How Firms Are Turning to Social Media Contests to Recruit Top Talent

With more prospective candidates consumed in social media, more firms are turning to the medium to solicit candidate applications, using creative contests instead of traditional recruiting norms. Are these tactics legitimate?
social media contests

Candidates who wanted to apply for the “world’s coolest job” — to travel the earth taking pictures, shooting video and flying drones for creative marketing agency Beautiful Destinations — couldn’t submit a resume or cover letter. There was no form to fill out for work history or references and no personality assessments or behavioral quizzes.

Instead, candidates applying to the job at Beautiful Destinations needed a hashtag and an Instagram account. When Jeremy Jauncey, the company’s co-founder and CEO, set out to expand his four-member content team of videographers and photographers, he knew slapping a job ad on the usual talent boards wouldn’t do. Much of the Beautiful Destinations team is young — recent college grads or, in a few cases, students who pressed pause on higher education to take a full-time gig as a globetrotter

“This demographic doesn’t want to read job descriptions or ads — they want to get to know a brand and feel that it speaks to them,” Jauncey said.

So the team decided to bring the job opening to the people most likely to want to fill the position: the company’s social media followers. They crafted a short video explaining the contest and gave candidates a little more than a month to create their own new travel video and use the #worldscoolestjob hashtag.

“We thought maybe a couple thousand people would apply,” Jauncey said. “But we got more than 65,000 applications. It was staggering.”

The applications are still rolling in: More than 30,000 people have posted content with the hashtag since the job window closed. “The exciting thing was that it was so virally shared,” Jauncey said. “When you see a job advertisement on a board, the likelihood of sending it to a friend is so low. But with this, we saw that tens of thousands of people were tagging friends and encouraging them to apply.”


The recruitment tactic may sound unorthodox, but as Generation Z hits the job market following the rise of their millennial predecessors, it may become more mainstream. In the next five years, Gen Z, or those born between roughly 1990 and 1999, will make up more than 20 percent of the workforce, according to a Robert Half International study. Today, only 3 percent of recruiters engage candidates on Snapchat and 13 percent on Instagram, according to a recent Jobvite survey.

Still, this type of social media recruiting may rise in tandem with the next-gen talent tsunami. Furthermore, positioning the opening as a contest rather than a static job ad is a quick way to goose engagement, according to Rebecca Vertucci, New York-based customer success manager with LinkedIn and career success coach with Vertucci Career Academy.

“In today’s talent market, you have to be competitive in what you’re offering candidates and how you go about getting the talent your company needs,” Vertucci said.

Just don’t assume that social media contests will stay a young person’s recruitment lure. “We are now living in an age of technology where every generation has smartphones and is connected to social media,” said Scott Galanos, Denver branch manager at Addison Group, a Chicago-based staffing and employment firm. Companies may start to use social contests to attract younger and less-experienced candidates, but any social media norm will eventually migrate across generations, he said.

Beware the Flood

Social contests are as varied as the HR teams behind them: At GrubHub, the online food delivery service, the HR team relied on SnapChat to host its recruiting contest and a photo gallery for admissions. At OgilvyOne, an advertising firm, the talent office created a dedicated YouTube channel and invited applicants to upload a video selling them a brick. Finalists got to pitch at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, which is also where the winner was announced.

And when Public Broadcasting Service WTTW’s Chicago TV show “Check Please” needed to find a new host, the station asked potential hosts to upload a video of themselves on YouTube explaining why they should be hired. The contest was announced at 8 a.m., and by 9:15 a.m., it already had the first video, according to David Manilow, the show’s creator and executive producer, which has similar programs in San Francisco, Miami, Phoenix and in Vienna, Austria.

“Doing this format was very consistent with our brand: We are about regular people telling us about their favorite places,” said Manilow, explaining “Check Please.” “When I was looking for a new host, rather than doing it under the radar, I thought it was good to open it up to everyone.”

“Check Please” received 1,100 videos through YouTube and viewed every single one.

“When we got interesting videos, I would release them on Twitter and on Facebook, and people upped their content, thinking they would have to do something a little more creative, a little more special,” Manilow said.

There’s no question that fielding applications using social media contests requires a different HR strategy. At Beautiful Destinations, nearly everyone in the company got involved in the massive screening effort. Still, it took more than four months to comb through the deluge of social applicants. “We’re down to 150 finalists now,” Jauncey said. “That feels really manageable.”

Though the Beautiful Destinations team hasn’t finished its deliberations, it has decided on one thing: More than one new creative will be joining the team.

Kate Rockwood is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.

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