Where Talent and Opportunity Meet

LinkedIn's surging member base provides ever-richer capabilities for employers and job seekers alike, the social-media site's CFO says.

When Steve Sordello became the CFO of LinkedIn three years ago, the business social-networking company didn’t have much of a finance department, so one of his first tasks was to hire some key talent. He intended to do as company policy dictated: shun recruiters and strictly use LinkedIn tools to find qualified candidates.

But before he even wrote the job specs, he received an e-mail, through LinkedIn, from someone who appeared to be exactly what he wanted in a controller. That there were references attached to the sender’s profile was convenient. But more important, says Sordello, was that the sender, Ken Forrest, was connected to two people — a CEO and someone who reported to Forrest — who were also connected to Sordello.

He did a background check, received good feedback within a day and a half, and talked the next week with Forrest, who soon after became LinkedIn’s controller, Sordello told the audience at last week’s CFO Rising conference in Las Vegas.

Sordello, who was formerly the finance chief at both Ask Jeeves and TiVo, also landed his current post thanks to LinkedIn. One of his connections was the human-capital partner at Sequoia Capital, an investor in LinkedIn, who recommended to the company’s then-CEO to connect with Sordello.

With 80 million members and a million more arriving every 10 days or so, LinkedIn has grown into a massive ecosystem for connecting talent with opportunity. That scale has helped created transparency that is useful for employers, contended Sordello. “As opposed to a résumé, where people can exaggerate, with LinkedIn you’re online for all the people you ever worked with to see,” he said. “It’s hard to exaggerate.”

Comparing LinkedIn with the other huge social-media networks, Sordello likened Facebook to a backyard barbecue, where the interaction is with family, friends, and maybe some close business colleagues. By contrast, he said, Twitter is a soapbox, a public-broadcasting platform; and MySpace, where many members are anonymous, is analogous to a bar. LinkedIn is the office; it has a business context.

It’s important to think about context when using social media, noted Sordello. He gave an example of a Twitter tweet that read, “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” Within minutes came this response: “Who is the hiring manager. I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.”

Sordello stressed the importance of controlling your professional identity on the Web so that you rank as high as possible in searches. He displayed for the audience a Google search of his own name, and his LinkedIn profile popped up as the top link on the results page. “That is hugely valuable to me,” he said, pointing out that he ranked so high because he has many connections and his profile has a lot of depth.

At the time Sordello came to LinkedIn, a Gawker blog post mentioned the company’s hiring of him and another manager, and included an anonymous claim that the other person was “truly nasty.” A Google search for Sordello’s name then produced a high-ranking result with a blurb that appeared to suggest that Sordello was the nasty one.

“That wasn’t great,” he said. “Somebody would have had to click on and read that [blog post] to discover it wasn’t me. That’s not me controlling my profile or identity.”

Sordello, meanwhile, described some LinkedIn features that could be of direct interest to finance chiefs. One is a benchmarking tool that uses member-profile data to compare a company to similar ones in categories such as head count reflected in general and administrative expenses for research and development, or in G&A expenses for sales and marketing.

He also pointed to a LinkedIn discussion group for CFOs. One recent thread was about whether information-technology departments should report to finance. Another explored whether CFOs have work-life balance. “I think we all know the answer to that,” he told the audience of finance executives.

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