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Strangers Get the Worst Jobs, So Become an Acquaintance

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Over the past month I’ve been talking with recruiters, hiring managers and active and passive job seekers. The idea was to figure out why strangers get treated differently than acquaintances when it comes to getting new jobs.

Below describes what I found, but don’t despair if you’re tired of being a stranger. Here are some posts you must read to become an acquaintance and get a better job.

Acquaintances get the edge on first contact with recruiters.

When recruiters call people they know to determine interest in considering another job, the conversation is always career-focused and exploratory. The idea is to share information to see if the potential for a career move exists. When recruiters call people they don’t know, the conversation is very stiff with the focus on box checking skills and the prospect more interested in what the job pays, the title of the job and the company name and location.

Passive job seekers give more respect to recruiters they know than to recruiters they don’t know.

Passive job seekers are very wary of dealing with recruiters they don’t know. They assume the recruiters are only interested in filling their open jobs as fast as they can with the person most qualified. Recruiters whom they have had a positive experience in the past are more trusted and the conversations are more open and honest.

Hiring managers evaluate people they know based on their past performance rather than the amount and depth of their skills and experiences.

When people are promoted or assigned bigger jobs it’s typically because their past performance indicated they were able to successfully grow and handle the new position. Strangers however are judged more on the depth of their skills and direct experiences and the jobs they’re offered represent lateral transfers.

Referrals are always evaluated before strangers and they’re evaluated more fairly.

Even if the recruiter or hiring manager doesn’t know the candidate personally, referrals are always put at the top of the resume pile and are given more careful review. During the interview referrals are initially assumed to be competent on a performance basis and given the benefit of the doubt even if their skills and experience mix is a bit off the mark. Strangers must constantly prove their competency.

Research (contact me for details) shows that acquaintances tend to perform better on the job than strangers, too, but it’s because they’re treated and evaluated differently. Consider:

First, the initial discussions with acquaintances are more open, honest and exploratory with a goal of determining mutual interest. In this case the candidate is treated with respect and jobs are often modified to meet their personal and career needs. With strangers the initial discussions are more transactional with the goal of force-fitting a candidate into an ill-defined job as rapidly as possible. Candidates for these roles are often considered commodities and disrespected by hiring managers and recruiters.

Second, the evaluation process is different. Acquaintances are evaluated more on their past performance and ability to learn and grow. Strangers on the other hand are assessed largely on the depth of their skills and experiences, the quality of their interviewing skills and their likability.

Given this state of affairs, here are some ideas on how to level the playing field.

1) Active job-seekers need to get referred and become acquaintances by implementing a 20-20-60 job-hunting plan. This involves a balanced approach for getting an interview:

  • 20% on responding only to jobs for which the person is skills-based qualified
  • 20% on making sure their resume and LinkedIn profile are easy to find
  • 60% on networking. Recognize that networking is not meeting as many people as possible. Networking is meeting a few people who can vouch for your performance and refer you to others. This is how you become an acquaintance.

2) Recruiters and hiring managers need to implement a performance-based assessment system whether the candidate is a stranger or an acquaintance. This way the assessment will be based on every candidate’s past performance, not the quality of their interviewing skills.

3) Job seekers can convert a skills-based evaluation into a performance-based interview by asking this question, “What does the person in this role need to accomplish in order to be considered successful in the role?” Then give some detailed examples using the approach in the Performance-based Interview template described in this video. Here are some other tips to ensure you’re being accurately and professionally assessed.

There’s an obvious risk when strangers are hired instead of acquaintances. There are just too many unknowns that don’t exist with acquaintances. These unknowns can be eliminated by preparing performance-based job descriptions, evaluating people based on the track record of past performance rather than depth of their skills and slowing the process down.

Collectively this is how you convert strangers into acquaintances and acquaintances into great hires.