What LinkedIn’s Buyout with Microsoft means for the Talent Acquisition Technology Ecosystem

Talent Acquisition Compass

While the rest of the world is trying to uncover the secret motive of Satya Nadella, the current CEO of Microsoft, or figure out when and how Microsoft will begin diving into the sweet, sweet pool of data LinkedIn brings to the table, the talent acquisition world has a decidedly different view on the acquisition.

Financial Times’ Jonathan Ford expresses total dismay at the reason for purchasing LinkedIn, a company whose share price was tanking, ad revenue drying up and user base shrinking for the previous couple of quarters. But indeed, he answers his own question here, and it won’t surprise recruiters (or anyone in Talent Acquisition):

“Nor can he fail to recognize the need to nurture Microsoft’s mature if still vastly profitable commercial software franchise, and how that remains the key to its fortunes. Just to give a sense of the unit’s importance, it is worth noting that in just the past two years its operating profit increased by $3.7Bn — rather more than LinkedIn’s entire turnover in 2015.”

While the numbers in that statement are staggering, it’s the underlying reasoning that’s being missed. Microsoft purchased LinkedIn precisely because it wants to nurture profitable commercial software franchising and Nadella sees talent acquisition behemoth LinkedIn as the perfect way to do that. In a world of inexpensive apps, where school children learn Google Docs rather than Microsoft Word or even 365 Office, Microsoft realizes that perhaps it’s time to expand its platform and data applications. And talent acquisition is it.

The other reason, is the data. LinkedIn has a huge swath of data that it’s been collecting for years. And this data isn’t just applicable for the users (ad revenue dollars), it’s even more valuable when it comes to work trends, recruitment patterns, and prepping the enterprise for an increasingly contingent and global workforce. Industry experts examined how the LinkedIn acquisition enhances Microsoft Office Graph, which maps relationships between people, content and interactions for Office 365. William Haskins, an analyst at Wainhouse Research LLC wrote:

“When integrated properly, the existing [LinkedIn] graph can provide a valuable profile view for meeting attendees from outside your organization.”

While critics point to Microsoft acquisition failures like Nokia and Yammer, neither one of those companies open up the ability for increased ad revenue, user interaction data or video conferencing abilities.

Meanwhile, back at the recruiting ranch, we’re looking at how this will affect the recruiting landscape. There is no shortage of people who are ready and willing to point out how Microsoft’s biggest acquisition EVER just happens to be in Talent Acquisition. Such a large purchase will surely impact recruiters personally, talent acquisition as a whole and the vendors who serve both. Here’s how:

The Microsoft acquisition of LinkedIn creates a massive void in the space, particularly for social search engines. Those who were willing to pay $8000 or more for a seat on LinkedIn Recruiter will now have to decide if they want to re-up those contracts as Microsoft takes over (and potentially uses the data for its own purposes). Companies like Entelo, HiringSolved and Jibe will all be vying for leadership roles now that the big fish is gone. This climate will be similar to the SAP/SuccessFactors/Jobs2Web dust up that happened in 2011 in terms of deal structure and market movement.

Who will be first? Those that have amassed sufficient scale already, will either find themselves being sought by acquirers who could find accretive value leveraging their profiles and user engagement. Taking out number one creates an opening for their successor. Of course, once a successor moves up to take the place of LinkedIn, then there are accompanying moves all the way down the chain.

George Laroque wrote recently about how much the middle market stands to gain from this merger. But what about the mid market vendors? If they’re not snapped up by a larger vendor in the way LinkedIn was, they could move into the void where LinkedIn once stood (so long as they are also not entirely dependent on LinkedIn data to survive). The rest? Well, they might vie for sloppy seconds, or fade away. In their place, will be the social search engines that are leaving incubators, trying to secure funding or maybe just an algorithm in a college student’s head.

Social search startups which relied on scraping LinkedIn profiles, or accessed them within the permitted use guidelines were always in peril of LinkedIn altering the access it allowed. These startups’ business models could be easily upended with any action LinkedIn might take. As LinkedIn effectively delists and begins to run inside Microsoft, absent the public equities markets’ scrutiny, we’ll have to see if they will become more or less permissive of third parties plying its data. One viable alternative, Connectifier, was getting more attention from social sites seeking profiles, that is until LinkedIn took them out. If the Microsoft integration causes LinkedIn’s attention to turn to enabling higher value synergies in the Microsoft combination, perhaps more breathing room might be afforded the social search tools that rely on available profiles.

This could also mean that talent management becomes part of Microsoft’s core function. Right now, LinkedIn is focused on putting business professionals (mostly white collar workers) to work, but Microsoft is a huge part of what those professionals use to get that work done. What falls between those two key functions is talent management. But industry experts are quick to dismiss the idea that Core HR (benefits, payroll administration) will become part of the plan, focusing instead on what Jeff Weiner himself had to say. Among the business opportunities for Microsoft, he noted, is “expanding beyond recruiting and learning and development to create value for any part of an organization involved with hiring, managing, motivating or leading employees. This human capital area is a massive business opportunity and an entirely new one for Microsoft.

The acquisition is indicative of the current importance of the talent management space. Fully one third of LinkedIn’s revenue come from Talent Solutions. This plays extremely well with Microsoft’s vision of expanding collaboration, not only within the walls of a company network but the entire professional cloud. Microsoft is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this deal’s synergies, but it augurs well for the still emerging talent acquisition/management space that Microsoft decided to double down on a talent acquisition platform like LinkedIn.

About the Author

Brian Delle Donne Headshot for WordPressBrian Delle Donne, President of Talent Tech Labs, the only hyper-focused incubator and accelerator program focused exclusively on talent acquisition technology. Talent Tech Labs is seen as a thought leader in all aspects of the talent acquisition technology ecosystem and have extensive relations with all the emerging companies servicing this dynamic market. Today the company has additional investors but continues its tight vertical focus on the talent acquisition process; from recruitment, candidate engagement up until hiring. In addition to accelerating the startups TTL enrolls, the company has become the “go to” source of data and analysis on all the developments in the talent acquisition technology space. 

If you want to share this article the reference to Brian Delle Donne and The HR Tech Weekly ® blog is obligatory.