People talking in a cafe

Referrals – what’s the catch?

I’ve been thinking a lot about referrals this week. I’m trying to figure out how I feel about them – so forgive my unformed rambling here, as it is a product of my musings. Referrals can almost seem to be a double-edged sword. I’m not talking about formal references or testimonials, which, lets face it, can tend to be a little contrived. I mean the type of recommendation you make about an individual, (‘you should hire Jenny Jones – she’s a good fit for you business and does good work’), or a business – (‘I’ve used Alphabet Soup Copy Writers a few times now – they’re not the cheapest, but they understand my needs and deliver on their promises). Despite the incongruity of it, there do appear to be some tacit disadvantages to receiving a recommendation.Well – maybe they’re not outright disadvantages, but lets call them mixed messages, about the merits of recommendations – especially in the context of  personal referrals. Seems weird, right? Surely a recommendation is a good thing. For businesses, this seems almost unequivocally true: if someone recommends your business, there’s a significantly increased chance that you will gain a customer. I know I always ask for referrals if I’m looking for a business or service provider. It makes my life a whole lot easier. At the same time, I also wonder if there is an underlying assumption that a business is being recommended primarily because of a relationship between the business and the recommender? Can we wholly trust a recommendation from a mate or family member? I guess it depends on that person’s integrity – would they recommend the business of a friend, even if it’s not one of the best – just because of  the friendship? How do we tak

Well – maybe they’re not outright disadvantages, but lets call them mixed messages, about the merits of recommendations – especially in the context of  personal referrals. Seems weird, right? Surely a recommendation is a good thing. For businesses, this seems almost unequivocally true: if someone recommends your business, there’s a significantly increased chance that you will gain a customer. I know I always ask for referrals if I’m looking for a business or service provider. It makes my life a whole lot easier. At the same time, I also wonder if there is an underlying assumption that a business is being recommended primarily because of a relationship between the business and the referrer? Can we wholly trust a recommendation from a mate or family member? I guess it depends on that person’s integrity – would they recommend the business of a friend, even if it’s not one of the best – just because of  the friendship? How do we take this into account when selecting a business? Maybe its dependent on the relationship and level of trust you have in the person making the recommendation.

When it comes to recommending or referring individuals for roles with employers, there are some that hold the opinion that if the recommended person gets the job, they had it easy, or got an inside run. That they didn’t win the job on their own merits. This was certainly an attitude that was taken during my brief stint as an executive recruiter in another lifetime (yes, yes, I know – I still feel dirty). We were encouraged to find out how a candidate secured each new role and if they were simply appointed internally, or through the recommendation of a current or former colleague – especially if there was no due process –  it kind of counted as points against them. Worse still if it was a former colleague who re-hired them in a new organisation.

Is it reasonable to think this way? Doesn’t a recommendation offer some peace of mind to the potential employer (or client, in the case of a business referral)? Where did the opinion come from that jobs stemming from referrals are easily won?  Isn’t taking on board the recommendation of  a trusted colleague who has previously worked with an individual or business actually an exercise in risk mitigation by taking away some of the guesswork of a new association?

And from the perspective of the person or business being recommended, doesn’t it place a whole lot of extra pressure on them to shine? Otherwise they risk making both themselves and their generous associate look like noobs.

Perhaps the suspicion around recommendations is connected to the various ‘jobs for mates’ scandals we have seen over the years in Australian politics. I’m not sure if it exists in other countries. Maybe it’s the Australian tall poppy syndrome kicking in.

One should be honoured, of course, to receive a recommendation from a respected colleague. But it does leave you wondering: ‘could I have done it on my own?’ On the other hand, in the long run, didn’t you do it on your own anyway? Surely that employer or client would not have chosen you or your business if they didn’t like what you had to offer – regardless of your respected colleague waxing lyrical about your exceptional abilities.

And you know what? Maybe it’s ok not to do it on your own. Maybe the whole point of success (whatever that means) is that it is seldom achieved solo or in isolation.

What do you think about referrals and recommendations?