Tell ‘Em to Apply Online

Apr 20, 2011

In response to that topic as an answer, a Jeopardy contestant’s correct question to host Alex Trebek would be: “What is the worst way to acknowledge an employee referral?” Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of the phrase “tell ‘em to apply online” probably yelled: Wrong Answer!

One of the most frequently discussed issues in the talent acquisition arena is the pursuit of the ever-elusive passive candidate. While many definitions exist about exactly what or who qualifies as passive, in this context it represents a talented individual capable of immediately adding value. Such an individual may or may not be evaluating new employment alternatives, yet they tend to be open to learning of possibilities worthy of their consideration.

With limited resources and an interest in finding the right cultural and skill fit, employers often rely on employee referral programs to incentivize current workers to help them acquire new talent. Not only can this be part of a cost- effective recruitment strategy, it tends to produce leads to others in the industry resembling existing, successful employees. If managed well, referral programs can create win-win arrangements and build an endless pipeline of talent.

Cliché or not, countless organizations tout some version of a message claiming their employees are their most valuable asset. Thus it is logical for that sentiment to appear prominently on corporate career web pages where applicants are directed to view and apply for employment opportunities.

Even if there is no monetary reward or formal program for referrals, many of these valued human assets discuss their work in social settings which opens up opportunities for professional networking contacts to become interested in that business and corresponding career options. In those cases, the company benefits from a semi-known commodity while the referring employee takes pride in potentially helping someone land a desirable job.

When a person actively looking for employment or someone just curious about making a change reaches out to one of their contacts at a company, it usually means they are hopeful about circumventing the DMV-esque experience involved with applying through a standard ATS. Keeping that in mind, one might expect employers to be falling all over themselves to provide some type of accelerated process to put preferred or referred candidates on a fast track to decision-makers.

Absent a short-cut, when the referring employee has the misfortune of passing their referral to a less-savvy recipient, they encounter a dead end in the form of “tell ’em to apply online.” That instruction is the equivalent telling someone craving fettuccine alfredo right now, that there is a 45-minute wait at Olive Garden. While it still sounds tasty, they may decide that a mass-produced chain restaurant meal is not necessarily worth the hassle of sitting around until the flashing, vibrating, take-a-number disk gets activated.

Whether too hungry to wait for food or not interested enough to jump through random job-seeker hoops, when faced with inconveniences or delays, most people instinctively search for more accommodating choices.

An employee who refers a friend that gets instantly rejected or redirected is less likely to try again. Both the employee and their referral will probably question how valued they really are or how serious that employer is about attracting and retaining top talent.

A better approach would be to minimize steps needed for someone inside to initiate contact with the referred candidate. From there a designated person should establish whether a preliminary match for a current or future need might exist.

At that point, the referral could be invited to officially apply online if they so choose. Or, at a minimum they would go on their way feeling pleased that they were treated to a courtesy screening conversation. The referring employee would receive confirmation that their employer appreciates them enough to follow through with them and their contact.

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