Employee Referrals Still #1 Source for New Hires

How you can connect and capture the coveted position you're seeking.

June 5, 2008
by Debra Feldman

There are myriad reasons for seasoned executives to re-enter the job market. Empty nests, dwindling funds, boredom, hunger for another big win, conclusion of personal or family leave are just some of the factors prompting searches for new career opportunities among the “been around the block before” set But, despite years of experience, those changing careers, switching industries or seeking a new position following years with a single employer often face job searching challenges that are similar to classic re-entry candidates.

CPAs and other readers familiar with this column know that one job search technique has been proven universally effective for candidates who do not fit into standard job descriptions — they have to network purposefully. This means connecting with hiring decision-makers intentionally and meeting strategically with industry figures who are recognized as reliable referral sources. Keynote conference speakers, academic thought leaders, published authors and former target company executives are among this group.

In today’s competitive environment, skills, talent and knowledge are not sufficient to attract desired employers and command their attention. As the hiring process becomes increasingly complex, today’s job seekers must follow up to promote themselves periodically. Timing is critical; being recommended for a position can transform a comfortably content employee into a prospective new hire.

Getting past automatic screening and gatekeepers

As you may have experienced, many of the companies you’d like to work for use automated candidate screening and tracking processes that don’t accommodate — and can’t appreciate — exceptions to the rigid hiring criteria used to manage the massive volume of resumes generated by Web-based postings. Most re-entry candidates will rarely be included among a short list of candidates matching an employer’s ideal requirements. The solution? Connect through a mutual contact.

Annual surveys conducted by Gerry Crispin and Mark Mehler of CareerXroads continue to show employee referrals as the main source of new hires. How can you get an insider to champion your candidacy at a target company? Ask explicitly for help specifying whom to contact and provide a clear value proposition that you bring to the organization so your contact can easily relay your unique attributes to the hiring decision-maker or decision-makers.

A recommendation may be the only way you will ever be considered. Networking contacts can usually facilitate a telephone or in-person meeting to start the process and allow you to interact one-on-one with a hiring decision-maker.

To establish good interpersonal rapport and demonstrate your credibility, you must develop models, white papers or presentations that show in quantifiable terms how you can decrease expenses, increase profits and add to the bottom-line. After getting comfortable with your abilities, an employer may decide that you can fill an opening adequately or the organization may create a new job just for you.

Beyond an immediate job offer, a positive impression can yield more contacts which in turn can deliver other potential job leads. With patience and persistence, if you develop and nurture networking relationships with appropriate contacts you will be on the surest path to finding a job. If you have breaks on your résumé, personalized introductions explaining unusual circumstances can help pave the way for meaningful dialogs with prospective employers.

Networking has multiple benefits, such as developing influential relationships, acquiring insights from the employer’s perspective and gaining knowledge to focus on target employers. Smart executives make a lifetime habit of managing their careers to obtain exposure to possible new opportunities. Network connections are usually an advantage over similarly qualified competitors. Networking is career insurance.

Eight Sure-Fire Tips

Here are some tips for CPAs and other financial professionals hoping to re-enter the job market with a running jumpstart to accelerate job search progress:

  • Define your skills, expertise and knowledge. Next identify a potential employer market likely to value such talents and capabilities. Then find key decision makers/hiring managers and establish contact, preferably an introduction by a mutual contact.
  • Create your plan that includes a strong value proposition to unmistakably benefit prospective employers based on quantifiable contributions, specifying target companies/hiring decision makers likely to appreciate this message.
  • Be focused. Choose a niche of expertise that is remarkable, distinctive and memorable. Go to resources/experts, command more attention.
  • Communicate clearly and persuasively in a flawless written format and compelling elevator speech presentation. The unadvertised or hidden job market is the largest source of new career opportunities. Access is available through personal connections, not official job postings. It’s not just who you know and what you know, but who knows you.
  • Emphasize networking purposefully, connecting with decision makers or individuals especially those affiliated with a target employer who is well positioned to not only hire, but also make introductions and expand connections to other hiring decision managers.
  • Maximize positive campaign results. Job search is a marathon not a sprint. Invest the time and effort to develop strong trusting long term relationships. By consistently using the right strategies, you can fine-tune your positioning, documentation, etc. based on feedback.
  • Show appreciation and to give back willingly to help others. What goes round comes round. Good networking is reciprocal and not restricted to job hunting-related activities.

And don’t forget to follow-up! Persevere courteously and keep the ball in play. Don’t be deterred by effective gatekeepers; it’s their responsibility to filter contacts — make sure they understand that they have more to risk by excluding you, than by helping you attain from a meeting or phone appointment. Keep your chin up, your next job may be just around the corner!


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© Debra Feldman, 2008

Debra Feldman is the JobWhiz™, a nationally-recognized expert who designs and personally implements swift, strategic, and customized senior level executive job search campaigns, banishing barriers that prevent immediate success. Her gift for cold calling, executed with high energy and savvy panache, connects candidates directly to decision makers, not HR. Network Purposefully™ with the JobWhiz, and compress your job search into mere weeks, using groundbreaking techniques soon to be profiled in Forbes magazine and featured in an upcoming syndicated television series. In addition to writing columns and conducting workshops for several revered professional associations, Debra provides career guidance to alumni of top-tier business schools. Contact Debra at www.JobWhiz.com to expedite your executive ascent.