Forget job ads: Zappos wants applicants to hang out on its social network

A resume isn’t enough to get a job with Tony Hsieh of Zappos.
A resume isn’t enough to get a job with Tony Hsieh of Zappos.
Image: Reuters/Danny Moloshok
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Nowadays, job postings are—at best—something of a formality. At worst, they’re actually counterproductive, both for recruiters and applicants. They can bring a high volume of applications with relatively low quality, and candidates that come in that way have a significant stigma (paywall) in the HR world. The ease of applying online means that more resumes come in than ever before, but less get any kind of real attention or hearing, often for reasons that don’t have much to do with the candidate.

That’s why companies prefer to do the real work of recruiting through networks and referrals. But that strategy requires constant maintenance of a pipeline of good candidates. The online shoe retailer Zappos is attempting to solve both problems by doing killing off job postings entirely.

Instead, the company will now require candidates to join an internal social network called “Zappos Insider.” Potential employees will have to join, network with current employees, and demonstrate that they have passion for the company, according to The Wall Street Journal (paywall). Instead of posting jobs, recruiters will interact with, evaluate, and pursue candidates on the network as openings pop up.

In addition to trying to find better applicants, there’s a practical reason for this change. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh said (paywall) that the company received 31,000 applications last year, and hired only 1.5% of them. That’s an acceptance rate lower than Harvard University, or even the legendarily selective Goldman Sachs analyst program. The new idea is that the company’s seven recruiters will spend more time targeting people intentionally, instead of sorting through a mountain of resumes.

This is the latest in a number of unusual hiring tactics used by Zappos, such as putting executives through the same training as call center employees, and offering employees $2,000 to quit after their first weeks on a job if it’s not a good fit. Zappos’ parent company, Amazon, has adopted a version of the latter program for its warehouse employees.

This internal social network is a solution that would probably only work at companies that have massive amounts of inbound interest, who can actually attract would-be employees to spend meaningful time on yet another social network.

The system might reduce the load on overwhelmed HR people, and for applicants, it could prevent resumes dropping into a black hole. But there are also plenty of potential pitfalls. The new system could reduce the diversity of the applicant pool by including only those who already know the company well, and it may create even more data for recruiters to sift through than a pile of resumes. It also expects a lot of patience and attention from job-seekers, and could raise issues for those already employed elsewhere.

But at the very least, its existence is more evidence that traditional job posting is more often a source of aggravation than a reliable pipeline for future hires. Those job boards might not be around for much longer.