Book Review: The Start Up of You - Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

The Start Up of YouLike most established bloggers I receive a seemingly endless stream of untargeted press releases, requests to take guest posts and evermore surreal suggestions for affiliate deals. I was therefore delighted to finally get something targeted and appropriate when a preview copy of LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman's new book "The Start Up of You" metaphorically landed on the mat (I actually have a post box). So for once I thought I'd break my own rules about doing this kind of thing and attempt a book review! What is it about?

Written by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casonocha "The Start Up of You" attempts to show people how to "apply the strategies of successful entrepreneurship to your career" The blurb on the back also contains the bold claim, "Just as LinkedIn is the one online community that no professional can afford not to belong to, this book is the book that no professional can afford to be without"......quite some build up!

What I liked

The book covers quite a lot of ground but there are two stand out areas for me:

Firstly I'm very passionate in my belief that careers advice (via whatever channel it comes) needs to evolve significantly to match the present and future reality rather than preparing people for what work was like 15 years ago. I love the fact this book really challenges conventional wisdom on careers and specifically illustrates how some the entrenched thinking established by iconic books such as 'What Colour is Your Parachute" is way out of date. The world is crying out for books that address the new work realities and I think Hoffman and Casonocha do that very well here

Secondly it should be no surprise that I read this book because of my interest in LinkedIn and keenness to get some insight into the philosophy behind the site and here the book really delivers. There is some excellent content on network theory as well as some excellent insight into the power of engagement over unsolicited spamming (recruitment industry please take careful note!)

What I didn't like

As I said the book covers a lot of ground and this is actually one of its key failings. I was unsure whether it was trying to be an annotated history of Silicon Valley, Reid Hoffman's autobiography or a genuine self help book. Very often the practical tips it does include are there in a list format that feels like it was added as an editorial afterthought. This may not bother some readers but I suspect it might be slightly frustrating for those looking for a genuine career self help book

Overall

In summary the book is very readable with lots of interesting content. In my quest to make sense of the future world of work I must read 20-30 books like this a year so I'm very conscious that my criticisms could be the result of reading it through slightly jaded eyes! If you are coming at it with a somewhat fresher outlook you'll probably like it a lot. Perhaps most relevantly for this blog though, if you are a recruiter trying to get your head round what LinkedIn is really about and what works, there is some great content woven in throughout the book which will help you a lot

The Start Up of You is published on Thursday 16th February and you can order it here *

*Just to clarify I wasn't paid to write this review and that link isn't part of an affiliate deal!

Why Job Boards need to innovate or die

First of all this isn’t another generic all job boards are doomed blog post. I wanted to put some recent thoughts I’ve had in writing that I truly believe represent the issues job boards are facing or about to face. My credentials to do this are 12 years experience of working with job boards in the UK market as opposed to mere speculative opinion! This post starts about 10 years ago. Back then I was one of the few professional buyers of job board space in the UK and my day was always a whirlwind of presentations from new job board launches. Some of sites don’t exist anymore; many more of them are now mainstays of the UK market. The one thing they all had in common though was innovation. Everyone was going to change recruitment for good, everyone had a new and interesting model, everyone was a disruptive force in a recruitment space that was over priced, old fashioned and out of touch with jobseeker and client needs.

Business models and market share were established and the job boards did indeed change recruitment, not as quickly or by as much as the initial optimism suggested but they were a truly disruptive force. However the dot com bubble bursting, a relatively small UK internet audience (back then anyway) and limitations in technology did take the edge off a lot of the promised innovation

Fast forward ten years and Job Boards are indeed a dominant force. With this though have come severe product commoditisation and a rather alarming establishment mindset that is personified by the frequently heard mantra - “but there will always be job boards”.

There in lies my issue because it’s not true; job boards have no more right to exist than the traditional publishers they have slowly been displacing. Don’t believe me? Then ask anyone over about 35 and if they think about it they’ll remember a significant period of their career when job boards just didn’t exist. The industry is far too young to have such a “you’ll never cope without us” attitude

Ten years later I’ve moved on as well,  I don’t buy job board space anymore but nevertheless as a consultant to the industry I’m getting a strange sense of déjà vu.  Once more a series of wide eyed keen young start ups are seeking me out for advice and presenting business models designed to disrupt the recruitment status quo. This time the perceived status quo aren’t traditional publishers it’s the job boards themselves.  Then there is LinkedIn probably the biggest potential disruptive force in our space that I’ve ever seen. Any job board owner who says it isn’t a threat to their business is either lying or hasn’t thought about it deeply enough.

Add in the embryonic force of social recruiting that is seeing progressive clients proactively undertaking activity with the aim of reducing or even eliminating their job board spend and you’ve got a heady mix of forces that should give job boards all the motivation they need to innovate and take their offerings to the next level.

What absolutely amazes me though is that with a few very notable exceptions (keen market observers will spot them!) this innovation isn’t happening. It seems to me that most job boards are expending all their energy either denying that there any threats to their model or doing whatever they can to maintain the status quo and in so doing are potentially taking their business models into a commoditised death spiral

I’m not writing all of this because I want to see job boards disappear in fact quite the opposite. I truly believe that they have a small but significant window of opportunity to innovate and thrive. Once the window closes though I’m afraid there will be no way back. So this is my challenge to the job board industry, put more of your energy into planning for the future and make me eat my words by creating some innovative disruptive business models that will drive the industry forward. I know you can do it because I still remember the year 2000 and how we’ve all been in the same position before. This time though the audience, technology and timing are all perfect……

Social Recruiting around the world – Part 4: A "conversation" from the UK

When I started this blog series I really struggled to find any decent UK Social Recruiting case studies worthy of inclusion.  I was therefore delighted when yet another of my former colleagues, Mark Beavan, agreed to write a guest post about his recent campaign for The National Trust. I really liked working with Mark when he was doing his "apprenticeship' and I really like this case study for a number of reasons. First of all because it's public sector (take note commercial recruiters!), secondly because it was successful with a hard to fill vacancy being filled and finally because it is brilliantly simple. No complex platform integrations just transparency, conversation and above all proper active listening. Well done to Mark, ThirtyThree and The National Trust! About Mark

Mark Beavan has worked in digital recruitment for the past 11 years, having served his apprenticeship at TMP and then continuing his development in the digital team of ThirtyThree. Mark is currently the Head of Digital for the Bristol agency, a role that seen him design and implement large scale digital advertising campaigns for a wide range of clients, from SME clients, blue-chip companies and high volume recruiters, through to large public sector organisations. He has also managed the design, development and launch of some key, award-winning website development projects for LV=, Davis Langdon, Virgin Mobile, the Audit Commission, Claire’s and NFU Mutual.

"Is it sad that I should find the potential that social media offers recruiters quite so interesting? As a human being possibly. But as a digital recruitment adviser there is little doubt that social media offers the huge amount of attraction, engagement and branding opportunities. Opportunities that frankly weren’t available two years ago.

I too get frustrated that the practical applications of social media aren’t moving quite as fast as the theoretical applications - and I too am constantly searching for the case studies that we all feel reassured by. But they simply don’t seem to be there – be sure if they were the recruitment teams (and any associated agencies) would be shouting about them.

But examples of a strategic approach to social recruitment are increasing, with some excellent examples of content generation, platform building and online reputation management. But developing strategic recruitment plans is only part of the job of an advertising agency (or recruitment communications business) does and often clients are interested in how social media can help them on a tactical, job-by-job level.

It wasn’t until we entered the National Trust’s campaign to recruit their Head of Digital Media into this years RAD awards that we learned how few examples of tactical social recruiting there were out there. But fundamentally the strategy is the same:

•    Find your audience (identify the key influencers) •    Listen (and if no-one’s talking, drive the conversation) •    Take on board the comments (and use it to produce useful and interesting content) •    Go back and engage with audience

But enough with the theory, this is what the National Trust actually did …

The goal of the campaign was of course to attract and engage the best possible digital media talent for The National Trust. It wasn’t easy as their first approach had resulted in a high drop-off rate of candidates invited to interview. The challenge was to find out why this had happened and put in place a strategy that would be more suited (and appealing) to the target audience.

So they went to their target market to find out why the initial approach hadn’t been successful. They asked the applicants and short-listed candidates, as well as members of appropriate LinkedIn groups and digital forums, for answers. The ‘crowd’ highlighted that the initial campaign didn’t reassure them of the Trust’s commitment to digital and also that the location of the role wasn’t particularly attractive. And it was quickly realised that to engage their target audience of digital experts they needed to build a significant presence online – particularly within the social media space.

To address the concerns about the Trust’s digital investment the ‘Director of Marketing’ and outgoing ‘Head of Digital Media’ were interviewed highlighting how important this investment was to the future of the organisation. To provide an insight into the working environment we made a short film highlighting the uniqueness of the Trust’s state-of-the-art office. These were then streamed using the National Trust’s Vimeo channel - the video sharing site of choice amongst the creative community. Then to pull this content together and introduce a strong creative concept they launched a micro-site carrying a (popular) retro-digital design, www.hungryfordigitalchange.org.uk. The site was launched essentially only as a platform for delivering the video and written content that was produced. With the content in place we went back to the digital community and this time the Trust were able to address the major concerns by directing interested candidates to the micro-site and the videos.

The Trust also made a conscious decision not to advertise the vacancy heavily, but mainly to ‘push’ this opportunity out to the digital community using social media - LinkedIn groups, Facebook, digital forums and on Twitter via the Trust’s account, the outgoing Head of Digital Media’s own account and the ThirtyThree Digital team. The videos and the micro-site were shared using Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter … then we then sat back and watched it propagate across the different social media platforms.

How effective the campaign was can be seen in the results. The two week campaign generated over 120 conversations or references in discussion forums, blogs or Tweets. This activity combined with a small job board and search engine presence saw over 1,800 visitors arrive at the micro-site to find out more, of these 77% came from the seeded conversations originated by the Trust and ThirtyThree, 20% from job board and search engine activity and 3% from other (unspecified) conversations. All this activity resulted in over 120 applications, 3 high-calibre candidates interviewed and 1 hire. A hire who saw the opportunity discussed in a LinkedIn forum.

What I like about this example  - besides the fact that it filled the vacancy - was the way that the digital community reacted to this approach. The original Tweet from the Trust was re-Tweeted over and over again, the comments were incredibly complimentary and the feedback the Trust received was very positive. But that’s because the approach was right - the Trust listened to what the target audience had to say, they addressed their concerns by building content on platforms best suited to deliver their message and then communicated it out to the market using social media that we knew they would be using."

The Job Cloud - Why Twitter is the future of Job Boards

The debate on the future of Job Boards seems to become more polarized by the day. Depending on your viewpoint / agenda it seems you should either believe they are going to suffer a painful death and all shut down tomorrow or carry on regardless effortlessly circumventing the massive digital changes that are effecting every other industry so dramatically. History should teach us that changes in the recruitment industry are never so black and white but instead always come in a million shades of grey. With all of this in mind I've been pondering recently what the future might actually hold and some recent experiences are indicating the emergence of a massively disruptive trend.

As anyone who has properly experimented with social media will tell you, it's all about conversations. It's all about connecting, listening and engaging and the ability to do this on an enormous scale offers the glimpse of a brave new world for recruitment. Emerging "conventional" wisdom says that bulk feeding jobs into Twitter is at best missing the point and at worst cynical spam. While I strongly agree with the "conversations" viewpoint I would now argue that Twitter job feeds are not necessarily mutually exclusive. After all following someone's Twitter feed is an opt in choice and it is impossible to spam users on Twitter if they are not following you. The flip-side of this though is that not many people will want to follow an automated job feed, making its potential reach distinctly unimpressive

However a few weeks back I became aware of a fascinating paradox. While I was doing a project for a big corporate employer they started experimenting with an automated Twitter job feed. Expectations were low and the number of followers the Twitter stream attracted was even lower! It soon became clear though that something very unexpected was happening. Despite only having 50 followers the Twitter account started generating over 200 quality CVs / resumes a week. Since then I've found numerous other corporates and job boards who are experiencing the same thing and keeping it to themselves as a kind of "dirty secret". Before anyone starts thinking this has got anything to do with brand or employer brand it's also worth noting that a lot of these feeds are anonymous!

So what's happening? Well in addition to being an excellent tool for conversations, Twitter is also an open platform that it is very easy to get content into and out of. While people may not be following job feeds directly, they are obviously using Twitter to search for jobs somehow. This may be via general search engines like Twitter Search, via vertical ones such as Twitterjobsearch or by other means. While we may not be exactly sure how these quality candidates are accessing the jobs, the evidence that they are doing so and in numbers is pretty strong.

If this trend continues and more and more employers set up free job feeds, we'll start to see the creation of a what I'd call a "Job Cloud". Effectively a free Twitter powered open access database of jobs much bigger than the closed databases job boards currently hold and charge for. This is highly disruptive and would certainly dramatically alter the recruitment advertising landscape. Rather than the focus being on the publishing of jobs it would shift to be providing users with the tools to access, find and filter jobs within this "Job Cloud".

How will this pan out? Well I'm not exactly sure at this stage but I would suspect that as an industry we should start taking companies like Twitterjobsearch and the many other start ups offering Twitter job filtering very seriously indeed. Although they could be an even more radical viewpoint that this will be a concept that is impossible to monetize. If that's true it would be great news for employers but bad news for the job board industry.

Whatever people might say, two key revenue pillars of the recruitment industry have always been "owning" candidates and "owning" jobs. LinkedIn is already disrupting the candidate ownership space and it looks like Twitter might be about to do the same thing with job advertising

A great leap forward?

Apologies for the relative radio silence. It's budgeting and planning time of year at the moment so I've not had huge amounts of time to blog. I hoping to be back posting thoughts on here properly within a week or so. In the meantime I couldn't help but write a quick post about the launch of LinkedIn's Open Social applications platform. Some very interesting choices of intial partner:-  Huddle to power collaborative working, Wordpress and Blog Link to syndicate blog content, Tripit to see where your network are taking business trips to, Amazon Reading List to share recommended books, Company Buzz to see who is Twittering about your company and Box.net, Slideshare and Google Presentation to share content across your network.

So business networking, collaborative working, cloud computing and content sharing have finally collided. A very shrewed move by LinkedIn and a concept that is going to be huge in the future.

I'm off to set up a feed for this blog in my LinkedIn profile!

Matt