“Work your network.”
“Employee referrals are the best way to find talent.”
“Oh, I have a great person I can recommend for that.”
“It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know.”
Depending on your point of view, you either think these statements are helpful and motivating, or the embodiment of everything that’s wrong in society today.
This eternal debate is at the heart of my frustration with “hire for fit” or requests from conference planners for recommendations of speakers. On the one hand, it is important to find people who don’t necessarily “match” but certainly “go” – they complement the business in ways that moves the organization forward rather than fights for fighting’s sake. On the other hand, you can end up with a whole lot of same. – the same thinking, the same looking, the same people, the same faces.
I struggle with this because I’ve benefited from my network. I’ve been afforded opportunities I wouldn’t have because the people in my circle of trust have recommended me for things, or have hired me for gigs, or have introduced me to people who then helped me do cool things. I am grateful to my network and humbled they think to recommend me for anything. And I really love the opportunity to refer someone I know because they are smart, talented, capable, all that stuff.
I recognize that someone else who had some mad skillz may not have gotten the opportunity because they don’t know the right people. And that it’s really hard to break into a new industry or group or company when you’re new and sometimes the “old guard” circles the wagons a little too much.
In hiring, data suggests employee referrals are the “best” – they tend to be sticky and because an employee is putting his/her reputation on the line, the referrals aren’t usually awful. For those of you who work among those with particularly niche skill sets (IT, OD, Legal,, etc.), you recognize the fact there are typically six (or fewer) degrees of separation between you and any possible candidate because we all keep referring the same people over and over.
What do we do about it? Throw out referrals all together? Avoid going to our network to ask about who should be a part of an event? Refuse to hire someone we’ve worked with before?
Or maybe not.
Maybe we just need be a little more aware of who we reach out to. Maybe we need to be intentional about the balance of referrals to new voices when it comes to giving opportunities. Maybe we need to take a chance now and then because it’s exciting to meet/hear/see/hire someone new.
Think of it this way – Marvel movies are great. The MCU has done a fantastic job of weaving together multiple storylines and breathing new life into old characters (you know Ironman was a secondary title, right?). But deep down, every once in awhile you kind of want to see something original. There’s a reason Greatest Showman had legs in the box office (and only part of it can be attributed to Hugh Jackman). It doesn’t take anything away from Marvel and movies you love. But it does give you glimpse of something different that you might not have wanted to watch.
So here’s my challenge for you – for every person who is your “go-to” referral for something, try to also refer someone new. It will grow the network at large and offer opportunity to those who may not have the reach that others do.
Plus, when that person turns into a star, you can always say you discovered them.
The currency of real network in not greed, but generosity.
~ Keith Ferrazzi