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Friday, July 18, 2008

Who Will Companies Hire?

I have often been told that employers hire people they know to fill positions before they pick someone qualified for the position. Is this true? if so are there companies that prohibit the hiring of friends of friends and relatives of relatives?

Sure, lots of companies prohibit the hiring of relatives of current employees. I work in such a large company that this would be impractical, so we prohibit the hiring of relatives within the same department.

But friends? Honey, that's called networking and it's how the business world works. Unless the management is utterly incompetent (not saying such companies don't exist), they still hire qualified people--just not you. (That's what I'm getting out of your e-mail anyway. Why can't I find a job? Forgive me if I'm wrong or jumping to unwarrented conclusions.)

Hiring is an unpleasant and risky activity. Even though I harp on here that most employment in the United States is "at-will," meaning that a company can fire you for cause or no cause at any time, most companies don't terminate people willy-nillly. They have processes and procedures and just because termination is technically legal, they have to be concerned about lawsuits. (Even if a company wins a lawsuit they still have to pay legal bills.) Not to mention, no actual work gets done while you are dealing with a bad hire.

Because hiring is so risky, if Bob is a fabulous employee and he comes to me and says, "Hey, I worked with Karen at my previous company. She has all the skills needed for this vacant position and she's wonderful because of A, B, and C," then of course I'm going to interview Karen.

Karen gets an automatic bump up because Bob (who I know) has personally worked with her and recommends her. This is smart hiring, and not something to be stopped. (Not saying that hiring managers should automatically hire people who come recommended, but rather that these people are more likely to be a good fit.)

Now, of course, if Bob's reason for recommending Karen is "I understand I get a referral bonus if you hire her," she won't get that bump. "Hey, Karen was my college roommate, and dude, she's awesome!" probably will get an eyeroll from me.

Karen still needs to be qualified for the job. But, to an outsider who is trying to crack through the company fortress it can look like we only hire people's friends. This isn't likely to be true, but it can seem that way.

So, you need to start meeting people and networking. You also need to do a fabulous job at whatever company you are at now. Your co-workers may one day be in a position to recommend you. And heck, you may be in a position to to recommend them. Of course, networking has it's limitations. A recommendation from someone who worked with you for 5 years is going to pull a lot more weight than a recommendation from someone you exchanged business cards with at a mutual friend's birthday party.

Now, there are some problems with hiring via employee referral. One is that employees tend to be friends with people like themselves--same age, race, gender, socio-economic status. Fine, fine, fine, but if you've got affirmative action goals recruiting this way can make you over-represented in whatever hiring group you started with. (I seem to recall a court case where a cleaning company got sued for discrimination because almost all the employees were Korean. The case hinged on whether they were legally hiring people they knew or illegally discriminating against people who weren't Korean. I'd tell you how the case resolved, but that would involve either Googling (feasible)or going downstairs and pulling out my old constitutional law text book out and looking it up (ain't gonna happen).)

So, if you are recruiting, you need to use many methods to source your candidates. Referrals are great, but shouldn't be the be-all, end-all of existence.

If you are looking for a job, keep on it. Talk to everyone you know. Don't get angry and try not to get frustrated when it seems like you have to know someone to get a job. My first "real" job was at a company that was extremely difficult to get into. I didn't realize this (I was new to the area) and applied because I had the right skill set. I got the job even though I didn't know a soul in the company. People who had been recommended internally didn't get the job because they lacked a critical skill that I had. (In this case, the ability to do statistical analysis. Few HR people have that skill, which is a topic for another day.)


Dwain said...

One comment I will reiterate is to make sure you know the person that you are getting referred by. I have plenty of referrals from employees that are, how should I say this, the bottom feeders. I tend not to give their referrals as much weight as referrals from our best employees.

So, just becuase you know Joe over at ABC and ABC has a job that you are interested in. Don't jump on the phone and give Joe a call and see if he will put in a good word for you. Think about your experience with Joe. Is he someone you would want to refer you? If Joe referred someone to you, how would you react?

Stephanie said...

No, Evil HR Lady that's not my problem. I do not have a problem being hired. I have turned down two jobs (one which is excellent) since my contract ended in June. The problem is, I feel I have a calling to help rescue abused children. Last year, while working, I decided to go on two interviews with CPS just to see if I would be offered the job, but never was.

The reason I asked this question was because my last supervisor worked for CPS and she was the third person I came across who informed me that she was hired due to a friend who "got them on."

If you know anything about CPS (Texas), the turn over rate is over 50%. Everyone I've known who has worked for CPS only did so for one year to two years max. This has made me question company policies for hiring friends. I feel sometimes its best to hire someone that has the passion for the job along with the qualifications and not that "friend of a friend" who's going to come to your company and quit after one year.

Some things are just common sense. And as far as networking goes, I think there's a thin line between selective networking and discrimination. Might I add, It's no wonder CPS (Texas) is under investigation after finding that CPS caseworkers (friends of friends) were more likely to remove children of minority families (especially African American) from the home and less likely to remove children of Caucasian familles. Networking in the sense that your making it, seems like a pretty version of discrimination (racial in this case), but that's just my opinion.

Needless to say, I have worked my butt off for the past year and I am enjoying my summer break with my son. :-)

Evil HR Lady said...

Stephanie--as I said, there are incompetent companies that do this. From what I've been reading, Texas CPS seems to qualify.

Anonymous said...


Your whole initial email and your response irked me. Why? I think it's unwise to interview with a company just to see if you'll get offered the position. Why? Because you're wasting my time. I don't like it when candidates waste my time - and I can almost always tell when someone's wasting my time. And these excellent offers that you're turning down? Also unwise. Why? Because I remember candidates who turn down my offers. I'm just sayin'. Best of luck in your job search, but do remember, HR people (especially recruiters) remember names of people who jerk them around...please also remember, this isn't the best economy right now...there are a lot of people looking at changing careers. This brings us back to the initial point of your inquest: networking. HR people are phenomenal networkers, and tend to have many contacts in their area. They share stories of candidates with each other. Start interviewing when you're ready to take on a position, rather than just to see what you can get and enjoy your summer off. (I know I'm a bit envious) =)

Olivia said...

I don't know what you did before, but do you have all the required skill sets for the position? Have you done any work in the field in which you'd like to be involved?

Start by making sure you have all the tools. Then set about getting some work using those tools. If you can't get a job (even a bridge job to what you'd really like to do), I would also add that you could do a lot to recommend yourself by volunteering or doing some other kind of job that has a tie in to what you would really like to do. While doing that, you will hopefully meet people whose recommendations and connections will be the kind that will get you in to CPS.

When I hire, passion is an important concern, but more as a tool to choose between two equally qualified candidates. Those who have passion, but not experience usually won't get an interview, but if they get an interview by misleading me about their experience, I will be actively angry.

Bottom line: be sure you've made yourself into the ideal candidate, and if that alone isn't enough, work on getting the contacts you need to open the door.

Anonymous said...

Stop naming it networking, call it nepotism. Hiring people based on who they know is unprofessional. I work in HR and someone's recommendation means squat, I have enough of a brain to evaluate skills and not relationships. If you had to have life saving surgery would you pick the most qualified doctor or one that is funny at parties? Oh and the recruiter that says we remember names of people who turn down offers, why do you feel your time is more important than the candidates? typical HR workers that make me embarrassed to tell people my profession.