In recent years, many businesses have eased up on their employee referral programs—incentive plans that give bonuses or other benefits to employees who help bring new hires into the organization. Just a few years ago, I can remember HR teams and businesses promoting cash and prize referral bonuses with vigor, encouraging employees to submit the resumes of skilled friends, former colleagues and even family. Many IT professionals would share referral cash as referrers split bonuses with the referred. That path into today’s IT organizations is not as strong as it used to be and, in my opinion, it’s a good thing for technology employment.
You may wonder why I, a technology industry recruiting professional, might be in favor of a door into employment closing (or at least losing some of its prominence). Well, as Alexander Graham Bell’s famous adage goes, “When one door closes, another one opens.” In this case, the closing of employee referral doors is actually opening up networking and engagement opportunities for a bigger, broader audience of job seekers. Here’s why.
Diversity Requires Diverse Recruiting Approaches
The #4TechDiversity spotlight series McCann Partners has been producing this year has taught me a lot about inclusion and what it takes to build a more diverse IT workforce. Hiring managers and business leaders tend to “hire in their own image,” which means they often hire from their own networks and experience. As a result, the workforce can become homogenous. It has become a serious problem in IT, where diversity is rare and most IT teams are male-dominated and white (just ask Google).
Employee referral programs can contribute to that homogeny rather than helping businesses build a more diverse technology talent pool with people of varied backgrounds, experiences, cultures, genders and races. If businesses put more effort into broadening their recruiting sources and reach, they will be better at building a diverse workforce.
But Wait! I Have a Strong Referral
If you have a strong contact, such as a former colleague, mentor or boss, at an organization where you would like to work or apply, don’t worry. You can and should still leverage that connection. However, rather than taking the traditional employee referral approach (having your contact submit your resume to the hiring manager or HR), my suggestion would be to start by building a strong professional profile using today’s top networking tools, such as LinkedIn. Through social networking, one connection quickly becomes a pathway to many career connections that can get you closer to the employers you are pursuing and noticed by those you have not yet considered but might want to. Whereas a traditional referral might just be one person connecting you with one employer, social referrals open up entire networks of potential employers, recruiters and hiring managers. It allows you to reach beyond just one opportunity and open up many doors at once.
A Powerful Network Starts with a Strong Profile
A strong professional profile is paramount to successful career networking today. Your profile should showcase your own diverse connections and background in order to grab the attention of both your contact (the person you are courting as a referral) and the organization you are targeting. Because businesses can see so much of someone’s professional skills and network through their LinkedIn profile and online presence, they are using social networks to identify and assess talent. Strengthen your profile by connecting with colleagues, clients, managers, mentors and teachers through your professional profile and request endorsements from those who know you and your work best.
Be More than a Referral
When it comes to leveraging the referral, encourage your contact(s) to share your professional profile with internal recruiters and hiring managers so they can get a broad understanding of your skills, experience, network and capabilities. Ensure they see you as more than just someone employee X knows. A referral alone is too limiting today, especially when a business wants to broaden and diversify its technology workforce.
I would also encourage you, as a job seeker, to be diverse in your job search. Don’t be afraid to go outside of the roles and companies you are comfortable with. The fact is, businesses are working hard to diversify and incorporate new ideas, approaches and talent in order to stay ahead of innovation and to keep pace with a rapidly diversifying marketplace. You may think you don’t fit the profile of a certain kind of company but most companies are evolving their profiles. See this McCann blog where we explore how many qualified candidates are selling their skills short and missing chances to apply for great opportunities. The point is this: expand your search just as employers are expanding theirs. The result is more open doors and opportunities and that’s good for everyone.