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The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Referrals: How employers waste proven talent

Quick Question

How far down the employment ladder do the Ask The Headhunter principles of the job market go? Do personal referrals and recommendations help at all levels?

referralsMy daughter worked an entry level position for a clothing chain in New York, and left to move to California.  Her three managers each wanted her to stay, and said they would act as references, because she showed initiative on the job. Since she did what needed to be done instead of just what she was told to do, they wanted to keep her with the company, even if not in their store. She followed the chain’s instructions, and brought a completed application to a store that has openings in California, according to their website. Despite that, they told her they don’t have openings.

Does the principle of getting a position by being recommended by someone known to the manager apply even at this level? Or do stores fill half their entry level positions with people they don’t know?

Nick’s Quick Advice

Your question is about how your daughter can get a job using insider referrals. But the real story here is how employers waste proven talent. First let’s help your daughter get the job.

I think hiring by insider referrals is actually more likely with lower level jobs than higher level, simply because it’s not very risky. Even if the manager makes a mistake, it’s not like they just hired a pricey executive.

  • It’s faster. If the employer has good information about a candidate, it’s just a quicker hire.
  • It’s easier. Because lower-level jobs attract lots more applicants than higher-level jobs, the employer usually loves to avoid culling through thousands of applicants. Hiring by trusted referrals is much less work.

Lazy referrals

I think your daughter didn’t get invited for a job interview because her old managers are lazy. It sounds like they urged her to apply at the new location because they think so much of her, and offered to be references, but it ended there. They basically told her to apply like thousands of other people would.

Those managers didn’t pick up the phone to call managers at the California location to actively recommend her in advance of her applying. That means they did nothing.

If they want to help her and help their company, they should pick up the phone. Their offer to be references — after she applies, and after she’s selected for an interview, and after someone in HR asks for references — is meaningless. References aren’t referrals.

How to Say It

If I were your daughter, I’d contact her old bosses, tell them what happened, send them copies of the open job postings, and say this:

“Your faith in me and your recommendation to the California store mean a lot to me. Would you please call the manager of the store in California, explain your thoughts about me, and suggest she or he interview me? Your call will make me stand out among other applicants they don’t know — and it will help them fill the job faster and with less work.”

What I really want to suggest she say in the last part is, “…it will help them fill the job faster and with less work, you dopes!” But of course, she should not add that.

How employers waste proven talent

Here we have an employer that has valuable, proven talent in hand, ready to fill another job in the organization, but doesn’t even know it, because its managers don’t truly understand what that means. It’s partly due to the managers at the old store, and partly due to the company’s failure to actively promote internal employee mobility.

If those three managers won’t do as your daughter asks, then they’re not helping your daughter, and they’re hurting their company. Wasting talent is worse than letting people steal clothes off the rack. See References: How employers bungle a competitive edge.

I hope your daughter makes that call and I wish her the best.

Have you ever gotten a new job in your own company with a solid internal referral? Have you helped someone in your company make an internal move?

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1 Comment
  1. I have found that this sort of thing tends to be more of a problem with larger, slower moving organizations. If you manage to get (or even have) a “foot in the door” and talk to the real hiring authority (or someone close to them) you are simply directed to apply on the website. In my mind, part of this is to have a short conversation beforehand to gauge interest on both sides – no point in anyone wasting time, i.e HR demands a long application where it then goes into a black hole, interviews when when it’s a bad fit, etc.

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