Research On Job Referrals Finds It's Often Who You Know | WABE 90.1 FM

Research On Job Referrals Finds It's Often Who You Know

Dec 19, 2016

Local research is confirming something we've all heard: getting a job is often about who you know.

Like many people, Atlanta resident Brenna Lakeson has seen the benefits of personal connections in her career.

Recently, when a friend was leaving her job at a center serving the homeless in Atlanta, she put in a good word for Lakeson. The two had gone to grad school together.

Lakeson ended up getting the spot, and, she said, it's worked out well.

"I really, really enjoy it,” Lakeson said. “And I'm consistently grateful to her that she was able to connect me with the opportunity."

This kind of job referral, as University of Georgia Professor of Economics Ian Schmutte calls it, is increasingly common.

He said, economists now think about half of all workers find their current position that way.

"The fact that referrals account for 50 percent of newly found jobs is the reason why it’s sort of a duh proposition,” said Schmutte.

Schmutte is contributing to a growing body of research looking at how networking is affecting the job market.

He said, it’s important to understand because researchers know referrals do have an upside.

“On the one hand the need to use referrals is helping the labor market function more efficiently,” Schmutte said.

For example, they help employers find workers with, say, social skills that don't show up on resumes.

But, Shmutte said, referrals could also exclude workers who don't have access to the right networks.

"It can limit diversity, and it can restrict access to good jobs to people whose main skill is that they’re just well connected,” he said.

In that way, job referrals may be perpetuating inequality in society.

So, he said, the goal of research right now is to figure out which force is more powerful – the positive or the negative.

And the question may only becoming more relevant. He said, the number of workers relying on contacts to find job has been increasing over the past 30 years.

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