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Illuminating the Darkness on LinkedIn

Tools and techniques for unearthing hard-to-find talent on LinkedIn

This blog article originally appeared on SourceCon on November 25, 2014.

A few years ago I read Glen Cathey’s article called “LinkedIn’s Dark Matter- Undiscovered Profiles.” Reading the article set my mind in motion. In the article Glen calls “dark matter profiles” the profiles that exist on LinkedIn that do not contain enough key words to be returned in most searches. So while these profiles do in reality exist, they rarely, if ever, are discovered.

To illustrate his point he suggests running a search for people in the US with the current title of “Software Engineer” or “Software Developer.” A Boolean search string is added that removes the mention of any technology. The search string would look something like NOT java, NOT C#, NOT Ruby NOT PHP and so on. When you run this search from a LinkedIn Recruiter seat you will get nearly a million results. His article used the example of Software Engineers I will do the same for the sake of continuity.

The problem is there is often no simple way to know if you should approach a person about a job based on title alone. Let’s use a search for Java developers as an example. Using the word Java in your search string will exclude all of nearly one million profiles with the title of “Software Engineer or “Software Developer” that do not include the word Java. A significant portion of those Engineers or Developers are Java developers but you will never see their profiles returned in a search that contains the word Java. These dark matter profiles exist in every profession.

So is there a way to systematically shed some light into this darkness? I answer, yes! One solution provided in the article was to search by group affiliation. For the sake of simplicity let’s continue using the example of Java developers. If you run the same search as before and add a filter that included results for java developer groups then there is a high probability that they are in fact a Java developer. This is a solid way to illuminate some of the darkness in a systematic way. That raises a second question. Are there other methods that can be as, if not more, effective? I answer yes!
While thinking about this problem I reflected back to my school lessons in Geometry. In Geometry we learn that to draw a straight line we require at least two points.

So, if we now think of the profile itself as a single point of information we can think of the missing information as an unknown second point. What can we use to add that second point? The great news is that are multiple tools available to us to create that second point of data and one of them is a tool you have access to and use every single day. We have massive amounts of data in our Applicant Tracking System or ATS.
LinkedIn now offers us a feature that allows us to merge information to LinkedIn profiles. This feature is called Talent Pipeline and it is included in the price of a LinkedIn Recruiter seat. It simply needs to be turned on by your administrator. This feature allows you to upload lists or resumes into your LinkedIn account and will automatically match them to existing profiles. If it is unable to confirm a match it will provide you with the opportunity to match them manually to the closest profiles that it can identify. If it is still unable to find a match it will simply create a shell profile that is only accessible from your LinkedIn account.

The good news is that most ATS systems have a reporting tool. What I like to do is run a report that gives me the first name, last name, email address, phone number and the name of job that every candidate in our ATS has applied to. I then filter my list to remove the duplicates. From there I break up my list into groups of 5,000. 5,000 is limit that LinkedIn has set for uploading lists into its system. I upload those lists using Talent Pipeline. I match first name, last name, email address and phone numbers. I then put the title of the job the candidate applied for in the notes field. I then identify the source as my ATS.
There are several advantages to this approach. It allows me to get a large amount of data into my system in a short period of time. There are now several good things that happen. The first is that I have good contact information for a large pool of potential candidates. When people apply for a job they use a number they answer and an email address they check. This helps improves my response rate and reduces my dependency on inmails. I can now also follow up my email with a call. In addition, it helps improve candidate experience. If I find a candidate in my LinkedIn search that has been identified as having come from my ATS I’m able to reach out to the candidate in a more personal way.

I can send an email that acknowledges their past application, indicate that I kept their information and I believe that I now have an opportunity that maybe of interest for them and the new skills they have acquired. Imagine how much higher your response rates will be! Everyone says, we will keep your information on file and get back to you if we have something else, but almost no one actually does it!

Finally, I know what type of job the applied to in the past. The notes field is searchable! Because I now know 2 years ago, they applied for a Java development job with my company I have enough information to engage. While this person that identified themselves only as a Software Engineer on their profile I know they are in fact a Java developer. This second point of information has allowed me to connect the dots and illuminate some of the dark matter!
This is an efficient and effective way to leverage the information in my ATS. What is even better is that it gives me a competitive advantage while preserving my limited recruiting dollars. Finally, once I have done this work once it is in the system forever. It is automatically included in all my future searches. Business will love this feature as well because it becomes institutional knowledge that will stay with their account even after the recruiter that has that seat has moved on.
There is another method available to illuminate some of this darkness. There are many an adds on offered by the many social aggregators that are commercially available. Tools like Entelo, Guild and others that allow you to pull information from other social media platforms and match the information to LinkedIn profiles. There are two drawbacks to these tools vs using the Talent Pipeline feature.
The first is that you cannot search this information from LinkedIn and the second is that it will cost you almost as much as a LinkedIn seat. However, if you have the budget for them they can provide additional information and illumination to possible candidates that have not applied for a job at your company in the past.
Geometry still has more that it can teach us. Geometry tells us that in order to create a shape we need at least 3 points.

​Is there another way we can use the information from our ATS to create a third data point and increase our competitive advantage? I answer yes! Your ATS is full of key word rich resumes. LinkedIn Talent Pipeline allows for the uploading of up to 500 resumes at a time. My experience has been that it is best to upload no more than 150 at a time locks up the system. It is my understanding that LinkedIn is working to resolve this issue.
My next step is to extract resumes from my ATS and then match them to my LinkedIn Recruiter account. While working as a sourcer at one company I invested the time to upload over 20,000 resumes to my LinkedIn account.

By now you are probably thinking wait a minute, can’t I just search my ATS and save myself the time and effort? I answer yes and no. Yes all this information is already tucked away in your ATS. However there are a few significant drawback.

The first is that the search engine is not going to be as developed as the one that LinkedIn now offers. Another drawback to most ATS search engines is that it limits the number of results. This means that even if you have several thousand resumes in your search engine you will only ever be able to access a few hundred. This is why, I believe, that over time recruiters stop searching their ATS. They believe that they have mined the database when in reality the nature of the search engine and their search string sets an upper limit on the number of resumes they will ever be able to find.

There is another major drawback of resumes in the ATS. The resume itself is another point of data but in the ATS it remains alone point of data. Resumes start to go out of date as soon as they are written. If you source a two year old resume from your database for a job you have today, that person may or may not be a viable candidate for your current search.
So what is the benefit of doing all this extra work? I believe there are a few benefits that justify the time investment. The first major advantage is that it saves you time, in the long run. All your information is in one, searchable location. It is now possible to effectively search your ATS using LinkedIn. The search results can be filtered to return results that are tagged as coming from your ATS. It is then possible to contact the possible candidates in a manner that improves the candidate experience, increases the probability of a response and gives you more timely information about that possible candidate’s relevancy to your current needs.

Additionally, it allows you to customize your message and send that message to an email address that has a higher likelihood of being read. It is also easy to follow up that email with a phone call as all the contact information will be matched automatically to the profile and will show up on the profile page.
While I have been working as a Sourcer using this technique had paid dividends multiple times. For example I was required to identify 30 java developers in a specific market. Because I had already done the leg work I was able to quickly search my market and get good information that allowed me to deliver 47 resumes to my hiring manager within 48 hours. The manager and the recruiter I was supporting were blown away. This was a market they expected to have difficulty identifying even a few candidates in. Sending 47 on point resumes in a short time was enough to earn a nice thank you note to my boss from my hiring manager.
This approach takes two different systems and merges them in such a way that reinforces the strengths of each while mitigating their individual weaknesses. By matching the information from your ATS with the information available in LinkedIn profiles you are able to illuminate at least part of the “dark matter” of LinkedIn. At present there is no way to illuminate all the dark matter profiles but this technique is the most effective way to shed light on the profiles that are most likely to be relevant.

Mike Wolford is the Recruiting Manager at PCAOB via Hudson RPO. You can connect with Mike on LinkedIn or Twitter 





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