They go by different names. Some companies call them “searchlight meetings.” Others call them “total recall sessions.” Ivan Kirigin first got to know these meetings when he worked at Facebook a few years ago. A hiring manager would bring in Facebook employees, tell them they were looking to hire an engineer or designer, and would ask everyone present to write down the names and contact information for the best job candidates they could think of.
It was important work–referral recruiting is a tried and true way to scale a business–but tedious. “Sluggish meetings with people sitting around and looking at their laptops,” is how Kirigin describes them. Some companies, says Kirigin, have taken measures to liven up such meetings. One startup used beer and fondue to add a party atmosphere. He’s heard that Twitter once raffled off free iPads to make such meetings more appetizing.
But Kirigin thinks there’s a better way, which is why he and his team created YesGraph, which digitizes the “searchlight meeting” and makes it easier to manage. YesGraph announces a $1.3 million funding round today.
The web application is fairly simple. A recruiter sends out an invite to people on his or her staff, asking for referrals. Those employees then can connect simply through Facebook and LinkedIn, and YesGraph automatically culls the most apt connections (people who’ve listed engineering as their professions for an engineering job, for instance). YesGraph pulls up these people one by one, and your employee can very quickly say “Yes”–this person’s a good one–or pass.
“We’re joking about building a mobile app that would be ‘Tinder for referrals,'” says Kirigin. But it’s not far off. Like the famous dating app, the wheat-from-chaff separation is practically as easy as swiping left or right. “The feed is almost gamified,” says Kirigin.
In an age where competitors use algorithms to crawl LinkedIn for words like “engineer” and “Ruby on Rails,” YesGraph aims to find a happy medium between the technological and the human. “There are a lot of tools whose hubris makes them ignore the human element of this,” says Kirigin. “The software you write probably is not as smart as actual humans. We make it really easy to get that human involved.”
Referral recruiting is still a favored method of human resources. According to HR pros and surveys, a referral is less costly to hire and is more likely to stick around in a job. “At the very least, your employees are a good talent filter,” says Kirigin. “If you ask people you trust and have already hired, ‘Who do you know who’s really good?'” then you’re bound to get results, he says. And on the side of the candidate, a referral creates a warmer introduction that’s more likely lure that talented candidate from what may be a position she’s already quite happy with.
Talk to Kirigin long enough, and soon he has you visualizing the social network that is the workplace entirely differently. New hires, for instance, are in some ways the most valuable when it comes to seeking out further candidates, since their networks are “freshest” (in a few years, their professional contacts will mostly be from within your own organization).
And although employees often stop making referrals after a few years, Kirigin says that’s not simply because their networks are “tapped out.” Rather, it’s because a lack of transparency in the hiring process may have led to an awkward conversation with a friend who was recommended, but never hired. (“Hey, Bill, whatever happened with … Oh, I’m sorry, no, they didn’t tell me …”) Kirigin hopes to develop a tracking system within YesGraph, so an employee can follow the fate of a referral and cue the appropriate social graces should that person not be hired.
“I’ve built a lot of social products over the years,” says Kirigin, who also led growth at Dropbox, “and most recruiters don’t think about social graphs intelligently yet.” One of Kirigin’s visions may be most frightening to those who believe a pure meritocracy should trump clubby college networks. Eventually, he thinks recruiters will begin to consider the network that a candidate would bring along with him, if hired. “Facebook was very strong at Harvard and Stanford, but weak at CMU [Carnegie Mellon],” when it comes to recruiting, he says. “Whereas Dropbox was good at MIT, but needed to grow CMU and Stanford.”
The vision takes “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” to a whole new level. Wouldn’t that be not unlike JPMorgan Chase’s slimy “Sons and Daughters” program in China, I ask? “I think it’s a bit of a sensitive topic, and I’m not suggesting companies do 100% of their hiring from referrals,” says Kirigin. “You have to think of the DNA of a company, to find the right balance. I’d say most companies don’t do a good enough job scaling referrals right now.”