By Callista Ryan
The world used to be a simpler place. To get a job you would visit prospective employers, hand in your resume, provide prestigious references, and wait for your call back. Today, the hiring process is more invasive than it has ever been. Before hiring, employers will view as many social media profiles as they can find, conduct a Google inquiry, and then call your provided references. By the end of the hiring process, your employer could know more about you than your own mother. What does this all mean for hiring transparency?
This is the first in a three-part series that will talk about the “peer to peer network”. How it has affected getting hired, choosing services (from where to eat to transportation), and how they have influenced how businesses build trust with their clients.
The Peer Employer: No References Required
Imagine this: Over lunch your friend asks you to recommend them on their newly updated LinkedIn profile. You break out into a cold sweat, and mutter, “of course”- knowing you cannot outwardly turn a request down like that from a friend. You just hope they eventually forget – but this hope is soon diminished by a smooth follow up message on Facebook five business days later. While you enjoy their company socially, you know that your friend does not have the best employment track record. What do you do? If you’re like me, you write them a recommendation (and endorse them for good measure). Why? Because they are your friend and you want to preserve that relationship. You also (with a little guilt) hope they reciprocate the gesture with an equally enthralling reference on your profile. For some readers, this might merely be a thought exercise but for the others who are like me, this is an all too real vignette of last weeks lunch date. This scenario is an example of why peer reviews most important element, trust, is also the source of its fatal flaw. It implies trust that was never there in the first place. This is interesting because the peer network is built of off building trust between companies and hiring employees, to customers and clients looking to build a relationship with a company and pay for their products and services.
Peer to peer networks are as old as human society. Traditionally, employers asked candidates for their previous employment record and references from past managers. The employer sought the attestation of the candidate’s skills from their peers – other employers. Increasingly today, employers are crowdsourcing the referral process. Sites like LinkedIn expand the community of peers from past employers, to associates, colleagues, and friends. The locus of legitimacy has moved from key opinion gatekeepers to the balance of public opinion. The future of candidate selection is anticipated to simulate how you might choose a restaurant. Look at the candidate’s reviews, check their menu of skills, and see if anyone important has written about them.
Many would say that this is a fantastic advancement in candidate selection. Not only do you get a bigger picture of the potential hire you also save time from tracking down references. So, where’s the fault in all of this? It seems to be a more holistic approach to candidate vetting. Yet, there is a reason everything is put online. The platforms we create for ourselves can be easily manipulated—even accidentally. The opening example of the planted recommendation is just one of many ways users can boost their profiles.
Another example of profile-boosting is LinkedIn’s endorsements feature. LinkedIn’s help webpage writes, “endorsing your connections’ skills is a way to recognize any professional abilities that you’ve seen them demonstrate. You may be asked to provide feedback on skills and endorsements. Endorsing your colleagues can also help you to maintain strong connections with the people in your network.” The idea of endorsing colleagues for their skills and hard work is a great idea. However, in practice, it is a mix of a popularity contest and does not always accrue to a genuine or accurate portrayal of an individual’s skill. Some users of LinkedIn will constantly endorse others at the click of a mouse, not because they genuinely know of someone’s skill, but because they hope their effort will be reciprocal and earn them an endorsement back. Of course, this is not always the case, as many LinkedIn users would prefer to make sure the endorsements given and received are genuine. However, the system still allows itself to be taken advantage of by those trying to make their profiles reflect higher upon themselves. It all comes back to trust and whether or not employers trust that peers, colleagues, and co-workers are being authentic when they recommend and endorse others.
A consequence of focusing on crowd endorsements over gatekeeper attestations is nothing less than a shift in trust from verifiable others to a personally curated picture of yourself by your crowd of peers. A user who is very active on LinkedIn could get several endorsements for multiple skills by being pushy versus having the actual skills and connections.
While online platforms can help recruiters find the perfect match for a new employee, the system is not infallible. Online identities can be falsified, the main issue with this is how legitimate that falsification looks on an individual profile. With a higher emphasis on recruiters looking online, it gives tech-savvy millennials the chance to be flashy and do what they can to impress possible employers. The main point being, while LinkedIn is a handy tool, for both the employer and candidate, don’t go ditching those required character references any time soon.