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The Value of Hiring through Referrals

Author

Listed:
  • Burks, Stephen V.

    (University of Minnesota, Morris)

  • Cowgill, Bo

    (Columbia University)

  • Hoffman, Mitchell

    (University of Toronto)

  • Housman, Michael

    (Evolv on Demand)

Abstract

Employee referrals are a very common means by which firms hire new workers. Past work suggests that workers hired via referrals often perform better than non-referred workers, but we have little understanding as to why. In this paper, we demonstrate that this is primarily because referrals allow firms to select workers better-suited for particular jobs. To test our model, we use novel and detailed productivity and survey data from nine large firms in three industries: call-centers, trucking, and high-tech (software). Referred workers are 10-30% less likely to quit and have substantially higher performance on rare "high-impact metrics" (e.g. creating patents and avoiding truck accidents), despite having similar characteristics and similar performance on non-rare metrics. To identify the source of these behavioral differences, we develop four new statistical tests, all of which indicate that firms benefit from referrals predominantly by selecting workers with a better fit for the job, as opposed to referrals selecting workers with higher overall quality; to referrals enabling monitoring or coaching; or to it being more enjoyable to work with friends. We document that workers refer others like themselves, not only in characteristics but in behavior (e.g. unsafe workers refer other unsafe workers), suggesting that firms may gain by incentivizing referrals most from their highest quality workers. Referred workers achieve substantially higher profits per worker and the difference is driven by referrals from high productivity workers.

Suggested Citation

  • Burks, Stephen V. & Cowgill, Bo & Hoffman, Mitchell & Housman, Michael, 2013. "The Value of Hiring through Referrals," IZA Discussion Papers 7382, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp7382
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Mitchell Hoffman, 2014. "Training Contracts, Worker Overconfidence, and the Provision of Firm-Sponsored General Training," 2014 Meeting Papers 203, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    2. Manuel Trajtenberg, 1990. "A Penny for Your Quotes: Patent Citations and the Value of Innovations," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(1), pages 172-187, Spring.
    3. Ernesto Dal Bó & Frederico Finan & Martín A. Rossi, 2013. "Strengthening State Capabilities: The Role of Financial Incentives in the Call to Public Service," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 128(3), pages 1169-1218.
    4. Rustichini, Aldo & DeYoung, Colin G. & Anderson, Jon E. & Burks, Stephen V., 2012. "Toward the Integration of Personality Theory and Decision Theory in the Explanation of Economic and Health Behavior," IZA Discussion Papers 6750, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. David Laibson, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-478.
    6. Thomas N. Hubbard, 2003. "Information, Decisions, and Productivity: On-Board Computers and Capacity Utilization in Trucking," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(4), pages 1328-1353, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Alain Cohn & Michel André Maréchal & Frédéric Schneider & Roberto A. Weber, 2015. "Frequent job changes can signal poor work attitude and reduce employability," ECON - Working Papers 210, Department of Economics - University of Zurich, revised Nov 2019.
    2. Alonso, Ricardo, 2014. "Recruitment and selection in organizations," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 58673, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    3. Altmann, Steffen & Falk, Armin & Jäger, Simon & Zimmermann, Florian, 2018. "Learning about job search: A field experiment with job seekers in Germany," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 164(C), pages 33-49.
    4. Marcelo Arbex & Dennis O'Dea & David Wiczer, 2019. "Network Search: Climbing The Job Ladder Faster," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 60(2), pages 693-720, May.
    5. Christopher Stanton, 2015. "Comment on "Digitization and the Contract Labor Market: A Research Agenda"," NBER Chapters, in: Economic Analysis of the Digital Economy, pages 250-255, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Amanda Pallais & Emily Glassberg Sands, 2015. "Why the Referential Treatment: Evidence from Field Experiments on Referrals," NBER Working Papers 21357, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Englmaier, Florian & Schüßler, Katharina, 2015. "Complementarities of HRM Practices," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 503, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
    8. Florian Englmaier & Katharina Schüßler, 2015. "Complementarities of HRM Practices - A Case for Employing Multiple Methods and Integrating Multiple Fields," CESifo Working Paper Series 5249, CESifo.
    9. Lena Hensvik & Oskar Nordström Skans, 2016. "Social Networks, Employee Selection, and Labor Market Outcomes," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(4), pages 825-867.
    10. Edward P. Lazear & Kathryn L. Shaw & Christopher T. Stanton, 2016. "Who Gets Hired? The Importance of Finding an Open Slot," NBER Working Papers 22202, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Brian Jacob & Jonah E. Rockoff & Eric S. Taylor & Benjamin Lindy & Rachel Rosen, 2016. "Teacher Applicant Hiring and Teacher Performance: Evidence from DC Public Schools," NBER Working Papers 22054, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    high-tech; call centers; job testing; non-cognitive ability; cognitive ability; patents; innovation; worker selection; productivity; referrals; software; trucking; truck accidents;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • M51 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Firm Employment Decisions; Promotions
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • O32 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Management of Technological Innovation and R&D
    • J63 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Turnover; Vacancies; Layoffs
    • L84 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Personal, Professional, and Business Services
    • L86 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Information and Internet Services; Computer Software
    • L92 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Railroads and Other Surface Transportation

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