What 4.3M+ Open Candidates on LinkedIn Means for Employers

March 16, 2017

Last fall, I attended LinkedIn’s annual Talent Connect event, where some of my colleagues presented on how Nielsen is using people analytics to increase employee retention. As the SVP of Talent Acquisition at Nielsen, I was excited to share what we are doing and learn from my peers. I was also interested to see what new product releases LinkedIn would announce.

One of these turned out to be a new Recruiter feature called Open Candidates, which allows members to privately share with recruiters that they’re open to new opportunities, and indicate what types of roles they’re most interested in.

Soon after Open Candidates’ announcement, I saw articles that expressed concerns that companies would start to dig into which of their employees have signalled they’re open to a change. While the feature doesn’t allow a company to see the status of its own employees, in theory they could ask a buddy at another company to tap into this data.

Fast forward to today: there are more than 4.3 million Open Candidates signalling they’re open to something new, and I’m sure the number of employers wondering what to do with this data has grown as well. Here are my 2 cents on the matter…  

Don't "make it weird" by trying to find out which of your employees are Open Candidates... because they're all open candidates

My advice to any company considering digging into which employees have signaled themselves as Open Candidates: don't. It’s counterproductive to creating a workplace where your employees can grow with you and can rightly be regarded as a betrayal of trust and privacy.

Practically speaking, it would also be a pretty useless exercise. Hopefully, companies regard their employees as a collection of great talent and therefore highly attractive to other employers. Whether they technically declare themselves to be “open” or not, the external opportunities will present themselves. And in this day and age of “tours of duty” and digitally-enabled mobility, companies should expect that employees will periodically consider outside opportunities; the prudent thing is to think of everyone as a potentially “open candidate.”  

If you want your employees to stay, instead of trying to block them from going elsewhere, you should give them more opportunities internally. The instinct for many companies is to invest in process and infrastructure to facilitate “internal movement” (e.g., job portals, searchable internal talent profiles, rules around internal transfers). These are all helpful things if executed correctly and popularized. But they're not enough.

The greatest obstacle for employees to advance in their company is rooted in human nature

Managers with winning teams naturally want to keep the band together; they also worry about being left in a lurch if their best performer suddenly vacates.  Employees are naturally leery of letting their bosses down or making them think they’re abandoning ship.  These are understandable, instinctive stances for them to take.  But they also can lead to top performers feeling stuck as growth opportunities pass them by, and eventually leaving for the bright and shiny opportunity elsewhere. People feeling stuck is not a good long-term strategy for a happy, thriving workforce.     

What you can do to drive a mindset that supports employee advancement  

It starts with two verbs: “care” and “trust.”

  • Managers need to care about the success of the individual members of their team - in this case, the parts are greater than the sum of the whole. They need to care about their long-term success enough to let them pursue other things, even if it leads to a short-term stress for the team. They also need to trust that they will be responsible in the event that they do leave for another internal opportunity, and work something out that will work for their former and new teams. And they need to trust that they’ll be rewarded as talent multipliers, and that the organization will be able to fill their shoes with strong talent… which is likely easier if their company has a reputation for promoting the best as opposed to stalemate career paths.

  • Employees need to care about their teams and bosses enough to be transparent with them about their career and development goals. They also need to trust leadership enough not to worry about negative repercussions if those goals exist elsewhere. Ultimately, though, they need to care about their own careers enough to explore change - often a scary thing - in the first place.

To drive an open environment within your company, encourage employees to share stories of internal movement. These can take the form of blog posts, Humans of New York-esque snapshots, podcast interviews... whatever media your employees are most likely to engage with.  Employees can discuss how they’ve successfully pursued new opportunities internally and the payoff from their actions.  

Managers can talk about what they’ve done to support their team members in pursuing something different and what they’ve done to make it work. We've started doing this at my company, Nielsen, and have seen it work to very good effect.

You can also promote growth opportunities by:

  • Showing movement and advancement in your executive team.
  • Asking about star performers in your talent reviews and ensuring there's a plan to continue challenging and developing them.
  • Assuring managers are encouraging employees to blossom by letting them go instead of holding on too tightly.

Whatever specific steps you decide to take, be supportive of and proactive about your employees exploring new opportunities, and create an environment governed not by fear and secrecy but by enthusiasm and openness.

A version of this post was originally published by Chris Louie, SVP of Talent Acquisition at Nielsen.

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