on the web page.  You could attempt to clean these up by adding -job -jobs to your Boolean search string on Yahoo.

Other false positives come in the form of any page that uses a “share this on facebook” type of feature.

In other words, some of the search results may not actually be relevant web pages pointing back to a specific group on Facebook as we found with the NYC AWSCPA we explored above – they may just be web pages that mention your keywords and happen to have a link to Facebook.

Targeting Groups and Pages

Of course, you don’t have to use Yahoo’s linkdomain functionality to “fish” for Facebook groups and pages – you can shoot straight for them if you like, experimenting with search terms:

Conclusion

Is it just me or does Facebook seem to delight in severely limiting your ability to leverage the 175M+ people who have a Facebook profile?

For all of it’s search fields, options, and parameters – Facebook remains one of the least “searchable” social networking sites out there for sourcers and recruiters.  Additionally, and most people on Facebook use it for personal rather than professional use – so it can be quite light in sourcing/recruiting-relevant human capital data.

However, Facebook’s “coworker search” can be useful for name generation, the “profile search” feature can yield results of local people who work at specific companies and/or who specific titles, and you can hit the proverbial “jackpot” by searching for Facebook groups and fan pages that have large quantities of target professionals by leveraging Yahoo’s linkdomain functionality.

As frustrating as it can be to search Facebook for candidates with specific qualifications and experience, and who live in a specific area – sourcers and recruiters simply cannot ignore the HUGE number of Facebook users.

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About Glen Cathey

Glen Cathey is a sourcing and recruiting thought leader with over 16 years of experience working in large staffing agency and global RPO environments (>1,000 recruiters and nearly 100,000 hires annually). Starting out his career as a top producing recruiter, he quickly advanced into senior management roles and now currently serves as the SVP of Strategic Talent Acquisition and Innovation for Kforce, working out of their renowned National Recruiting Center with over 300 recruiters. Often requested to speak on sourcing and recruiting best practices, trends and strategies, Glen has traveled internationally to present at many talent acquisition conferences (5X LinkedIn Talent Connect - U.S. '10, '11, '12, Toronto '12, London '12, 2X Australasian Talent Conference - Sydney & Melbourne '11, '12, 6X SourceCon, 2X TruLondon, 2X HCI) and is regularly requested to present to companies (e.g., PwC, Deloitte, Intel, Booz Allen Hamilton, Citigroup, etc.). This blog is his personal passion and does not represent the views or opinions of anyone other than himself.

  • http://trypu.com trypu

    all in one search engine

  • Pat Shenandoah

    Facebook’s MO still assumes that the default choice of most Americans is to be paranoid. This stems from the fact that half the original Facebook members were Ivy League college coeds in crime-ridden eastern US cities. Also, way back in the mid-1990s when men on the Internet outnumbered women 200 to 1 and programmers figured out a way to allow the few online women to remain anonymous and only read messages from behind a webmail curtain rather than have their inboxes filled with messages from possible unwanted admirers. For those of us who remember the days when people met each other in real life and weren’t afraid to let strangers look at us and talk to us, this was a very sad development.

    Even after the online male-female ratio swung back close to 1:1, and most women like most men will sooner be struck by lightning than become the target of a sudden online admirer, this default assumption still dominates in the minds of a lot of programmer types (and, sadly, politicians). And again, despite the 1:1 ratio, Facebook started as late as 2004 with precisely the type of college coed who was being told by society that she likely would become the target of an unwanted admirer if her profile were public.

    Note that LinkedIn has shown that American women over 25 (and young and old women all over the world) are perfectly willing to show their photos and the place where they work. Only a minority of people in this world consider themselves hunted or in danger of being hunted.

    You may still see very few coeds on LinkedIn…but this time their paranoia is going to cripple their careers while male college students will jump on LinkedIn and get a jump start.

    Another fact: LinkedIn has reminded Americans that employers want to see photos on resumes. There still are laws against that (again meant to “protect” people), but LinkedIn has shown that human beings were not meant to (nor mostly want to) hide themselves.

    This isn’t to say that we should not have the right to OWN our data and have the choice of whom it is shown to. Our politicians and judges are failing us in this regard as well. But no free site should irrationally take away our right to say “let my profile be viewed by everyone”.

    Because the act of having to approve of contact slows down the contact process considerably. Imagine people asking permission to write to you before they write to you.

    Don’t laugh…Congress and the courts have already said that the government can force adults to approve of all contact before getting it.

    It should be all about user choice.

  • Joan

    Facebook was meant to be a social networking site. It’s supposed to be for fun and reconnecting with old friends. It was never intended to be a tool for recruiters. So you can’t really complain about the difficulty of “leveraging” Facebookers. That’s like being angry about your chair tipping backwards when you use it as a step stool. Sure, it works as a step stool, but that’s not what it’s intended for, so don’t get upset when it’s not everything you want it to be.

  • Boolean Black Belt

    Joan,
    Thank you for reading my post and thank you for leaving your comment. I’m not really upset at Facebook – I totally understand Facebook wasn’t designed for mining human capital. But, old habits die hard – and I do look to any resource possible for talent identification, including Facebook. For a sourcer/recruiter, it is a little frustrating to know there are so many people on Facebook but we just can’t get to the right ones – like having a phonebook that’s not in alphabetical order. I reserve the right to complain, although I fully realize Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t care and won’t do anything about it.

    Interestingly, there are many applications for and methods within Facebook that enable people to find other people they don’t know and try to connect with them, so it’s not really as if Facebook is going out of it’s way to make sure that ONLY old friends can find each other and connect. The story of how Facebook was created is actually quite interesting – it wasn’t designed for friends to find each other at all (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook), although it has morphed into that to some extent, except now anyone can find people and attempt to connect with them – just not easily. Because everyone on Facebook can accept or decline anyone else’s request to become “friends,” I personally don’t think it would be a big deal if Facebook implemented a robust search interface that enabled more effective and precise searching.

    Twitter wasn’t designed for sourcers and recruiters – but it has a very strong and highly configurable search interface…

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  • http://letznetwork.blogspot.com Joe Neitham

    Hi Glen,
    I am on of your many fans. The past weeks I’ve been doing some digging on Facebook and I totally agree with you on all your observation. It does gets so frustrating to the point that I might just stop using Facebook to source for candidates. I tried searching using the ‘Search box’ and I also tried using the Advanced search and I just dont understand the search rationale behind. I then tried Site: command and found that when I put the two words together – recruitment consultant or “recruitment consultant” or ~recruit consultant, it just won’t give me any result. So when I input just ~recruitment or ~recruit it gives me results but I realize that most of them are false positives.
    I agree with you that FB is not the best tool for recruiters.

    Rgds,
    Joe, Singapore

  • http://www.selectpeople.ie Jonathan Campbell

    Hi Glen
    I am sure that you already do this yourself, but for those who don’t, Facebook’s search tool CAN be used to effectively find certain candidates. For example, if you type “Lawyer” into the search box and then narrow down the results by location (limited to your own network or location), you can find great people. By googling their names, you will find their full details in more than 50% of results. Many people still leave their employer info as public (or at least shared with people within their network), occasionally you get to see their employment details directly in your FB results.
    If you have employees who are set up on Facebook with different network locations, you can expand your search to include more networks, assuming these employees dont mind you searching through their Facebook accounts.
    As Joe correctly points out, FB search does not accept multiple terms, which is a bit crazy but that’s their right I guess!

    Johnny

  • Stephen

    Hi Glen,

    Do you know of another way to get to Facebook’s advanced search? The link above states that “page requested was not found.”

  • http://www.booleanblackbelt.com Boolean Black Belt

    Stephen – nice find! I’ve been meaning to update that post for a while now. Some time in late 2009, Facebook simply eliminated their “advanced search interface” (which wasn’t very advanced anyway), removing one of the more effective ways of digging into Facebook. It appears Facebook likes to be searchable at the first grade level (sorry – I call them as I see them Mr. Zuckerberg).

    I’ve just updated the post to refelct the fact that the link no longer works, but I left the screenshots in for historical purposes.

  • http://www.booleanblackbelt.com Boolean Black Belt

    Jonathan,
    Thanks for reading and sharing some excellent points/insight. You can most certainly make the best of Facebook’s seriously limited search interface and functionality, but what a painful process it is. And frustrating because of the knowledge that Facebook contains over 350M people in it – such a treasure trove of human capital, but ridiculously hard to tap effectively!

  • http://www.gambling-stars.net Novoline

    The post was informative and provided me the knowledge I needed.Thank you for post.

  • Priscilc

    Hi,

    I just tried using Yahoo’s Linkdomain search for Facebook and it didn’t seem to work. Has Facebook’s structure changed once again so now even you can’t use Yahoo to search on it? If you could look into this issue, please do.

    I also wanted to say, great job on the entry about searching on Twitter, it’s a fantastic article!

  • http://www.booleanblackbelt.com Boolean Black Belt

    @Priscilc Thanks for reading, and thank you for your compliment on my Twitter post – I’m glad you found it helpful!

    I just tried one of my linkdomain searches from the post again, and it seems to work fine.

    See: http://bit.ly/du38LE

    Can you give me an example of a linkdomain search not working so I can investigate? Thanks!

  • Salesleo

    search engine is good social communication tool.

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