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No More Messing Around, It's Time to Get Direct

The next level of mediums to explore is Direct Recruitment.  The name says it most accurately: direct contact of individuals that may or may not have a known interest in making a job/career change.  This is the very best way to get the best candidates for any position.   You can even be legitimate when you call them passive candidates.  The directness, the deliberateness of the proactive contact is what makes this a better way. The more direct your recruitment is, the better the quality of the candidate pool you can develop from which to choose from.

We are going to explore three main categories of direct recruitment:

  • Personal referral networks

  • Direct mail recruitment

  • Direct phone recruitment

  • Social Networks


Though lumped together due to some commonalities, they couldn’t be more different:  different in cost, organization, execution, participants, etc.

Today we are going to discuss personal referral networks or PRNs. You may come away from this feeling I have been too vague or not given enough tangibles.  Understand how complex and long this could be.  The purpose here is to give you a context, an overview, and understanding of the medium, its dynamics, and its value.

My contention is that PRNs are one of the very best methods of getting the best people.  Many organizations have developed forms of employee referral programs/personal referral networks. However, in the same breath, I will tell you that most individuals and organizations don’t have the structure or programs in place to proactively and aggressively tap into and expand these personal networks.  Thus it is an under-developed, under-utilized, definitely an under-maximized medium.

Aside:  This is a good point to reiterate how multifaceted recruitment is.  You can’t just start or stop with any of the mediums we have discussed.  If you have a good employee referral program, it doesn’t mean you don’t do any advertising or direct mail, or attend trade shows.  The whole point of this exploration is that you understand the dynamics, facets, and limitations of each medium.  With all of this in mind, you can craft an offensive plan that has multiple fronts. 

What are the core dynamics that make PRNs effective?  First, by their nature, people don’t refer people that are losers.  It is a personal reflection on them.  Pride finally works in your favor.  People also don’t refer people they don’t want to work with or that will embarrass them; a personal referral is a reflection on the person that refers them.

Ready for some double-talk?  Actually, you want to diffuse the above psychology.  Based on people perceiving the personal stakes of making referrals, people are hesitant.  You want to build a quality database of people to direct recruit.  You need to have ways that people can make confidential referrals and ways people can “qualify” those referrals without any consequence if they “don’t work out.”

Aside:  A point of caution here: if you have a low performer, a trouble employee that is active in PRN programs, you may have them bringing their whole caravan of low performing buddies that are slowly getting run off from a competitor.  Don’t be surprised if references are positive as well.  That organization wants this entire group gone.  Jane/Bob gets her/his buddies to work with; they will mask each other’s low performance as well.  They will build a consensus of negativity and numbers that make it hard to impossible to get rid of as a group.

PRNs have another very distinctive difference from other forms of recruitment.  It requires that you utilize HR operations/systems skills to be effective.  Each of the other mediums is something fully handled by the human resources staff.  (The exception to this would be if you had a mixed representative group to personal appearances such as trade shows, job fairs, and training programs.)  This means organizational and communication skills have to be very effective to make this work.  If you look at the dynamic of the rest of a recruiter’s role, this is a different competency than the rest of their job function.  Match responsibilities and competencies or success is victim.  With a very heavy work burden already, can you understand how PRN programs get pushed down the list until it doesn’t happen?  This factor may be one of the key reasons that it is not more widely or effectively utilized even though it is the most qualitative and effective means of identifying and recruiting good candidates.

What about the use of financial or intrinsic incentives to gain active participation?  There are multiple schools of thought about financial vs. recognition or a combination of incentives for PRN participation.  Given the right team oriented organizational culture, the enticements don’t have to be as financially driven for participation; there should be a sense of “building my family” and making “our” organization successful.  (Ok, am I living in OZ?)  I would always start with the idealist path and build as necessary to the financial bait, monitoring the thresholds along the way.  Don’t sell short the psychological motivation of competition and recognition.  Use this to your advantage and this whole program will be much cheaper.  Would you rather buy a nice golf shirt for $30 that says “I’m a XYZ Hospital Team Builder” or spend $500 for the successful referral?  I can spend the $500 bucks and it is gone.  However, I can wear that shirt over and over again and have everyone know I am special.  What if more shirts show up?  Now for those that don’t have them they feel left out and get on the bandwagon; the psychology of inclusion works for you.  What is the cost of a “Grand Prize Trip” once a quarter?

Here is a true story for you.  For identity purposes, we are going to call this hospital Dufus Medical Center . This facility engages a PRN program that has a financial incentive, lets say $500 for both the employee that refers someone and $500 for the new employee that is hired.  It worked.  It worked so well, that the facility was paying “a lot” of money out.  If memory serves me correctly, there was an additional cash award for both if they were both there on the 1-year anniversary, a retention incentive.  Who wouldn’t look at this program and see that they were solving their staffing problem?   Someone in administration (close your ears/eyes CFOs) sees what they are spending on this program and cans it. Welcome to Dufus Medical Center .  Two thumbs up for the program developers, and executors; it was a success.  The cost of other less qualitative recruitment was more; but were “typical” cost items.  This cost was an investment, one with a very positive ROI.  Is there a moral?  Back up your work with good metrics and quantifiable data.   Also, go into a program with the right people sold on the cost vs. investment criteria for evaluation of the program.  I guarantee you the turnover cost and future employee acquisition cost went up.  What about the organizational culture and moral of the discontinued program?

What sources do you have for your PRNs?

  • Peer groups

  • Previous bosses

  • Previous employees who have left  (obviously the good ones)

  • Previous subordinates

  • Previous managers


How do people feel about “raiding” other organizations?  I in turn ask you, “How do you feel about losing?”  In the war for talent, there are winners and there are losers.  You will probably hear me say this again in the future:

“You don’t have to outrun the bear!” 

That’s right, our masked superhero, Metaphor Man is looming in the shadows once again.  Picture you and another person on the top of a hill with a bear (our bear here is the talent shortage) chasing you and another person or persons (competitors).  Do you really have to beat the bear to survive?  No, you just have to outrun the other person or persons.  This same thing is true with the war on talent, the nursing and other skill shortages.  The problem isn’t going to go away, not any time soon.  There will be winners and there will be losers.  The winners are the ones that take all of these strategic assessment and recruitment things seriously.  Don’t worry though; there are enough people out there (I talked to one today) that still just don’t get it.  So, if you have a complex about “raiding” your competition or calling ex-employees etc., get over it or lose.  Do you think this is unethical?  You are presenting an opportunity, communicating an option to someone.  Leave the choices to them.  Leave the burden to the other organization to provide the environment that retains people.  If you feel an ethics issue to go directly into your competitors, engage a third party recruiting resource.  Though it is virtually the same thing, people feel very different about an independent firm do this vs. doing it themselves.

Do I seem too harsh?  (Just wait until I get to recruiters)  Remember, the theme of this is to maximize your human system.  This maximization is the key to your success.  The lack of it could be the doom or failure of your organization.  Too many hospitals are on the financial bubble today.  You really can make a difference, THE difference.

In keeping with the tradition of format, lets evaluate the dynamics of PRNs

         Direct vs. indirect:  This is a very direct method.  You are targeting specific people with your message; you couldn’t be more direct.

         How long does it last?  This should be a continual program, not a spot one, and has great longevity.

         What is the cost? This is going to be variable.  How formal is or isn’t the program?  How much staff time is dedicated to it?  What kind of incentives are there for the program (factors into cost/investment per hire).

         Accountability for results:  There is not much accountability for results.  You can’t make staff give you the referrals.  You have to sell them into program participation.

         What should your expectation be?  You should expect to spend quality time with each person that is referred.  These people are somewhat pre-qualified and should end up being your best hires.  Use the red carpet and don’t mess up these communications and interviews.  You should expect a better group of candidates and fewer people your organization has to interview and process for each hire; adding internal operational efficiency.

How much competition do you have?  If you are in a multi-hospital metropolitan area you are in a very different situation than a one-horse rural setting.  Again, let me reiterating how personalized and unique each organization and recruitment strategy truly is.  Is there a training program or university in your area with alumni resources?

You can get lists of people that are program alumni that have moved away and may have an interest in moving back.

You can recruit back past employees  (The good ones) if they are still in the area.  This is especially true if you have done a good job in the exit interview process.   The reasons they left may have changed and they would like to come back.  Statistically speaking, they most likely left because of a poor relationship with a previous manager.  If this manager has “moved on,” the organizational climate has changed in this department, if the person coming back would have the support of the staff, why not?

Please share some of your own experiences and thoughts.

Choose to make it a great day!


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