What do you do when someone asks you for a referral for an open position at the company you work at?
Most of us - if the request was thoughtful - feel an almost overwhelming desire to help.
Research suggests that feeling- the urge to help when asked- is hardwired into your brain.
Researchers discovered this using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study brain activity. When you help someone, parts of your mid-brain light up. Those are the same regions that light up when food, sex and other pleasurable activities are on the cards. Because helping someone makes us feel good, we are naturally inclined to do it.
Yet sometimes, after that initial instinct to help, something else happens. You start coming up with justifications not to.
Every time I think about helping people, I vividly remember a time I was on the bus in Chicago. A guy came on and his bus card wasn't working. My first instinct was to get up and use mine to get his fare.
But then the what-ifs kicked in.
What if the guy felt I was overstepping? What if I accidentally insulted him? Who was I to assume he needed my help in the first place? And on and on... so I awkwardly stayed in my seat.
Turns out this is a pretty common phenomenon. Thinking can block the instinct to help.
Researchers tested this phenomenon using cooperative games. They found that the faster someone made a decision, the more likely it was the decision would help someone. If you asked someone to donate to a charity or to give you a referral, the faster they answer, the more likely they'll be to help. And the longer they take, the more likely it is that they'll think themselves out of it.
In the end, the researchers found that our intuitive responses were always more co-operative than our thought-out responses.
Let's go back to the person who asked you for a referral. Your initial desire to help is starting to lose some of its power and the cycle of what-ifs is kicking in.
What if they are not a good fit?
What if they ruin the reputation I worked so hard to develop?
What if everyone likes them better and it eventually costs me my job? (To be fair, this particular fear only shows up at 3am when you can't fall asleep for the third time this week.)
There are plenty of good reasons not to refer someone.
You should only back a referral if they've got the right skills for the job and will be a great fit for the company.
But our fears of failing the team by referring someone who's not a good fit or looking bad in front of everyone can cloud our judgment and keep us from reaping the benefits of referring.
Referrals are the number one source of high-quality hires. While referred candidates make up just 7% of the applicants, they account for 40% of the hires. Referred candidates also tend to be happier and stay with the company longer.
When you refer a great candidate, you show that you are invested in the team's long-term success. That you've got leadership qualities and you want to help build up the company. Referring awesome candidates is a great way to pay it forward to your team and to your career.
So let's take a look at two specific obstacles that prevent you from referring and see how you can navigate them.
No one likes making mistakes. Not really. The fear of getting something wrong - of making a critical error - can easily stop you from taking action.
The best way to fight the fear is to thoroughly vet the candidate before referring them. And I'm not just talking about whether their experience matches up with the hiring criteria. Happiness and success in a role are about more than matching up a resume to a job description.
Dig deeper and find out why that person wants to work at your company in particular. I'll show you how to do that in a moment but first, let's take a look at the other key obstacle.
Building and maintaining your reputation at work isn't easy. When you refer someone, you are giving them your stamp of approval. That's a lot of weight to carry because if they mess up, it can affect your hard work.
So what do you do? Make sure that when you refer someone they are a good fit to the best of your knowledge. And keep in mind that referring someone is just the first step of the process. They'll go through a thorough interview process with HR and their department leaders. All you are doing is facilitating that first step.
So how do you decide if someone is a good fit for a referral? What should you look for?
Every company looks for something a little different in their ideal candidate.
Hootsuite, for example, have very specific hiring practices. It goes after people who actively use social media and genuinely believe in its power to change the world. As one of the largest social media management software providers and a registered B-Corp, they are concerned with their impact on the world and want their team to be on the same page.
Pinterest hire for culture and a "knit" fit. HubSpot created a famous slide deck that shared their company culture openly with everyone, outlining the type of person who'll love working at the company.
What does a great culture fit look like at your company? What's your mission? What do people who are really happy and productive at work have in common?
This isn't a one-way street. You can ask potential referrals what kind of culture they thrive in. Do they prefer working on their own or in teams? Do they value flexibility or do they prefer working on specific outlined tasks? What are their goals and do they align with the company?
When you refer candidates whose wants and needs align with what you can offer them, you are setting them (and yourself) up for success.
When we created JobFit, we wanted to help referrers like you quickly figure out if someone's a good fit or not. That's why we designed Fit Stories.
Instead of listing off experience without context, a Fit Story shows you whether a candidate is a good fit for your specific company.
We ask them questions that show their understanding of your company, your customers and the company's core goals. Questions that help them show you how they'll help the business as a whole. Because referring someone for a job they'll be great at shouldn't put you at risk.
So next time you get asked for a referral, consider the candidate in terms of job fit. Or to make it even easier, create a free profile and help awesome candidates find their perfect job.