Finding a Job in HR: Discriminate!

When looking for a job in HR, I advised in the last post to harness the power of internal and external advocates. Having advocates helps to gain an insider’s perspective into an organization, giving candidates a way to differentiate themselves from other job seekers. For companies and hiring managers, effective advocates serve as brand ambassadors, as well as an extension of the recruitment team. Advocates help to yield positive results for candidates and employers.

Approximately 50% of all jobs are obtained through informal channels i.e. connections to family or friends.1 This proportion appears slightly lower for blacks than for whites (Holzer 1987, Green, Tigges and Diaz 1999). Further, workers who have found their jobs in this way are less likely to quit and show higher overall job satisfaction, providing some evidence that these links improve the quality of the employee-job match (Datcher 1983, Simon and Warner 1992).

Taken from the 2006 report, A Social Network Analysis of Occupational Segregation, by Sebastian Buhai1 and Marco van der Leij

I would caution however, that you should be discriminating in the use of your network. It may be biased.


Take a minute to look over your professional contacts. Then take the time to sort them according to certain groups, such as

  • college contacts
  • current and/or former colleagues
  • job title or profession (e.g., Recruiters, Marketers, PR, CEO, etc.)
  • contacts grouped by geography (e.g., city where the person or the company is based)
  • current company

Looking at your groups, ask yourself:

  • What percentage are of the same gender?
  • What percentage are of the same ethnic or racial background?
  • What percentage are of the same education level?

You may notice that many of them, particularly those you’ve built a relationship with, tend to be like you. This is a natural thing for people to do, to consciously or unconsciously connect with those of similar backgrounds.

Homophily (i.e., “love of the same”) is the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others.

However, you may not realize how extensively you may be doing this. And there’s nothing inherently wrong; the concern is that having too homogeneous a referral network can limit your chances of obtaining the HR job you want. Segregation, power, and influence can impact the effectiveness of your network.


One potential impact of a homogeneous network could be that it’s segregated from the opportunity you truly want. For example, as a Recruiter in the retail industry I hired for various exempt and nonexempt roles. We had referral systems set-up for both groups. Sure enough, referrals were overwhelmingly made by those already occupying similar roles. It was rare that a nonexempt employee (for example, a sales associate) would refer a candidate for an exempt role (e.g., a manager). While these groups of employees worked together, they remained segregated when it came to referrals.

Another concern revolves around power and influence. Again, consider your network. How many of them hold positions of authority within their organizations? How many are true decision makers? How many are influential, meaning they possess the ability to shape opinions or convince people (of a particular argument, or to act)?

This is not always so simple to discern. I once had a company’s HR Director approach me about a potential project (to recruit for a Senior level role). I believed this person to be a credible spokesperson for the company, as they approached me and even had a pre-approved budget set aside. Initially, things seemed to be proceeding nicely. When I followed up, I was informed that the CFO had already recruited and hired someone, without the HR Director’s knowledge. This person had a high profile job title, but little power and influence.


Utilizing referrals (in the form of internal and external advocates) can give HR job seekers a competitive advantage in the job market. With your advocates, be discriminating. This means being  discerning and having the ability to draw distinctions amongst them. You want to ensure that you have a clear understanding of how your advocates may be segregated (or not) from potential opportunities. Also, it’s important to be clear on who holds power and influence. This insight will enable job seekers to maximize their efforts toward obtaining the HR role that they seek.

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