Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why Firms Hire Their Employees' Friends

It is well-documented in the literature on labour markets that personal connections, friendships, and other types of networks matter a lot for finding a job. For example, applicants with friends in the recruiting organisation are more likely to get a job offer.

This may be perfectly rational for the recruiting firm; the friends of the candidate in the organization can be a great source of information about the applicant. As a result, the firm can be more assured of the job qualities of the person. Put differently, the candidate will pose less of a risk – in terms of potentially turning out to be a hiring mistake – if he or she has friends in the firm who have provided inside information. Therefore, employers may be more eager to hire new people who already have friends in the firm.

But professor Adina Sterling from Washington University suspected there might be another reason why job applicants with friends in the firm might be more attractive to an employer than those without. For quite a few jobs – especially if it concerns newly recruited MBA students – applicants will simultaneously apply for multiple jobs and then pick the most attractive offer they receive. And this can be very costly for a firm: the recruitment procedure can be very expensive, with multiple rounds of interviews and tests, but the time the candidate “sits on an offer” before eventually rejecting it may also precisely be the time that the numbers 2 and 3 on the list also secure and accept offers elsewhere. Therefore, understandably, firms are eager to limit the number of rejections they receive from candidates to whom they offered the job, and if they get rejected they want it to happen asap.

And Adina, who did a lot of interviews among employers, theorized that prospective employers would figure that candidates who already have friends in the firm might be more likely to accept an offer or, if they do reject it, do so soon. That is because the internal friendships might make them more attractive as an employee but also because the candidate has a reputation to protect with his or her friends, and feel an obligation towards them and the firm.
But that’s a nice theory and thought, but how on earth can you examine that? Because how could you statistically separate the two effects of 1) employers gain information about a candidate from his or her friends, and 2) the friends might make the candidate more likely to accept an offer?
To solve this problem, Adina chose a clever research setting. She looked at a 158 MBA and law students who had just completed an internship with a company, and then examined whether having friends in that company made them more likely to receive an offer from that firm. This was a clever setting because reason number 1 (gaining information about the candidate through his friends) no longer plays a role here; the employer already knows the candidate very well due to his recently completed internship! Hence, whatever effect is left could be attributed to reason number 2.
Adina indeed found that having friends in the company made it more likely that the applicant received an offer. Overall, her findings indicate that reason number 2 (friends make it more likely that the candidate will accept) is also an important consideration for prospective employers.
Paper to be presented at the “Sumantra Ghoshal Conference for Managerially Relevant Research” at the London Business School
Friendships and Strategic Behavior in Labor Markets, Adina Sterling (Washington University)
Paper summary published with the author’s permission.