LinkedIn rebuilds its Recruiter platform, launches tracking system and gender ‘insights’ in diversity push

We’ve been chronicling how LinkedIn, now owned by Microsoft, has built out tools and services it provides on its platform to capitalise on the fact that it now has nearly 600 million registered professional profiles and is a go-to for people looking to network and look for work in the white-collar world (these have included online learning, CRM solutions, business intelligence, and most recently employee engagement). The latest chapter in that story comes from its recruitment business, where the company is today announcing a big overhaul.

The Recruiter platform has been completely rebuilt, and along with that, LinkedIn is launching a new product to help employers manage the sourcing, interviewing and hiring of candidates. LinkedIn is also making a foray into how it can help businesses improve their diversity, by allowing recruiters assess the gender proportions in a pool of candidates.

The moves underscore LinkedIn’s currently strong position under its new(ish) owner Microsoft. LinkedIn’s revenues rose 37 percent in the last quarter (with engagement up 41 percent), bringing in $1.46 billion in revenues, and now it is gearing up to add in more monetization and services for its user base.

“LinkedIn has been reaccelerating our growth and is doing well financially, and Talent Solutions is in line with that, so we feel like this is the right time to be doing more,” John Jersin, LinkedIn’s VP of Talent Solutions, said in an interview. “We’re going beyond what our products have done in the past to now support the entire hiring process, helping jobseekers more.”

At the same time, it’s facing a lot of competition in the recruitment market, not just from the likes of Facebook (which is making talent acquisitions to build more intelligent tools to help in the hiring process, not just compete as a straight listings portal), but also startups like ZipRecruiter that is also bringing a more intelligent spin to make connecting talent with jobs less of a crap shoot.

“We’re not operating under the same rules as before,” Jersin admitted. “Candidates can be found online, and the process is more agile [than it used to be]. So we are evolving our product roadmap to [match] the talent ecosystem.”

Recruiter redux

The key feature of the new Recruiter platform — which will start to get rolled out in the coming months — is simplicity. Over the years, as LinkedIn has built out monetizing features on its service like advertising, the company’s back-end experience for those using the platform to broadcast job opportunities or search for candidates has become increasingly fragmented, with Recruiter (to proactively search for people), Jobs (job listings that you post), and Media (ads that you might take out advertising those jobs) all essentially existing as separate entities.

Now, the three will be merged into a single platform where those three products will sit on the same pool of data to work more efficiently. For example, when a job now gets posted, LinkedIn will use the data about who clicks on the link, and what kinds of searches it comes up in and for whom, to help tailor the search results that a recruiter gets when proactively looking for candidates to fill the role. There is an element of AI and machine learning to how LinkedIn is approaching this: the more data that LinkedIn reads, the better it will get at giving recruiters more relevant information.

It will also mean more monetising potential: if LinkedIn knows that a recruiter is actively looking for job candidates for a role, it will also know that the recruiter has yet to post a job ad for that role. Now, it will be able to suggest one action because of the other.

If you’ve been a user of LinkedIn before (and it seems that many people have at least established profiles on there, even if they are not great at keeping them up to date or using the platform for anything else), you know that it’s sometimes a little uncanny (if not a little creepy) for how it’s able to provide suggestions of people to connect to, even if there doesn’t appear to be many reasons for it to know what it does. I’ve never been a big fan of that — and it can sometimes be very upsetting, such as the time LinkedIn suggested I connect to my deceased mother — but on the other hand, it’s a clear sign of just how much social data science is being built and used under the hood at the company. Today’s Recruiter launch, in fact, is an example of where it could be used for a clear business benefit.

What will be interesting to see is if LinkedIn develops something like an incognito option for people who might want to look at job opportunities but not subsequently get put into buckets to get targeted by ads or recruiters in the future. LinkedIn says that incognito mode currently only applies to masking your identity when looking at profile views.

Talent Hubbub

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Meanwhile, Talent Hub, pictured above, is the latest effort from LinkedIn to build products that are adjacent to how people are already using its premium features. The Talent Hub is an ATS (applicant tracking system, in HR parlance), that will let recruiters manage candidate leads through the whole interviewing and hiring process. Today, there are a number of products that already do this — such as SmartRecruiters, Zoho Recruit and Jobvite — and LinkedIn is also going to start integrating better with those. But now it’s also going to offer its own service to compete with them, with the idea being that the different people who are involved with the different stages of the process can also communicate better together, too.

Interestingly, while LinkedIn is building more direct recruitment products, it’s also enhancing the kinds of data points that people can use when shaping how they will hire people today and in the future. Today, it’s launching its first effort at trying to tailor this in a way that might change the diversity ratio, specifically around gender.

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A few weeks ago, LinkedIn made its first foray into business intelligence with the launch of a product called Talent Insights, which gives companies the ability to dig into trends in their own hiring, and that of companies against which they compete or compare themselves to.

Today, LinkedIn’s adding a new feature in there that lets those companies now see gender breakdown within businesses. Then, when companies are in the process of hiring, they are now also given another detail: they will now know what the gender breakdown is in a given pool of applicants or potential candidates for a role. LinkedIn also will now provide a way on Recruiter to see how a company’s recruitment ads are performing across gender lines.

For companies that are looking to be more proactive on this front, LinkedIn’s also launching more online education classes related to diversity: on subjects like confronting bias, inclusive leadership and managing diversity.

These are very much baby steps for LinkedIn in the area of diversity and what role it might play in helping companies think about it. Jersin admits that trying to query for attributes that are typically the kind that are associated with diversity can be “tough questions.” Given that LinkedIn doesn’t ask for these kinds of details in people’s profiles, it would be hard if not impossible to actively search for minority candidates, and it could open a can of worms into how such a feature might get used.

(And as a measure of the state of things today, it appears to be much easier to search for someone on LinkedIn who went to MIT and is an engineer than it is to find a African American female who is an engineer.)

My guess is that this is partly why LinkedIn is taking a less direct approach to start with by providing guiding data and other supplementary information, and why the company is tackling gender first before other diversity attributes.

“We need to think about this carefully and how to build into platform for other attributes,” Jersin said. “It’s a complex and challenging area that we are exploring.”

It’s a positive step ahead, though, and helps lay the groundwork for how LinkedIn (and its customers) might approach the issue in the future. The company said that a recent survey it ran to identify hiring trends found that diversity was the top hiring priority today, with 78 percent marking it as “extremely important.”

“That’s become a guiding product principle for us,” Jersin said, describing the company’s approach as “diversity by design.”