Sunday, November 4, 2012

Grow Your Company Rather than Build It

In science, the verb culture is used informally to refer to "selectively growing" and the noun culture is the result of that cultivation"

Simply put, the culture of companies is comprised of individuals that share some common traits, goals and backgrounds. They have been attracted to their companies because of these commonalities and will be inclined to move to the next company that offers them a similarly compatible environment.

I have been a recruiter at startup companies for many years. I've seen or heard most of it, but I like to learn and I like to think about how to improve the process. One day, I was doing some competitive analysis on my industry and I plugged 'recruit' into a search engine. For the most part I got the typical job boards and career sites, but one of the entries was related to microbiology. From that point I found that this domain uses the term recruit pertaining to cells trying to attract specific cells to perform a specific function. This was notable because at the time, I was also thinking how the process of companies and groups spawning other companies, growing, coming together, splitting, and recombining can be described using genetic language.

As all that was mixing around in the back of my mind, I read an article that talked about changing how we should view the world. In the industrial age our taxonomy was based upon a mechanistic model. Now, in the information age, we should follow a biological model. At that point, I knew why this was making sense and I began to formulate a biological analogy to describe how companies form and grow.

First, let me say that I have a very low tolerance for B^ll $h*t so even attempting to write this has me questioning my own convictions. However, this is not a scientific endeavor and as long as it makes a good read and provokes some thought, I will be happy.

Biological Recruiting Model

The heuristic for our analysis will be to describe a company's growth as a biological phenomenon. Then, by using terms from the fields of microbiology and genetics, explain the process and variables effecting how companies acquire that ever so elusive resource badly named "human capital". Once we have described how these terms relate to building companies, we can apply that understanding to improve the success rate of attracting, hiring and retaining employees.

Companies exhibit growth like organisms do. Organizations incorporate individuals into powerful forces with a common goal just as small polyps measured in centimeters, form some of the largest structures known on earth, the coral reefs. Every day, VC's "breed" companies by adding a key individual to a team or combining two startup groups pursuing similar markets to become one entity.
Please note that this model will apply equally well to startup or established companies.

Company Genealogy

I found it very interesting the there is a term from genetics," the founder effect"[1], which describes a small group breaking off from the larger population to form a smaller group. One of the exercises I have always thought would be useful is to create a map or family tree of startup companies. Although this is a huge undertaking, I would love to help any academic institutions up to the challenge. Once created, it would be evident that certain companies are at the root and that the branches and leaves contain some elements of the root companies.

If you view the core team as a company's DNA you can then observe specific traits and characteristics exhibited by the organization. One company's engineering team profile might look something like this; micro biology degrees from Harvard, worked at the Whitehead Institute then Genzyme, enjoy bicycle racing. Another's might be; into sci-fi erotica, involved in the free software movement, look like Richard Stallman, like the band Boiled in Lead, practice martial arts and have a disdain for corporate environments. The point being, individual companies have distinct characteristics determined by the core team that describes their make up. Furthermore, you can observe that over time, successive generations of companies inherit traits from the recombination of founders and employee groups. As a result, probabilities for successful hires as well as the potential success of the company can be determined based upon the makeup of the organization. I use this process daily to help me determine candidates for the searches I conduct. 

Three Components of Successful Recruiting

The process of recruiting can be explained using terms from genetics as well. First of all, just as DNA has an intermediary (RNA) to the outside world, a company has a recruiter. The function of RNA is to protect the DNA from the outside, transfer messages and deliver those messages to the appropriate targets. In microbiology, cells recruit other cells using promoters, attractors and receptors [2]. Combining all these terms and concepts, we can fairly accurately describe the variables required for a successful recruitment effort.

Receptive Talent Pool

By determining the "genotype" of your company based upon common experience and cultural affinity you can define your archetype candidate and put together a message that will be attractive to them. Research utilizing the knowledge that companies form and grow in an evolutionary manner, will help you to determine the target companies that will produce the highest probability for a successful hire. Combine this with knowledge of stock option prices, lock up periods, merger and acquisition phases and the like, one can generally predict who may be susceptible to recruitment and from where the next start up might emerge.

Attractive Company Brand

At the most basic level, recruiting is a marketing function. The first branding exercise for a startup is putting together the message that will be used to create a buzz in the marketplace and entice potential employees to investigate the opportunity. 

The attractors in this case will consist of the investor information, background on the founders and a description of the mission or target market. Over time the company culture will have emerged and will begin to pull those with similar values toward it. Once the message has been crafted, campaigns can be mounted to target the audience most receptive to the pull of the team and culture. 

Promoters For Your Company

Company employees, marketers, customers and agents spread the word out about your company and job opportunities. The obvious first promotion step is to have your employees contact their personal networks and then to mine them for referrals. In my experience, the best companies hire the bulk of their team through internal referrals. Ideally, once a company has an employee from a competitor or recruiting target, a steady stream of candidates will be available from that company. Some interesting points I should make are that a company that is comprised of a core team from only one company, will have a harder time recruiting than one where the founders come from two or three different companies. Having a larger pool to fish from will prevent them from hitting the wall as their personal networks exhaust themselves. Also, companies that hire everyone that has the same background tend towards a sort of "inbred" situation that amplifies the negative traits of the group and becomes less attractive to the candidate pool.

Beyond employee referrals, well targeted employment branding campaigns, company profile pages, compelling job descriptions, customer evangelists, community initiatives and yes, recruiters raise awareness and create interest in your company.

 People Not Capital

There are no pieces to assemble or build our company with, only talented people. By looking at recruiting through a biological lens, we can mimic the processes used in nature and described by science to help guide our effort to find and stimulate the allure of our companies to prospective employees. Understanding that a company is a “living” organism made up of people, not capital assets is the first step to succeed in the struggle to grow companies. 

This is a rewrite of a post from several year ago. › Home › Evolution 101
An example of a bottleneck: Northern elephant ... A founder effect occurs when a new colony is started by a few members of the original population. This small ...
Sep 16, 2011 – One project addresses the issue of cells as 'dynamic attractors... The minimal requirement for this switch are two viral promoters, the virus ... away tyrosine kinases Syk and Lyn from B-cell receptor (BCR) in B cells, and Zap70 ...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Get 10 times the Applications with the Right Job Description

Current wisdom recommends telling a story when you are pitching your startup.

The Best Technical Story Teller of them All: Steve Jobs

The same can be said for successful engineering job postings. Having observed the results of hundreds of descriptions in at least ten channels, the clearly most successful was very descriptive, conversational and story-like. 

A story has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning of a story needs to hook the reader in the first few paragraphs and get them interested in your company and position. The beginning of a job post is the title.

The Title is crucial to standing out. There are 5,778 "software engineer" jobs in Boston listed on indeed today.  Most of those roles are simply described as "software engineer". Some include a buzzword such as PHP etc..  Compare that to the aforementioned job title that performed the best in my experience  "Progressive Non-Dogmatic Software Engineer"It is evident which title will attract more attention and provoke further exploration.

The main copy of your job posting should create an authentic picture of your company and culture. Rather than dryly list a buzzword laden description in bullet form, try a more conversational style. It helps to explain the big picture problem you are solving as well as some detail about the work. 

Check out this example from Square in SF to get the idea: We use HTML5, CSS, Ruby and Java to craft the most delightful web experiences possible. We track engagement, design every last detail, and build with bleeding-edge technology daily. Our innovative interfaces give sellers greater insight into their business and help buyers connect with the things they love.   

The end should wrap up with a blurb about your culture or work environment. If you have an engineering blog, include a link to it. And lastly don't forget to add a call to action to apply.

What do you think? Do you have examples of job postings that have performed well and do you agree with this article.  I would love to hear about your experience in the comments.

photo credit: by Ianus Keller

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Are You Flushing Candidates Down the Drain?

However you want to categorize it, talent war, candidate shortage, etc...  it is a very tight recruiting market for software and web companies these days.

It takes an immense amount of time and effort to convert a prospect into an active candidate. All the work creating an employment brand, identifying and engaging your talent pool has paid off and you are beginning to get your message in front of the right candidates.

While at this point there is no silver bullet or proprietary secret to success, now more than ever, the hiring team needs to execute flawlessly. One miss-step in the process and your prospect will move on to the next viable option. And there are always other options.

Let's examine the crucial points along the way from initial contact, as your prospect progresses through your funnel where process execution can determine success.

First and Foremost Present a Consistent and Complete Company Profile on Recruiting Platforms

At minimum make sure your LinkedIn and Indeed company pages are complete and present a professional first impression to job seekers. These days if you don't have a LinkedIn profile, your company will not be perceived as a viable.

Loading the Top of the Funnel

Getting candidates into the funnel is the first order task of recruiting and requires as separate post to cover fully. But make no mistake, it is a numbers game and requires constant attention and effort to keep the funnel primed.

Don't Underestimate the Power of a Phone Call

How many times have you heard "cold calling is dead"? Yes we have the tools today that help us identify and contact our prospects via email and inbound marketing techniques and you should always start there. The fact is that a skilled recruiting call will convert at a much higher rate. Once you have made initial contact via email, twitter IM or any other e-contact method, a follow up call may provide an edge that other companies have abandoned. If you need an example that the phone is a powerful lead conversion tool, look no further than the creators of Inbound Marketing and you will find they have a large, aggressive and skilled telesales organization.

Boring Job Descriptions Don't Convert

Sometimes a job posting is the initial experience someone has with a company. A boring job spec is the first warning of the boring company behind it. Take some time and create a job description that portrays some character of your company as well as what qualities and experience you are seeking.

It is even arguable if a job description is the right approach, maybe it should be an employment branding ad specific to the talent function, such as marketing, engineering or sales.

Bottom line, don't sell short the power of your copy here and consider a branded career ad that might attract a wider spectrum of candidates rather than a generic buzz word compliant job description.

Each Additional Step in the Job Application Process Loses Candidates

It is well known that the more steps in a web sign up funnel, the less prospects will convert. The same is true when prospective candidates apply for jobs. The last thing a great engineer wants to do is fill out a multi-page form asking for the same info on the resume or worse, extensive personal information.  Keep the application process simple, ideally just a click to apply button.

Handling the Volume of Inbound Candidate Channels

Screening mediocre resumes is wasted time and effort. For roles with a higher volume of inbound applications, make sure to have some call to action that will eliminate mass submissions. Requesting a personal note from a candidate describing why they are a fit for your company or some sort of  puzzle will eliminate the unqualified or mass appliers.

Managing the Channel Metrics for success rates, is an important factor in improving results and making adjustments to maximize hiring production.  Older "bean counter" metrics of cost per hire, time to fill are giving way to more well reasoned and holistic business performance based metrics like QOH.

Referrals Should be Maximized

25-30% of hires made through referrals is a healthy rate for a company to maintain.

This is fodder for much discussion which we won't cover here. But it is clear that referrals are the best channel a company can take advantage of due to the low cost, and referential nature of the hires. However the referral value diminishes when it is not a direct reference or done only for the bonus dollars.

Treat all referrals with expedient care. Keep in mind that a referral rate lower than average may indicate low employee satisfaction, which needs to be addressed immediately.

Candidate Experience: All You Need is Love

Kayak CTO Paul English wrote a definitive post in 2002 entitled Hiring Religion that will tell you all you need to know about fostering a great candidate experience.

His lines "Show this candidate that you came into work today to meet with them, that they are the most important person on your list"  and "be energized and nice to all candidates, it very well could mean the difference in winning over that superstar candidate", and also having a goal that ALL candidates always speak highly of their experience with your team, sum it up very nicely.

The more personal contact your team has with prospective hires, the higher the probability of them joining your company. No matter if they ultimately come to work at your company or not, your goal is to have every candidate that comes in contact with your company, remember a great experience.

Efficient and Decisive Interview Process

The bottom of the Recruiting Funnel is where mistakes are most costly. Offer Rejections are damaging setbacks. Lost employee time meeting the candidate, recruiter expense, and even management time if they are called into the process at the later stage, all add up to tens of thousands of dollars spent with nothing to show for the expense of a kicked offer.

Sometimes when everyone is very busy getting things done, getting interview feedback gets lost in the  pile. Make sure to have a process in place where all outstanding candidates in the funnel are discussed and decisions made, ideally on the same day as the interview.  Then quickly communicate the interview results to the candidate.

Timely answers and rapid decisions have turned many candidates around when competitive companies were slow to respond and seemed indecisive.

Improve Offer Acceptance Percentage

First thing to note is that getting to the passive candidates not yet seeking a new opportunity yields higher close rates.

At this point in the funnel, it is all about relationship and communication. The goal is to have an open line of communication and no surprises. Ideally, you will know the competition, the decision criteria, how the family views the move and any issues that might prevent the candidate from accepting the offer. Your prospect should know what your offer process is and have spoken with you about their salary requirements for an acceptable offer.

If you are getting surprise rejections and hearing excuses, it might be a good idea to do a 5 whys analysis to discover where your process has failed. Not really, but you get the idea, figure out where the communications were unsuccessful.

"Failure to Communicate" as your potential new employee moves through your hiring flow, is a fault when too much time between contact or lack of feedback turns the candidates experience negative. Maintaining momentum after the offer is also crucial, so get them involved and keep in touch until they start.

Interviewing gaffes, on-boarding mishaps and late or no show interviewers is an indication of lack of attention to detail and a low degree of care given to hiring. Or it could be a sign that you are hiring like crazy and in-frequently mess up. Either way too many mistakes can be a problem.

Exploding offers are a great way to set your company apart with a negative reputation. If you want to look desperate and cast doubt on how you treat employees, go for it.   Not recommended.

Execution is a Fundamental part of Winning the Talent War.

A startup truism is execution determines the winners. The same can be said for a successful recruiting effort. Companies can win or lose talent based upon their ability to effectively execute the candidate experience efficiently, decisively and with a personal touch.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Talent Promotion Replacing Talent Acquisition

A new discipline has overtaken what was recently deemed talent acquisition which used to be recruiting if you're old school. Taking it's place, Talent Promotion, encompasses talent outreach, attraction, employer branding; as well as education, assessment, career growth and talent allocation.

Hyper growth organizations must be as mindful of nurturing the talent they have, as they are about quickly filling the roles required to maintain growth. Loyal and high performing employees are the crucial component from which all company success derives.

The two sides of the Talent Promotion coin look like this:

Promoting the company and business success to the community, industry, targeted talent pool and Universities.

Promoting people up the ranks. 
Promoting the company's Big Goal and Culture
Promoting continued education, assessment, social events, equity plans and overall talent engagement.

One side without the other will not sustain the company's ability to maintain hyper growth.

Whatever terms we use to describe our function (and we've tried a few); recruiting, retention, training, talent development, human resources, human capital management, personnel, or talent acquisition, the names don't mean a thing unless measured on QoH.

You can squeeze down cost per hire, increase offer acceptances or shorten time to fill, but if the Quality of Hire decreases or is not improved, you need to reexamine your efforts.

Talent Promotion focuses on the metric that matters; QoH, with objectives designed to find, nurture, grow and engage the people at your company to build a cohesive, committed, skilled, growth oriented organization.

Also, double meanings are cool and the idea of promoting people and promoting the company resonates.

What about you? Has your company come up with a new name for the same old thing or has the new moniker helped your department focus, driving you towards your QoH targets?

Monday, November 1, 2010

There is 90% Employment

First, let's state the obvious. The math is simple. If there is 10% unemployment, then 90% of the working population is employed.

Let me be clear, I am not trying to diminish the problems we face in putting America back to work or the hardships of those looking for work.

What I want to do is talk about the seemingly disproportionate amount of blog posts, advice, career sites etc..  speaking about; the Great Recession, Tough Times, How're You Holding Up?, and even mentioning murder suicides caused by layoffs. It's almost like these posts are pandering to the unfortunate for traffic.

Now that people have been told to start blogging, open a twitter account, update their Linkedin and Facebook  profile, how about providing them some value?

The following are a couple of experts I think are getting it right, tell it like it is, give practical advice and deserve some recognition for it.

From  What Would Dad Say

From    Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos

As career advisor, recruiter or sourcer, it is our job to provide practical advice that will help people improve their career equity and maximize options in a job change.

It is also our job to find the best candidates for our clients or companies. That doesn't mean someone that is between jobs in not one of those best candidates, but they will find you. The majority of the talent pool, 90% , is out there working at the competition or a company in your industry.  The majority of those people and probably the best ones, don't have a resume posted somewhere for you to pull up at will from a database.

And chances are, they probably aren't interested in hearing about "Being Kind to Yourself During Your Job Search".

If you want to build an audience of job seekers and increase your authority in the recruiting or career advice field, your time might be better spent  appealing to the employed 90%.  Just Sayin...

If you know any other  you think are getting it right and offering valuable insight to the job seeker/changer, please tell us about them in the comments.


If you know any others bloggers  or pundits dolling out useful and actionable career advice  and you feel they should be on this list, drop me a note and I will add them if appropriate.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Startup Hiring Mistakes

I was reading QuickSprout one of my GOTO start-up blogs last night and this post really hit home. Are you Making These Mistakes?

Neil Patel asks 10 successful entrepreneurs who have all created companies that are worth at least 50 million dollars, what their biggest business mistake was.

Half of the ten named a hiring related issue as their biggest problem.

If you feel you need information to emphasize the crucial importance of effective recruiting, look no further. Hiring is important for all companies, but for start-up companies it is the bedrock that will determine the success or failure of your endeavor. One mistake with a core team hire can throw the company into a death spiral from which it may not recover. The other take away from this advice is that once you identify a hiring mistake, you must correct it quickly or risk further damage.

"wrong hiring standards in certain parts of our company. We focused too much on specific skills, and too little on fundamental abilities, raw talent, and passion"

"The biggest mistakes are always bad hires."

"My biggest mistake has been hiring the wrong people."

"not taking fast corrective action in dealing with a bad hire."

"The biggest mistake I’ve made have been with hiring the wrong people. I think if you add everything up, including the cost of bad decisions, additional bad hires made by the original bad hire, and missed opportunity costs, bad hires have cost Zappos over $100 million."

Read the blog post to see who said what.

The best advice when building your team is to err on the side of caution. If you have any doubts about someone, don't hire them. Wait for the right candidate to come along.

To do this effectively, you must be recruiting at all times and use a lot of sources (including recruiters). It costs you nothing to see candidates from recruiters and if the candidate presented by the recruiter is the "right" one and beats those provided by your other sources, hire them.  Too much emphasis is placed on cost per hire and you should be focused on quality of hire. Each good engineer is considered to be worth $ 1 Million in an acquisition (not even considering their output) so whatever it costs you to bring a great candidate on board is well worth it.

The Strength of “Work” Ties

Most people interested in Social Networking, whether professionally, academically or as a user, are familiar with the concept, “the strength of weak ties”. The paper of the same name by Mark S. Granovetter of Johns Hopkins University issued originally in the early 70’s and updated in 1983, analyzing social networking has been very influential in the field and I believe, is responsible for some miss-conceptions regarding how jobs are found.

Although not specifically stated in Granovetter’s paper the generally accepted conclusion on job mobility reached by many, is the following; most people find jobs through people with whom they don’t have a strong relationship.

Having been a recruiter for almost twenty years, experience tells me that this is contrary to what actually occurs when an individual changes jobs. In this opinion article I endeavor to uncover a new perspective. I will also identify problems with the methodology that led to conclusions that do not reflect practicality, as well as use real world examples to support the counter-argument that it is, The Strength of “Work” Ties, that facilitates mobility in the job market.

Labor Market Studies and Empirical Data

Once the concept of the “Strength of Weak Ties” had developed, empirical data was gathered to further develop the cohesive power of weak ties. One of the underlying suppositions for the labor market study was the idea that those with strong ties to the job seeker would be more motivated to help with the job search.

In 1970 Granovetter studied how people in professional, technical and managerial positions found their new jobs. Particular emphasis was placed on the nature of the tie between the job changer and the source of the employment opportunity. By asking a random sample of one hundred individuals who found jobs through contacts, how often they saw the contact around the time of the job change, and using contact frequency to determine tie strength, he was able to offer some conclusions.

The results:

Sample Size 100 individuals

% of Sample Tie Strength Contact Frequency Definition

16.7 % strong ties = often=at least twice a week
55.6% occasionally => once a year but <>
27.8% weak ties rarely= once a year or less

From these results he concluded, ”the skew is clearly to the weak end of the continuum, suggesting the primacy of structure over motivation.” Or in other words, most of the individuals found jobs from weak ties and strong ties are not as important as weak ties for finding a job.

Heuristics are the Problem

First of all, a study with such impact on the thinking regarding job mobility seems like it should be based upon more than a sample of only one hundred individuals.

This opinion essay recasts the study with a focus on professional networking related to job change. Granovetter’s use of “professional networking” examples to reflect social networking phenomena creates one of the basic problems with the SWT study. Proximity has been identified as a factor when establishing strong ties in a social network. It makes sense that people that see each other more frequently have a higher probability for forging a strong tie. Movement within social networks tends to be gradual unless one uproots. In a social network, once proximity is not a factor the ties diminish in strength. I argue that Professional networks are different because movement is abrupt from one company to another yet the strong ties remain in spite of lack of contact and proximity.

Another factor that makes professional networking much different from social networking is that much more is at stake. When you are a reference for someone, your reputation will be affected by that reference and therefore has more consequence than just passing on information. I think we can all agree that how someone finds a new job is not exactly the same as how the rumor of Sinbad’s death diffuses through a social network.

Definition of Strength

Another problem is that the definition of a strong tie is applied arbitrarily and the resulting determination is the exact opposite of what a strong tie is in a professional networking context.
First, let’s start with the problematic method used in the study to define the “strength” of a tie. Granovetter’s definition initially uses the concept of time, frequency of contact, emotional intensity, mutual confiding and reciprocal services, as criteria to determine the strength of a tie. Then for no apparent reason in the labor market study, which is responsible for most of the data used to support his arguments, uses only the contact frequency to determine the strength of ties. As we will see, in a professional networking scenario, frequency of contact does not determine a strong tie. Therefore, strong ties may be mistakenly defined as weak, which produces incorrect conclusions.. In general my intuitive notions do not agree with the criteria related to time and contact frequency with respect to tie strength. I have close friends that I see or contact very infrequently, yet they remain strong ties.

I propose it may be much easier to define and determine the strength of ties in a professional networking context. In this analysis, I am using referral as the defining criteria. For example, would individual A refer B? If so, a strong tie exists. Furthermore, using the concept of transitivity, if A has strong ties to C and refers B to C, we will infer that B has a strong tie to C. A weak tie occurs when A knows B but does not refer them. This is not necessarily a negative; it may also be due to lack of sufficient knowledge about B’s performance etc.. Staying true to the comparison to Granovetter’s paper, I will stick with the two qualities of ties, weak and strong. However, our experience reveals the following data points of interest. If we continue outward to the next degree of connectivity we find that the strength of the tie attenuates somewhat and that beyond three degrees does not register. The significant data point being that a referral of D from A to B to C is less than a strong tie, but stronger than a weak tie.

Common sense and experience tells us that time spent with an individual and frequency of contact are not much of an issue when determining strength of a tie based upon referrals. Certainly a reference of A for B from ten years ago is not as strong as one currently, but taken in context between strong ties A-C, it is still considered a strong tie for C -B.

Lack of contact with a former colleague for a few years, does not diminish the strength of your referral. For example, someone that worked with Ray Ozzie four years ago, yet has had no contact since, will likely give just as strong a referral as someone with whom Ray works currently. As a corollary, the best people you work with are not necessarily the ones you frequently hang out with, and some might suggest that the amount of time one spends around the “water cooler” is inversely proportional to the quality of the individual.

The remaining criteria, emotional intensity, mutual confiding and reciprocal services would still apply when using referencing to determine the strength of tie in a professional context.

The “Strength in Numbers” of Weak Ties

An obvious explanation for the preponderance of weak ties job changes would be the greater number of weak ties. If your five close friends know of three jobs between them, but their friends and friends of friends know of thirty, then the probability is good that the job will be found through weak ties. Certainly this is more of a factor when a job must be found in a short amount of time. A footnote in Granovetter’s paper notes that David Light brought this mathematical fact to his attention. However, Granovetter maintains that the objection remains inconclusive, and that “if the premise were correct, however, one might still expect that greater motivation of close friends would overcome their being outnumbered.” As we proceed, I believe that the analysis will substantiate David Light’s suggestion regarding “the strength in numbers of weak ties” and also that strong ties do overcome weak ties when changing jobs.

The Strength of Weak Ties Concept does not reflect reality

Conservative Industry estimates indicate that in the US there are at least 50 million hiring situations annually and 40% of these hires are made through referrals.

When you refer someone, you have skin in the game. Your reputation is on the line and therefore you do not make it lightly. Chances are you are not going to refer someone you do not know well.

This one industry statistic alone is probably enough to convince you that the conclusions drawn from asking the wrong question to one hundred job changers may not be more accurate than data derived from the more than 50 million job changes annually.

An Alternative View

If we reframe Granovetter’s labor market study by asking the job changers the more relevant question, “Was the job source referring them?” we might see different results. Examining the amount of contact we currently have with our references from past jobs, probably most would fall into the once a year or less category. Yet when looking for a new position, the first step is to contact your past network of references and referrals.

Ask any hiring manager what their process is to find and hire people and you will get similar answers. The first step is to vet their network and the network of their employees. If they utilize other recruiting sources and a viable candidate has been identified, backdoor referencing is done. In essence, using these unofficial references, the manager is attempting to bring the candidate into their network of strong ties. Managers try to avoid making a hiring decision based solely on interviews and official references. It is much easier to hire a candidate verified through your network.

Think back to your ten friends that have most recently changed jobs. How did they find their jobs? Chances are, they found the job using their network of work contacts that are references or would refer them. Many times I have seen a past manager that was called to be a reference, make an offer to the candidate seeking the reference. In some cases, B’s referral from contact A to A’s reference C, led B to a job with C. As I have noted, due to transitivity, that would still be considered a strong tie move.

Granovetter said it best, “In many cases, the contact was someone only marginally included in the current network of contacts, such as an old college friend or a former work mate of employer, with whom sporadic contact had been maintained (Granovetter 1970, pp. 76-80). For work-related ties, respondents almost invariably said that they never saw the person in a non-work context. It is remarkable that people receive crucial information from individuals whose very existence they have forgotten.”

How true. People will make referrals even when they have not been in frequent contact. In my experience it is not remarkable, in fact I have had managers hire the same person from me several times due to losing contact with the individual. There is no stronger tie in a professional network than when a manager hires someone again after moving to another company.


In my opinion, The Strength of Work Ties is the major factor in job mobility. References and Referrals are the most powerful conduit for finding and landing a new job.

Opportunities found using this method have a higher probability of fit due to the similarity that exists between individuals with strong ties. This similarity will include the quality of the individuals work output. A common phrase in the recruiting industry is that A’s refer A’s. The likelihood of being hired through strong work ties is increased due to the best fit, the motivation of the internal reference and the lessened risk provided to the manager.
For the same reason, positions found through strong work ties have a higher probability of job satisfaction and longevity.

Respectfully, The Strength of Weak Ties, does play a role in job mobility, but the value lies in the larger number of opportunities available to the individual seeking a new position. This is especially true when there is a lack of references or the individual is pressed for time to make a move.