Does LinkedIn Offer Recruiters Any Competitive Advantage?

When I spoke at the LinkedIn Talent Connect event last year, I dropped a big question on the 500+ audience:

“What’s your informational and competitive advantage when you all have access to the same people?”

Think about it.

If you have a LinkedIn Recruiter account (over 55% of the Fortune 100 do!), you have access to view any and all LinkedIn profiles.

So do your competitors that are hunting to identify and recruit the same talent.

Regardless of your LinkedIn account type (Free, Business, Business Plus, Executive, Pro, Talent Basic, Talent Finder, Talent Pro, or Recruiter), you still have access to viewing any and all public profiles, although you just might have to jump through some flaming hoops with a small network and a free account. :-)

So now I will ask you – if the majority of sourcers, recruiters and human resources professionals in the world use LinkedIn for sourcing and talent acquisition (there’s nearly a million!), what’s your competitive advantage over your rivals?

What is Competitive Advantage Anyway?

I use this term frequently because it’s a critical concept.

Competitive advantage is defined as the strategic advantage one business entity has over its rival entities within its competitive industry. It can also be described as simply as something you can do that your rivals cannot, or something you can do significantly better than your rivals.

Traditional explanations of competitive advantage often refer to access to resources (e.g., natural, human, or information). However, as I’ve already addressed, access isn’t the advantage in the case of LinkedIn (or the Internet, for that matter).

So what can you and your company do with LinkedIn that your competitors cannot? How can you leverage LinkedIn better than your rivals?

LinkedIn is Seriously Passionate about Data

We all know LinkedIn has a lot of data, with over 85 million profiles worldwide and information on millions of companies. Depending on your source of estimates, LinkedIn may have as many profiles of U.S.-based professionals as Monster has resumes.

However, LinkedIn doesn’t just hoard data – they are constantly looking for ways to extract value and insights from the information they have collected.

As a human capital data nut, I could not have been more thrilled to hear Reid Hoffman (Co-Founder and Chairman of LinkedIn, if you didn’t know) talk at Talent Connect 2010 about “data as a platform” and data as web 3.0 .

You may be interested to learn that Reid recently invested in Groupon, specifically because of “the power of data.”

Speaking of investments, LinkedIn also recently snagged a top scientist from Google whose specialty is data and information retrieval.

Coincidence? More like a calculated strategic move.

Daniel Tunkelang is now the Principal Data Scientist at LinkedIn, and he wrote on his blog that he will be working on “products and discover insights from a data collection,” tackling his favorite challenges in the areas of computer science, which happen to be “information extraction, matching, recommendation, social network analysis, and network visualization.” Sounds like my kind of guy!

Oh, and did I forget to mention Daniel was the Chief Scientist and Co-Founder of Endeca?

When I saw that Daniel’s Twitter bio mentioned “HCIR Guy” – I was especially excited because I thought I was no longer the only person passionate about Human Capital Information Retrieval. However, after a quick search, I found out that I’ll have to settle for human-computer information retrieval. :-)

If you need more proof that LinkedIn is passionate about data, specifically with regard to recruiting, watch this video of Jeff Weiner being interviewed at the Web 2.0 Summit 2010, read this post on how LinkedIn recently hired a neurosurgeon as a data scientist, and this article on the secrets of LinkedIn data scientists.

What is the Value of Data?

Having a ton of data is fantastic, especially human capital and company data if you’re in recruiting.

However, I argue that the value of data lies not in the data itself, nor access to it – but in the ability to retrieve the data and extract value from it.

Quite simply, data has no value if you don’t recognize it, don’t review it, or cannot retrieve it.

Of course, LinkedIn doesn’t prevent you from retrieving any data. It might be easier for some people to access certain profiles and certain information (out of network results and full names, depending on your network size and account), but the information is there to be retrieved if you know how and you’re particularly adept.

However, just because the information is there and you have access to it, it doesn’t mean you can retrieve or, or even recognize its worth if you do. Many people unknowingly only retrieve a fraction of the available results when searching LinkedIn – the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

To be sure, anyone who runs a search on LinkedIn will get results – but that most certainly does not mean anyone is actually finding all of the best candidates that LinkedIn has to offer.

If 20 recruiters from 20 different companies are looking for candidates with the same experience and hiring profile, they would likely get 20 different searches, with some recruiters finding some of the same candidates. However, some will find profiles that the others do not.

You may not believe it, but the reality is that some of the best candidates are never found by the people who are searching for them on LinkedIn. That’s not LinkedIn’s fault or problem – you just can’t be aware of something your searches do not, or cannot return.

The Competitive Advantage of LinkedIn

Having access to and using LinkedIn doesn’t afford you any competitive advantage over your rivals in the war for talent.

If you have a premium or ultra-premium account on LinkedIn, you do have access to use more Talent Filters, which certainly make it easy to slice and dice the data by years of experience, years in most recent position and current company, groups (any), company size, Fortune rank, etc. You also have more saved searches and InMails for contacting prospects. However, your competitors who also use LinkedIn Recruiter have access to exactly the same features.

If 5 companies that compete for the same kinds of talent are all using LinkedIn Recruiter, they all have access to view all profiles, and they all have access to the same premium filters and features – so where’s the competitive advantage?

If you don’t have access to some or any of LinkedIn’s Talent Filters, don’t fret too much. While the premium Talent Filters can make very short work of narrowing down results, they do have limitations that few understand and appreciate, and someone with strong information retrieval skills can find precisely what they want and need without the use of filters/facets.

I think LinkedIn has done a great job with their faceted search, and they continue to offer new ways of slicing and dicing the LinkedIn network. However, the only true and significant competitive advantage to be gained through the use of LinkedIn is how effectively you use (and search) LinkedIn.

Does LinkedIn Offer Recruiters any Competitive Advantage?

Yes, but your competitive advantage is dependent upon and directly proportional to your information retrieval skills.

The war for talent will be won and lost over human capital data and information, and more precisely over human capital information retrieval and analytics.

Simply having access to the information does not afford a sourcer, recruiter or organization any competitive advantage.

However, a human capital informational and competitive advantage can be achieved through more effective retrieval – in other words, more effective queries (i.e., Boolean search strings and facet utilization).

A query is simply a formal statement of an information need.

When it comes to sourcing and recruiting, your queries are formal statements of your talent/human capital needs. When searching to identify talent, the more effective you are at translating your talent needs (skills, experience, qualifications, etc.) into queries, the more likely you are to find all of the best candidates any particular source of talent has to offer.

While LinkedIn might be the Ferrari of social recruiting solutions, having a set of keys doesn’t mean you can drive it like a pro.