Tell ‘Em to Apply Online

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.

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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.

As a Talent Optimization Coach & Consultant with TalentTalks, Kelly Blokdijk thrives on “Creating a Voice for Talent” by partnering with business professionals and job seekers to build competitive career marketing strategies and customized communication materials, to create a lasting positive impression. TalentTalks consults with the business community on innovative, leading-edge human resource and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs. TalentTalks routinely posts employment market and job search related content on Facebook and Twitter -- fans and followers welcome!


7 Comments on “Tell ‘Em to Apply Online

  1. Thanks, Kelly. You brought up a number of good points, and implicitly touched on some others:
    1) If a company isn’t willing to pay thousands of dollars for a good ER and crediting the recruiters overseeing the ER hiring with the hire, then it isn’t serious about hiring through ER.

    2) If you can’t “tell ’em to apply on line” because the ATS is too cumbersome/slow, then fix/replace the ATS! If this isn’t feasible (it’s too expensive and/or someone important will look stupid for agreeing to such an inefficient system), then get a $2.78-$5.25/hr Virtual Assistant (previously and frequently mentioned on ERE) to make sure the ER (and other candidates) have an easy and professional application experience.

    ER has proven to be an effective and affordable means of hiring substantial numbers of quality hires in many types of orgnizations (as well as improving employee “engagement”), but it needs to be well-set up and well-supported from the highest levels.



  2. Great points Kelly. This is the start of a great onboarding process and if the ball is dropped, it might signal the way for things to come. Referrals should get that extra attention.

  3. Thanks for the replies.

    @Morgan – absolutely a signal for many things about culture, leadership, communication, bureaucracy.

    @Keith – True. Many companies send mixed messages when their actions don’t match their words. Some type of investment (time, effort, attention, common sense) is needed for these programs to be successful and consistent.

    On a separate, but related note, wouldn’t it be interesting if every C-level executive or BOD member applied for a position at the company they represent to witness first hand how inconvenient, intrusive and irrelevant some of their ATS processes are? I bet some of them wouldn’t even be considered qualified for their current jobs if they had to accurately fill out all of the absurd skill/experience “screening” questions and filters attached to their postings.

  4. Good points Kelly. Every ATS that I’ve used has made the application process an easy one. If you have a
    referred candidate’s resume, that’s all you really need. The Recruiter can apply for them. I like the
    ease of use for the referring employee; fill out a card with all the contact info needed and have the Recruiter
    take it from there. Tracking is centralized thru Staffing and the employee doesn’t feel like their ref is going
    into the electronic abyss.

  5. @Kelly: What if tools were purchased and processes were set up by the people who actually have to use them and perform them?

    What if we had a webcasted award (a la Gerry Crispin) ceremony for the worst/most dysfunctional hiring processes in various categories, and the awards were given to the Sr Recruiting Exec overseeing the hiring process?



  6. Great post. I think that the hardest part of a employee referral is knowing what the candidate is going to do for the company that allows them to still seem valuable to the company other than “having a connection inside” Therefore demonstrating their worth for all parties involved. If this was measurable then there would be a way to calculate the value of the referral!
    The 1-Page Job Proposal app takes a person step by step through discovering, researching, writing and delivering a 1-Page Job Proposal to a target employer. This allows not only the potential employee but also the referrer the ability to present clearly the connection between the companies wants and the individuals skills.
    @Kelly this also addresses your comment: “I bet some of them wouldn’t even be considered qualified for their current jobs if they had to accurately fill out all of the absurd skill/experience “screening” questions and filters attached to their postings.”
    Great article Kelly! I am a big fan!

  7. Kindly excuse the date replied… I’m scanning through older articles.

    Companies I’m dealing with who adopt this method are finding it very useful and are getting into the habit of using it solely. This is a problem for them as they are hiring talent with ease. The issue is, are they hiring the best talent possible… I doubt it. Do they care. No. With the recession and the limited resources, it’s not about getting the best but rather getting anybody who kind of can do the job…. Although they will convince themselves they got the best person needed to do the job… They will even convince themselves that getting the best person for the job is possible without paying a premium CTC.

    How many employees will not refer a friend if they themselves are hoping to get the job which is possibly a promotion. One gets into a cycle of hiring average personnel who then in turn ever average friends.

    Maybe I’m just biased and frustrated because I’m not getting as much business from certain clients, however I believe that if you want the best people for the job, you need to use the services of a specialist recruiter who will charge you a premium fee for a premium delivery of a premium employee. I would also be interested to find out whether employees who don’t refer friends might not be referring friends because they don’t want to be judged themselves by the people they refer and rather want to get on with their work and their own career aspirations….

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