RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Millions of Americans are still out of work; and even so, many employers say they can't find the people they need. So companies are encouraging their own workers to keep a lookout for talent and workers can earn cash bonuses if someone they refer gets hired.
From Seattle, NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.
WENDY KAUFMAN: You'll find employee referral programs in all kinds of industries, from technology to finance, manufacturing to health care.
Ms. JENNIFER RICHARDS (Administrative Director, Human Resources, Virginia Mason Medical Center): We've had great success with it.
KAUFMAN: Jennifer Richards heads up human resources at the Virginia Mason Medical Center, one of Seattle's major health care providers.
Ms. RICHARDS: In the last two years, we've brought in quite a few staff members particularly nurses, medical assistants, patient care techs, as well as other non-clinical positions, IS, management and so on.
Ms. POORVA VIRGINKAR (Virginia Mason Medical Center): Everything going all right? Just checking in to see if you need anything. Okay.
KAUFMAN: Poorva Virginkar is a recent hire. A few months ago, she contacted a fellow University of Michigan alum who works at the medical center.
Ms. VIRGINKAR: It was a very generic email, saying hi, I'd liked to just speak with you if you have some time and...
KAUFMAN: Virginkar wasn't really looking for a job, just information when she emailed Jolynn Suko, who oversees some performance improvement programs here. The two women didn't know each other, but Suko says they hit it off instantly.
Ms. JOLYNN SUKO (Administrative director, Corporate Integrity and Clinical Decision Support, Virginia Mason Medical Center): We probably talked a good hour.
Ms. VIRGINKAR: Yeah.
Ms. SUKO: And quite frankly, she just asked wonderful questions of me, and I appreciated that she wanted to know about the organization and the culture because, you know, every organization has a different culture and not every culture is for everybody and...
KAUFMAN: And Suko says, the longer they chatted the more she thought...
Ms. SUKO: This is someone that we should really look at and talk to more.
KAUFMAN: So she referred Virginkar to the hiring managers. Her motivation, she says, wasn't money. In fact, she'd forgotten about her employer's referral bonuses which range from $700 to $2,000. Rather, Suko had a feeling reinforced by a phone call to someone they had both worked with that this was someone who would be an asset to the organization.
Mary Pirnke is a nurse and a recruiting supervisor here.
Ms. MARY PIRNKE (Nurse, Virginia Mason Medical Center): I think one of the things that we get by bringing on board somebody that's known by one of our staff members, is we've already begun to establish an element of trust.
KAUFMAN: Employers feel like they know more about the person they're about to hire. And new employees who've been referred likely feel more comfortable too.
When Poorva Virginkar came onboard, for example, she felt like she already had an ally.
Ms. VIRGINKAR: The very first day, when I was first taught how to log into email, I already had an email from Jolynn saying welcome, we're so happy that you're here and let me know how I can help you in any way and let's get coffee.
KAUFMAN: It's no secret that when new employees feel connected to an organization, they often perform better. And the employee who made the referral feels good too because someone valued their opinion.
Many of America's largest employers have referral programs. John Sullivan, a management professor at San Francisco State University, puts the figure at about 85 percent of Fortune 100 companies.
Professor JOHN SULLIVAN (Management, San Francisco State University): If your company's not doing a lot of hiring, it's critical that you get the right people for those few positions and employee referrals just turns out to be the best method to do that:
KAUFMAN: Some observers worry that relying on employees to find talent can lead to a lack of diversity in the workplace. But Sullivan suggests a well-conceived recruiting program can avert that. Evidence suggests that referred employers often perform at very high levels, but there's yet another reason employers like these programs. They're cost effective, the initial recruiting costs are lower and because referred employees tend to stay longer, employers save money on future recruiting efforts.
Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.