When Hiring On Recommendation Works Against Performance
I was talking about jobs and interviews the other day and I realized that there is one aspect that makes the corporate world kind of funny.
Everybody talks about KPIs and performance management. Companies lash out on their HRs to come with new and innovative learning and development tools to foster performance. Employees do their best to be included in complex succession plans and attend all kinds of trainings on all sorts of skills to improve their working and management methods and their overall performance. To sum it all up, everybody is working and learning hard to be at their best, naturally focusing on results to recommend them for a higher role. A role that comes with a better pay, more power, a more influential status etc. but, most importantly, a role that itself is a recognition of the superior quality and standards of the person owning it.
An entire industry has been woven around performance and achieving goals with maximum efficiency. And we gladly take part in it, feeling closer to ”it”, whatever ”it” is for each of us, with every step we take on our learning and development path. Some feel so empowered and so much better prepared after these programs that, in their resumes, they list all the trainings, seminars and workshops they’ve ever attended. Others bet so much on the power of education that they present their name, or their title, with a line up of certifications: John Johnson, Manager, PFS, CTD, MMA, LTT. Regardless of the presentation form, most professionals directly link their results and their ability to achieve success to their orientation towards learning and development.
And yet, all this performance world, so open to everybody and anybody who can achieve it, when it comes to finding and hiring these people, works exactly the other way around. There are less and less jobs advertised and more and more hirings based on recommendation. Achieving results and being prepared becomes nothing if you don’t have a network. If you spend your time focusing on getting the job done right and/or improving your ways of team management, you don’t have that much time for coffee and network meetings, do you? Or maybe you do find the time – especially since you’ve heard it’s important – but, once you get there, you realize you are too shy or introverted to just start talking about yourself to people you don’t know and even find it quite amusing to see others doing it. Well my friend, it seems that you’re on the unlucky side of the game. Although not for long. There are more and more personal branding specialists out there ready to do that for you. And, as much as I disapprove of what it has come to, it’s something you should consider, especially when some of the most successful public figures say out loud that they make a lot of money not by working hard, but by knowing the right persons. Ow! That hurts!
So, you’re definitely swimming against the tide, my “classic” learning and development oriented friend. The more you buy the “results only” story, the farther you drift from actually getting the chance to achieve them (where you want to, of course). Because the ultimate learning and development tip nowadays seems to be this: less focus on substance and more on form. As sad as it is.
I know what the advocates of hiring on recommendation would say: good professionals who also know about the company culture and standards could only recommend other good professionals, otherwise their reputation would be threatened. Right! Like good professionals aren’t humans too, humans with a friend or a relative in search for a good paying job. Or they don’t know that someone close to them wouldn’t ruin a tangible friendship for the sake of an abstract performance and therefore definitely prefer working with them. But let’s forget about these “minor elements” (you know I have a thing for them) and say it’s true and this method does not only save time and money for the hiring company, but also brings good professionals on board. Even so, it’s not about finding the best man for the job, as they proudly say, but the best in a network. Which, in many many cases, means not the best for the job, since networks can only go so far. Oh, and not to mention those cases, not as few as you would think, when hiring on recommendation is only a screen for nepotism.
But this isn’t the worst part. After all, whatever companies do behind their closed doors is their problem (Yes, I know, not quite, but roughly speaking.) The worst part is when the Hiring Managers themselves, or the HRs, realize that recommendations might not deliver and they also advertise the opening on professional sites like LinkedIn for example, on sites that have managed to build a reputation for being the real deal. I mean, a job posted on LinkedIn would weight heavier than an announcement in the local paper or a site where video-chat is posted under Public Relations section, for example… And yet, the applications there aren’t viewed and sometimes not even responded to, even with a simple “Thank you for your interest in us” message. Why? Because one of the recommendations was sort-of-close to what the company was looking for and because the referrer’s advocacy makes up for all the parts where the referred is not quite fit, and sometimes, professionally not prepared at all. When, all this time, in the pile of direct applications, the best-for-the-job was enthusiastically waiting for an answer, but was unlucky to be… just a stranger for whom nobody found the time and interest to know he exists and meet him.
And so, on the one side we have plenty of frustrated excellent professionals, losing their trust in a transparent, fair and non-discriminatory hiring process, and promising themselves they will never again apply to a company which they in fact like, and they’d actually be very good for, raising that exactly sought performance level. By the way, not being part of a network becomes this century’s particular act of discrimination, don’t you think? And on the other, plenty of exasperated companies that their investment in all those performance-oriented programs, with their wonderful and really really smart explanations and presentations… is not paying off as it used to.
And everybody wonders why.
And more and more money is pumped into researching and developing even more complex programs, funny thing, most of them attended primarily for their gift to allow attendees to… build a network, of course (and not for their content).
Where will this lead to? Who knows? John Johnson, Manager, PFS, CTD, MMA, LTT certainly doesn’t. But maybe Don Donson, 5000+ contacts does… *
*The two gentleman, and the titles, are as fictional as they can get. No harm meant!
(foto: Le marriage, Margareta Sterian)