Peer-To-Peer Recruiting Really Works — Just Ask Kevin Durant

In case you missed it, earlier this month one of the top recruiting accomplishments of the last decade occurred when the Golden State Warriors successfully recruited superstar Kevin Durant. And even though it occurred in professional sports, corporate recruiters in any industry can learn valuable lessons from this amazing recruiting accomplishment.

The most important lesson is that the recruiting effort succeeded primarily because it used a “peer-to-peer recruiting” approach, which has also been successfully used in the corporate world. If you’re not familiar with the concept of “peer-to-peer recruiting, it’s where your top employees accept either the sourcing or the selling portion of the recruiting role. Most corporations already use the first variation, “peer-to-peer sourcing,” when they ask their employees to help in sourcing top candidates through the employee referral program. However, the Warriors used the second, and more advanced “peer-to-peer candidate closing” variation that focuses on convincing and selling the candidate on their firm.

By all accounts, the recruiting effort succeeded primarily because of the effectiveness of the honest and candid exchanges between peers (i.e. the candidate and his future teammates).

How to Convince a Star Candidate When the Odds Are Against You

In the recruiting effort for Kevin Durant, it was management’s decision to target this player. The players then assumed a dominant role in selling the targeted candidate. The peer-to-peer selling campaign started with nearly a year of continuous informal texting between the players and the recruiting target. The Golden State Warriors allowed four of the team’s top players (including MVP Stephen Curry and the highly motivated Draymond Green) to “own” a good portion of the yearlong communication and selling effort. And after Kevin Durant put the Warriors on his short list, the team opted for a personal visit to the candidate’s home. Rather than a formal interview, the four superstar players took the initiative and pulled the candidate aside for a private “players only” unscripted face-to-face meeting.

We now know that the peer-to-peer recruiting process was effective because, after the successful hiring, Kevin Durant noted that this private face-to-face meeting with the team’s superstars was the major factor in closing the deal. He revealed that “He was shocked the stars of a 73-win would come recruit him.” He further stated “When I met the players on Golden State, I felt as comfortable as I’ve ever felt. It was organic.” He said yes because he found the words and actions of the players to be “organic, authentic and real.”

Others Have Successfully Used Peer-To-Peer Recruiting

The same peer-to-peer approach that worked for Kevin Durant has been used for years to interview and convince cynical nurses that have learned to be skeptical about the promises made by desperate recruiters and hiring managers.

Peer-to-peer recruiting has also been used by a wide range of organizations from the Boy Scouts to the terrorist group ISIS. We know that this approach is effective because onboarding surveys of new hires reveal that the actions and the words of your own top employees are among the primary factors that cause hard-to-convince candidates to say yes. This approach can also be called “employee-owned candidate closing” because key employees assume ownership of the candidate selling/closing components of recruiting.

The Top 12 Reasons Why “Peer-To-Peer Recruiting” Is So Effective

The advanced peer-to-peer “candidate selling/closing” approach that the Warriors used has also been used successfully in the corporate world. My research has identified a number of factors that cause this approach to be effective. They include:

  • Colleagues are more convincing, authentic, and trusted — because the peer-recruiters work in and live the job every day, they are more likely to know nearly every positive and negative aspect of the job. And if the employee-recruiter is a top performer, the candidate is much more likely to listen to and trust what they say. And if they learn something about their profession during their informal discussions, that trust level will likely go even higher. Employees working in the job will also likely have a range of stories to illustrate their points. Stories are among the most effective selling mechanisms. When equals are talking to equals, their professional standards require that they give honest answers to all questions. In most cases, I have found that candidates find the answers provided by their peers to be more credible and believable than the answers provided by recruiters and even hiring managers.
  • Colleagues can make a candidate feel wanted and needed — every candidate wants to know that they will be wanted and needed by the team. Most candidates will be impressed simply by the fact that the employees took the time out from their busy schedule to actively participate in the recruiting process. And any additional informal interactions with team members will provide additional opportunities to communicate to the candidate how much they are needed and how critical their role will be.
  • Colleagues can alleviate a candidate’s concern about being a good fit — most candidates are also concerned about whether they will be a good fit with the team’s values and culture. And once again a number of informal interactions with team members is the best way to convince both the team members and the candidate themselves that the new-hire will be a good fit.
  • Knowing that the team members are committed to excellence can be critical — the very best candidates want to win and to be first in their field. And they realize that this high level of success requires a highly cohesive team. Informally getting to know key team members (outside of the formal interview process) allows the candidate to assess each team member’s commitment to excellence and the team’s level of cohesion.
  • Involving employees in recruiting increases their “ownership” of the new hire — when you involve employees directly in the hiring process, you increase their feeling that they at least partially “own” the hiring process and the decision to select this specific hire. That involvement and input also takes away a team member’s ability to blame management for a weak hire. Their involvement during hiring also makes it more likely that the already involved employees will also continue to mentor, coach, and help the candidate on the job. Research has shown that even using something as simple as peer interviews can increase new-hire retention by as much as 78%.
  • Peers can answer questions better — in informal settings outside the interview and without the hiring manager, candidates are often more comfortable with asking pointed questions about their concerns. Obviously their future colleagues will know almost everything about the job, and as a result, they will be better able to answer specific questions in a more believable manner than any recruiter could.
  • Peer recruiters can help top candidates understand how the work is exciting — rather than benefits and even compensation, surveys of top performers show that they care a great deal about the actual work. Obviously, a top-performing peer recruiter who works in the job every day is more likely to know details about the exciting and compelling elements of the work that top applicants care the most about. Encourage your employees who are most likely to know the most about innovations, advanced methods, tools, and technologies to have informal discussions with the candidate.
  • Peer recruiters can help top candidates fully appreciate their impact — having a significant impact is also near the top of the attraction factors for top performers. And because other top-performing employees will likely also care about having a major impact, encourage them to share what those impacts are and how they motivate the team.
  • Peer colleagues are simply more believable than recruiters — recruiters can and frequently do stretch the truth about the excitement of a job because they know that they will mostly be out of the picture after the candidate starts the job. But when your future peers tell you about the job, they know that they will have to work alongside you, perhaps for years. Knowing that they will be held accountable for any untruths or omissions means that future colleagues are simply more likely to be honest about both the positive and negative aspects of the job and the team.
  • Peer candidate assessments will likely be more accurate — at some firms, one component of the peer-recruiting process involves asking your employees to further assess the candidate’s skills and capabilities. If you use this approach, you will likely find that peer assessment ratings are more accurate than those of most recruiters and hiring managers.
  • Allowing private peer-to-peer conversations shows a level of openness and transparency — when your managers allow and even encourage open private discussions with groups of employees, it reinforces the notion that they have nothing to hide. Also relinquishing total control over the interview process by itself may give the candidate the impression that they will have more control over their work-life once they start the job.
  • Already established relationships make peers more credible — because your peer recruiters will work in the same field as your candidate, there is a high likelihood that at least one of them will already have an established trust relationship with the candidate. These established relationships will make whatever the employee recruiter says even more credible to the candidate.

Some Recommended Action Steps for Implementing Peer Candidate Closing 

Even though the concept of “peer-to-peer candidate closing” is relatively intuitive, it still makes sense as a first step to putting together a short implementation plan. Some of the key action steps to include are:

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  • Select your peer recruiters wisely — whether the peer recruiters self-nominate themselves or are selected by management, focus on quality. As a result, the peer recruiters for each job family should be selected based on their performance level, experience, credentials, and their ability to sell. Those with the highest impact (as rated by new hires) should be invited to participate in future recruiting efforts.
  • Provide a how-to toolkit — educate your employee recruiters before they start peer-to-peer recruiting. Do some internal and external benchmarking and then use the compiled information to put together a “how to guide.” It should include frequently asked questions and a list of the dos and don’ts of peer-to-peer recruiting.
  • Focus on the job attraction factors of the candidate — you increase your chances of landing an in-demand candidate when you know and meet their job acceptance criteria. So make sure that your peer recruiters encourage each candidate to reveal their job attraction and dealbreaker factors. And then encourage your peer recruiters to spend time giving the candidate examples of how your firm in this job meets each of the criteria.
  • Leave plenty of time for candidate questions — assume that the candidate will be nervous during interviews, so encourage them to ask questions on any topic during informal sessions. You can even provide candidates with a list of the questions asked by others during previous hiring efforts, in order to stimulate their thinking.
  • Ask the candidate “who else they would like to meet?” — most interview slates are created without any input from the candidate. So if you want to provide the candidate with some control over who they meet with, simply ask them (by title) who they would need to meet before they would feel 100% comfortable making their final decision.
  • Face-to-face private conversations are more powerful  face-to-face informal meetings with colleagues allow both sides interact without the pressure of a formal interview. Face-to-face meetings make it easier for everyone to better judge body language and facial expressions that could help to build mutual trust.
  • Use effectiveness metrics — survey all new hires who were subject to the peer recruiting approach during onboarding. Simply ask them which factors and individuals had the highest impact on their decision to say yes. Use that information to continually improve your peer-to-peer recruiting approach.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve ever had a potential colleague at a firm that you are interviewing with personally call you to let you know how much you were wanted, you already know the tremendous value of employee involved recruiting. Recruiting leaders should learn that there are limits to the “selling capability” of recruiters and hiring managers. But be careful not to overuse peer-to-peer recruiting, because top-performing employees are extremely busy. So respect their time and to use them as peer recruiters only for high priority jobs and candidates. And when you do use the peer-to-peer process, collect on-the-job performance data on the resulting new hires. This allows you to show cynical executives that the program has a measurable increase on quality of hire … at least for revenue-generating jobs like sales and collections, where employee outputs are already calculated in dollars.

Calculating the percentage improvement in performance of new-hires from the peer-to-peer recruiting program allows you to quantify in dollars the revenue impacts and the ROI of your peer-to-peer recruiting effort.

Perhaps it’s time to try it at your corporation because it’s intuitive, it requires no out-of-pocket expenditures, and it produces amazing results (ask Kevin Durant if you don’t believe me).

About the Author

Dr. John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions. He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.