LinkedIn’s Limitations, It Can Help, But Also Hurt Recruitment

By J. James O’Malley, Former Andersen National Director of Experience Recruiting,

Jim joined TalentRISE as a partner in 2012 to focus on clients’ executive leadership challenges by leveraging his passions for executive search, on-demand recruiting, workforce planning and analytics and executive coaching.

The use of online technologies in our daily, personal lives has grown by leaps and bounds in the last dozen years. Some have come and gone - anyone still remember Napster? Others have evolved over the years to become even more useful than perhaps originally intended. LinkedIn, for example, founded in 2003 primarily as a networking tool, has become far more sophisticated since 2005, when it introduced features squarely aimed at recruiters.

No doubt about it: LinkedIn has been useful to many of us personally and professionally as a way of staying connected with current and former colleagues and clients and building our networks. But, like any tool, LinkedIn has drawbacks that need to be recognized. In my view, even when well-intentioned, an overreliance on LinkedIn can hurt your ability to recruit the best talent possible. More specifically, many of my concerns about LinkedIn are based on the self-reported demographics of the site:

70% of LinkedIn users are from outside of the U.S.

133 million users are from the U.S.

3 million active job listings are on LinkedIn

40 million students and recent college graduates are on LinkedIn

Users are 57% male and 44% female

After the U.S., India, Brazil, Great Britain and Canada have the greatest number of users

13% of Millennials (15-34 Years old) use LinkedIn

28% of all internet male users use LinkedIn, whereas 27% of all internet female users use LinkedIn

44% of LinkedIn users earn more than $75,000 per year

The Implications

User Versus Jobs Ratios. If you rely on LinkedIn to recruit for openings in the USA, 133 million users may seem like a lot. But that doesn’t really hold water considering the overall size of our labor force and the total number of job openings. Back of the napkin math seems to indicate that there are far more jobs being posted than job-seekers, particularly since many LinkedIn users aren’t on the site as a way to search for a job; most still use it as contact database for their personal and professional network. As a tool, it’s used by some professions for reasons beyond recruitment, such as business development, for example, by salespeople or by research firms for due diligence. If you buy this argument that job opportunities posted on LinkedIn far exceed active candidates, you may need to look elsewhere for candidates to fill your talent pool.

A Generational Gap. For those of you focused on hiring millennials, note that the majority of that age group is NOT on LinkedIn. If your recruitment efforts are predominately focused on sourcing candidates from LinkedIn, you are probably missing out on a whole generation of potential employees. Millennials still tend to populate other social media sites like Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Professions That Don’t Hang Out on LinkedIn. If you’re hiring for certain professions, be aware that many industries and roles, such as candidates with technology backgrounds, don’t use LinkedIn. In scenarios such as this, using a search firm with deep expertise with a variety of very targeted tools is your best bet for finding candidates with in-demand skills. Most recruiting firms are investing in training and research that includes LinkedIn, but also utilize dozens of other tools including, but not limited to, deep internet sourcing and research proprietary databases, association/conference lists, diversity and veterans’ organizations and highly specialized job boards that cater to functional roles.

Candidate Overload. If you’re not getting as many responses to your postings on LinkedIn as you think you should, it could be that:

Potential candidates are simply getting too many inquiries from too many recruiters

Your target candidates are skittish because of all the scams on the internet these days

A high proportion of LinkedIn users (estimated at 70%) are passive job candidates and they find your Inmails intrusive. Many have their InMail notifications turned off so they won’t even receive an email notifying them when someone sends them one. The only way to know whether you have InMail is if you log into LinkedIn and check your notifications. Considering that only 40% of LinkedIn users login daily, the chances of someone receiving and replying to your InMail within a day or two is very low.

All of the above bullets explain why savvy recruiters use LinkedIn as a research tool but employ a personal approach to get the attention of an in-demand executive, like a personal phone call or sending a direct email. As recruiting continues to become more transactional, I’m still a believer that a bit of wooing can go far to entice a passive candidate to consider a move.

Recruiter Dependency. Finally, apply some “tough love” if your recruiters just can’t seem to find good candidates and suggest that they cut back on their use of LinkedIn. I’ve witnessed a somewhat alarming tendency for LinkedIn to make corporate recruiters lazy when they assume that it's the only place to find candidates. The mistaken assumption is that posting an opening on your website to attract active talent, combined with a posting on or a search of LinkedIn plus a bit of research will generate hires. That approach, in today’s labor market, isn’t going to increase your chance of success. If your internal team can’t give up their over-reliance on LinkedIn, hire an external firm with deep research capabilities and expertise in working multiple sourcing strategies to generate candidates from a wide array of sources. That’s far more likely to uncover the types of candidates that will add value to your business, especially when you are hiring senior level leaders.


My advice - and precautions - about using LinkedIn can be summed up as:

Use it wisely; not exclusively.

Recognize its limitations. Don’t get lazy.

Investigate new research and sourcing tools and adapt the ones that best fit your hiring needs, by function and by position.

Finally, think creatively. Don’t be lulled into thinking that LinkedIn is the be-all, end-all tool.