Virtual World Workforce, Part 1: Promising the World

It’s a dream scenario: A candidate aspiring to a pivotal job in the culinary arts field enters the virtual world Second Life, having never been an online gamer before. He attends an online job fair held by recruiting company TMP Worldwide and is interviewed by major food and operations services company Sodexho. As a result, he lands a job as an executive chef with the firm.

That’s just how it worked back in May 2007 at the first online job fair held in Second Life, TMP vice president of interactive strategy Louis Vong, told LinuxInsider. Notably, neither the applicant nor the job was a technical one. More predictably, however, several other of the employers TMP represented that day were indeed in the high-tech fields: Microsoft, T-Mobile, eBay and Verizon, to name a few.

Scratching the Surface

TMP isn’t the only recruiting firm to put a flag into the virtual ground on Second Life, said Vong. Since his company purchased an island in Second Life, Manpower, Kelly and CareerBuilder have followed suit. Virtual worlds “have already made tremendous impacts in the employment and recruiting landscape,” he noted.

In addition to job fairs, TMP has provided a range of virtual-world-related services to client companies. Recently, the CEO of Sodexho asked TMP to create an avatar for him so he could hold meetings with individuals and groups of employees on the TMP Second Life island, Vong explained.

“We’re only scratching the surface of what virtual worlds can offer for recruiting and employee communications,” he stressed. In the future, he sees sites like Second Life making an impact in the areas of e-learning and training, employee orientations, and team building activities.

Social Networking Leads Way

Despite the press these high-profile recruiting events receive, though, the move to virtual worlds for workforce activities is part of an evolution, not necessarily a revolution. Employers have used social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook to meet and learn about prospective employees for years, Vong explained. “Some enterprise recruiters are looking at social networking sites as part of their research on potential job candidates,” he said. Then, he added the admonition almost everyone will make about those sites: “Job candidates have to be very cognizant of what they post online, as a potential employer could be reviewing it.”

What is making a difference today, Vong noted, is the fact that several major social networking sites have opened their APIs (application programming interfaces). This allows third-party developers — such as those working for recruiting firms or large employers — to create applications built to be used on a specific sites. “Within Facebook,” Vong noted, “there are quite a few applications created specifically for employment-related content. TMP recently launched an application for Facebook called ‘Work with Me,’ which is an employee referral program tool that employees can attach to their profile.”

Generation V

While virtual worlds are new and perhaps intimidating to the powers-that-be in many corporations, we must keep in mind that within very few years the people entering the workforce will have grown up as participants in a variety of such realms, stressed Vong. “An interesting trend for us to keep an eye on is how virtual worlds are affecting pre-teens and teens,” he proposed. “With Webkinz, Club Penguin, Zwinky and other ‘kid-friendly’ virtual worlds becoming increasingly popular, the question is how will this shape how future generations interact with each other and potential employers? Will they expect virtual online interactions as a norm?”

That expectation probably already exists among new college graduates who have a high comfort level with social networking tools. “Basically, anyone who graduated in the past four years has an account in one of the online social networking cultures,” John Sumser, CEO and founder of Recruiting Roadshow, told LinuxInsider. In fact, that age group often prefers interacting through channels other than e-mail, because the ubiquitous spam is not as prevalent on social networks, he noted. “So, if you are trying to reach out and engage employees or potential employees, these sites offer a less cluttered communications channel,” he explained.

Trend-Setting Ways

Not everyone thinks that the next job interview for all of us will occur on proprietary virtual real estate. The use of virtual worlds for recruiting and managing employees is occurring in a larger context, Christopher Collins, senior analyst with Yankee Group, told LinuxInsider. The broader trend is that “enterprises are using and adapting consumer technologies to address their business needs,” he explained. Other examples of the trend include blogs and wikis, which already are playing a role in the management of remote employees, Collins noted.

What remains to be seen, Collins explained, is whether or not companies will move from a consumer-oriented focus on virtual world sites to an employee-oriented one. “Most companies have used virtual worlds for consumer marketing,” he pointed out, “and not for employee management. Currently, he said, virtual world recruiting is probably best suited to companies “looking to recruit employees with very specific, virtual-world-type skills.

Virtual World Workforce Part 2: Real-Life Pitfalls

1 Comment

  • This is a rapidly emerging area. Just last week Forrester issued the report "Getting Real Work Done in Virtual Worlds," which predicts the import of virtual worlds perhaps equal to the web within five years. VRWorkplace advises companies on this technology, how to use it, and rents and builds virtual spaces. I am an attorney, HR consultant, and former IT outsourcing executive and because of my background recognize that globalization is making close working relationships untenable. Virtual worlds can change that by bringing people together "as if" in person for work and play.

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