Recruiters: Stop Asking for Referrals and Start Giving Respect

Article main image
Jan 16, 2017
This article is part of a series called How-Tos.

“Find out who they know!” “Get some names!”

Every recruiter has heard those or similar phrases from their manager. It is reasonable to expect a recruiter to get referrals because an important part of any recruiter’s job is to maintain a pipeline of potential candidates and referrals are an excellent source. Once you exhaust referrals from existing employees though, the challenge is how to get referrals without becoming that recruiter.

You know the one I mean. The recruiter who only calls someone because they think the person probably knows someone who has the skills needed for a position the recruiter has open, and the recruiter wants a referral. Or the recruiter who calls someone who is a senior-level version of a candidate profile the recruiter is looking for and the recruiter wants a referral for a junior-level person. The problem with that recruiter is they only contact someone when they want something.

How do you think it affects your company’s reputation when your recruiters are all about “here’s what I want you to do for me” and never have anything to offer in return? Do you think your reputation as a recruiter and the recruiting profession in general is in any way negatively impacted by such a mentality? Is there a better, albeit more subtle way to get referrals?

Treating candidates with respect and focusing on what they are looking for in their career is a good place to start. How about only calling someone because you have a job that looks like a good match for their skills or if they have skills you know you will have openings for some time in the future? Don’t even ask for a referral! Just talk to them about their skills and what they are looking for, and if they don’t fit a current opening or aren’t interested in changing jobs, let them know you will stay in touch.

Make sure you put good notes in your ATS and use the information on your next call. When you get them on the phone (or by email) the next time, remind them of when you last spoke and what they told you. Even if you don’t have any relevant openings yet, you can update them about when you expect to have openings for them or ask their current status or give them news about your company or products that they may find interesting. But don’t ask for referrals!

Being able to tell someone when you last spoke and what they told you will not only show you had the courtesy to listen to them and keep track of what they said, it will also distinguish you from most of the other recruiters that call them. Very often during one of these calls a candidate or prospective candidate will ask details about existing positions and mention they may know someone that would be interested. Just thank them and ask them to give your name and contact information to the person they know. Don’t ask for the name!

The good news is that frequently they will voluntarily give you someone’s name and contact information any way … no easier way to get a referral. If they don’t volunteer any referrals, wait until or about contact No. 10 to ask for a referral. But don’t ask again for a long time.

Applicant-tracking systems have an ability to create lists, which is a good way to keep track of your various pipelines. When you pull up the list it will have a field that shows when the information was last updated so you can tell from that how long it has been since you last contacted someone. Also you can set alerts or alarms in your ATS or Outlook calendar to remind you to call someone.

Online talent communities and newsletters and social media are all great tools, but nothing takes the place of a real person (you) calling or emailing another person with personalized information that lets them know you care about their career and don’t just consider them nothing more than a source of referrals. It takes time to develop one on one relationships, and it may not generate a flood of referrals, but make it your goal to be a giver and not a taker. See if that doesn’t result in a few more referrals in your pipeline.

Even your best friend will stop taking your calls if every time you talk to them you want something. You don’t want to be that kind of friend or that recruiter either.

This article is part of a series called How-Tos.