Eliminate Biased Referral Programs to Fill Job Openings Now
Last week I was sitting at our booth at SHRM National and saw a previous employee of a friend/partner that I've known for almost a decade. This previous employee comes from the HR world now as the president, or president-elect, of a big SHRM State Chapter Association.
We started chatting and I brought up employee referrals as the solution to most of the applicant shortage problems.
Then she says the number one pushback in all of HR, which is...
"Yes, but doesn't that generate bias?"
Now, this concern has to do with the fact that you believe people are more likely to have strong connections in their inner circle. And the inner circle looks just like them.
Therefore you assume...
- If you have a bunch of young dudes that work for you, those employees hang out with other young dudes.
- Adding too much emphasis on employee referrals will perpetuate diversity... or something like that.
I am not going to argue whether that is true or not.
In my world, that's immaterial.
Let's just assume for a minute that it is true and unpack what we're really saying...
We're not saying employee referrals generate bias or that employee referral programs promote bias.
What we're saying is...
Where is your focus?
Building an Employee Referral Flywheel
Establish a thriving employee referral program that will generate quality applicants.
If you want an employee to only refer their strongest connections or inner circles, you will get copycat employees. The referral program will replicate the race, gender, or disability of that referring employee.
The concept of focusing on employees as recruiters who bring only their strongest, closest connections to fill job openings... is the wrong approach.
One of the biggest reasons that employees say they don't refer people is that they "don't know what you're looking for." Therefore, they don't want to refer their best friend to a job opening because they might look stupid if that person's not a good fit. This is a poor design for an employee referral program.
It's time to switch your paradigm.
Solving the applicant flow problem and bias problem requires a complete switch.
At my company, we've seen an increase in applicant flow 10x that of our best clients all due to our awesome performing employee referral program. Employees focused on being job sharers have been the key to our applicant flow increase for our job openings.
What does that look like?
Employees take your current job openings and share them on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn. Not only do they share them on their own pages, but they share the job openings within other groups... neighborhood yard sale groups, Help Wanted groups, community pages, etc.
A good employee referral program does three core things right off the bat...
First... It focuses the employee on an easy action because they know how to share job openings.
That is low friction, it's something that's easy for them to do and it will spread your message out into the world. It removes all that friction of... "I need to know what we're looking for" or "I need to make sure my friend is a good fit."
- That's what job questions in your applicant tracking system are invented for.
- That's what your screening process was created for... to screen and filter out those people.
- Your job ad should tell all of their friends what you're looking for. Most likely, they'll choose to not apply anyway.
Second... It saturates your geographic target area with your ads coming from your referral program.
If that setup leads to bias, then so does Indeed, Zip Recruiter, and anywhere else. It isn't a specific sniper approach. It is a shotgun approach. It's giving each employee a megaphone!
Third... It gives you the extra bump from employee referrals.
Employees sharing job openings is more effective than HR sharing the job. It generates more applicants. It's our own human bias.
If we want to talk about bias, let's talk about the real bias. The bias we have as consumers in America is a lack of trust for the company that is promoting their product to us.
It's a lack of trust.
We do not give as much credibility to a restaurant telling us their burger is good versus a friend.
This translates into hiring.
When HR or the company pushes the ad out there into the world, it's the same as the burger company telling you their burger is good.
But, when an employee shares your job opening, there comes a level of credibility that is utterly impossible to create as an HR person.
A line-level employee or a manager's recommendation adds an entirely different level of credibility... reflecting the truth of how good it really is to work for you or at your company.
The credibility of an organic share by an employee will attract a higher level of applicants than a normal ad on a normal job board will.
This is how you structure your employee referral program. It doesn't create bias.
- your message,
- your ads, and
- your results.
Want to discover how your job offer compares to your competitors? Check out my Applicant Attraction Guide!
Get more applicants!
6 Steps to building a powerful employee referral flywheel!
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