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 Talent communities are springing up as the best new way to find and source qualified candidates online. So what’s the buzz about and what makes these different from other sourcing tactics?

First, a clarification on the definition: Unlike a social network or a candidate database, a “talent community” refers to a group of people with shared skills who work together to help each other grow professionally. (Think about the type of offline interactions you experience with any professional organization.) In an ideal online talent community, you’ll find a diverse group of engaged users with a variety of skills and career goals—essentially, a passive candidate goldmine.

As a hiring manager, talent communities give you a unique opportunity to peek at interactions taking place among peers, offering insights about candidates before their resumes arrive in your inbox. You can observe how each candidate is perceived among their peers, a concept Rachel Botsman addressed in detail during last year’s TED talk on “reputation capital.”

But keep in mind that not all “talent pools” are “talent communities.” You’ll recognize a site as a true talent community if it lends itself to two-way interactions between employers and candidates. (Think about how you connect with peers on LinkedIn who endorse you while still allowing employers to approach you with new opportunities.)

Once you identify these communities, you can leverage that audience for your recruitment needs by filling in the blanks about potential candidates. Here are the 5 key questions talent communities let you answer about candidates (that resumes don’t):

Do they know their stuff?

While resumes are completely self-selected (and arguably biased), talent communities let you view actual user interactions. You don’t have to determine whether that candidate appears to be credible—you just have to read how other users have responded. If they have generally positive feedback from their peers, you’re on the right track.

Are they a thought leader or follower?

When you read over a candidate’s profile or contributions, take note of the complexity of questions or concepts they introduce to the community. You can identify the stand-out talent from the second-tier users, who may simply chime in to existing conversations.

Are they engaged?

This is an easy one—are they leading or moderating discussions or do they rarely contribute? The level of user engagement among their peers may also indicate their interest in collaboration and team building.

Can they communicate effectively?

It’s one thing to be able to take on and execute difficult tasks at work, but it’s equally important to offer an explanation to others. By reading the contributions, blog posts, discussion topics, and writing samples of that candidate, you can determine whether their communication skills are up to par.

How passionate are they about their work?

The number one thing that’s often eclipsed from a resume review is the ability to assess passion. For programmers, passion often manifests itself through open source projects or blog posts on the subject matter. Chances are, if someone is still thinking about their work on their time off, they must really like what they do, and that’s probably the kind of employee you’d want to hire.

While developing your recruitment strategy for this year, you can (and should) participate in niched talent communities to help you make better hiring decisions. You'll save yourself time and money by answering these key candidate questions upfront, rather than stages into the interview process.
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