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The Dangers of Cronyism in Hiring

The Dangers of Cronyism in Hiring

The appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority, without proper regard to their qualifications.

Many employers use networking to find prospective candidates, especially for executive roles.  They will e-mail and call their business acquaintances, and ask for referrals, and mention the opening to people they meet at business networking events, trade shows, etc.  This often works out in an excellent hire, however it just as often can be a disaster.  Here’s why there are pitfalls in this approach.

Insufficient Outbound Data: When asking for referrals, executives at employers could send a full job description, but sometimes those are old, don’t describe objectives, or the recipient doesn’t read much past the title.  Sometimes, execs seeking referrals send a very brief message – one or two sentences – too brief to adequately convey what is really needed.

Insufficient Thought by Referrer: Everyone likes to be responsive to a request in business.  But do busy executives, receiving such a referral request, really have the time or inclination to think this through, and present the person they think is most qualified?  Or, will the exec refer a crony, or the first person that comes to mind, or the person who most recently contacted them, etc.?

Squeaky Wheels: We all hear from “Super-Networkers” who are actively looking for a new position.  Many of these people are well-qualified.  Many aren’t.  But, the squeaky wheel – the one who contacts you most frequently, messages you on Linked In, etc., is the one at the top of your mind.  You might refer someone simply because they are good at networking, not because they are the best qualified.

Cronies: More on Super-Networkers: We all have people we see often in business, at networking events, trade shows, who come across well, dress well, are outgoing and have compelling personalities.  But are they well-qualified for the job our other business acquaintance just asked about?  How much do we really know about these cronies?  Many people refer candidates they hardly know, because they feel they know the person better than they really do.  Repeated contact and familiarity can cause this type of referral to happen without much thought.

Passive Candidates: Often the best person for a job is someone who is not looking for a job, has their head down working hard, and doesn’t do much networking.  We don’t think much about these people!  The odds are very good that these excellent candidates will be overlooked, not remembered, when a networking request is received.

Less Scrutiny: Oliver Goldsmith said, “Ask me no questions; I’ll tell you no lies.” If our business acquaintance has been kind enough to provide a referral, are we then going to give that person the third degree?  Challenge the qualifications of the referred person?  Sometimes recipients of referrals attach too much credibility to the referred candidate, or are hesitant to ask too many questions.  The referral source might hardly know the individual.  This is compounded internally when the candidate is brought in for interview, and word passes around that the candidate was “referred in.”  Your own colleagues might presume the candidate has an edge, or came highly recommended, and the referred person receives a slimmer evaluation than other candidates.

We unfortunately witness the negative impact of cronyism even on our retained search projects.  After we’ve recruited several passive candidates and give them a thorough evaluation, occasionally a client will have an internally “referred” candidate interviewing side-by-side, and the referred candidate is not as qualified, but is taken quite seriously.

It is great to cast a wide net when recruiting.  Employers must make sure they hold all candidates to the same level of scrutiny.  Avoid elevating the credibility of a referred candidate unless that is warranted. Make sure you have gotten the full scoop on them from the referral source, and they are essentially “endorsed and recommended” by that source, not just referred.