Referrals are the best way to find new employees, right?
Sort of. You are no more likely to hire all of your employees through a referral program than you are to broil everything you eat.
When you’re hunting for team members who will give the company a powerful competitive edge in a specific technology, do you want the VP of marketing’s frat brother or the Nobel prize winning scientist? Conversely, when you’re staffing a call center, do you want a hot shot Harvard Business School graduate or the brother-in-law of your best performaer?
Pretty much, you never want to use referral programs to staff functions with check writing authority.
Referrals, like any recruiting methodology have their place. They can be powerfully useful. They can also cause culture-rot if managed without care.
In keeping with our current ‘X is not X‘ theme, referrals are not referrals. Referral programs range in design from high volume candidate flow drivers to the sort of referral you might make about a bottle of wine or a good restaurant. While the implementation approaches range widely in effectiverness, the idea that all referral programs yield predictable and repeatable results persists.
At its core, an individual referral involves some key elements:
- An employee who
- has the best interests of the organization at heart
- knows the sorts of people who can help the company meet its goals
- is willing to stake her professional reputation on a recommendation
- believes that her recommendation will help her friend get the job
- can adequately distinguish between her interests, her friends interests and the company’s
- is willing to live with the cognitive dissonance associated with integrating her social and work personnas
- An employer (really, a hiring manager) who
- values the employee’s recommendations
- believes that the workforce will be better if there are ‘more like her’
- is willing to give an advantage to someone the employee recommends
- is comfortable blurring the lines between work and social life
- wants accountability for acting on referrals to be a part of the employment relationship
- is willing to risk the morale damage when it doesn’t work out
- is willing to be vigilant on the dicrimination front
The difference between various referral programs is a function of how much emphasis you put on each of these variables.