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Recruiting on Instagram: the Ultimate Playbook

Sourcing featured

Back in late 2011, a little known mobile app that went by the name of Instagram, had a healthy but still relatively small legion of about 10 million users. 

Fast forward 5 years, and that little legion has ballooned into an army of over 400 million active users. 30% of internet users are using it, and over 60% of those 400 million users log in daily, making it the second most engaged network after Facebook.

Oh, and a whopping 90% of users are younger than 35, making it one of the most popular websites among Millennials.

Yes, Instagram is currently the 15th most popular site in the world, and it’s popularity along with it’s users are growing by the minute. As such, Instagram is awash with potential candidates: recruiting on Instagram could be huge...

What is Instagram?

Instagram is an image based app for smartphones that allows users to enhance photos they’ve taken (using really cool filters that make anyone look like a pro behind the lens) and share them with their followers.

Much like Twitter and Facebook, users can connect and follow accounts they like, comment on images they find appealing, ‘like’ images they’re drawn to, and share those images with their friends.

Recruiting on Instagram - Proactive vs. attraction

Recruiting on Instagram falls into two main categories:

  • Attracting candidates to your Employer Brand (attraction)
  • Sourcing candidates that match your requirements (proactive)

The most innovative recruiting teams do both. Here's how to get started...

Section One: Attracting talent on Instagram

Employer Branding is a big deal.

Careerealism CEO and LinkedIn Influencer, J.T. O’Donnell, believes that if companies are to stop their top talent being stolen from them in 2015, they need to start properly investing in employer branding, or as she calls it;

"The single most disruptive recruitment technique we’ve seen in 2 decades."

[tweetery]Employer branding is the most disruptive force in recruiting right now[tweetery-end]

She’s of the opinion that smart companies looking for top talent, have figured out that the secret to getting a passive candidate’s attention is storytelling:

By telling stories that showcase how a company operates and what makes it special, brand awareness is created. When those stories focus on things potential candidates desire in an employer, it becomes Employment Branding.

And what better way to tell those stories and create brand awareness, than on visual medium like Instagram?

Building your brand and attracting talent on Instagram requires work. It's certainly not just a case of “let’s just whack a few of our stock images up there and wait for the followers to come running!"

Potential candidates don’t want to see just any old images on Instagram. Oh no! When it comes to Instagram, users want to see the unseen and glimpse into a world they would otherwise have no access too.

That’s why celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Taylor Swift do so well on the platform – they give fans a literal snapshot into what it’s like to live in their world through their accounts and fans flock to catch a glimpse.

So when setting up your company Instagram account, you need to ask yourself; “Who is your audience and what do they care about?

One corporate account that do this very well is Burberry. Unlike its other high-end competitors, Burberry uses its account to post cool images of London (where the company is based), along with backstage pictures from photoshoots, fashion shows, magazine shoots etc. And while they do post the occasional merchandise image, they don’t flood their account with picture after picture of clothing.

The key to employer branding on Instagram is posting behind-the-scenes images, followers would not normally see through traditional media.

Best Employer Branding Examples on Instagram

To give you an idea of the things that appeal to candidates on Instagram, here are 3 brands that are getting Instagram recruitment right...

i) General Electric (@generalelectric)

**Instagram Tagline: **“This feed features the groundbreaking research and technology that GE has been developing since the days of Edison.

 GE expertly uses Instagram to show off behind-the-scenes images of intricate machinery and processes that the firm creates including:

  • Up-close pictures of huge engines captioned with all its high tech specs (like the one below)
  • Images and drawings of brand new prototypes
  • Photos of state-of-the-art processes complete with tell-all captions
  • Snaps of employees going about their daily tasks in factories all over the world and having fun

Or, in other words, all the stuff mechanical types and fans of a brand like GE, absolutely adore! It’s not surprising GE’s posts often receive over and above 1,500 likes and 100 comments each, the bulk of which come from fascinated and engaged followers.

Engineer’s at #GE Aviation and the U.S. #AirForce Research Laboratory are working on GE’s ADVENT, a new type of #jet #engine for the sixth-generation fighter jets. Designed for both speed and fuel savings, the ADVENT, which stands for ADaptive Versatile ENgine Technology, can switch between high #power and high #efficiency modes and includes new heat resistant materials called ceramic matrix composites. These materials could help revolutionize jet travel giving fighter #pilots the speed they need for a mission and even greater fuel savings on the way home. Read more about this new frontier of jet engine technology at GE Reports. Link in bio. #technology #avgeek #aviation

A post shared by GE (@generalelectric) on Feb 23, 2015 at 9:33am PST

ii) Marriott Hotels (@marriottcareers)

Instagram Tagline:1100 managed locations, 79 countries and 18 brands means the career opportunities with Marriott are endless. Find your world.

Marriott has been leading the way in creating a stellar employer brand on Instagram for a few years now with their dedicated Marriott Careers page, and their Find Your World motto only adds to their inspiring careers page, dedicated to their happy employees. Here’s what you’ll find:

  • Pictures of smiling employees with a note about the company and how long they have been with Marriott
  • Photos of staff playing around (like in the image below)
  • Hashtags of the countries from which employee’s come from or work in
  • Inspirational quotes
  • Media recognition of their employer branding efforts

They have created a very branded and positive feel to their Instagram careers page and their Where I Belong campaign is an effective way of attracting talent that wishes to get and stay engaged at work.


A photo posted by Marriott Careers (@marriottcareers) on Nov 3, 2014 at 6:21am PST

iii) Starbucks (@starbucks)

Instagram Tagline: “_Starbucks Coffee. _Inspiring and nurturing the human spirit — one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time“.

Starbucks use Instagram as their default image-sharing and image-enhancing platform for all of their social media campaigns. And it’s a strategy that’s paying dividends. Their account now has over 3.7 million followers, and their images have a truly global reach.

Interspersed amongst the (numerous and absolutely gorgeous) images of coffee are:

  • Images of stores across the world
  • Pictures of the Baristas who work at Starbucks
  • Photos of happy customers
  • Corporate sponsored promotions
  • The ever popular Pick of the Week free iTunes downloads cards

AKA: all of the things that are considered the lifeblood, the culture and cool about Starbucks!

According to Jeremy Langhans (now of Expedia and formerly Employer Brand Manager of Starbucks), the company’s Instagram photos have made a real impact on recruiting for Starbucks, improving the company's image and building a reputation as a great place to work.

Imagine a lifetime of free Starbucks. Time to plan your celebration dance. #whatwouldyoudo #phhhoto

A post shared by Starbucks Coffee ☕ (@starbucks) on Nov 17, 2014 at 2:32pm PST

Should you try and emulate these companies?

You might be thinking that it’s all well and dandy for companies like Starbucks and Marriott to start an Instragram account and succeed, but what about you? Could an Instagram really work for your company?

Well, Erin Osterhaus, a researcher at recruiting software review company Software Advice, believes that in order to determine whether or not Instagram will strengthen your recruitment efforts (and improve your employer brand), you should ask yourself the following 4 questions before you decide to invest time and money that will be required:

i) Are you already recruiting on other social media networks?

She asks this because, Instagram has generally proven to be a more effective hiring tool when it’s utilised with other social media platforms.

For example, according to a recent study by Buffer, Tweets with Instagram images received 150% more re-Tweets and 89% more favorites. And according to HubSpot, in terms of Facebook, posts with Instagram images attached, generate 53% more likes than an average post.

ii) Are you trying to attract a tech-savvy demographic?

HelloWorld noted that Instagram is especially useful when recruiting for their creative and marketing teams because these candidates tend to be very tuned-in to social media. For example, HelloWorld recently offered Samantha Bankey, a former intern, the position of marketing coordinator via Instagram.

Like many marketing majors, Bankey was extremely active on social media. So, when her supervisors posted the offer to the photo sharing site, she accepted within minutes. 

Research from Papirfly suggests that this kind of tactic is pretty repeatable:

"If your company is seeking young professionals who are social-media savvy, you already employ a social media recruiting strategy and you happen to be in an industry that uses social media as a business tool, Instagram could very well help you find your next crop of new hires."


iii) Can socially-active employees expand your social reach?

At Cision, the company made sure to tap-into their current employee’s passion for social media.

Veronica Segovia said she encouraged the recruiting team to post work-related content regularly, and tag shared photos of team dinners/company trips with the company’s recruiting handle – which turned out to be one of the best ways to increase traffic to their career site. 


iv) Does your company focus on marketing?

It’s important to consider if social media is an important part of your business before embarking on an Instagram photo spree.

For Cision, this social platform in particular was a great choice because they sell marketing software and need their employees to have a passion for social media. The same goes for HelloWorld, a marketing company that creates consumer engagement platforms for clients.

Section Two: Sourcing on Instagram

Unfortunately there is no Boolean search capability within the People search section of the Instagram app or the desktop site (you can only search for people using one keyword at a time).

If you want to use Instagram to find candidates, you need to use Google X-Ray search instead.

Here's a step by step process to get started:

Step 1: X-Ray Search

To start an x-ray search of Instagram using Google, we first need to enter a very specific command into Google search box. That command is as follows:


There are no spaces between any of the above words or symbols, just one long search term.

Hit ‘Google Search’. What comes up is all of the available web pages Google can search within – of which there are many thousands!

Straight away you’ll notice more official pages associated with Instagram like their Instagram for Business page where you can create ads to place on Instagram, but below that you will start to see actual Instagram profiles. The ones that appear in this initial search are some of the most popular profiles on the site:

Site search on Instagram

Step 2: Create a Boolean Search String

Create a really simple Boolean search string containing all of the elements you’re looking for. For example, if I was creating an x-ray Boolean string to look for a Content Marketing Executive in New York City, it might look something like this:

Sourcing on Instagram

When I run this search in Google it will bring back results of Instagram users who have any and all of the above keywords included in either their bios or on their posts:

Finding Candidates on Instagram

Step 3: Messaging candidates on Instagram

There are two ways to reach out to Instagram users on the site itself. The most visible and the most common form of communication on the site is comments left on photos.

The second is private messaging. We recommend contacting candidates via the comments section first as they are more likely to notice you here. Also, if you are commenting on one of their photos (especially if it’s a photo of their work), you will have a natural ice breaker with which to strike up a conversation:

Messaging candidates on Instagram

If you're new to recruiting on Instagram, we suggest you don't just dive in and start messaging candidates. Take a look at these tips first:

i) Keep your conversation casual

Instagram is NOT a professional network. People are not expecting to be approached about their work or a job opportunity here, so you need to introduce yourself and the idea very conversationally.

ii) Move it offline ASAP

After making your initial approach via the comments or private messaging feature, try to move the conversation offline and to a more suitable place to discuss a job opportunity, as soon as possible.

The best way to do this is by giving the candidate your email address or your phone number and arranging a time to get in touch.

iii) If possible, contact them on LinkedIn or Twitter

If a candidate has included a link to their LinkedIn or Twitter account in their Instagram bio, we advise skipping contact on Instagram and instead, moving directly to LinkedIn or Twitter to reach out to them.


Well, as I previously mentioned, many people won’t feel as comfortable discussing a new job on a platform like Instagram. It’s just too casual/personal a space.

They are much more likely to feel comfortable and willing to talk about your offer on LinkedIn or Twitter, plus there are also much better ways to communicate with candidates on these platforms than on Instagram.