A Golden Age of referral recruitment?

Earlier in the year I wrote a post underlining my strong belief that we’re entering a golden age of referral recruiting as improving technology makes it possible to unlock the power of people’s social graphs. This is all very well in theory but I thought it was time I found some actual examples to prove the point.

After a bit of digging around I found an interesting economic study called “The Strength of Weak Ties” by Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter (I can’t link to the study for reasons that will soon become apparent). Granovetter surveyed a number of working professionals in an unnamed Boston suburb, who had recently found a new job via a referral, to see how well they actually knew the person who told them about the job. The overwhelming majority indicated that they had found jobs through “weak ties” In other words they were helped by people they didn’t actually know well or talk to regularly such as old college friends, past work mates and friends of friends.

Granovetter observed: ” Usually such ties had not even been very strong when first forged….Chance meetings or mutual friends operated to reactivate such ties. It is remarkable that people receive crucial information from individuals whose very existence they have forgotten”

The most interesting thing of all is that Granovetter’s study wasn’t done in 2010, he did it 37 years ago in 1973! I can’t link to it because it isn’t even on the Internet, I found it in a book.*

So if all this was the case in 1973 imagine the huge potential for the strength of weak ties to benefit recruiting efforts in the modern world! The rise of online social networking has dramatically increased the number and geographical range of weak ties in a typical person’s social graph. It is also far easier for people to have a dialogue with their weak ties than it would have been in 1973 and possible to massively increase the reach of any job related message through social graphs via automation and the viral effect of sites like Twitter and Facebook. While this isn’t exactly an up to date case study I think it serves to further underline the massive potential of this area of social recruiting.

The key question for me is which parts of the recruitment market are going to step up and really make the most of this massive opportunity. Although there have been a few attempts to capitalize on it, I don’t believe anyone has yet managed to fully unlock the potential. It may be that it is still too early in the evolution of the social web for these type of referrals to benefit everyone but I can absolute guarantee you that they are the future of recruitment.

(*You can actually download a pdf if you like reading academic papers!)

11 responses to “A Golden Age of referral recruitment?

  1. Brilliant article Matt!
    Whilst I can’t point to a definitive study, I firmly believe that the rise of the recruitment agencies, from 1980 to 1995, actually significantly reduced the incidence of referral recruiting.
    Prior to this, whilst employers did indeed advertise, they wanted the assurance of a candidate referred to them by someone they already knew, however tenuously.
    Recruitment agencies stepped into that same space, as a professional, instead of personal, referral system. The last 15 years of online recruitment has put the power back into the hands of the savvy employer to find more effective routes to a wider pool of potential employees.
    Like flared jeans, platform shoes and hits by Journey, referral recruitment is indeed back in vogue, …again.

  2. You’re on point with this article.

    It’s important though to point out the steps agencies need to take in order to achieve this. Building relationships requires building trust. Can you think of a larger agency that does this well?

  3. Good article, Matt – and one that resonates.

    We’re already doing it…http://www.onlymarketingjobs.com/referral-rewards.cms.asp


  4. Great article, Matt! Great perspective.

    It leaves me wondering how the volume of weak connections now – making weak connections even weaker – may impact this.

    It may be the beginning of a good argument against the “open networking” approach some take on some of the networks, like Linked In.

  5. Didn’t I term 2010 as Year of the Referral?

  6. @Peter. I’ve always said 2011…

  7. Hi Matt,

    This week we started our company SocialReferral. We think we found the answer how to take Employee Referral in to the 21st century.

    Check http://www.socialreferral.com to get a glimpse. This is the press release from earlier this week:

    SocialReferral turns social networks into a low cost recruitment source

    Amsterdam – April 13, 2010

    Today, SocialReferral launches the world’s first proactive job referral platform. Companies that are looking for talent can use this new platform to reach active and passive job seekers by utilizing the social networks of their employees. SocialReferral matches the vacancies with the employees’ social networks and presents them the best possible matches. The employees filter the matches and invite the best candidates to apply for the job.

    Network of Headhunters
    Employee Referral Programs are used by organizations to identify potential candidates within their employees’ social networks. Incorporating social media is the logical next step in the evolution of Employee Referral Programs. SocialReferral automates the referral process and helps employees in becoming successful recruiters. By using SocialReferral a company can create its own network of headhunters.

    Low costs, high quality
    SocialReferral not only lowers the cost of recruitment, it also increases the quality of candidates. At the same time, it enables companies to achieve higher levels of efficiency in their referral processes. It is a low-cost alternative for expensive executive search firms and recruitment agencies.

    Benefits of SocialReferral:
    • Reach the hidden talent pool: SocialReferral reaches even passive candidates
    • Influence passive job seekers; the job offer comes through a trusted source
    • It gives HR managers/recruiters insight in the recruitment potential of an employee’s social network
    • Maximize work efficiency by minimizing time, travel and labor

  8. Interesting article. Do you think that the formalization of the hiring process by corporations will have an impact on the effectiveness of weak ties across modern social platforms?

  9. Pingback: A golden age of referral recruitment? | SocialRecruitments.com

  10. Pingback: Redefining Social Recruiting for 2011 « Recruiting Futurology

  11. Pingback: Redefining social recruiting for 2011 «

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s