Word-of-mouth recruitment isn’t the best path to top research talent

Research from the past decade shows that word-of-mouth can be a powerful recruitment method. In a 2014 study, Greet Van Hoye, from the Department of Human Resource Management and Organizational Behavior at Ghent University in Belgium, highlights the potential benefits of this practice.

When an employee encourages an acquaintance to apply for a vacancy at their organization, it’s likely that person will be a good fit, both professionally and culturally. In an ideal scenario, the new hire will enjoy the job, contribute to the organization’s success, and enhance its reputation as a good employer. The logic seems foolproof. Right? Not necessarily.

Do you need to attract and recruit top scientific research talent to work for your organization? ResearchGate Scientific Recruitment Solutions can help you.?



Relying too heavily on word-of-mouth recruitment has its drawbacks. For example, if the candidate doesn’t live up to the employer’s expectations, this could damage the reputation of the person who referred them. Furthermore, recruiting from one’s immediate professional circle significantly restricts the pool of potential applicants, which undermines diversity and inclusion in your hiring strategy.

While other industries now depend on digital tools to advertise vacancies and recruit new staff, universities still recruit primarily via referrals and face-to-face networking. In a ResearchGate survey of 993 users, when asked about the most common recruitment method at their university, 57% of respondents cited referrals from within their professional network. By relying on word-of-mouth, universities risk missing out on game-changing talent, especially among digitally-savvy scientific researchers.

Utilizing various digital recruitment tools to advertise vacancies online will help you build better research teams. Here’s why:

You Need To Cast a Wide Net To Find The Best Researchers


While recruiting scientific talent via word-of-mouth has its perks – namely, the reassurance from a trusted source that a potential candidate is experienced, capable, and responsible – it also has its limits. While your circle of scientific acquaintances may be diverse and wide-ranging, face-to-face networking can only go so far. Recruiting online makes connecting with international scientists faster and easier.?
Digital recruitment and talent attraction can help you access a broad, diverse talent pool. Learn more about how ResearchGate Scientific Recruitment Solutions can help.?

The perfect candidate for a job at your university might be living abroad but willing to relocate. Or perhaps they’re working in a slightly different field but are eager to apply their specialized methods across new disciplines. When real-life networking is your only means of recruiting, you’re missing out on qualified candidates who could significantly contribute to a research team, but who were otherwise unaware of the available opportunity and couldn’t apply to the position.

Showcasing researcher roles online increases your chance of finding outstanding scientific talent. Scientists educated in other regions can contribute not only their unique expertise, but also offer new perspectives, driving innovation at your university.

Use digital tools to ensure diversity in your scientific recruitment strategy.
Use digital tools to ensure diversity in your scientific recruitment strategy.

You Avoid Hiring “More of The Same”


When recommending candidates from within our social or professional network, we tend to refer people who are similar to us, whose characteristics and background are like our own – even if we’re not necessarily doing so deliberately.

A study carried out in 2012 by the Federal Bank of New York, which examined internal data on employee referral, found that 64% of employers recommend applicants of the same sex, and 72% recommend those of the same ethnic background. If institutions rely on referrals from friends, former classmates, or colleagues, unconscious bias can prevent other top candidates from entering the applicant pool.

Insufficient diversity not only impacts the business sector, but also the scientific community. In 2014, the Royal Society, a fellowship of international scientists and the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, released a report called “A picture of the UK scientific workforce.” The paper describes the lack of diversity among scientists in the UK as a “large loss of talent.”

Hiring researchers exclusively via referral means your university is missing out on an invaluable resource. Conversely, advertising researcher positions online helps reach as many qualified scientists as possible, so that you can select the optimal candidates for your role.

You Can Enhance Your Team’s Problem-Solving Abilities


Expanding the scope of candidates doesn’t just mean opening the door to people from new backgrounds. It also means potentially finding the missing intellectual ingredient in your research team.

Hiring scientists with different styles of problem-solving can contribute a fresh point of view, and give your team a better chance at cracking science’s complexities. In his study titled “Cognitive Diversity and Research Performance,” Lars Alkaersig of the Technical University of Denmark concludes that teams of scientists with different cognitive skills and experience achieve better research results.

In 2014, Scientific American editor Fred Guterl wrote, in the organization’s "State of the World’s Science" special report, that when people have to work with those who are not like themselves, they tend to prepare more thoroughly, work harder, and perform better.

Organizations hoping to accelerate scientific discovery can’t afford to draw only from a local pool of talent. The only way to gain an advantage is to use appropriate digital solutions to attract, source, and recruit scientific talent, connecting international researchers with opportunities at your university.

Do you want to build the best performing teams in science? ResearchGate’s Scientific Recruitment solutions will unlock your access to the world’s largest professional network of 15+ million active scientific researchers.

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