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Dec 18, 2017
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Employee referral programs are consistently at the top of the source-of-hire list. Refer a friend to your employer, and if they get hired, you get paid. For over a decade, startups hoping to capitalize on this win-win-win transaction have tried to cash in, only to end up bankrupt and out of business.

In theory, it makes perfect sense. In the past, companies like H3 and Jobster looked to tap into personal networks through email to make hires and deliver payouts. The business model looked to displace traditional job postings with the power of personal relationships. It didn’t really turn out that way, of course. Jobster 1.0 is long gone, and so is H3.

H3 founder Hans Gieskes wrote an interesting post for ERE in 2010 that tried to explain the challenges of this model. “Real ‘connectors’ make incredibly prudent and balanced decisions when it comes to referring a job or a candidate: they will only make a referral if they truly believe they’re doing the right thing for both people on each side of the referral,” Gieskes wrote.

“Whereas a financial reward can certainly add urgency to a referral request, money will not corrupt their decision, as we saw at where $10,000 rewards never resulted in resume spam and never yielded bad candidates. It’s not about financial rewards; it’s about prudent people carefully managing their social credit balance sheet to first of all help people whose relationship they value.”

He was writing in reaction to the growing number of companies looking to cash in on the social sharing economy, and how jobs might fit in. For a while, share buttons were on every job posted online. There were businesses built on the idea that everyone would be sharing every job they saw to help their network find employment. Of course, mass sharing didn’t happen, Facebook pages dedicated to employment became (and still are) ghost towns and startups like Branchout are dead and buried.

A new study by Indeed, also ironically looking to cash in on the referral trend with Indeed Crowd, shines more light on why social and employment just don’t mix. Looking at the responses of some 10,000 job seekers from around the world, the company discover the following:

  • Two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents worry others will find out they are looking for a new job.
  • A quarter of job seekers (24 percent) worldwide ranked their quest for a job as the topic they are least likely to share online. (Only personal finances ranked as an equally off-limits topic.)
  • Fifty percent of job seekers wouldn’t tell a partner when applying for a role. Those aged 55+ are the most sensitive, with 60 percent of them keeping their job applications hidden from a partner.
  • Fifty-two percent said their biggest concern was work colleagues finding out about their job search, which far outweighs the risk of not getting a position at 29 percent.
  • Two thirds of job seekers are concerned (very to somewhat) about their job search process being made public.
  • Two thirds (64 percent) said they feel anxious when searching for a new job, half feel secretive, and a third even feel like they’re leading a double life.

“While many of us routinely share details of our lives and loves on social media, looking for a new job remains an intensely personal activity,” said Paul D’Arcy, SVP at Indeed. “There are practical reasons for this — few of us would want our current manager to know we are looking to leave, so it makes sense to be circumspect. In an age of oversharing, and with growing distinctions between your personal and professional self, job seeking is one of the last taboos.”

Global findings were equally revealing.

  • UK job seekers were the most secretive, with just 37 percent telling their partner they’re applying for a new job.
  • Forty-two percent of Americans would give their partner a heads-up.
  • Dutch are the most open, with 61 percent of them saying they’d share their job search with a partner.

“These findings reveal the anxiety faced by many of those seeking employment,” said Professor Paul Dolan, Behavioral Economist at London School of Economics.”They also suggest a higher-level concern for status and the need to be seen by others as successful. Admitting that we are looking for a job means exposing others to our potential success or failure. To avoid embarrassing ourselves, we choose to hide our searches. Paradoxically, it may be far more useful, for ourselves and for others, to highlight failures when they occur.”

Turns out, people will gladly go to Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to show-off pics of themselves living the high life, share articles that make them look smart, clever, or morally superior, and check in to well-reviewed restaurants and popular events. But similarly, share a job posting? No way, Jóse!

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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