Technology

Test-Driving Zappos’ New Social Network for Job-Seekers

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Zappos recently made headlines again with its announcement that it had nixed its job postings in favor of a new social network called Zappos Insider. Job-seekers hoping to join the company’s ranks now have to create profiles to interact with current employees and demonstrate that they’ll be the proverbial “good fit” for the company.

The shoe retailer says it intends to hire 450 new employees this year, according to The Wall Street Journal, and this is its way of ensuring that they’re the right ones. It’s a move that says a lot about where the job market is today—and about where it’s headed tomorrow.

Looking to social cliques or “talent communities” is not a new recruiting method. It’s widely practiced in many tech cities, although companies usually troll existing networks such as GitHub. Where Zappos is innovating is in the creation of its own network, a place where the job-seeker is seeking only a job at Zappos. It’s a basket full of just one kind of eggs.

It can never hurt to learn more about the latest approach to finding gainful employment, so I decided to sign up and see what Zappos Insider has to offer.

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I begin my reconnaissance by selecting the department where I’d eventually like to be hired, Creative Services. “Would you consider yourself right-brain dominant?” Zappos Insider asks. It then describes a work culture that includes “listening to music on Fridays [and] watching people bouncing off gigantic red balls and having rubber-band wars” in addition to … well … working.

Insider then introduces me to the company’s office culture and core values, from encouraging experimentation and learning from failure to using an open office design to promote the entrepreneurial spirit. It also tells me that a recruiter is at my disposal if I have any questions. Her name is Christina. Her bright smile twinkles at me from her thumbnail headshot on the page. Nice to meet you, Christina!

Maybe it’s the promise of rubber-band wars, but I’m hooked. With one eager click, I am an Insider.

Sadly, the celebration comes to a screeching halt by the all-too-familiar process of uploading a résumé, connecting my existing social media accounts and building a profile. I opt for connecting with LinkedIn. After all, why have a professional networking site if I never intend to link it to a whole other professional networking site to find a job?

Then come the usual job-search questions: “Why Zappos?” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What’s something weird that makes you happy?”

According to The Wall Street Journal, my answers, along with the skill sets on my profile, will whisk me to the proper “pipeline” with the help of a talent-acquisition platform called Ascendify. So basically, an algorithm is sorting my résumé onto the correct pile of other résumés on the cloud.

But at the root of Zappos Insider is the importance of building connections. Since I live in Las Vegas and already have professional contacts at the Amazon subsidiary, I figure my next step will be easy. Then I see the message: “Unable to find any connections in your immediate network who can recommend you.”

Maybe Christina can help! I send off a quick question to her, and wait. She’s not there. Was she ever there?

A week later, she answers: Now that you’ve completed your profile, be sure to stay in touch! So we’re back in business … maybe. The next communication comes six days later, and it includes a Zappos engineer telling me that he has finally found love in his life, and that the love is Zappos. Inspiring! And maybe, if I read very closely between the lines, I’m a little bit closer to a job—a job whose title, duties and pay I do not know.

Still, I wonder how qualified applicants in New York or Silicon Valley will find jobs via the Insider if they don’t already have Zappos connections?

More important for the big picture is the question of what happens if this mode of hiring catches on across the job market: If I am a job-seeker, and I am presumably looking at more than one company as I search, how many social networks do I have to join until I finally find a way to earn my daily bread? And if trying to find a good cultural fit means looking at your friends and familiar faces instead of people outside the community, how will a company ever innovate? What do you hear when you listen primarily to the voices of people you already know?

So farewell, Christina! I’m still happy to meet some Zapponians, but I think my best shot is over a beer at the Gold Spike. Old ways die hard.

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