Referrals – leveraging your team’s network

Hiring is tough.

Your company wants the best available talent, you want to deliver it but so does everyone else. I was recently listening to a podcast on Startup Recruiting involving Qubit’s Head of Talent Acquisition, Matthew Bradburn. Matt went into detail to discuss one key part of a talent acquisition strategy – utilising employee referrals. People want to work with the best so they will be forthcoming in highlighting people they believe to be great. Sound obvious?

Obtaining referrals from employees

Whilst employee referrals should not be relied upon as the primary source of candidates, they can provide quality, passive candidates that can bring skills and experience not available on the market.

The key question here is ‘how to obtain referrals from employees?’ This can be particularly difficult to get right, as any recruitment function will be met with a number of issues from employees reluctant to refer skilled professionals. Reasons can include:

  • Fear a poor referral reflecting badly on their judgment
  • Lack of an incentivised referral program
  • Unwillingness to refer passive candidates
  • Trust in their recruitment department offering a good candidate experience

Poor referral?

Employees should not be fearful of referring candidates. The majority of referrals are for people who pretty much have the required skills to do the job at hand. From experience, contacts are also referred as the employee sees that person as a good ‘team fit’ and would add to the current team moral and working style.

So, in the event that a candidate is referred and does not quite make the cut, it should not be viewed negatively. A rejection does not mean that the candidate was a bad one; it simply means that they may not be quite right for that role in the organisation at that time.

Lack of an incentivised referral program

I’d like to explore this in more detail in future blogs so I won’t elaborate too much at this stage. Safe to say that there are arguments for and against an incentivised referral program. An incentivised scheme could yield a greater number of referrals. But could it also lead to a decrease in quality?

Unwillingness to refer passive candidates

This is an interesting one. I asked one of my colleagues the other day if they knew of suitable candidates that they could recommend/refer. The response from one was ‘yes, but they aren’t looking’. I found this slightly puzzling.

Of course employees should not pass on referrals without thought or consideration for that person. On the other hand, it’s the role of the recruiter to seek out passive candidates and introduce opportunities to them. Suppose I was to find the said candidate during a search. Am I not to contact as one of our employees knew that they weren’t looking? Absolutely not. In this case, why would an employee not disclose the name of a potential candidate so that dialogue can be opened, even if for future reference?

An employee should not feel burdened as to whether their referral is looking for a new role or not. Chances are that if they’re suitable the recruiter will identify them anyway so why not pair up? Have a joint business approach in referring passive people so the recruiter is aware of whom they are and the internal relationship before reaching out to them.

Trust in recruiter giving a good candidate experience

Ever referred someone and recruitment never contacted them? Or they did but then they heard nothing back for weeks? Having to take that awkward phone call from your referral, chasing up their application has no doubt happened to employees previously and it puts them off referring people they know again. Understanding and listening to employee’s experiences and explaining the referrals process will help you to build their trust and put their mind at ease that you will offer a prompt candidate experience for anyone they refer.

How to obtain referrals

We’ve looked at the reasons why referrals are great and why employees may be apprehensive about supposedly putting their ‘neck on the line’ by recommending a candidate.

From a recruiter’s perspective, we should try to make this process as simple and as transparent as possible. Remove the formality of a recommendation. Pose questions like ‘who are the best people you have worked with’ rather than ‘are you able to recommend somebody for this role?’ Follow up with questions like ‘what made that person a great colleague?’ and ‘how did they approach their work’. This opens up the conversation and encourages employees to discuss what they feel makes a great candidate.

As mentioned in previous blogs, empowering employees to play a part in the hiring process is something that any rapidly growing company should adopt. Why can’t referrals play as key a part as interviewing in this?

If done right, referrals can provide a great additional source of quality candidates. The key is striking that balance with current employees and creating an enthusiasm around hiring. Every employee wants to feel that his or her voice and opinion is being heard. This is a great way to get them involved and play an active part in growing your company!

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