Glen Cathey’s deck of cards and how recommendations influence hiring decisions

I attended the Australasian Talent Conference (ATC) 2012 in Sydney late May and one of the speakers, Glen Cathey, put forward his view that candidate attributes can be ranked in terms influence on a hiring decision. He used a deck of cards as an analogy (the 2 card up to the ace card), here is his list:

2 – Good communications skills.

3 – Education.

4 – Awards / Honors / Qualifications.

5 – Likeability.

6 – Related skills.

7 – Desired skills.

8 – Required skills.

9 – Fit for the job and future career direction.

10 – Availability.

Jack – Level of seniority and level of salary.

Queen – Pedigree of previous employers.

King – Location.

Ace – A recommendation from a trusted person.

ace card

As you can see from the list, Glen believes the trump card (the ace), is where a candidate has a recommendation from a person trusted by someone in the hiring organisation. Based on Glen’s extensive experience the opinion of the referring person has a strong bearing on whether that candidate is hired in the end. Additionally, referrals are a powerful tool for sourcing potential candidate names.

I differ with Glen  on the ranking of a few of the variables in his list. For example a well-educated and experienced engineer who doesn’t have strong communication skills will find it challenging to obtain a management role, no matter who he or she knows. Therefore I would value communication skills higher for most jobs.

Most would agree though, a recommendation about a candidate from a trusted person is a powerful influencing factor on a hiring decision, or at least a decision to interview a candidate.

This type of ‘straight to the source’ referral approach is music to the ears of recruiters. In all fairness to Glen he didn’t elaborate on how a recommendation fits into the overall hiring process, he simply put the attribute list out for discussion at the conference, to hear what others thought.

On closer examination however, there are implications to be considered when relying on referral based recruitment. For example:

– Organisations are guided by broader principals and processes, which should not be abandoned because a senior executive happens to know someone’s brother’s son who is looking for a job.

– A manager’s discretionary action of hiring a new team member could be questioned if a standard recruitment process was not followed beforehand. Managers themselves are no doubt aware of that it is appropriate for a referred candidate to go through a regular recruitment process, and be hired as the best candidate for the job anyhow.

– Stringent recruitment processes are intended to be unbiased. Recruitment professionals gather as many data points as possible through a series of stages, in order to help a hiring manager judge the suitability of a candidate. A recruiter’s aim is to be an objective participant providing guidance, thorough due diligence and an independent perspective.

– An informed hiring decision is ideally made on the basis of relevant information uncovered and also the qualities a candidate has displayed during the recruitment process. A hiring decision without the input from a recruitment / HR professional may be lacking critical information, and the risk of a bad hire may increase.

I am curious to know if the Gallup Group or another organisation have done research on the long term success of candidates who were hired as a result of a recommendation. Would it be a myth debunked or too inherently complex to measure?

Research shows that reference checks are notoriously unreliable, but organisations still have faith in them.

Social media sites such as and Facebook are flourishing because they tap into the trusting relationships, or perceived trust people have with each other. encourages users to improve their profile by seeking recommendations from co-workers, building the trust networks further and adding ‘weight’ to a profile. The social web is making the interconnected world of relationship networks smaller, and benefiting from the trust lines people have with each other.

Whilst recommendations are highly subjective in nature, they do resonate with our innate desire to reduce danger and rely on our trust instincts in decision making. It is a system humans have been counting on for centuries.

Glen brought this interesting subject into discussion, and I concur with his view – recommendations from trusted parties have a powerful impact during the recruitment process.

If you are a job seeker, the old adage of ‘it’s who you know’ still holds.

From a recruiter standpoint a recommendation will likely sway a hiring manager as it is comforting and usually effective.

Let’s just make sure we recruiters, and the hiring managers we advise, are conscious of the influencing factors along the way. Think twice before abandoning the rigours of a recruitment process – it is there to protect the organisation, the manager and the advisor.

One thought on “Glen Cathey’s deck of cards and how recommendations influence hiring decisions

  1. rolfeysplace says:

    Hi Shireen
    I also sat through this presentation and have a different perspective.

    I believe the point being made was that we should consider everyone to be a source of referral. I dont recall anything about them being ‘trusted’ because everyone can’t be trusted as they do not know the organisation, the culture etc.

    Obviously as recruiters we need to ensure that those being referred are right for the organisation, and are processed in a clear, and consistent manner. But it stands that the referral is probably the most cost effective, and efficient way to recruit.
    If research was/has been conducted I believe that the quality of hire of a referral would be quite high. Sure there will always be the 10% or so who do not perform or stick around. We’ve all had that experience! So with regards to the Ace Card, this was more about Recruiters being more pro-active with seeking out referrals.

    I would rather have a referral of a high quality senior engineer and engage with them to determine fit to organisation and role and have that discussion than none at all. Again going back to your point of recruiters ensuring the right process is followed.

    As for references and recommendations. I personally think they are a bunch of ego inflating dribble. When was the last time you read a constructive recommendation on LinkedIn?

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