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When to decline an employee referral for a job

In the February 27, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader questions how meaningful an employee referral is when it’s impersonal.


employee referralA friend at a company I’m interested in working for referred me for a job. I have a phone interview scheduled with a “technical recruiter” later today. I asked if there was any special preparation I could do for the interview. I was told no, that we would be covering my previous experience and projects during the call.

You always recommend using a job interview to demonstrate how the applicant would actually do the job. Since the interview is with a recruiter, not the hiring manager who runs the technical team, I somehow doubt there will be an opportunity to demonstrate I can do the job.

I’m surprised at the way they’re handling this. I already have a strong recommendation from an employee. Why should I talk to a recruiter first? Nobody needs to recruit me — I’ve already been recruited and referred!

[A reader posted a shorter version of this story as a comment on another column. I edited it so it would stand on its own.]

Nick’s Reply

This is a good example of a truly stupid move by an employer. You’re absolutely correct: There is no need for a recruiter to screen you because you’ve already been screened and recruited!

Why do companies even have employee referral programs if they’re going to treat referred job candidates like some unknown applicant?

Employee referral or bureaucratic process?

In fact, the intervention of the recruiter should give people like you pause. This tells you the company’s hiring process is broken. The company can’t tell the difference between random applicants and desirable job candidates — or doesn’t care.

We see another form of such foolishness when a recruiter interviews a random applicant (who was not referred personally), then tells them to go to the company website to fill out a lengthy form about their qualifications. But, what was the point of the interview if not to judge the candidate’s qualifications?

The problem in both cases is that the selection process is thoughtlessly bureaucratic and unduly stretched out after a candidate has already been scrutinized. This redundancy turns off the best candidates and often results in the employer losing them.

The purpose of any recruiting and selection process must be to get good candidates to the hiring manager as quickly and enthusiastically as possible!

(When it doesn’t work that way, it may be prudent to politely decline an employee referral for a job.)

Personal referrals deserve personal attention

I think you’re right to harbor doubts and to question how you’re being treated — and to be concerned that the upcoming interview with the recruiter is not worthy of your time. You won’t be able to show what you can do. Only the hiring manager is qualified to have that kind of exchange with you. Why waste your time?

When an employee makes a personal referral (it should have been made to the actual manager, by the way), the manager should personally jump on it and make the call immediately. The employee, after all, has done the manager a favor, and so have you. The manager should treat this trusted personal referral as a gift. Otherwise, it’s a huge dis to the employee — because why else would they ever make a personal referral again, if it isn’t handled personally by the manager?

Why bother?

We won’t even get into why you’d ever accept a referral from your friend again, if this is how you’re going to be received. The friend has an obligation to make sure the hiring manager welcomes you enthusiastically and gratefully. Unfortunately, employees of companies that have referral programs know they’re usually a bureaucratic nightmare. (For a better way to make a referral, please see Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why).)

Of course, any job candidate should be thoroughly interviewed and assessed. A personal referral is no guarantee of a job. But it should be a guarantee of the best treatment a company and a manager can offer.

Sheesh, employers are stupid. Then they complain they can’t find good candidates. (See Referrals: How employers waste proven talent.)

My advice is to call your friend the employee and explain you’d be glad to meet with the hiring manager on the friend’s recommendation — “which I really appreciate.” But add that you didn’t apply for the job from off the street, and you’re not going to spend your valuable time getting grilled by a recruiter.

How to Say It:

“Look, I appreciate the personal referral. It was kind of you, and I hope I can return the favor some day. But if the manager isn’t ready to talk with me on your recommendation, then it’s not worth my time, either. I’m glad to invest time to show a manager how I’ll do the technical work properly and profitably. But I don’t have time to chat with a recruiter about my resume. If the manager would like to meet with me, I’m ready for that discussion any time. Thanks again for your faith in me.”

If I were the employee who made the referral, I’d go talk to the manager and suggest the manager make the call promptly. “I’m trying to help you fill a job, but I need you to help preserve the respect this candidate has for me and for our company. I made a personal referral expecting this individual would be treated personally and with care. Is there anything I can do to help move this along?”

Should a personal employee referral be treated personally? What’s your experience been when you’ve been referred for a job? Does your company have an employee referral program? How does it work — and do you participate?


  1. I think the problem may be that if they do not put every job applicant through exactly the same process they may be liable if a failed applicant brings a discrimination lawsuit. It’s been stated before that HR’s purpose is to protect the company from lawsuits

    • @Rich: If that’s HR’s job, then HR should get out of recruiting and interviewing. It has always astonished me that HR has wound up with this role of assessing job candidates — it makes absolutely NO sense that someone unskilled in a certain job function does the first cut of applicants. That’s like having your lawyer review stocks and hand you the list he likes so you and your investment advisor can then pick from it.

    • If “HR’s purpose is to protect the company from lawsuits” one should fire HR, and hire lawyers who are skilled in that task.

      • @L.T.: Somme may think your suggestion is snarky, but it’s simply prudent and honest.

  2. How close is this friend? How well do they know each other? I have on occasions had former study mates ask me for a referral, but balked – because I know that they may be nice people, but not that technically good – or technically good, but that their personality is OK to be around at an arms distance, but too challenging a close colleague. If this friend is a bit conflict shy, he may have avoided the embarrassment of saying “no, I won’t refer you” by referring in a way he knows leads into the dark void of HR.

    • @Karsten: That’s another problem entirely. Referring someone to be nice is irresponsible. When a manager gets a referral from an employee, and it turns out to be a waste of time, that’s a strike against the employee — whose credibility suffers (and maybe his or her tenure, too). Recruiting is everyone’s job. It should be handled responsibly.

      • Agree on that. It was just a thought that struck me as possible explanation; however, I agree that doing so is disrespectful towards both the possible candidate and management. And the manager could not know either, he must assume that the referral is real.

        (For myself, I have on such occasions just skipped to the next topic, to avoid the issue).

      • Eh, I mean, there are different levels of referrals. I’ll flag basically anyone’s application for the hiring manager, but the note I send to the manager is between them and I. It might say “I used to work with Leah and she’s really tremendous at x, y, and z” and be an enthusiastic referral. It might be “I have a friend that applied to your open position – James May – I’ve never worked with them before but I can vouch that he’s a really smart person who loves the work he does.” It might even be “Hey! Richard Hammond has applied here a few times and is really interested in working for the company. I told him I’d flag his application for your junior engineer role, so that’s what I’m doing. Thanks!”

      • @Karsten: No matter how we’d like it to work, you’re right. Too often a personal referral is not a strong one. Which is why I suggest that if an employee is serious about making one, they should do it in person to the manager, so the manager can do a bit of quizzing.

        @Kimberlee: You said it! “there are different levels of referrals”

  3. This was not an employee referral but a direct invitation to interview by a company.

    A long time ago I was working as a Network Support Engineer for the now defunct Bay Networks. I knew the company was failing and I was out beating the bushes trying to find a safe port in the storm.

    Out of the blue I got an email addressed to my Bay Networks email account from their principal competitor (who shall remain unnamed but is now the largest networking technology company in the world).

    The email invited me to visit their local office to discuss the opportunities and benefits of employment with their firm.

    I made an appointment and was ushered into their HR department. The first question I got was “Why do you want to work for us. I answered “I am not sure if I do want to work for your firm. You contacted me. I am waiting for you to tell me why I should want to work for you.”. Needless to say the interview went rapidly south after that. The HR person adopted an arrogant and almost rude demeanor. The interview was mercifully cut off at that point.

    • This is my standard answer when I am employed and a recruiter submits me for a position. When the HR flack (I know, I know, but you have to jump through some hoops) invariably asks me the “Why are you looking to make a change” etc. question, I emphatically respond with an “I’m NOT – you guys are recruiting ME for a position.”

      This invariably stops them with a jaw-gaping stutter, some mumbling and the HR interview is usually cut short. I find it amusing.

    • I repeat my position: HR should get out of recruiting because it doesn’t know the difference between recruiting and shuffling paper. Great examples from Dave P and Hank!

  4. I work for a company that has an employee referral program. My company has been trying to build a first-time, in-house team in an area in which I have over 15 years experience. I have referred 3 people I trust to do a great job contributing to a team they want to build and NONE of my referrals have been hired. The referrals have to go straight to HR even though I tell my direct manager about the people I know. I think HR vets them anyway! I think it may have to do with me and my manager’s differences in philosophy. I recommend people to hire for transformation. My manager and company likes to hire cogs in a wheel — those who will just go along to get along. It’s gotten so bad that I myself am searching for new work. The new team they’ve been trying to build has been a failure.

  5. Yep. Employers are stupid. And greedy. They treat employees like commodities to be coveted or traded, and like they are expenses to be trimmed or eliminated instead of the ONLY MEANS THE COMPANY HAS TO GET ITS WORK DONE AND MAKE MONEY.

    Yes, I was yelling. Sure, automation can help employers get rid of some employees, but you then need people who can run and repair and install the equipment that provides the automation.

    The rush to dump seasoned workers also really makes me angry, but I’ll save that for another discussion.

    • When employers turn to “contracting firms” to avoid hiring perm employees, OF COURSE they view workers as commodities.

  6. I’m reading Ask The Headhunter today with my mouth hanging open in amazement. That happens to me frequently with ATH but this is the first time I’m writing about it.

    Now I’m the first to gripe that hiring processes are broken. They stink and should be changed. Meanwhile, we have no choice but to live in the world as it is.

    Take today’s column. Apparently an acquaintance referred the writer for a job in the acquaintance’s company and the writer was offered an interview. Given that most approaches go down the black hole, the writer should be happy.

    But he’s not. He is bitter at the imposition on his valuable time that he is not ushered right in to prove he can do the job. He is too important to waste his time on an initial get-acquainted discussion.

    Actually, he is proving something fundamental: he is too crotchety to fit the corporate culture.

    Just wait until he has real work to do but instead he has to attend boring status-update meetings and gather for birthday cake.

    The company has dodged a hiring bullet. This guy is a bitter pain in the rear end.

    Same thing for resumes. Submitting a resume is not a big deal. A resume is a useful snapshot of the individual that supports the decision process. It combines standardized information with an opportunity for the applicant to highlight what he feels is important about his ability to do the job.

    Posters to ATH love to brag about their smart-ass positioning. If they were in their twenties, we would roll our eyes in disgust.

    I am placing a screen in front of my computer. Start throwing those tomatoes. ?


    • I agree that both an initial get to know each other interview and a resume can have some functions – provided that the get together is with a manager and the resume read by someone competent to judge it. However, this case seems to be one of a random recruiter wasting both the candidate and the company’s time for some random procedures.

    • Diana,

      This may come as a shock to you, but my time IS worth more than yours. Courtesy and respect IS important to me, even if it’s totally foreign to clueless HR people and recruiters. I expect to be treated with the respect I’ve earned (not owed) working in my various professional roles over the years. A conversation with the hiring manager, even if it’s a short one, before speaking with an internal recruiter, is not only called for but expected. Big difference between blindly funneling job seekers into the black hole, and a hiring manager walking you over (so to speak) to the recruiter and the recruiter being instructed to “take care of this person.”

      However, note that that doesn’t guarantee the job seeker will get the position, just that the proper courtesy was shown and that the referrer and the referee were treated respectfully in this process.

      The company probably didn’t dodge any bullets, but you can be sure they’ll be needing to recruit more people as disrespected employees finally had enough with incompetent managers and unprofessional HR staff at that place.

      And as for resumes, you’re really way off the mark. Resumes are vital marketing tools for us, and they MUST radically change as our professional and life experience changes. A twenty-something’s resume will NEVER look the same as mine, and I never try to make believe mine would be the same as theirs.

      Our (older experienced job seekers’) marketing tools must be different to counteract the heavy bias against us (older than twenty-something’s) with poorly configured automated applications processes. If you have had to look for a job in recent years, you would have already come to that conclusion yourself. So what exactly is your factual basis for making all of these claims?

      Sorry you don’t like our (majority of ATH visitors?) positioning. But any internal HR person who’d like to follow your advice and speak or write the words about criticizing us by twenty-something standards, there’s a $50,000 bounty per incident per US Federal law (EEOC) for anyone who’d like to try. Don’t take my word for it, do your homework and look it up. I did.

    • @Diana: No tomatoes! That’s not what we’re here for :-)

      “Actually, he is proving something fundamental: he is too crotchety to fit the corporate culture.”

      That’s the fundamental problem with everything you are saying. The OP proved no such thing. When an employer makes that kind of judgment based only on the information we have, it loses. It reveals astonishing bias. “Too crotchety?” How do you know that? Doesn’t fit the corp culture? How do you know that?

      “He is too important to waste his time on an initial get-acquainted discussion.”

      Please consider what you’re really saying. “The hiring manager is too important to invest his or her time in someone personally referred by an employee.”

    • Diana,
      I have to marvel at the telepathic ability of everyone in the personnel pipeline. From one strained interaction you have become judge, jury and executioner.

      Backed by …. what?

      The issue is that this entire ridiculous personnel pipeline is filled with amateur psychologists, amateur sociologists, posturing, ego-tripping and misalignment of purposes.

      I have no idea when this personnel thing went so far off the rails. Some say it was ATS but I don’t think that is it. I am convinced that absolutely no one has the foggiest idea what they are doing, with the exception of about 5 recruiters (Nick is one one them) and the ONLY reason they have cred is because they hold up this farce for what it is.

      • @Randy: My estimate is that about 5% of headhunters/recruiters and 5% of HR know what they’re doing and do it well. There really are some good ones out there. They know who they are, and they love it because they have little competition.

      • Yes, all of this, thank you! You eloquently put my feelings into words! It seems no matter how many credentials I’ve obtained, and work experience over 30+ years, my fate is ostensibly in the hands of some obscure person deemed qualified to judge me.

        Just who is this person? What is their story? How concerned are they in filling this position or are they looking for anything to deem me unsuitable, albeit discarding my CV to whittle down their in-box?

        Regardless of title (HR, recruiter, hiring manager), I often wonder what effort they’ve made to fairly assess my candidacy. Have they thoroughly read each job listed on my resume? Or are they only assessing tenure at each employer? Do they appreciate the story of my work life and the skills gained and talents utilized along the way? Can they understand the commitment/work ethic/ reliability I’ve shown in volunteer positions?

        Instead of weeding out the qualified candidate while waiting for the “purple squirrel,” companies need to clean house of ineffectual HR policies/SOP’s/ridiculous job descriptions supported by arrogant, clueless/careless “decision-makers.” Is there much difference between a blue, green, or purple squirrel anyway?

        • I meant to address my previous comment to @Randy.

          But another idea that I hold true: people have higher expectations for others than they do for themselves.

        • @Face: Your comments raise questions. What should HR be looking for? What should a hiring manager look for? Whatever it is, apparently paltry success rates suggest something is distracting them.

  7. Now I’m the first to gripe that hiring processes are broken. They stink and should be changed. Meanwhile, we have no choice but to live in the world as it is. ~ Tomatoes Target ;-) with love.

    Actually, you do have a choice and you have made the choice to remain on the same ATH wheel like a hamster. That’s ok, but your argument dismissing those who choose to reject this path is unconvincing. Employers will change the broken hiring system when it starts costing them talented workers and becomes general public knowledge discussed in forums like this. That day os swiftly coming.

  8. No matter all the ATH philosophy to the contrary, the reality in the workplace today is that companies have SOP’s that all hires MUST go through HR. There may even be substantive penalties to a hiring manager that “interviews” a candidate outside the formal process. And yes, to be offended that a “recruiter” (the poster did not state whether it was an external recruiter or an HR employee with the title of recruiter) would contact you first is a little over the top.

    That said, I have had referrals submitted to me, whom I DID call personally and talk to at length. However, when it was all said and done, I STILL was OBLIGED to have them either contact HR directly, or worse, apply through the website. I do, however, personally call the HR flack in charge and give them my personal recommendation to give my referral significant consideration and to push them through the process.

    Finally, many official referral programs are tied to cash money to the referrer – i.e. you can get literally thousands of dollars for a referral that gets hired. However you MUST go through a special portal, enter all the pertinents so that you get logged as the FIRST referrer and entitled to the bonus. Any other way gets a T.S. including if you call the hiring manager directly. And of course, HR takes it after that.

    • Any company that has a SOP that all candidates “MUST go through HR” or (worse yet) “Apply through the website” should never complain that they have trouble finding “the best” or even good candidates.

      The best candidates are going to avoid SOP-laden organizations like the plague, and will likely find well-paid employment elsewhere.

      Expecting The One True Purple Squirrel™ (or a squirrel of any persuasion) to come bounding out of the underbrush ready willing and desirous of wasting time with HR or your ATS is beyond crazy-thought.

      • @L.T.: Companies where that’s the policy have clearly delegated the task to HR. So who does the failure fall on? What does it matter if (I say if) there’s a talent shortage? It’s still HR’s job, so it must deliver without excuses. That’s business. What’s astonishing is that any board of directors accepts the nonsense about “we can’t fill key positions because there’s a talent shortage!”

        • @ Nick
          I feel like the little boy pointing out “the emperor has no clothes”, but there is not a talent shortage. There is merely a shortage of American citizens for whom Standard English is a first or second language willing to work in a sweatshop environment for peanuts and a side of gruel.

          • I just heard the new chairman of the Fed talking with a Senate committee on Bloomberg. He explained that unemployment in the U.S. is 4.1% and that this figure suggests we’re actually in hyper-employment. (That was not his term, but that’s how I remember what he was saying.) Nonetheless, he agreed with a Senator who pointed out that workers in the bottom half of the market are actually earning less than they were a few years ago. The Senator asked how Powell explains “full employment” — which in a supply-and-demand model means wages and salaries would go up — when wages for half the market are down.

            The Senator also asked how, in such a market and economy, a smaller percentage of the population is participating in the workforce.

            Powell’s answers didn’t really matter to me. What matters to me is that these troubling facts are out there for discussion and debate.

            • Who was this astute Senator? Congress-critters who understand the role of supply & demand in price determination are almost as rare as that purple squirrel!

            • Wish I’d taken note of who the Senator was. I didn’t.

        • @L.T. and @Nick: RE the “talent shortage”–that’s just an excuse to either not hire anyone (rather than admit they can’t make up their minds or that they couldn’t find anyone willing to do the job at the low salary offered or that they couldn’t find anyone who had already done the job for 10 years so they wouldn’t have to train the new hire, etc.) or to hire H1B visa holders dirt cheap. And it means that their ATSes couldn’t find an 18 year old with two masters’ degrees, 15 years experience, and who was willing to work for peanuts.

          Someone on this blog a while ago wrote about employers approaching filling jobs like shopping for a replacement part at Home Depot. The old part wore out, and all they want to do is find the cheapest replacement, drop it in the machine, et voilà, the machine immediately begins running smoothly again. But people aren’t cogs in a machine, and that’s something that has been forgotten in this day and age of ATSes and ZipRecruiter promising employers the perfect (lowest salary and no training/ramp up required) by just using keywords.

  9. I’ve been on both sides of employee referrals for external candidates, and never had any luck either recommending someone or getting an offer through an employee recommendation. My last employer even offered a $2k bonus for a successful external referral. For reasons similar to those posted by the OP, the process did not result in hires through employee referrals. From conversations I had with others about similar situations where there recommendations went nowhere, no one took the program seriously and basically ignored it.

  10. I don’t TOTALLY agree with Diana, but I’m definitely closer to that position than I am to Nick here.

    First, we have absolutely no indication from the original letter that OP’s position is remotely similar to their friend’s at the company. I refer potential engineering candidates to my workplace all the time, but I work in operations and editorial. I’m not qualified to say (to a manager I’ve probably never met!) “you must call this candidate right now!” Being in a company doesn’t make you qualified to refer your friends to any job within the company. Companies do a lot of different things!

    Second, we have no particular reason to assume that the technical recruiter ISN’T well-qualified to evaluate, at least at the “30 minute phone call” level, whether OP might be a good match for the role. They very very very probably understand the role better than OP’s friend, who may be in a completely different part of the company. Nobody is making this person fill out a 3 page application (which I agree is dumb for literally any job, but especially for referrals).

    Finally, we have no idea what OP’s friend’s standing is within the company. They may not be known as a particularly hard, good, or skilled worker. They might be a pain in the ass. They might be giving OP a shot _despite_ their misgivings, which certainly isn’t something I’d want to waste a hiring manger’s time with without even a 30 minute investment of time on my part to talk to OP.

    There are SO many variables here. There are contexts where Nick would be completely correct, but there’s too many questions for the kind of absolute language he’s using here.

    • Points well-taken, Kimberlee, but I think the most basic point gets lost in the bureaucracy and rules, and there’s no excuse for it. Professional courtesy dictates that when I take the trouble to offer a personal recommendation and referral, the person I’m making it to — the manager — should pick up the phone promptly and call the person I recommended.

      I’ve been put in the shameful situation where my referral was ignored or treated like any other job applicant. I never made another referral.

      An employer can follow all rules — ridiculous and counter-productive as some might be — and still demonstrate simple professional courtesy.

  11. I use my HR team for a couple things in recruiting – keep us legal and understand the candidates availability/requirements. In the IT business I often get inflated salary requests for the position or applicants that are not eligible to work for us due to their sponsorship, location, etc.

    I recruit nationally and if a candidate wants NYC money for our Central OH firm it is not always a fit and I have no desire to waste the candidates time nor our’s if not that fit. My team is a team, I am fortunate to not just have an HR jockey but a partner in how we recruit.

    Realize this is not always the case and in other firms I worked for the HR wall was crazy. Not here and not always.

    • @Jeff: Score points for what I refer to as an embedded HR person who is truly a part of a work team. My compliments to you, your company and your HR.

  12. I’m one of the internal flacks to whom internal referrals get sent. Not all referrals are gold. Some are, but not the kind a particular role needs.

    In my world, I have had extensive conversations with my hiring managers, and I know the topline of what they’re looking for. In fact, we’ve already agreed on the points against which I’ll screen anyone, including a referral. Part of the value I add is saving my hiring manager time. These people don’t go home at 5. Their day is already maxed out. There are more than 100 people who have applied to this role. To make their day more bearable, I need to ensure that every candidate with whom they speak can, at the very least, pass my basic screening questions, or what’s the point?

    I don’t claim to be a technologist, but I’ve gotten to where I can give a pretty good topline technical interview. I’m not just trying to find out if you know Python; you’ve listed it on your resume. I need to figure out what web apps you’ve developed, how they’ve scaled, and whether you can deal with our multithreading workaround. If you haven’t done something that’s scaled to our level, whether or not your friend has referred you, it’s a waste of everyone’s time (including yours) to do a hiring manager interview.

    The process isn’t perfect. If an HR tough is asking the worst, most stroke-my-ego question ever asked in an interview (“Why do you want to work here?”), even of a referral, their recruiter card should be publicly taken from them and burned in front of a jeering crowd throwing three-day-old birthday cake. (Better: “What interests you about our company?” And listen without arrogance.) Yes, occasionally I will send a candidate away who may have been OK for the job. The three page application should be reserved for a final interview (unfortunately, liability issues make it impossible to eliminate, I hate them too– and BTW, any company who is still requiring an application to be filled out by hand should be mocked on billboards).

    But that’s life. Yes, by all means, introduce yourself to the hiring manager in any way possible, you’ll always have a leg up in the process. Absolutely talk shop with people who can make the decision. I’m definitely not making the decision. But if you’ve been referred, and you’re in front of me, you’d better be able to deal with me. It’s naive to think that you won’t.

    • @Rob Pait: I’ll repeat what I posted above.

      The most basic point gets lost in the bureaucracy and rules, and there’s no excuse for it. Professional courtesy dictates that when I take the trouble to offer a personal recommendation and referral, the person I’m making it to — the manager — should pick up the phone promptly and call the person I recommended.

      If the manager is too busy to recruit and respond to personal referrals, then the manager is no manager.

  13. I am curious how many hiring managers are currently using “recruiting process outsourcing” (RPO) services and will they actually admit they are doing so?

  14. @Hank
    “Finally, many official referral programs are tied to cash money to the referrer – i.e. you can get literally thousands of dollars for a referral that gets hired. However you MUST go through a special portal, enter all the pertinents so that you get logged as the FIRST referrer and entitled to the bonus.”

    Same here when I used to work at a major Fortune 500 company which always put pressure on current employees to make referrals for cash bonus (after the new employee gets hired and pass the 90-day probation).

    One of the new employees left after a referral from an employed acquaintance because she was told that she would get to work in the daytime. Instead, she worked on the night shift after the 90-day probation. Cash money for the acquaintance and the manager again was left with an open position.

    As a rule, I do not make referrals because of the internal hassles that come with them and the rules about the new employee’s personal information being private.

    • @JM: That’s a whole ‘nuther problem. The payouts are almost always mismanaged. To promote any behavior (like referring good hires), the laws of behavioral psychology tell us the reward must be proximal to the behavior. It’s easy to see why these programs rarely work: They payout is delayed for up to a year to ensure the new hire stays, or the payments are parsed and staggered over that period. Either way, by the time the employee sees any money at all, there’s little proximal relationship to making the referral. I can’t recall one program that really works as it should.

      The other issue is the amount paid out. A $60,000 hire will earn a headhunter about $15,000. An employee is lucky to see $2,000. The employer saves a lot.

      • Hit the nail on the head.
        Like a Lotto ticket, refer 10 people without paying $1.00 for a Lottery ticket for each one, and you can get $2000 when they are hired. Better odds than a Lottery.

        Referral IS NOT A PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION TO THE HIRING MANAGER who respects that persons opinion.

        Even a personal recommendation means nothing if the referring employee isn’t respected or a “STAR” employee!! HIPOT!

        HIPOT is a High Potential Employee, someone who walks on water.

        Personal Recommendations will deliver a job, at least they have 4 times in my career!

  15. Ah, Resume …

    Contact Info
    A Relavent Cert or Two
    Years At Job
    (20+ Years Petting a Kitty for instance)

    A good manager can tell in an instant if this person meets his needs.

    • I have a pulse. Isn’t that enough?

      • Joseph Fabian
        These days you need 2 Medals of Honor and 20 years experience with Windows 10, and be under the age of 25.

  16. I have been “referred” through employee referral programs too and both a big name companies. The one person who referred me looked at my resume and said I was probably qualified for other jobs, not just the one I wanted to apply.

    The employee sent me the referral link, which took me to the company’s website where I had to complete an lengthy application and submit my resume. I was declined the position within 24 hours. Do I think anyone even reviewed my resume and qualifications–nope. I did not pass the ATS, even though I was referred, so no interview.

    The person who referred me followed up and I told her what happened. She said she was sorry and would be happy to refer me again. But, what’s the point of doing that? I’ll still go through the same process and no one will ever review my resume and qualifications.

    The above shows why “employee referral” programs are a joke.

  17. Nice post Nick. It’s a poor recruiting process if referral candidates are going through the standard screening calls to get qualified. It creates a bad impression for a good candidate.
    Also, in my opinion clients using sites like BountyHunter etc. and enrolling many recruiters on a contingency basis without properly communicating and engaging these recruiters, is a terrible model of looking to hire a strong matching candidate.
    Thanks Nick for sharing your insights.

  18. Most companies encourage employee referrals and grant small bonuses when a successful candidate is recruited. I think that part of the problem why those referrals sometimes go nowhere is that they often forces the employee to follow a process to refer someone (to be eligible for a small bonus). And so, when they follow that referral process, they actually have no idea what will happen next, how will the person be contacted, who will contact them, will they be treated well, etc.
    I recently started a new job which I got through a referral from a former colleague. It is with a big company (70/+K ppl) which encourages employee referrals and has a special process in place for that (to track referral bonuses). My contact at the firm was smart to skip the formal process and instead just put my resumé on the hiring manager’s desk (and probably told her in person why she should hire me). She called me the very next day. From there, the process was extremely fast: she immediately scheduled a series of other interviews and the offer came in about a week from talking to the hiring manager. I definitely felt I was being treated as a priority canditate. I also think it was so efficient because my contact took that risk of skipping the process to make sure my profile would get into the right hands and would be treated the right way. As for his referral bonus, I simply and innocently contacted HR to let them know I had been referred and absolutely wanted to make sure this was recognized. Solved.

    • Thanks for posting that. Now, what’s so complicated about this? The only technology required was a desk to place the resume on. The only process was the employee personally telling the manager why to hire you.

      The great thing about this is, it’s self-policing. The first time a manager ignores such a referral, the employee never makes another. And if the manager finds the referral was a thoughtless one, he or she tells the employee never to do that again.

      HR not required. Anybody got a problem with that?

  19. No tomatoes, Dana.

    My best hire was a PhD from Hopkins who I had to send to a 25 year old screener at a third party firm.

    I called her, the candidate, before the interview and:

    1 Apologised for wasting her time
    2 Told her the interview would have no bearing on the decision process.

    The value of the information I received from the interview was zero, give or take epsilon.

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