How networking works: Understanding the employee referral system in the U.S.
Posted on March 15, 2017
The average job post online results in over 200 resumes. As a student, there is a lot of competition and it is very difficult to stand out among 200 resumes. Even worse, recruiters spend an average of 10-15 seconds looking at your resume. Many do not even read your cover letter. They scan resumes looking for reasons not to hire you. Only about 2% of applicants are invited to interview.
International students have additional barriers to getting noticed by employers. When an employer sees an international student’s resume, they are nervous to take a risk on the student. They worry about a student’s English skills or if the student can fit into American work culture. If they have enough American applicants who are qualified they will likely skip your resume.
To overcome this barrier as an international student, you need to be focused on employee referrals. An employee referral is when a current employee refers a qualified person in their professional network to the hiring manager. The employee sends their contact’s resume to the hiring manager with a note recommending the person. This makes it easier for the busy hiring manager to find qualified candidates in a pile of 200+ resumes. If a trusted employee gives a hiring manager a resume, that resume gets more attention than the other resumes because it comes from a trusted source. As an international student, you want to build relationships with employee inside a company so your resume becomes part of the employee referral process.
In the US, the top method for finding candidates is employee referrals. Even more, candidates who are referral are hired faster than those who come through a website. There are formal and informal employee referral programs. In all companies, it is common for employees to refer people that they like to their boss or a recruiter. If a company has a formal employee referral program, the person who referred a candidate can get a cash bonus if the candidate is successfully hired.
Below are the results of an employer survey by Jobvite, showing how most employers find candidates. Employee referrals were 39.9%, more than their job board listings (the method that most students use to apply for a job).
The challenge in getting this employer referral is that you can’t just ask a stranger to refer you to a job. You have to build a relationship with people on the inside of the company by getting to know them. An employee referral is a common outcome from informational interviews, a powerful tactic in American style networking.
Networking is the process of cultivating relationships with people inside of companies. By having conversations with people and showing interest in their work and company, you position yourself as the person who is a good candidate for future jobs at their company. You become a person who can be referred.
Here are two ways employer referrals occur in your search.
The Known Opportunity: You identify a job you’d like to apply to on a website. Because you know your resume may end up in a pile, you write your contact inside the company to tell them you applied. You don’t explicitly ask them to refer you because they will decide to refer you on their own. But by emailing them to let them know you applied, you show your motivation, commitment, while letting them make the decision to refer you.
Unknown Opportunity: Your contact may email you a job that you didn’t know about and encourage you to apply so they can refer you.
People will only refer people they trust can do the job and fit in well at their company. Personality matters just as much as skill sets in the American workplace.
20% of networking is timing. Throughout your networking process, you are building relationships with professionals who work in interesting companies. When the time is right, those professionals can help you get noticed in the pile of resumes.