A Buddy Hiring Program Attracts, Retains, and Increases Productivity

Article main image
May 6, 2019

Gallup research found that working with your best friend was a powerful motivating factor, so McDonald’s and the Army now have buddy hiring programs. You should too.

“Working with your best friend” shouldn’t be ignored. It carries three simultaneous benefits. It directly contributes to attracting and retaining talent, but it also significantly increases productivity.

Think about it for a minute. At first glance in these low unemployment times, working at McDonald’s or in the U.S. Army isn’t that appealing. However, the powerful draw of joining and working alongside your best friend has proven over time to be a “seal the deal” factor that brings excitement to the minds of many applicants. I have written extensively in the past about how to implement “hire them both” programs. And the recent implementation of one at McDonald’s and the reinstatement of the program in the Army shows that they are still impactful.

What a Buddy Hiring Program Is

If you haven’t heard of it, the buddy-hire approach (which is also known as a “hire them both” program), is where you offer to hire your target candidate and a close colleague or friend of theirs as a package deal. This option is amazingly effective simply because most of us do have a close colleague, relative, or friend who “we’ve always wanted to work with.” And as a result, many of us would jump at this rare opportunity to work together with them.

McDonald’s Friends-wanted Recruiting Program

McDonald’s calls its new program “Friends wanted.” It’s spreading awareness of it through a series of compelling TV ads initially running in Canada. These ads are designed to show “the camaraderie among crew members.” The slogan is “Friends Wanted. Be more than friends. Be coworkers.” These humorous but compelling three ads clearly reveal that the two featured employees are friends outside of work. In one ad they talk about going to a party and in another they discuss a weird food order (a little girl ordered an egg McMuffin but without the egg, cheese, and English muffin). The program allows two applicants to apply together using an online application form, with the promise that they will have the opportunity to work alongside each other.

In addition to this program, McDonald’s recruiting stands out because it has implemented numerous other recruiting innovations. This includes its current joint effort with AARP to recruit 250,000 seniors. Its “America’s best first job” TV campaign designed to convince teens that McDonald’s is a great place to start a career proved to be groundbreaking. It has also produced a high volume of hires each year using its highly successful National Hiring Day that other firms have since copied.

And its more recent one-day “Snaplications” on Snapchat was amazingly creative. Snaplications is a one-day recruiting and employer branding event where prospects could download an application, use a Snapchat filter to put on a McDonald’s hat and name tag on their image, and then record and send a 10-second video about themselves to McDonald’s.

The U.S. Army’s Battle Buddy Program

The Army’s enlist-with-a-buddy recruitment program is an update of its historic program. It is now called the Battle Buddy Program and allows two friends, married couples, or even a group of up to five buddies to apply together. If accepted, they train together under the same occupation and even serve together (at least on their first duty station). Because of low unemployment rates, the Army has recently been struggling to meet its recruitment quotas. So, in addition to bonuses, it needed this added attraction feature to convince new recruits to join.

The buddy recruitment program is one of a plethora of other innovative Army recruiting programs. These include mobile recruiting trailers, recruiting at malls and at beach resorts, sign-on and referral bonuses, and media ads on literally on every available platform. In my experience, this makes the U.S. Army No. 1 in recruiting, because it has the most comprehensive range of recruiting programs in the world.

The Many Benefits From a “Hire-them-both” Program

If you need to sell your executives on the ROI and the high impact of a buddy hiring program, here are the top eight benefits that you can expect.

  • Double your hiring volume — you will increase the number of hires if you hire two or more people at the same time. You will further increase your number of applications if you make the buddy program eligible for employee referrals.
  • Increased productivity and business impacts — extensive research by Gallup showed that having your best friend at work correlated with productivity and retention, but also with the broader business impacts of customer satisfaction and profitability. Problems will be resolved more quickly with a buddy working with you. If one person has an issue or question, they can quickly get a second viewpoint or opinion from their employee buddy.
  • A WOW recruiting feature — even if they’re not interested in the feature themselves, simply offering this feature gets a WOW reaction from almost everyone, and that makes your company stand out among many others.
  • Increased retention due to loyalty — not only does working alongside a buddy make the work more engaging, but if one of the pairs considers leaving, the buddy is likely to persuade them to stay in order to keep the pair together. Even if the two don’t work directly together, they can share their friendship during breaks and lunches with each other.
  • Higher offer acceptance rates — buddy hiring helps to lower the uncertainty associated with a new job where everyone is a stranger. So, under this program, a higher percentage of your offers will be accepted. With the buddy program, the new hire is guaranteed to work with at least one person who they know, trust, and are comfortable with.
  • Speed of hire — the first candidate generally finds the second candidate for you. Sourcing time and costs are reduced, shortening your overall time-to-fill two positions.
  • Lower recruiting costs — because a single job ad or announcement will attract two hires, the cost per hire will be lower.
  • The program can make some more willing to relocate — many candidates are reluctant to accept relocation to a high cost of living area. Their spouse or significant other might not be able to find a job. The buddy program allows you to hire the spouse also, therefore assuring that the couple has a sufficient combined income to justify the move.

Possible Buddy Program Concerns

There are of course issues and questions related to the program, but each of them can be overcome.

  • A formal program is not required — individual managers with the authority can simply offer this option on an ad-hoc basis, and then decide when to hire two individuals together. There is no need for a formal program.
  • You don’t have to lower your hiring standards — in the case where the buddy turns out not to be an acceptable hire, the manager still has the option of offering the job to the one acceptable individual.
  • They don’t have to be simultaneous hires — in case the buddy can’t start immediately, the manager can offer them a delayed starting date.
  • Don’t be overly concerned about nepotism or favoritism — you can help to minimize any friendship or favoritism concerns by not allowing one buddy to supervise another directly. It is, of course, educate both new hires about the need to avoid even the appearance of favoritism.
  • Data can over time alleviate concerns — because the program is highly likely to cause some internal controversy. Continually use metrics to demonstrate to cynics that the program results in measurably better-performing hires and a positive ROI. 

Final Thoughts

I first encountered a buddy-hiring program over 19 years ago, when I was part of the initial pioneering experiment at Agilent Technologies. I am still an avid supporter of this approach. Buddy-hire programs have proven to be successful for literally decades both in the military and in the corporate world. Finally, now is the ideal time to implement one because of the shortage of talent and the difficulty in getting exceptional talent to say “yes!”


Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, follow or connect with me on LinkedIn, subscribe to the ERE Daily, and hear me and others speak at ERE’s October event in Washington, D.C.


Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!