New Glassdoor Survey Suggests “It’s Who You Know” Is Only Slightly True For Job Seekers

Looking to clinch the job of your dreams? A referral from a person working at the company could give you an incremental edge.

New Glassdoor Survey Suggests “It’s Who You Know” Is Only Slightly True For Job Seekers
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No matter what stage of the career arc you’re on, you’ve likely heard the adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” applied to a job search. Turns out, that’s only a little bit true according to a new report from Glassdoor.


Until now, there hasn’t been a way to quantify how important personal connections are in the hiring process as compared to other channels. But that hasn’t stopped businesses from capitalizing on them. Connections are the currency of LinkedIn, providing a platform for its 364 million members to leap from one job to another by reaching out to a fellow member who can open the door to a new opportunity. We also know that the promise of getting a referral spawned a series of new businesses, lured by the potential of making even more meaningful connections. Among them: networking applications like Work4 that aim to do the same on Facebook, and Shapr that intends to whittle down the massive crowd into a meaningful set of professional matches.

However, the latest report from Glassdoor offers a statistical glimpse behind the hiring curtain by calculating the impact that different job interview sources have on making a successful job match.

To find this, Glassdoor analyzed more than 440,000 job interview reviews drawn from those posted on its platform since 2009.

Among the key findings of the report was that getting a referral from a current employee helps, but only slightly: Interviews sourced from employee referrals boost the chances of a successful hire by 2.6% to 6.6% compared to all other hiring channels, Glassdoor found. But despite being an effective hiring tool, referrals are underutilized. Only 10% of job candidates reported employee referral as their interview source.

Exactly how are people landing these interviews?

Glassdoor’s report breaks out the most common hiring channels:

  • online applications – 42%
  • college or university referrals – 10%
  • employee referrals – 10%
  • recruiter referrals – 9%

Making a connection in person, such as meeting someone at a job fair, was near the bottom of the list, with just 8% of those surveyed getting an interview this way, alongside staffing agency referrals (2%) and all other sources.

The good news is that no matter what the channel, the majority of candidates (65%) received an offer after they interviewed and 57% accepted that offer.

Applicants’ chances improved when they came through referrals. Existing employees, as noted above, boosted the referred person’s chances of landing the position incrementally. But other, less common sources also wield a lot of power in converting candidates to employees.

Staffing agencies were associated with a 0.5% to 5.3% impact on the chances of an accepted job offer. Although many staffing agencies place temporary workers with companies that don’t want or need a full-time permanent staffer–last year there were about 2.9 million of such jobs according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics–businesses are increasingly using staffing agencies to fill temp-to-hire positions, according to Workforce, a magazine that covers the HR industry. The staffing agency vets candidates first, taking part of the burden of matchmaking off the company’s hiring manager. Then, by helping businesses fill positions by temp-to-hire, staffing agencies offer a way to make the process quicker, yet less risky, than hiring someone full-time right away.

Likewise, in-person referrals have a 0.1% to 3.9% positive impact on successful job matching. Though some would say a job or career fair is like speed dating, there is potential for making a variety of connections quickly. The environment is more casual than a formal interview, but allows both the candidate and the recruiter to get a feel for whether they will be a good fit at the company, so it’s easy to see why referrals from this channel have the potential to get job hopefuls an actual interview.

Bottom line, says Glassdoor’s chief economist, Andrew Chamberlain, “As employers search for ways to streamline hiring processes, our results suggest tapping the personal networks of employees remains an effective hiring strategy.”


About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.