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SOURCING — Eliminate Internal Referrals

While referrals and referral bonuses are pervasive in tech recruiting, they’re not well-suited for apprenticeship programs aiming to diversify access to entry/junior level technical roles.

Below, we explore why tech companies rely on internal referrals and referral bonuses, why they perpetuate homogeneity, and the case for eliminating them for tech apprenticeship.

We’ll also highlight some sample language you can use to make the case for eliminating internal referrals with people ops, executive leadership, and Employee Resource Group (ERG) members.

1) Tech companies rely on internal referrals and referral bonuses for the following reasons:

  • They reduce the time and effort recruiters need to expend identifying talent
  • They often help identify candidates for the most difficult to fill or senior technical positions
  • They often attract talent that will “fit into existing company culture” through shared backgrounds as those who referred them

2) However, research shows how internal referrals perpetuate racial and educational homogeneity:

  • Due to the racial homogeneity of tech workers and their networks, there are lower shares of Black, Hispanic and Latinx candidates in referral pools compared to online or external talent pools
  • Similarly referrals take place between people with similar education backgrounds, such as among college graduates
  • Even underrepresented candidate referral bonus programs have a mixed track record and are highly complex to implement. Check out this blog from Square about how their own underrepresented candidate referral pilot did not increase the number of underrepresented candidates at the top of the funnel, due to lack of diversity in their own employees’ networks.

3) There’s a strong business case for eliminating internal referrals, especially for apprenticeship programs

  • Volume: There’s an abundance of applicant demand for relatively few entry-level apprenticeship roles (vs hard-to-fill senior roles)
  • Cost: If employee referral bonuses are involved, eliminating these reduces expenses
  • Innovation: Opportunity to test new models for diversifying talent pools via innovative sourcing partnerships and intake

4) Curious how you can assess the effectiveness of internal referrals?

Here’s how to handle push back from internal stakeholders ranging from recruiting leadership, VPs, and Employee Resource Group (ERG) members? See our sample email templates below, designed with tech employees who’ve used them.

Case 1: An Apprenticeship Lead’s Message to Recruiting Leadership

Points to make:

  1. Acknowledge and recognize the current referral program and the needs it fills
  2. Point out why referrals might not be well-suited to the goals of the apprenticeship program
  3. Highlight how recruiting for the apprenticeship will work alternatively

Sample Email:

Hi (insert name),

I wanted to touch base with you re: our proposal to run the apprenticeship program without referrals.

We acknowledge the benefits of referrals to help drive resources towards our most hard-to fill, high-level technical roles. But in the case of apprenticeship programs, there is already high demand for a relatively small number of junior roles. We don’t need the same drivers and incentives to accomplish our hiring goals.

In fact, the aim of this program is to diversify our talent pool in sourcing and intake — both in terms of where candidates come from and how we engage them. In eliminating the need for referral bonuses, we also reduce costs and budget.

Our proposal is to keep this an open and equitable application process and manage the inbound applications without any internal referrals. If you can provide a volunteer from recruiting, I am happy to work with them to equitably review resumes and evaluate all candidates based on their performance in the application assessment.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns.

Many thanks for your support.

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Case 2: Pushback from VP-level Employee who wants to refer a contact:

Points to Make:

  • Thank them — keep them happy
  • Let them down gently
  • Briefly share how the sourcing process works equitably and fairly
  • Give them a reasonable action item

Sample Email:

Hi (insert name),

Thank you so much for your interest in this program on behalf of your contact (fill in name)! Due to the incredible interest in the program and our high-volume of applications, we have decided not to accept referrals. We want to keep this an open and equitable process as we process applications in our inbox agnostically.

Feel free to encourage (insert name) to apply and we’ll certainly look through it the way we would with all the rest of the applications.

Many thanks.

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Case 3: Pushback from Mid-Level Employee Resource Group (ERG) member who has been an advocate for the program and wants to refer a contact:

Points to Make:

  • Thank for the interest in the program and enthusiasm
  • Acknowledge the work they do for the company and for the cause of diversity, equity, inclusion
  • Share about the process and how it will work equitably and fairly
  • Give them a reasonable action item

Sample Email:

Hi (insert name),

Thank you for your enthusiastic support of our program, and also for your important work as a member of (insert name of ERG)!

With our apprenticeship program, we are aiming to keep the application process fair and equitable, so we are not accepting referrals from anyone within the company. In an effort to review each application with a fair lens, we will be assessing all candidates holistically — based on their resumes, short essay questions, and coding samples.

We know you care about our diversity efforts. I’m happy to let you know that we partnered with (list external community sourcing partners) on our outreach, and are excited about the diverse representation in our potential applicant pool.

We’d love to consider your contact (insert name) in this process so please encourage them to apply and we’d be delighted to look through their application along with the others.

Let us know if you have any more questions. Many thanks.

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Tool and best practices co-designed with champion in tech Beti Gathegi.

Have questions or comments about the Equitable Tech Apprenticeship Toolkit? Send us a note.