Do the Best Hires Only Come from Referrals?

Chuck Smith —  February 20, 2013 — 2 Comments


Companies often ask us if it’s true that the best hires come from hiring personal referrals. The answer is — sometimes! According to a New York Times article by Nelson D. Schwartz, employers are increasingly relying on referrals to fill open positions.

In the article, John Sullivan, a human resources consultant states, “Among corporate recruiters random applicants from Internet job sites are sometimes referred to as “Homers,” after the lackadaisical, doughnut-eating Homer Simpson. The most desirable candidates, nicknamed “purple squirrels” because they are so elusive, usually come recommended.”

This is not true! Just because recruiters don’t have a good method for assessing the talent of people who apply online doesn’t make online applicants poor candidates. It just reveals that the hiring company has poor recruiters.

There is no doubt that referred candidates are an extremely important part of the candidate pool. However, substituting a referral for a recruiting process that casts a wide net for all available candidates, screens effectively and identifies the “best available talent” regardless of the source is a mistake.

Relying solely on referrals is both lazy and dangerous. It is lazy because it makes life simpler for recruiters and hiring managers who don’t have a good way to sift through tens or hundreds of possibly more qualified candidates. It is dangerous because people tend to only refer people like themselves. The consequence is that your organization becomes increasing homogenous and less diverse… and this is not only about race or ethnicity. Relying too heavily on a sourcing from referrals is likely to reduce differences in class, education, gender, communication style, behaviors and attitudes that can improve your company.

So, go ahead, reach out for referrals and include them in your recruiting. Just make sure that you don’t short circuit your recruiting process by hiring the wrong person for the job only because they were “referred.” Never hire from a candidate pool of ONE.

What do you think?

Chuck Smith


Chuck is a sought-after speaker on issues of talent acquisition, recruiting and hiring best practices with more than 20 years of experience under his belt. When not running his business, you'll find him in Hyde Park playing ultimate frisbee with his friends & family. Connect with him on Google+.

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2 responses to Do the Best Hires Only Come from Referrals?

  1. Chuck – I like your argument about the organization becoming homogeneous and less diverse as a result of recruiting by referral. However, i do believe that referrals should be integral part of your hiring strategy, just make sure it is not the only strategy. You need to employ other means of hiring.

    • Harry, referrals are a critical source of candidates. We encourage anyone hiring to work their network to find candidates.It is important to keep the right focus: to hire the best available talent for a given position. If the referral is that person then, by all mean, hire ’em!

      Too often business owners (in particular) equate hiring referrals as “free,” as opposed to spending money on a recruiter which can be seen as “expensive.” Free and expensive are not the only options. Executing a complete, affordable recruiting process is the most effective means to hiring top talent.

      Every once in a while lightening strikes. You have an opening and the perfect referral walks through the door at just the right time. Go for it. But don’t think this one time circumstance replaces an effective and repeatable recruiting process.

      Nothing, in business, is more expensive than hiring the wrong person for the job.

      Thanks for your input!

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