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  • Formality of KPMG’s Referral Program Makes It Work

    October 11, 2017 | By NACE Staff

    Candidate Selection
    Two interns at KPMG work together.

    TAGS: best practices, internships, recruiting methods, operations, candidate selection, spotlight

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

    Two years ago, KPMG launched a referral program through which its U.S. partners could refer college students for internships and full-time, entry-level positions. Implementing a formal program has helped alleviate the burden on the firm’s campus recruiting team to manage a high volume of referrals and requests.

    Each year, KPMG hires approximately 6,000 college students for internships and new college graduates for entry-level positions. On the experienced side—which brings in about 3,000 hires annually—the firm has had a formal referral program for more than 20 years.

    “We didn’t have a referral program on the college side because our firm has stood fast in that we don’t pay referral bonuses for campus candidates—either interns or full-time hires,” explains Sean Treccia, KPMG’s national director of campus recruiting.

    “But this program was created to relieve the sheer volume of referrals on our team. KPMG has very specific requirements because we’re a regulated industry. As government contractors, we get audited by the Department of Labor every year. We can’t hire people who came in as someone’s friend and aren’t qualified. We get a lot of referrals for unqualified people—not bad students, but in majors that aren’t a fit for what we do. It’s a challenge, and managing that has always been challenging.”

    KPMG has about 28,000 employees in the United States and approximately 3,000 of them are partners. In 2016, more than 500 campus referrals came through KPMG’s “executive” referral process. Of those, more than 40 percent were for students from schools at which the firm doesn’t recruit, and approximately 10 percent of all referrals were eventually hired as interns or entry-level associates.

    Formalizing the referral process has allowed the firm to quantify the volume of work involved with the campus referral process.

    “Those metrics have enabled us to distribute the workload across a number of people and carve out time—about 25 percent—for those team members to cover the program,” Treccia says. “This also allowed us to track how many referrals were coming through and the time it was taking to get through them.”

    Developing and implementing the campus referral program has also formalized KPMG’s communication plan so that every student who is coming through this process gets the same level of treatment and no one falls through the cracks.

    “In the long run, this should help our relationships with the people sending referrals,” Treccia points out. “If an executive referral has a bad experience, it reflects poorly on KPMG. Partners have said that they like the formal process—especially if a student isn’t hired—because they understand the steps that we took and the communications the student received. It makes the conversation a lot easier when we do have to reject someone.”

    Referred students receive a formal e-mail indicating they’ve been referred to KPMG, thanking them for their interest in the firm, and asking them to fill out an online form with introductory questions, such as:

    • What office are you interested in?
    • What is your major?
    • What is your graduation date?
    • Are you looking for an internship or a full-time position?
    • Are you looking to work in KPMG’s audit, tax, or advisory group?

    KPMG asks all students for a current resume, and because some positions require a CPA license, the firm asks accounting majors when they will earn their CPA.

    The partner who refers the student also receives a copy of that e-mail and a note of thanks. The e-mail lets the partner know that the message has been sent to the referred student, and that the firm will notify the partner when a final decision has been made.

    KPMG sends students who are not qualified, based on the information they provided, an e-mail thanking them for their interest, letting them know their qualifications don’t match what the firm is seeking in interns or new hires, and encouraging them to visit its website to search for openings more in line with their qualifications in the future.

    The message also gets sent to the partner who referred the student indicating that the student is not qualified.

    Referrals who are qualified receive an e-mail thanking them for their interest and indicating they are qualified for an internship or full-time position, with a link to apply for a position. In addition, a KPMG recruiter reaches out to these students.

    If a student attends a school from which KPMG recruits, the recruiter who handles that school gets the e-mail asking him or her to follow up with the student. If a student attends a school that is not a KPMG core school, the recruiter in the office where the student wants to work and for the position the student wants receives the student’s information for follow up.

    Another benefit of the program is that KPMG is connecting with students who the firm typically wouldn’t have found.

    “The program has been helpful to us to find some ‘diamonds in the rough’ at smaller schools where we typically don’t recruit,” Treccia says.

    KPMG’s leadership have been active advocates for the program and have helped set expectations from the outset. 

    “That has been very important because the process isn’t meant to hire friends and family, and we aren’t going to force anyone to be hired,” Treccia says. “We will guarantee that executive referrals will be contacted by KPMG, but it’s not a guaranteed hire.”

    Securing buy in and support from leadership is essential for the success of a referral program, Treccia says. Also important, he says, are:

    • Letting your executives be heard—Executives at any company likely have many connections; a formal process that ensures those referrals have a chance to connect with somebody at the company is important and mitigates the chances that a referral will slip through the cracks.
    • Maintaining the formality of your program—Make sure everyone understands the formality of the process to ensure consistency. That way, you don’t have one referral who gets a five-word e-mail from a recruiter and another who gets a five-page description of what’s going on. The step-by-step process is also easier for the recruiting team: Everyone knows exactly what is expected. It is also a better process for students, ensuring they aren’t strung along or forgotten.

    “A lot companies have referral programs, and they deal with them in different ways,” Treccia says. “Getting buy-in from leadership, communicating with your executives, and maintaining the formality of the program are all important aspects. But while it’s reasonable to do something for your executives, it’s not reasonable to compromise the quality of the people you’re hiring. That’s not the right answer for your business.”