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Klout and Recruitment: Passing Trend Or Permanent Hiring Tool?

Your hotel may whisk you off to a Cirque du Soleil show, an upgraded luxury suite or a fabulous dinner.

That phone call about your computer issues that normally passes you through four different people may shoot you directly to Susan, the manager.

Your favorite airline may send you to the new Bali resort everyone’s raving about – on their dime.

And if you’re a job candidate, the employer you’re courting may be bowled over by your credentials and hire you on the spot –

– all because of your Klout score.

What?! Yes, it’s true – not only are brands using Klout on a consumer level, but recruiters and employers are starting to use Klout scores to gauge candidates’ effectiveness or fit as a potential hire. Is Klout + recruitment a passing trend – or a permanent hiring tool? Let’s take a closer look.

What is Klout?

Klout is, according to the company’s website, “the standard for online and Internet influence.” Klout insists it isn’t about the A-Listers, because they believe every person who creates content has influence. “Our mission,” the site says, “is to help every individual understand and leverage their influence.

And in a recent Twitter chat (#kloutchat), Klout shed light on how one’s score is determined: “Score is based on how how many people you influence, how much you influence them, and how influential they are.” It’s more about reactions to the content people create — than about the content itself; about how much people take action on your content through things like retweets, “Likes,” commenting, and clicking on your links. How much of what you do online causes people to take action? That’s Klout’s bread and butter.

Klout + Recruitment

The chatter about Klout has been growing stronger. Originally, it was about individuals using it to determine their online influence among their peers. More recently, brands have gotten into the mix and have started using Klout to create perks for customers or potential customers with a high influence index, like Spotify giving Klout users early access, Virgin America giving away tickets, or hotel upgrades or restaurant table VIP. The thinking is, getting influential users to experience your products will cause them to talk about your brand on online networks and spread sentiment about your company through their online influence.

And now, Klout is seeping into the world of recruitment — and faster than we may realize. Joe Fernandez, CEO of Klout, believes that social media is becoming an increasingly important candidate asset. “A person’s comfort and ability to leverage social media is becoming, if not critical, at least a differentiator among candidates,” says Joe Fernandez, CEO of Klout, in a recent Q&A blog post with Forbes blogger Tracey John. If he’s hiring for a marketing employee and two candidates have similar education and experience, but one candidate is active on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs and one is not Fernandez says, he says he will hire the one who is.

Klout can’t be the only factor in making decision on hiring, he adds – just as you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) base college entry based on SAT or ACT scores alone. “I think in terms of understanding somebody’s ability, comfort, reach and engagement with social media – which is becoming more and more important – that Klout is the standard and a great tool for hiring.”

The CEO of Klout isn’t the only one using Klout for recruitment. In Mark Schaefer’s blog post, The Making of a Social Media Slut, he says he recently heard about four friends or co-workers making — or being on the other end of — decisions that were arrived at because of Klout scores, all within a 72-hour time period. Though we’re far from Klout and recruitment being a mainstream practice, it’s happening — and we need to take a hard look at the potential positives of such a mix, as well as the potential pitfalls.

The Good

1. Competitive advantage.
Klout plans to externally expose numbers that signify exactly how influential individuals are about particular topics, stats which they’re currently tracking behind the scenes — meaning if you have an overall score of 32, you may still have a 65 in architecture, meaning you are very influential in that particular area. With this, not only will candidates be able to show their “social capital,” but they will be able to show potential employers (or their co-workers and superiors, if currently employed) what specific topics they’re passionate and knowledgeable about.

Java programming? Creative writing? Women’s studies? Klout has the potential to give candidates a professional layer based on the content they’re putting out there and the way others interact with that content – not simply based on their interests (e.g. “Info” listings in Facebook). If you’re particularly skilled in email marketing, Klout gives you another way to show off those talents. Because of Klout’s integration with LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, and its hopes to integrate with others like Tumblr, Google+ and WordPress, there are many places in which job seekers can make their mark in particular specialties or markets, and raise their Klout scores in those areas to stand apart from their competition.

People want to have control over their online professional reputation, and Klout offers another way for them to do that. As Brian Solis pointed out in a recent Fast Company article, “People are now part of the equation and are willingly shedding their “audience” moniker and vacating the branded auditoriums of yore in favor of building their own stages, their own personal theaters.”

2. A more complete picture.
When hiring, Fernandez said, you have a limited amount of information about a candidate from which to make a decision — which is often true. Klout offers candidates a way to showcase their skills and talents and give potential employers more information about themselves, and it offers employers a way to garner more information from which they can make a fully informed hiring decision. Should Klout be the single factor used in making a hiring decision? Definitely not (and if you’re a hiring manager using only Klout to decide whom to hire, you are likely in the wrong profession). Fernandez says Klout is just one ingredient — but that the fact that someone takes time to build their personal brand and share their expertise and passions is valuable to employers. And whether you’re a recruiter or a candidate, it is important to develop your personal brand.

Just how important is this one method, though?

The Bad

As much as Klout can be a powerful tool, there are many potential issues with Klout that employers and recruiters should watch out for when considering adding it into their recruitment mix.

1. Candidate experience.  Is Klout a platinum card for recruitment? In the Klout consumer experience, some businesses are giving customers with a high Klout score perks, as mentioned above — or preferential treatment. While this has problematic possibilities (if other customers are being ignored), we are used to seeing certain customers receive better treatment based on rewards systems calculated through money spent or customer loyalty. We have accepted the consumer reward-based system, and it does incentivize many customers to increase business with a particular company and spread the word about the company and its benefits.

However, some businesses may want to treat the candidate experience in the same fashion through Klout, by giving candidates with high scores better communication throughout the the interview process, choosing to give the job to the person with a higher Klout score, or even offering them a better salary. Beyond unfairness, poor hiring decisions, and possible legal ramifications, the potential backlash from candidates in situations like this is immense — and for good reason. Picking and choosing who you provide with a great candidate experience can severely damage both your consumer and employment brands.

2. Abuse/Lack of knowledge.  Klout as a business looks at candidates’ scores when seeking new candidates, but as Fernandez says, they won’t pass on a quality candidate just because he or she has a low Klout score. But what about a hiring manager with shiny object syndrome? You know, the one so enraptured with a high Klout score (even if he or she doesn’t even know what it signifies) who does pass on a quality candidate for the less qualified candidate with Justin Bieber-like Klout score because it looks cool, or because their peers or competitors are using Klout and they think they should be, too? A buzzworthy case study does not necessarily equal a quality hire — and as you probably know, hiring the wrong candidate can cost you thousands of dollars, not to mention a lot of time and resources.

Companies need to be smart about how they use any kind of recruitment tool, and Klout is no different. It’s perhaps even more tricky, because it’s not by design a recruitment tool, but a social influence tool. Adapting it to recruitment in a way that makes sense takes good sense on the part of the person hiring, as well as a willingness to understand and continue to learn and adapt as the tool evolves.

3. Accuracy.  I don’t talk about Coldplay on social media sites. In fact, the only time I did, it was to make fun of the name of their new song (c’mon, Every Teardrop is a Waterfall?). So I scratched my head for a while, trying to figure out why Klout listed them as one of my influential topics. I finally realized that it wasn’t because of how often I talked about Coldplay, but about how other influential people interacted with my one comment. My tweet happened to be retweeted by a pretty influential user, which, I am guessing, must be why Coldplay was catapulted to the forefront of my page. Still, it doesn’t seem accurate — and if candidates are associated with topics they really don’t know much about, but recruiters don’t realize it, where does that leave us?

Klout has said that the responsibility is on users themselves to remove topics they don’t think they are influential in. I have yet to remove Coldplay from my own topics — probably because it’s not a priority. But it’s possible that when candidates know potential employers are looking at their Klout scores, they will care, and they will remove topics that aren’t relevant to them in order to make their page more accurate or to showcase the items they want employers to see first. After all, it’s up to a candidate to make sure the information on their resume, or their LinkedIn profile, or anywhere else that’s online and public, is accurate, honest, and projects the image they intend to put forth. If it isn’t, the truth will likely come out in the interview process. Candidates can try to game the system — but it’s up to those hiring to sort out fiction from fact.

Not all candidates will curate their own profile, however. This may be well and good — after all, Klout content reflects the topics candidates have talked about online that others have taken action on, which is relevant in some sense regardless — but it may also be misleading if employers are putting stock into it (or just look bad: “Oh, I see you’re an expert in planking?!”). Which leads me back to #2 — those who are hiring must be smart about using the tool.

4. Fairness.  Among Schaefer’s stories mentioned above was one about his friend who Schaefer claims is very talented but who was rejected for a job at a major ad agency because his Klout score was too low. If this is truly why the friend was rejected, it’s a huge red flag for the future of Klout and recruitment. Though social media savvy, personal brand, and online influence may be preferred or even crucial in roles directly related to communication or social media, or in industries which depend on your established contacts, why would we want to force candidates to engage online if they prefer not to?

As mentioned above, according to Klout, every individual who creates content has influence, but what about those who choose to stand on the sidelines — those who prefer to consume content rather than create, and to engage in other ways? What about the collectives, joiners, and spectators? They may write killer ad copy and have an amazing creative mind — but hate putting their personal life on the Internet. Do we fault them for that? Even if the position is for a social media manager, in which social media engagement is a necessity, do we simply look at a low score and assume they’re not great at tweeting or being a community manager? We shouldn’t.

Furthermore, for many industries, the measurement of the extent to which influential people online are driven to act upon the content you put out there just isn’t that important — or isn’t important at all. You must ask yourself what qualifications you need for a particular position, and seek the candidate who fulfills those needs. Flashy new sites will come — and some will stick around — but it’s up to recruiters and employers to put a process in place that is accurate, fair to candidates, and makes sense for their business. As Fabrice Calandro points out, employers are attracted to Klout scores, because in theory, “an employee with more online influence will help your employee branding through blog posts, Tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn updates because they’ll reach a broader audience.” While this may be true, it shouldn’t be the factor your hiring decision is hinged upon. Employees will vouch for you if they like you, whether it’s online or offline. “Buying” the probability of an employee boosting your brand is a losing game.

5. Relevancy.  As @NicoleInDC points out in her comment here, it’s not always real people or professional accounts who have the highest Klout scores. It’s true; anonymous parody account @chuck_facts tweets only Chuck Norris “facts,” and is influential about Microsoft Vista, Africa, and television on Klout with a score of 74, about the same score as user @acarvin, who is an identified person and a strategist at NPR. I could add more examples — fictional account @themime, who has only ever tweeted dots (hey, he’s a mime), has a Klout score of 61. Not too shabby — and according to Klout, he’s influential in Wall Street, statistics, and law — yet there’s no rational explanation as to why. If scores are similar between the real and the conjured up, with influential topic choices sometimes seeming completely off the mark, how can those in charge of hiring possibly use Klout as a serious assessment tool?

The Bigger Picture in Recruitment

Fernandez has said that Klout is just one ingredient in the hiring recipe. And, although some have expressed concern that Klout scores will one day be the only factor hiring managers are looking at, it will likely be the exception rather than the norm. Different people vary ingredients in a recipe according to their needs and personal tastes. It’s the same with hiring choices – some employers may be more concerned with education, while others are focused on specific certifications, and still others care most about years of experience in a particular field. No one recipe is the same, so the idea of Klout becoming the sole factor in a hiring decision seems unlikely (not to say that it hasn’t or won’t happen).

As in any profession, there are good hiring managers, and there are bad ones. It’s the hiring managers or recruiters who don’t know what they should be looking for who will abuse Klout — or any other tool, for that matter. People in charge of making hiring decisions must be careful to make responsible, sound and ethical decisions, based on a person’s actual ability to do the job at hand.

For some roles, social media interaction is important, but for others, it’s not important to the role whatsoever. Does a manufacturing candidate need to be active on Twitter to successfully perform his or her job? I don’t think so. We have to be realistic about our expectations of candidates – just because hiring managers may want something doesn’t mean it makes sense to get it. Developing a personal brand, however, is a smart move for all types of candidates – after all, the majority of recruiters and employers do search for candidates online to find out more about them.

Hello, Is It Good Candidates You’re Looking For?

I’m no Lionel Richie, but I think the bigger question might be, what are you looking for from candidates? Do you know — or are you simply following the latest buzz, and neglecting those candidates who really might be perfect for your open position? Klout, like social media in general, has the potential to better your business — but it’s not meant to keep the lights on.

As Brian Solis has wisely said, “Social media will not save business, but it will challenge them to evolve, to adapt… to do better.”

Klout is another tool for candidates to showcase their experience and talents, and it’s another tool for recruiters and employers to view a snapshot of candidates through an online lens. Just how clear that lens is remains to be seen — and just how influential Klout itself is – well, time will tell.

In the meantime, tell us — would you — or have you — used Klout in your recruitment process?

Amy K. McDonnell

About Amy K. McDonnell

Originally hailing from Ohio, Amy is the editorial manager on the content services team and has been with both CareerBuilder and the city of Chicago for nearly a decade. She writes on a range of recruitment topics on The Hiring Site, striving to bring a dose of clarity and humor to sometimes complicated issues around employee attraction, engagement and retention. When she's not working, Amy spends as much time as possible reading, pretending to be a chef, writing short stories, eating Nutella out of the jar, waiting for CTA buses and trains, going to see her favorite bands live, and spending time with people who inspire and challenge her.
10 comments
Martin Plumlee
Martin Plumlee

I just began to research Klout. In the past 30 days, have made a much better effort with Twitter. However, as an Executive Recruiter, LinkedIn remains my primary search tool, as well as platform of visibility. Any thoughts?

Martin Plumlee
Martin Plumlee

I just began to research Klout. In the past 30 days, have made a much better effort with Twitter. However, as an Executive Recruiter, LinkedIn remains my primary search tool, as well as platform of visibility. Any thoughts?

Sean Wilkes
Sean Wilkes

Interesting, I hadn't thought about this but it makes some sense. When someone's ability to influence through social networks is part of the role then a decision based in part on Klout scores would be useful. Important thing here is "based in part' and only using it when it is a genuine measure of someone's ability to do the job they are being considered for. Applying too much weight would also be a recipe for disaster. Your score can be heavily influenced by targeted activity just focused on improving your score, so it's a guide but not an accurate measure of absolute influence or the power of your social network. Just like basing a decision on how many followers you have on Twitter would be a mistake, in isolation it's useless. Would be interesting to work in to the interview questions some questions that focus on activity that has improved their 'Klout' though......

Sean Wilkes
Sean Wilkes

Interesting, I hadn't thought about this but it makes some sense. When someone's ability to influence through social networks is part of the role then a decision based in part on Klout scores would be useful. Important thing here is "based in part' and only using it when it is a genuine measure of someone's ability to do the job they are being considered for. Applying too much weight would also be a recipe for disaster. Your score can be heavily influenced by targeted activity just focused on improving your score, so it's a guide but not an accurate measure of absolute influence or the power of your social network. Just like basing a decision on how many followers you have on Twitter would be a mistake, in isolation it's useless. Would be interesting to work in to the interview questions some questions that focus on activity that has improved their 'Klout' though......

Amy Chulik
Amy Chulik

Thanks for reading, Lindsay -- I think you're right in that it can be a great tools for those looking to build their personal brand -- but for recruiters, needs to be verified and used with discretion.

Amy Chulik
Amy Chulik

Thanks for reading, Lindsay -- I think you're right in that it can be a great tools for those looking to build their personal brand -- but for recruiters, needs to be verified and used with discretion.

Lindsay Egbert
Lindsay Egbert

Great article. Klout is a great tool for those looking to build their personal brand and those looking for more information to hire the best candidates. I think it is best used as an indicator of expertise but like most everything should be verified if it is affecting hiring decisions.

Lindsay Egbert
Lindsay Egbert

Great article. Klout is a great tool for those looking to build their personal brand and those looking for more information to hire the best candidates. I think it is best used as an indicator of expertise but like most everything should be verified if it is affecting hiring decisions.

Amy Chulik
Amy Chulik

Thanks for your comments, Sean -- definitely agree that using Klout in part if someone's influence through social networks is vital to his or her role can be useful. And yes, I think the danger is in using this tool or any other in isolation and as a be-all, end-all tool for hiring; like anything else, it may have potential as a complement to other decision-making factors, but just how accurate it is even for that is still TBD, I think. I like your idea of asking someone whose role is integrated with social media about activity surrounding the improvement of their Klout score -- could be very interesting and would really demonstrate how much of an awareness someone in that role has about the limits and possibilities of the tool.

Amy Chulik
Amy Chulik

Thanks for your comments, Sean -- definitely agree that using Klout in part if someone's influence through social networks is vital to his or her role can be useful. And yes, I think the danger is in using this tool or any other in isolation and as a be-all, end-all tool for hiring; like anything else, it may have potential as a complement to other decision-making factors, but just how accurate it is even for that is still TBD, I think. I like your idea of asking someone whose role is integrated with social media about activity surrounding the improvement of their Klout score -- could be very interesting and would really demonstrate how much of an awareness someone in that role has about the limits and possibilities of the tool.

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