Hiring ‘A’ Players: Why Referrals are the Best Source for Amazing Talent

Data from one study shows that referrals are the best source for finding quality hires. Another expert says that referrals should be one of the top metricsthat talent acquisition leaders focus on. And our own data at Lighthouse Research says that more than 80% of companies believe that referrals are important for measuring sourcing performance. Yet more than four out of ten employers are measuring nothing or only anecdotal information when it comes to referrals as a source of hire.

We believe that there is incredible value in referrals not just to hire great talent on a one-time basis, but to create a continuous pipeline of high quality candidates that add value to the business and the bottom line. This is a story of one technology startup firm that did just that.

A Case Study in High Quality Referral Hiring

It was the best run program they had ever seen.

That was the feedback from a customer after the team had delivered their final software product, and it was true from the corporate perspective as well. The group had an amazing project manager, a killer technical lead, and several highly qualified engineers under their leadership. It was, in every sense of the word, a set of A players. Looking at the team from the outside in, it didn’t surprise me to see that referrals played a critical role in making it all come together.

Referrals had always been a key recruiting strategy for the company. The founders had met at a previous employer, left together, and started the new technology company with high hopes.

  • Employee number three was a former colleague.
  • Employee number four was a former work associate.
  • Employee number five worked for one of the cofounders at a previous firm.

While not all successive hires were referrals, that core group of highly engaged workers was a high value channel for delivering quality candidates time and time again.

This proceeded all the way down to employee number forty two, the amazing project manager mentioned above. He was referred by a highly trusted external source. Being in the military community, a recommendation from the right person can carry a significant amount of weight, adding credibility and strengthening candidacy.

In each instance, the referral process helped to uncover a strong candidate that probably wouldn’t have been found in a standard “post and pray” job board strategy.

Referrals as a Talent Channel

You don’t create a great place to work. You defend it. -CEO of a firm with multiple “Best Places to Work” credits

Let’s face it. Many employees have not had the opportunity to work at a company with a great culture. But when they find one they inevitably become protective of the culture. This is a great tool for ensuring a strong referral program without having to constantly weed out poor performers and poor fits. It’s been said that A players hire A players, but B players hire C players, and companies of all sizes, industries, and geographies are trying to find those critical A players to remain competitive.

The right referral program needs to not only prioritize referrals as a source of hire, but it also needs strong technological underpinnings to help manage the volume and variety of referrals. Systems like MintMesh provide that functionality and help companies to get a grasp on what is typically operated as a “shoot from the hip” type of program. From an analytics perspective, being able to track quality of hire, time to fill, and other metrics and tie them back to the referral source is an incredibly valuable practice. Gathering the right data to support your referral practices is going to generate higher quality hires, ensuring those A players end up at your organization, not at the competition.


Written by: Ben Eubanks, Principal Analyst, Lighthouse Research & Advisory