27 June 2017
Tony Restell of Social Hire
Leading social media expert Tony Restell of Social Hire

If you're looking for a new job, especially if you've just returned from a career break – you need to read this. It's our exclusive interview with Tony Restell of Social-Hire – the UK's leading expert in using social media for recruiting, who also happens to lecture job-seekers all over Europe. He shares tons of insider secrets from the recruitment industry and tells you how to avoid mistakes when you're looking for a new job.

Tell me a bit about Social Hire, what it does and who for

Social Hire is a social media agency focused on the hiring market. That means we help businesses use social media to attract and engage with candidates, as an alternative to job boards or other more traditional hiring routes.

Alongside that, I'm a guest lecturer at lots of the leading business schools across Europe where I help students understand how the job market has moved on and how their application strategy needs to evolve as part of that.

In short, the jobs market has changed tremendously, and my advice will be highly relevant to anyone who has taken a career break or just finds themselves back in the jobs market for the first time in a few years. How companies are hiring today bears no resemblance to 5 years ago – if you're still going about your career move the old way, you're really underselling yourself and massively reducing your chances of being successful.

Can you expand on the way things have changed and what job seekers should be doing now?

If we go back to before the Lehman crash, just to think back to how things used to be, almost all jobs were advertised. There were a few exceptions, but for the most part, if you did your research online you'd be able to find most of the options in your field and send in your CV and cover letter, giving yourself the best possible chance of getting yourself those roles.

If you fast-forward to today, things are totally different. In the old days, if a company got a new position the first thing they would do would be to advertise it on a jobs board because that was their lowest cost option. Whereas today, big corporates (and increasingly smaller businesses as well) have bought into things like the LinkedIn recruiter licence, and that means that when there is a new position to be filled, the first port of call is to find someone who is an exact match for what the company is looking for and to approach those candidates directly for an interview.

That new role will therefore often be filled without being advertised anywhere that you or I could go out and find. This is referred to as the “hidden jobs market”.

I saw a really interesting chart, probably 18 months ago, showing that the number of people securing new employment and the number of jobs advertised has moved pretty much in parallel over the last 30 years. But in the last few years, those two lines have moved in totally opposite directions. Advertised jobs have gone down and down, and the number of people securing new jobs has gone up and up. That sudden break in the pattern is essentially because this new way of finding and employing people has become mainstream.

Tell us more about this change from the employer's point of view

There are two things to really be aware of in terms of this change.

Let's say you've got a list of 10 things that you want your ideal candidate to possess in terms of experience or skills or character traits. If you were to advertise the vacancy, historically you would get hundreds of applications, and you’d whittle those down to a shortlist of the more promising candidates. But if your best candidate can only tick 7 of the 10 things you've asked for, you either don't make a hire and have to start afresh, or you accept a candidate who is not scoring fully on all the things you want.

Historically that problem (the difference between what a company wanted and what they could get) has always gotten worse during a boom, and being alleviated during a recession.

But now you can flip this problem on its head. Your starting point is that you're going to find (on LinkedIn or similar), all the candidates who score 10 out of 10, so now your shortlist process starts from exactly the types of candidates you want to bring into the business.

The difference is that a lot of those shortlist candidates are passive candidates. They're not active in the job market, they're not considering a career move; but if someone approaches them they might be happy to consider the opportunity. That is a really major reason why recruiters have moved so much from advertising jobs to finding and approaching their ideal candidates.

The second thing to be aware of from the employer's point of view is cost. You think of a jobs board: there's an immediate cost as soon as you have a new position you need to fill, and there's no guarantee of filling that position. If the company has paid for a team to have LinkedIn recruiter licences or similar, there's zero marginal cost in trying to fill each new job opening through the direct approach first.

So job boards have moved from being the default place where almost everything was posted, to being the option that companies increasingly only turn to if they're struggling with their direct-to-candidate route.

I'm talking very much here about skilled positions – obviously it's a very different situation if you're in the unskilled labour market where job advertising is still much more prevalent.

What tips have you got for someone looking for a new job after a career break?

If recruiters are now searching for their ideal hire, rather than advertising, then clearly you need to have written a LinkedIn profile that is going to start appearing in relevant search results. I am still amazed at how many people trawl through job boards yet don’t take the time to ensure recruiters can find them!

I recommend reverse-engineering what a recruiter is likely to be doing when trying to fill a position.

You start by looking at job boards or LinkedIn – anywhere you can find your ideal positions advertised – and find the part of the job ad that lists out the “must have” experience or skills. “We want our ideal candidate to have a, b, c, d, e” etc. The recruiter has put those things in the advert because companies have said they only want to interview people who tick these boxes. So when a recruiter is searching for candidates they would like to hire, they are going to search for those exact same things.

And so those are the things that need to be on your LinkedIn profile. If recruiters are searching for those things, and you have them but they're not on your profile, recruiters won't find you and are never going to contact you to invite you for an interview.

You've talked about LinkedIn a lot – are there any other networks job-seekers should be using?

LinkedIn is far and away the most important place to have a strong profile. It’s a different matter if you want to start conversations with recruiters – for example, through Facebook groups, on Twitter, etc – you might find it easier to strike up conversations there.

What do you mean about striking up conversations?

To a degree, whether you need to do this depends on how strong your candidacy is. If you are the ideal candidate that employers will be clamouring over, and you've always managed to get interviews previously, you probably don't need to be proactive, you probably just need to have a profile that’s been optimised to be found by the right people.

However if your skillset is not as strong or you're trying to change career, then you really need to try and have conversations with hiring decision-makers, recruiters, etc, and get to the point that someone likes you as a candidate and wants to give you a chance at interview. Maybe you've had a coffee meeting with them and only then are you passing on your CV; ideally you want to be getting in for interview on the strength that they know you and like you, rather than what your CV actually says - because your CV might fall short when compared to other candidates.

What do recruiters wish that job-seekers knew?

The most important thing I would say if you're being more proactive is to avoid appearing desperate.

You have to appreciate that the more desperate you appear, the less likely you are to get a job. Even if you are, the way to get out of that situation is not to look desperate. I equate this to the school discos of old, where the lad who's not getting any interest gets even less the more he tries!

You've got to appreciate that recruiters are all on LinkedIn. They are bombarded day in, day out with messages along the lines of “I've been made redundant, I really need a job, please look at my CV and forward it to everyone,” etc etc.

You’re unlikely to win them over or even have them pay any attention if you go in with that kind of approach.

How should you approach recruiters then?

I would be a lot less forward in asking them to help you. I might say something like “Hi Julie, hope you don't mind me suggesting we connect. I'm looking to pursue a career in xyz following a career break and given you recruit in the space I thought it’d be good to connect for the long term. If ever I can help by referring you to anyone in my network, please reach out.

Indirectly you're alerting the recruiter that you are interested in a career in their domain, but you aren't asking for help – and ideally you’re offering to help them. Send something like this to lots of recruiters and you'll get a lot of them accepting your connection request and then you've opened the door to building a relationship and future discussions about career opportunities.

A conversation starts because the candidate has been relaxed about how they open the door.

What should jobseekers be mindful of when it comes to social media?

Social media in general: you've got to assume that everything you put in the public domain could become part of the employer's assessment of you as a candidate, whether that's you commenting on something on LinkedIn or whether it's you liking things on Facebook or tweeting something after a football match.

If it's in the public domain it's increasingly likely a recruiter will see that.

Lots of the tools recruiters use now automate the process of finding candidates. You type in the must-have skills or experience, and the tool does it without the recruiter even looking at everyone’s profile. The tool might also give recruiters links to all the candidate's social media profiles, so when the recruiter is considering whether to invite you for an interview, they may have all your social profiles up in front of them.

Some advice for your LinkedIn profile. Firstly, talk about it in terms of how you can help the company that's going to employ you, not what you want.

Secondly, try and make your profile a bit more personable so people warm to you as they read it. That'll help you both when you're searching for a job and further down the road when you're using LinkedIn for business purposes.

What's your number one tip for writing a CV?

Make sure it completely dovetails with your LinkedIn profile.

You have to assume that a recruiter who's looking at your CV is looking at your LinkedIn profile too and any discrepancies will set off alarm bells. You don't have to lie to get it wrong - you might have written your LinkedIn profile several years ago and now you're writing your CV from scratch after your career break, and you might end up saying things that you think are the truth but diverge from what you've publicly said somewhere else. Discrepancies like that can make recruiters uneasy.

And what's your number one tip for job interviews?

Try to have done a search on social media to see what kinds of things are being talked about, maybe spark up conversations with a few staff from that business. There's a lot that goes on in companies that's not necessarily in the news, so if you look at what 20 employees are saying on Twitter, you might pick up something about what's going on in the company and that will reflect well on you when you go for an interview and can speak in a more informed way about the business.


We really appreciate Tony taking the time out of his busy schedule to be interviewed, and for sharing such useful information. If you want to hear more from Tony, visit www.social-hire.com, or follow him on Twitter.