During the Covid-19 Pandemic, hiring directors and recruiters relied heavily on “word-of-mouth” hires. In the future talent space, accusations of nepotism (in which friends or family members are given or favoured for jobs in organisations) have been rife for years. Despite government legislation in different parts of the world to prevent this, the pandemic seemingly exacerbated this ongoing issue.
But why is nepotism problematic for organisations and how can businesses stop it from occurring?
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When businesses hire future talent, they often look for individuals based on their education, work experience, interests, and alignment with brand ethics. Before the pandemic, traditional hiring processes would often take companies time to execute and would likely have required face-to-face interviews.
Once the pandemic hit, bringing economic uncertainty, lockdowns, and work from home orders, companies were forced to change strategies to fill roles. According to The Guardian, 57% of UK-based recruiters had used “word-of-mouth” recommendations to fill positions, relying on colleagues, friends, and family to recommend talent. More than a quarter of these recruiters, 28%, said they were more likely to hire people they already knew as they believed that they could trust them.
Dimitar Stanimiroff, a general manager at networking platform, Handshake, argues that the increased use of internet-based job sites and networks like Linkedin (where 63% of recruiters claimed they have turned too in order to compensate for the lack of face-to-face communication caused by the pandemic) has made technology complicit in these hiring practices. In his words, “using existing contacts to fuel recruitment pipelines should be a thing of the past” but the perfect storm of economic and social uncertainty caused by the pandemic and the accessibility of modern technology has continued, and in some ways further rooted, “word-of-mouth” hiring.
What is the Problem with “Word-of-Mouth” Hiring?
Southern Oregon Staffing describes the process of “word-of-mouth” hiring as, “when an open position is brewing, managers/owners begin their hunt well before the job is on the open market. They first tell their friends and associates that they will soon have a need for an employee. Then, the information is shared with employees who then tell their friends and family of the opening. Many times, through this process of word-of-mouth a person in need of a job is found and selected without opening the job to the public.”
For businesses trying to attract the best talent, this narrows the potential pool of applicants. This is especially true in economic areas where the talent pool is already naturally shallow. For example, in fields like engineering, which require high levels of education in very specific subjects, further thinning of this field makes it less, rather than more, likely that a business will find the best talent. For businesses looking at a wider range of talent, such as accountancy firms, using recommendations can shrink that talent pool rapidly, contributing to a loss of competitive advantage.
For businesses and organisations looking to diversify their workforce, “word-of-mouth” hiring can be extremely problematic. According to Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School, unconscious biases can have a “critical” and “problematic” effect on our decision-making processes. We are likely to gravitate towards people who look like us, think like us and act like us. This may explain why recruiters and HR directors are so trusting of recommendations made by friends and family. The issue with this is that friends and family are more likely than not to make recommendations that are skewed by these same biases. In the hiring process, this is something to be avoided when trying to increase diversity within the workplace.
Irish Bohnet, an author, argues that “seeing is believing” when it comes to diversity in the workplace. She suggests that there are different hiring standards for female engineers or for male nursery teachers due to the historical underrepresentation of each of those genders within those positions. In her opinion, this filters down into the hiring process for these positions and it makes people less likely to recommend diverse candidates for roles that historically have not been filled by minorities.
Businesses who have started to adopt Artificial Intelligence (AI) into their recruitment, may face further diversity issues when combined with “word-of-mouth” hiring. Here at Amberjack, we have discussed some of the diversity issues thrown up by AI, how it can lead to organisations being recommended candidates like those who already work for them, why this is problematic, and how Amberjack’s solutions can help solve these issues. AI may already return a narrower and less diverse talent pool. It can be extremely hard for minority candidates to get a fair shot at job opportunities when these issues are prevalent Subsequently, making it harder for companies to grow into more diverse and inclusive places.
Future talent candidates themselves believe that those who are better connected will have greater access to the job market. Handshake’s survey found that a third of its sample of graduates believed that recruiters were biased towards their better-connected peers. In the same survey, 15% of respondents believe that their background would be a hindrance to them during their job search, whilst a further fifth said they did not have access to internet platforms like LinkedIn.
How Can Amberjack Help?
We’ve discussed the issues with “word-of-mouth” hiring, but what can a business do to mitigate it, and how can we help here at Amberjack?
At Amberjack, we believe in hiring based upon someone’s potential. We believe that when hiring, businesses should be looking for talent that they can make an immediate impact whilst still maintaining room to further develop. Hiring based on potential helps to mitigate the effects of nepotism and “word-of-mouth” recommendations.
Our Future Potential assessment (HiPo-I) allows you to test candidates with no fear of bias. The specific needs for your business can be integrated into these assessments, implementing your business values and goals, making sure you get the best talent who match what you’re looking for, no matter your business goals. The integrated video technology also helps to streamline your process and improve speed to hire.
If you would like to find out more about our Future Potential model, products and services contact a member of our team via the form above!