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Business Journal
Job Seekers: Personal Connections Still Matter
Business Journal

Job Seekers: Personal Connections Still Matter

by Bryant Ott, Nikki Blacksmith, and Ken Royal

Even with the rapid growth of Internet job sites like and, job seekers are still most likely to rely on a little help from their friends, family, and connections in their searches, according to Gallup.

A recent Gallup Panel survey asked a targeted sample of job seekers a series of questions about their behaviors and opinions relative to their most recent job search. The sample consisted of those who are currently unemployed and seeking a job as well as those who are currently employed and were searching for a job or had searched for employment in the past six months. These job seekers answered questions about the tools and functions they used when searching for employment. They then rated the effectiveness of the tools and relationships they used. Hiring organizations should consider these ratings and opinions as they develop recruitment and employment branding strategies.

Personal connections and recommendations rank high

Job seekers are most likely to rely on personal connections and their own experiences with potential hiring organizations when looking for work. Specifically, job seekers are most likely to say they used friends and family (74%) and referrals from current employees at a company (70%) as resources when searching for a job. Also, two-thirds of respondents say they used their own experience with or perception about an organization when they were looking for a job (65%). Additionally, 40% of job seekers say they used referrals from the potential hiring company's customers or vendors as a resource when looking for a position.

GRAPHIC: Where Job Seekers Look for Work

Nearly two-thirds of job seekers (62%) say they used online job databases to look for work. Smaller percentages of these job seekers say they used other Web-based resources, such as specific organizations' Web sites (56%), search engines such as Google and Yahoo! (39%), professional or trade association Web sites (36%), online networking tools (29%), online job ads (28%), and their college's career center or Web site (16%).

After identifying which types of search functions and tools they used to look for work, job seekers rated the effectiveness of each resource. Potential employees were more likely to deem referrals and personal interaction effective than other kinds of search tools, including Web-based databases and search functions. About two-thirds of job seekers say referrals from an organization's current employees are at least somewhat effective when looking for work, while half of respondents rate friends and family as similarly effective resources. At least one-third of job seekers also rate their own experiences or perceptions of organizations and referrals from the organizations' customers as an effective resource.

One-third of job seekers consider organizations' Web sites to be an at least somewhat effective resource when searching for employment. However, respondents are less likely to consider any number of online resources and tools as effective as the personal connections and experiences mentioned above. One-quarter of job seekers say online job databases are at least somewhat effective during the job hunt, while no more than 20% of respondents mention any of the other cyber-search resources as at least somewhat effective tools.

Reaching the right talent

Organizations would be wise to spend time and energy to synchronize their recruiting and human resources efforts with the tools job seekers say they are using to find potential employment and the resources they consider most effective in their searches. That might be easier said than done though. Let's take a look at a few questions or concerns that organizations might have when trying to reach the right balance with their recruiting resources.

QUOTE: It might sound simple enough...

How can organizations successfully use different types of personal connections and customer interactions to find the best talent for their open positions?

It might sound simple enough, but companies should constantly encourage their employees to refer their friends, family members, and customers for employment opportunities. To get the most out of referrals, organizations should make an effort to create a great employment experience, consciously brand the employment experience, and design an efficient employee and customer referral system.

Creating a great employment experience is not an easy task. It takes ongoing effort from all levels of management and leadership within the organization as well as asking key questions such as What more can we do to engage our people and show them how valuable of an asset they are? If a company is truly a great place to work, it only makes sense that its employees will champion their employer to others. When someone talks about how great it is to work for his or her organization, it lends tremendous credibility to the employment brand message.

That's right, the employment brand. Communication via employees is crucial to the word-of-mouth style of recruitment that respondents say they use and find effective during the job search. Employees can communicate using the organization's employment brand -- the key characteristics and attributes that define the organization's employment experience. By making a conscious decision to develop a compelling brand, companies can effectively position and convey their positive qualities and showcase their company as a great place to work.

By communicating an employment brand through internal channels, employees will have a common language with which to talk about the organization and why it is a great place to work. This language is an important aspect of employees' ability to accurately describe the mission, beliefs, values, and culture of their employer. In essence, employers should market their employment experience to their internal customer, the employee.

Once the organization has developed a great place to work and created language that brands their employment experience, it should design an efficient employee referral system. The system should make it fun and easy for employees to refer their friends, family, and customers. Organizations can institute continuous campaigns that teach employees how to refer potential employees, ask them to keep an eye out for talented individuals, and reward successful referrals through contests and incentives.

Additionally, employees should feel comfortable looking for and referring talented and engaged customers who might align with the organization's mission, values, and culture. Employees are often the most visible example of the company's employment brand as it relates to customers. By creating an employment brand and establishing this brand among customers through engaged employees, an organization can effectively "sell the company" to customers as a place to work -- either for themselves or for someone they could recommend.

A critical caveat to the referral process: One of the most important aspects of actively seeking and considering employee referrals is helping associates communicate with the friends, family members, and customers they've referred in the most professional and sympathetic manner when these folks are not hired. The employees and the referrals must feel good about the organization and the process, regardless of whether the prospective employee is hired.

A solid majority of job seekers use online search applications. How can organizations increase the effectiveness of their presence on these sites?

Even though job seekers are most likely to use personal connections and resources during the job hunt, the data indicate that it is important for organizations to make an effort to improve their Web-based job search communication. Why? One job seeker said, "Sending résumés online seems like a black hole, where I have a random chance of being considered." Others say it is hard to stand out in online databases, in part because of the lack of human contact. "You cannot sell yourself this way because you cannot get face-to-face interviews without knowing someone," one respondent said. For applicants to perceive this experience as effective and avoid feeling like the online job search is a "black hole," an organization's Web-based recruiting pitches and its employment branding communication must be clear, accurate, and honest.

Whether making changes to their career or recruiting Web site or developing new job descriptions and ads for online databases and networking sites, organizations need to provide as much credible, compelling, and connecting information as possible about their work, culture, mission, and values. While keeping the content easy to navigate and truly reflective of the group's employment brand, the organization should apply as much of a "human touch" to the content as possible. Images of current employees, dynamic and creative content, and informative videos featuring a "day in the life" in the company are just a few ways that organizations can creatively and effectively convey their employment brand.

Crafting a message that's consistent with your employment brand is just the beginning though. It is essential to communicate with applicants via the Web by sending a thank you e-mail upon receipt of an application, by clearly describing the next steps in the hiring process through career Web sites and online databases, and by regularly updating applicants on their status. These proactive measures can help bolster job seekers' opinions of the organization's employment brand. (See "Job Applicants Are Customers Too" in the "See Also" area on this page.)

QUOTE: Crafting a message that's consistent...

Companies should embrace the opportunity to communicate via the agile nature of the Internet; those that can harness the unique and dynamic options available online can effectively reach job seekers and applicants. However, the availability of constant, nearly unfiltered content on the Web is both a gift and a curse. Companies must be aware of their existing employment brand presence on the Web and what is being written and said about them online. Audits can be conducted by searching job database sites, social networks, Internet search engines, blogs, etc., to study the types of information job seekers can find about the organization on the Web.

Maximizing the old and the new

It is nearly impossible to recreate the Web's ability to transmit and disseminate information about a company and its jobs to any and all seekers. However, the use of Web-based recruiting sites and tools is still in its infancy, and it is too early to stop using them and rely solely on the channels that job seekers currently use most and find the most effective -- namely, referrals and recommendations from friends and family and organizations' employees and customers.

Trying to find the right balance between emphasizing the search functions job seekers say they use and improving offerings in the tools and resources potential employees say are most effective during the job hunt is an ongoing challenge. But no matter what the balance, organizations that spend the time and resources to develop a truthful and dynamic employment brand and then properly and effectively communicate the brand will appeal to today's job seekers.

Ultimately, organizations should research and understand which channels are used most frequently by their most talented applicants -- and then spend their time improving their recruitment processes based on this research. This will have a direct impact on the number of talented individuals they can bring in to strengthen their workforce.

Results are based on an online survey conducted with a targeted U.S. sample of 1,376 adults aged 18 and over who were seeking a job. The data were collected between August 28 and September 16, 2007. To participate in this survey, participants had to be looking for a full-time or part-time job within the past six months. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2.7 percentage points.


Bryant Ott is a writer and editor at Gallup.
Nikki Blacksmith is a former Lead Researcher, Workplace Practice, for Gallup.
Ken Royal is a Client Service Director at Gallup.

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