Rejected Candidate Referrals and the Candidate Experience

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 5.11.44 PMWhat are your RCR ratios?

If you are not familiar with RCR, it stands for Rejected Candidate Referral.  The metrics are simply the ratio of RCRs in your candidate pool against other sources.

I love this metric for two reasons.

First, just because someone doesn’t get the job doesn’t mean they can’t be a source of referrals. Second, it is a bellwether metric for your overall candidate experience. Simply put, candidates who had a great experience, regardless of the result, will be more likely to refer others than those that did not have a good experience.

See, simple. Recruiting is not rocket science. I know there have been volumes written discussing candidate experience. Companies can and do invest significant time, money, and effort in creating highly curated candidate experiences. I can appreciate that work, and I have seen the value in having an experience that sets a company apart. The thing that bothers me is that like so many things we as humans touch, there is a bias towards over-complicating things.

Candidate experience can be summed up in one word: Dignity.

As long as you have a recruiting and hiring process that treats candidates with dignity, you have a world-class candidate experience. Respect their time, answer their questions, and most importantly exit them respectfully.

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Aside from over engineering the candidate experience, the other common flaw is to design a candidate experience that favors only the final candidate. For most positions in America today, a vast number of  candidates will apply. I know for my organization and based on our volume that if you apply for one of our openings you have less than a 1 percent likelihood of achieving the outcome you desire. In other words, on average, over 100 candidates are rejected for each of our openings. Therefore we would do ourselves a tremendous disservice by only focusing our experience on the 1 percent; obviously, it would be huge missed opportunity.

I am not going to bore you with a primer on how to build your candidate experience. There are smarter folks out there than me that can do that, and in all honesty you most likely already know what, if anything, you need to do to improve yours. I am going to suggest that if you do not have visibility around your RCR, you truly don’t have your head around your candidate experience.

The key to the success or failure of this strategy is whether or not you ask for the referral. Aside from having a good experience, you and/or your recruiters have to ask the rejected candidates for their referrals. Otherwise the ratio will be zero, and more importantly, you will never be able to articulate the value of your candidate experience. Remember, every candidate who applies is either a current, or potential future, customer/partner/member/advocate etc. of your organization.

Join me at the ERE Expo in September as I demonstrate how Spectrum Health has confronted these issues and transformed to a successful recruiting model based on core skills, metrics, efficiency, and effort alignment.

Jim D'Amico is a globally recognized TA Leader, specializing in building best in class TA functions for global organizations. He is an in demand speaker, author, and mentor, with an intense passion for all things talent acquisition. Jim currently leads Global Talent Acquisition for Celanese, a Fortune 500 Chemical Innovation company based in Dallas, TX, and is a proud Board Member of the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals.

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10 Comments on “Rejected Candidate Referrals and the Candidate Experience

  1. Good article. Thank you. Asking rejected candidates for a referral is indeed a solid practice. I haven’t ever worked for or with a company that actually tracked rejected candidate referrals and I’ve certainly never heard of it being used as a core metric. But I think it’s great that your department does that. As a metric, I imagine it probably does serve as a very good indicator of candidate experience. I always like asking rejected candidates for referrals because it helps with the concept of “respect” that you write about. Asking a rejected candidate for a referral is a way of saying “we don’t think you’re quite right for this job but we really do respect your opinion.” I’ve found it makes the whole rejection process a lot easier. However, one does have to keep in mind that they quality of a referral, in general, is positively correlated with the qualification level of the referrer. I’ve heard some people say “A-level professionals refer A-level professionals.” I’m not sure I agree with that. But if a candidate doesn’t make the grade from a skills perspective for a particular role, then I think one needs to be careful about trusting their opinion regarding the skill level of someone else. I know for our network the vetting of the technical skills of our members has been the most difficult thing but has also been key to maintaining high quality referrals. Of course, maybe the interview feedback is that the candidate is “overqualified” for the position. In which case they might be the perfect person to ask for a referral as well as someone to stay on good terms with for when a more senior role pops up.

    Doug Friedman
    EngineeringReferral.com
    LinkedIn Profile

  2. Great post, Jim.

    Lou Adler has been talking about this for over 5 years, referrals gained is one of his 10 primary recruiter metrics that he calls “Referrals Per Call.”

    To your point, the success factor in this metric is asking for referrals. It’s one of characteristics of that separate good recruiters from bad ones. The bad news is, the vast majority of recruiters don’t ask. The good news is, it can be easily trained because its a simple behavior change.

    Once the habit of asking is formed, you then track the ability to “get” the referrals. Much like the ability of a sourcer to convert the unknown lead into a known contact/candidate.

    For staffing leaders out there…want to change your recruiter behavior? All you have to do is create a score card for it. For recruiters out there, want to be better than the general population of recruiters? Scorecard yourself for 3 weeks straight and it will be part of your phone screen DNA.

    I can’t say enough about basic metrics and basic score carding. I’ve been involved in the creation of process and structure within sourcing programs for the last 8 years and nothing comes close to creating change than simple and basic score carding.

    All recruiters are not created equal, metrics and measurements (score carding) like this separates the pack…quickly. Score carding brings clarity and knowledge for staffing leaders and creates “best practice” skill sets in recruiters.

    If you have young or inexperienced recruiters…it’s THE best way to train. Tell them what you want, show them how to get it, measure if they “getting it.”

    If you are staffing leader that doesn’t truly know whats going on in their recruiting program, especially around the sourcing part of it…score cards based on basic metrics is what you need.

    1. I’m a big Lou Adler fan, and he has been a major influence not only on what I do as a recruiter, but on our whole industry. Thanks Sean!

  3. You MUST be joking. Even if a rejected candidate were willing to make referrals, the fact that they WERE rejected by you automatically “contaminates the pool.” If you, as a hiring organization don’t believe the candidate has the skills, knowledge, abilities, and experience to successfully integrate into your company, why on earth would you believe his/her friends and/or acquaintances would make the cut?

    Whether you accept one out of a hundred candidates or one in three thousand is irrelevant, and not statistically valid anyway with respect to the metrics in this case.

    But beyond this, rejected candidates almost universally do NOT become good candidate referral sources, potential clients, or “friends of the company.” In my, admittedly limited experience, most candidates take it personally when they’re rejected for a job, and, believe me, they DO remember, and they tell their friends, and their moms, and their dogs all about it, in excruciating detail.

    If you actually think candidate rejections are a rich source to mine for high-potential candidates, you may want to consider this bridge I would like to sell you.

    1. James, thanks for the response, I can see where you are going, but I challenge the assumption that a candidate is rejected solely based on a belief that they don’t have the “skills, knowledge, abilityes, and experience…” The model I have championed for my employers and clients has been one based on quality of slate. All candidates we present are qualified, one may get the nod based on a preference, but when you work for large companies, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t consider the remainders of the pool for other roles down the road. I have seen organizatons very successfully do that. Those candidates often work at companies we actively recruit at, and we have successfully used those rejected candidates referrals to our success.

      I love a good joke (maybe you’ve seen me preform in the past), but I never laugh when my bottom line is at stake.

  4. Asking for referrals makes sense.

    Now, your comment about treating people with dignity makes me wonder if anyone doing recruiting has ever looked for a job. The total lack of respect for candidates not selected, including the lack of any constructive feedback regarding the status of the decision, is a black mark on almost every company today. I know the volume is large, someone who takes their time to interview should AT LEAST get some feedback if they are not selected.

    Just my $0.02.

    1. That’s worth more than 2 cents! You are right. What is sad is that the bar is so low, so it doesn’t take much to improve the experience. Thanks Warren!

  5. Wait- So you’re actually rejecting candidates and not just blowing them off after one, two, or three interviews?! HR should treat candidates like clients and potential customers- with respect. Unfortunately, most HR departments don’t.

    My favorite experience was having a junior HR person refuse to shake my hand after I interviewed with her and the hiring manager and leaving me in the hallway with a “you know your way out, right?” After not getting that job, my polite followup email after a missed (promised) response date, was a huffy “Sorry. I’ve been in a lot of meetings lately. We chose someone else.”

    Another good one was seeing a hiring manager in a social situation a week after an interview and having her drunkenly rant at me about my white privilege.

    Great professionalism, huh?

  6. Most companies don’t even ask their hires for referrals, so asking their rejected candidates will be a stretch for most, but a noble goal for sure! If their ATS or Referral Platform supports this and they use it then they are in the “world class” category. Of course the results will vary based on how they treat all their candidates as you so aptly point out.

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