Two Strategies Hiring Managers Miss When Sourcing Young Candidates
Founder of RainmakerThinking, Inc. and Top Expert on Leadership Development and Generational Issues in the Workplace
Whether you are hiring young people on the high end or the lower end of the talent spectrum, my guess is that you need to increase your supply of new job applicants. How can you do that?
The first places most managers and organizations go to look for new applicants are the very same places where they've found successful hires in the past. The idea is simple: what's worked for you in the past will probably work for you again. In general, this is a good way to start your talent search. So, if you haven't been tracking where your successful hires are coming from thus far, you should start now.
But one potential downside of successful-hire profiling is that repeatedly recruiting from the same sources can lead to a homogeneous population of employees over time and ultimately undermine your efforts to develop a diverse workforce.
The other potential downside is a bit more obvious: if you are competing for a limited supply of talent, you had better diversify your sources of potential candidates so you can increase your applicant pool.
If step one in a good sourcing process is to look in the same places where you've found successful hires in the past, then step two is to look in places that should be good sources but from which you have failed to find successful people in the past. If you've sought new employees only from top schools, but these sources are not yielding enough applicants, it's probably time to consider looking at the best students from second-tier schools. If you've poached talent only from local big-box retailers in the past, maybe you should consider targeting restaurants. If you've been narrowing your search by one set of criteria, maybe you should open up some new possibilities.
Here are two less obvious ways to widen your pool of young candidates.
Employee referrals are a particularly good way to recruit young workers. Because of their emphasis on personal relationships, young people tend to be especially interested in bringing their personal connections to their work environment. Many HR departments have been tracking and encouraging the "best friend at work" concept, not only as an engagement metric, but also in an effort to appeal to younger workers social networking inclinations.
Rest assured, however, that young people will not recruit their friends to come work alongside them if they are unhappy in your organization. Sometimes the most successful young people will do great work for their own personal reasons, even if they are not happy with the job. As one young worker told me about recruiting friends: "They want me to encourage my friends from school to interview here. This place is brutal. Why would I recruit my friends? What kind of friend would I be? I'm just banking as much of their training classes, money, contacts, experience as I can, and then I'm out of here."
If your young people don't take you up on the chance to recruit their friends, this is worrisome information to which you must pay attention. It is more powerful data than any employee survey can reveal, I promise you.
If you've successfully encouraged your best, happiest young employees to make referrals, congrats! These are several ways to make sure these recommendations result in strong new staff members and a positive experience for the referring employees:
- Make sure referring employees really know your workplace and your expectations as a manager and have demonstrated consistent good judgment. If you want to make employee referrals a productive source of applicants, you must ensure referring employees understand the hiring criteria with crystal clarity. The essential charge for the referring employee is simple: "Knowing what you know about the company, the position, the hiring manager, and our expectations, do you have good reason to think the referred employee is likely to fit in the organization?"
- Maintain continuous communication with the referring employee every step of the way. You must keep referring employees in the loop when you are communicating with their referred friends or acquaintances. Whether you ask the friend to complete an application, set up an interview, arrange a call-back interview, make an offer, or deliver a rejection, let the referring employee know so they are not caught off guard.
- Understand the risks of employee referrals. When young people go from working with people they consider just colleagues to working with their friends, it often changes the meaning of the job for one or both individuals. Unfortunately, these strong associations may lead to cliques in the workplace and conflict among employees. Also, even if everything goes well with referrals initially, you might make yourself vulnerable to a dual departure risk if something does go wrong. Although I have observed lots of successful referral sourcing, when I describe the risks of friend-referral sourcing in our seminars, hiring managers sometimes decide the risks outweigh the potential benefits.
Tapping Parents, Teachers, and Counselors
Funny enough, our research across the board shows that a low-tech strategy is the best one for diversifying hiring sources: seeking referrals from parents, teachers, and counselors. What can you do to tap this source for your organization or yourself as a hiring manager?
Sometimes the most effective referral campaigns are driven by tapping older, more experienced employees for their own children, and their friends. Who knows the organization better than a more experienced employee? And who knows their children best but parents? The same rules apply to parent-employee referrals as to friend referrals: encourage only satisfied employees with good performance records and evidence of good judgment. Ensure that the hiring criteria are crystal clear. And always keep the lines of communication open with both the referring employee and the referred. One more thing to be aware of is to make sure you don't violate any nepotism rules your company has in place.
Teachers and counselors of young people are an even better source of referrals because they are more objective. Whether you are hiring employees with high school, college, or graduate degrees, building networks of teachers and counselors who are well respected and dedicated to helping their students is a key strategy when it comes to getting the very best candidates. Of course, you must demonstrate to these teachers and counselors the value proposition of the jobs you offer. And you must convince them that by helping you identify the stars among their students, they too will benefit from a positive reputation among students, parents, their own institutions, and the community of employers for helping students get good jobs.
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