A Golden Age of referral recruitment?

Earlier in the year I wrote a post underlining my strong belief that we're entering a golden age of referral recruiting as improving technology makes it possible to unlock the power of people's social graphs. This is all very well in theory but I thought it was time I found some actual examples to prove the point. After a bit of digging around I found an interesting economic study called "The Strength of Weak Ties" by Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter (I can't link to the study for reasons that will soon become apparent). Granovetter surveyed a number of working professionals in an unnamed Boston suburb, who had recently found a new job via a referral, to see how well they actually knew the person who told them about the job. The overwhelming majority indicated that they had found jobs through "weak ties" In other words they were helped by people they didn't actually know well or talk to regularly such as old college friends, past work mates and friends of friends.

Granovetter observed: " Usually such ties had not even been very strong when first forged....Chance meetings or mutual friends operated to reactivate such ties. It is remarkable that people receive crucial information from individuals whose very existence they have forgotten"

The most interesting thing of all is that Granovetter's study wasn't done in 2010, he did it 37 years ago in 1973! I can't link to it because it isn't even on the Internet, I found it in a book.*

So if all this was the case in 1973 imagine the huge potential for the strength of weak ties to benefit recruiting efforts in the modern world! The rise of online social networking has dramatically increased the number and geographical range of weak ties in a typical person's social graph. It is also far easier for people to have a dialogue with their weak ties than it would have been in 1973 and possible to massively increase the reach of any job related message through social graphs via automation and the viral effect of sites like Twitter and Facebook. While this isn't exactly an up to date case study I think it serves to further underline the massive potential of this area of social recruiting.

The key question for me is which parts of the recruitment market are going to step up and really make the most of this massive opportunity. Although there have been a few attempts to capitalize on it, I don't believe anyone has yet managed to fully unlock the potential. It may be that it is still too early in the evolution of the social web for these type of referrals to benefit everyone but I can absolute guarantee you that they are the future of recruitment.

(*You can actually download a pdf if you like reading academic papers!)