Why referrals make the best hires

By Sharon Florentine

Most HR pros say job candidate referrals are safer bets when hiring, but most job seekers aren’t networking effectively to get those referrals, according to a new study from Future Workplace and Beyond.com.

Looking for a new job but can’t seem to land one? Maybe your poor networking skills are to blame? A new national survey reveals that while HR professionals say employee referrals are the best source for finding great candidates, only 7 per cent of job seekers are using referrals as part of their job search.

The Active Job Seeker Dilemma survey, from Future Workplace, a research firm and workforce management consultancy and Beyond.com, a career and hiring marketplace, polled 4,347 U.S. job seekers and 129 HR professionals. The survey revealed a major disconnect between job seekers and the HR pros who are looking to hire when it comes to how candidates are identified.

Referrals are the preferred means of identification

According to 71 per cent of the HR professionals surveyed, employee referrals are the best resource for finding candidates, yet only 7 per cent of job seekers surveyed view referrals as their top resource for finding a job. ‘This is a major point that shows up in the study – and I blame technology. That sounds horrible, but I really see a major lack of networking and communication happening nowadays. Especially the younger generations don’t have a clue what’s important here – put down the smartphone, get out from behind the computer and go meet some people in person and make some connections,’ says Rich Milgram, CEO of Beyond.com. Today’s technology is phenomenal, but it should be a tool used to facilitate connections, not as a crutch for job seekers to hide behind, Milgram says.

Communication and networking are in-demand skills

While his advice may sound harsh, it’s backed up by the research; when asked to list the most important skills candidates need, effective communication skills top the list for both employers and employees. But the survey also revealed that 48 per cent of workers surveyed and 43 per cent of HR professionals say virtual collaboration and teamwork skills were the greatest weaknesses they needed to address.

‘[Communication, networking and teamwork] are skills that you need not just on the job, but for your entire life. People have to understand how this works – it doesn’t have to be a family member or a good friend, just someone you know. Figure out how to get some common ground and set up a lunch or a coffee date with them. Leverage that relationship to figure out how you can work together,’ says Dan Schawbel, partner and research director at Future Workplace.

Always be passive

The survey also revealed that, in today’s employment landscape, job seekers who are ‘passive’ – currently employed but considering other opportunities – with a wide network of referrals have the advantage over job seekers who are ‘active’ – those who are currently unemployed but seeking a job.

Eighty per cent of the HR professionals say passive job seekers become the most effective employees based on a number of assumptions, according to the survey. When asked to identify the biggest benefit of hiring a passive job seeker, 44 per cent of HR professionals say they have more experience; 44 per cent say they possess valuable skills and 42 per cent say they take their careers more seriously. However, job seekers don’t seem to realize this advantage, according to the survey results; when asked who has a competitive edge in the job market, less than half or 47 per cent of job seekers said passive job seekers did.

‘I started to notice this among my friends and peers – those of us who were already employed seemed to always be fending off invitations to apply or interview, or getting more potential new opportunities. So, when designing this research, I wanted to test the hypothesis and see if it was a real trend – and it is,’ says Schawbel.

His advice to job seekers based on the research – make yourself a passive job seeker by freelancing, volunteering or some other job-related activity. It’ll automatically make you more enticing to potential companies.

‘If you’re unemployed, you can turn into a passive job seeker right now by freelancing, being an entrepreneur, volunteering or blogging. I mean, you could even get started by selling items on sites like Amazon and eBay. By engaging in these activities while you search for a job, you’ll be practicing new skills and potentially make side income so you will be less desperate for a job, which makes you more attractive as a job seeker,’ Schawbel says.

This article first appeared at CIO.