Monday, May 6, 2013

Cinco de LinkedIn

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the founding of LinkedIn. It’s a trending topic on Twitter, and LinkedIn founder, Reid Hoffman, about whom I’ve commented before, blogged about it as well. A while back, Luke Timmerman wrote about how the website has changed biotech and pharma, particularly through the eyes of Third Rock Partner, Mark Levin. It has been very interesting for me to watch the growth and development of the site, particularly after I started in the search biz. I was tempted to comment on Luke’s excellent piece, but now I’m glad I waited.

When noobs ask me about LinkedIn, I tell them it’s Facebook for professionals. They get that immediately, but it often still requires some explanation about why it’s a good idea to join. Many people comment on how great LinkedIn is, and how it has changed recruiting. Couldn’t agree more. It’s a fantastic site, and a great tool, which we fully embrace. However (did you think there wasn’t going to be a “but”?), I view it as just that – a tool. It’s not a replacement for executive search. I’ve been deferential about this point in the past, but I’m going to be very clear here. If you’re relying on LinkedIn to fill your senior executive roles, you’re making a big mistake. Even Mark Levin, who admits to being obsessive about LinkedIn, and about whom Luke wrote that “…LinkedIn temporarily shut down his account, until he called the company and assured them he’s a real person using the site for business.”, said “We don’t know everybody.”

I readily admit: neither do we. I personally know a lot of people in the industry, and there are thousands of others in our database, but come on – there are over a billion people on Facebook and let’s call it 200 million on LinkedIn. NOBODY can claim to even come close to having that kind of database. And that’s why it’s a great tool for us. It helps us identify potential candidates. But remember: 1) the only profiles on LinkedIn are those that are put on there by the member him/herself, 2) no networking site will have the kind of detailed knowledge that a recruiting firm will have on many individuals – full resumes, interview notes, references from prior searches, etc., and 3) The most senior executives don’t typically understand the value of maintaining (and it does require maintenance) a LinkedIn profile, or don’t have the time. These are the folks to whom I have to explain what “Facebook for professionals” means. They typically either don't have profiles, or if they do, they aren't up to date.

Mark admits to spending half an hour a day trolling for connections on LinkedIn because “Our biggest challenge is to find great people.” I would argue that it’s not a good use of his time. A random walk through 200 million people, even with LinkedIn’s suggested connections, is a bit less focused than our approach. Additionally, we utilize additional resources to identify “passive” candidates – folks who intentionally maintain a low profile, and don’t realize that the opportunity I want to present to them is their next great move. I guess if your outlook is “well, I’ll look in this one pool of active candidates and be happy with whatever I find,” then LinkedIn is your answer. And don’t bother calling me, because you won’t appreciate the value of our high touch, exhaustive approach. If, however, you want to scour the market and find the best fit for the position, retained executive search is your answer. We certainly won’t be the right solution for everyone, but I’ll be the first to tell you if we’re not.

One last point. I’m a founding board member of The Bioscience Network. A service provider myself, I championed the idea of limiting the number of service providers allowed to attend our events, and to charge them more than industry professionals. I get it. Nobody wants to go to an event and be overrun with service providers trying to shove business cards in your hand. Now look at the stats from the LinkedIn Q1 13 earnings report. More than half (57%) of the company’s revenue comes from people like me. That may not translate directly to membership, but the site’s membership clearly includes tons of executive recruiters, talent acquisition folks, HR staff, contingency recruiters, etc., so don’t get fooled by total membership numbers. I admit this may be a minor correction to the total. The real issue is network. And the network of a decent recruiting house delivers way more bang for the buck. We have access to LinkedIn, too, so you’re getting the value of that pool of candidates, plus ours, many of whom you simply won’t find on your own.

Sorry for this infomercial, but I’m kinda tired of hearing people say that they can do what we do using LinkedIn. It’s a great site and a great tool, but you just can’t use it as a substitute for a focused search. Would you use LegalZoom to incorporate your life sciences startup?