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Ask the Headhunter: Why being referred for a job should spare you the HR gauntlet

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: An employee at a company I’m interested in working for referred me for a job. I have a phone interview scheduled with a “technical recruiter” later today. I asked if there was any special preparation I could do for the interview. I was told no, that we would be covering my previous experience and projects during the call.

You always recommend using a job interview to demonstrate how the applicant would actually do the job. Since the interview is with a recruiter, not the hiring manager who runs the technical team, I somehow doubt there will be an opportunity to demonstrate I can do the job.

I’m surprised at the way they’re handling this. I already got a strong recommendation from a member of the technical team. Why do you think they want me to talk to a recruiter first? Nobody needs to recruit me — I’ve already been recruited and referred!

Nick Corcodilos: This is a good example of a truly bad move by an employer. There is no need for a recruiter to screen you. You have already been screened and recruited!

Why do companies even have employee referral programs if they’re going to treat referred job candidates like some unknown applicant?

Is this a referral or a gauntlet?
In fact, the intervention of the recruiter should warn people like you away. This tells you the company’s hiring process is broken. The company can’t tell the difference between random applicants and vetted applicants — or doesn’t care.

We see another form of such counter-productive bureaucracy when a recruiter interviews a random applicant (who was not referred personally), then tells them to go to the company website to fill out a lengthy form about their qualifications. But, what was the point of the interview if not to judge the candidate’s qualifications? Similarly, why put a personally referred candidate through the HR gauntlet?

The problem in both cases is that the selection process is unduly stretched out. This redundancy turns off the best candidates and often results in the employer losing them.

The purpose of any recruiting and selection process must be to get good candidates to the hiring manager as quickly and enthusiastically as possible!

(When it doesn’t work that way, it may be prudent to politely decline an employee referral for a job.)

Personal referrals require personal attention
I think you’re right to harbor doubts and to question how you’re being treated — and to be concerned that the upcoming interview with the recruiter is not worthy of your time because you won’t be able to show what you can do. Only the hiring manager is qualified to have that kind of exchange with you. Why waste your time?

When an employee makes a personal referral (it should have been to the actual manager, by the way), the manager should personally jump on it and make the call immediately. The employee, after all, has done the manager a favor, and so have you. The manager should treat this trusted personal referral as a gift. Otherwise, it’s a huge dis to the employee — because why else would they ever make a personal referral again, if it isn’t handled personally by the manager?

Why bother?
We won’t even get into why you’d ever accept a referral from your friend again, if this is how you’re going to be received. The friend has an obligation to make sure the hiring manager welcomes you enthusiastically and gratefully. Unfortunately, employees of companies that have referral programs know they’re usually a bureaucratic nightmare. (For a better way to make a referral, please see “Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why).”)

Of course, any job candidate should be thoroughly interviewed and assessed. A personal referral is no guarantee of a job. But it should be a guarantee of the best treatment a company and a manager can offer.

Sheesh, employers can be foolish. Then they complain they can’t find good candidates. (See “Referrals: How employers waste proven talent.”)

My advice is to call your friend the employee and explain you’d be glad to meet with the hiring manager on the friend’s recommendation — “which I really appreciate.” But add that you didn’t apply for the job, and you’re not going to spend your valuable time getting grilled by a recruiter.

How to say it:
“Look, I appreciate the personal referral. It was kind of you, and I hope I can return the favor someday. But if the manager isn’t ready to talk with me on your recommendation, then it’s not worth my time, either. I’m glad to invest time to show a manager how I’ll do the technical work properly and profitably. But I don’t have time to chat with a recruiter about my resume. If the manager would like to meet with me, I’m ready for that discussion any time. Thanks again for your faith in me.”

If I were the employee who made the referral, I’d go talk to the manager and suggest the manager make the call promptly.

How to say it:
“I’m trying to help you fill a job, but I need you to help preserve the respect this candidate has for me and for our company. I made a personal referral expecting this individual would be treated personally and with care. Is there anything I can do to help move this along?”

Getting a referral for a job from an employee at the company can be a great thing. Just make sure it actually means something more than applying cold!

Dear Readers: Should a personal employee referral be treated personally? What’s your experience been when you’ve been referred for a job? Does your company have an employee referral program? How does it work — and do you participate?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2018 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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