A Startup Is Selling Referrals for Jobs at Facebook, Google, and Amazon

Blind’s sister site, Rooftop Slushie, has built a marketplace for job referrals

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Photo illustration. Photos (Getty Images): EMS-FORSTER-PRODUCTIONS; Ammar Mas-Oo-Di/EyeEm

If you’re looking for a job at a tech company like Facebook, Amazon, or Google, you’re probably also looking for a referral. Top tech companies make it extremely easy for their employees to refer job candidates — usually it’s just a matter of uploading the candidate’s resume — and offer incentives for doing so. Motivated candidates often ask friends of friends to refer them or even cold-message random employees in hopes that the connection will boost their chances of getting an interview. But for the last several months, there’s been another option for landing a referral: Just buy one.

Rooftop Slushie, a website created by the makers of the anonymous tech forum Blind, has facilitated more than 11,000 referral purchases since launching last year, Daniel Kim, the site’s product manager, told OneZero.

Candidates fill out a form listing their desired companies and the amount they are willing to pay per referral — usually between $20 and $50, according to Kim — and upload their resume. Verified employees at the listed companies, known as “vendors” on Rooftop Slushie, can view their resume and asking price, then decide whether or not to accept their offer. Facebook and Google referrals, according to Kim, are the biggest sellers.

As he sees it, Rooftop Slushie is helping to even the playing field. “At the end of the day, as long as the best candidate is hired, how the talent came to the company doesn’t matter — as long as they have the skills,” says Kim.

But some say buying and selling referrals to jobs is unethical. Peter Cappelli, the director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School, told OneZero that “those employees who take this up to appear to be violating their duty of loyalty to the employer, which is a legal obligation that the employees have to not put their own interests in conflict with the employer’s,” he said.

“It smells like bribery, too,” Cappelli added. “The job seeker is paying to influence the action of an employee, who has a duty to be truthful to their employer, and the quid pro quo is clear.”

“At the end of the day, as long as the best candidate is hired, how the talent came to the company doesn’t matter — as long as they have the skills.”

Rooftop Slushie grew out of TeamBlind, an anonymous professional network known as a forum for technology employees to candidly discuss their gripes with Big Tech. It’s named after Big Head from the HBO show Silicon Valley — he enjoys hanging out on rooftops drinking Big Gulps.

When the site first launched, purchasing referrals wasn’t a specific function of the platform, which instead encouraged users to pay employees at tech companies for information about what to expect on a technical interview, to provide general career advice, to review their resume, or to help negotiate their offer. But Kim says users started leveraging Rooftop Slushie’s “Misc” section, which has since been removed from the site, to purchase referrals. The referrals feature is now the most popular on the site.

In order to be verified as a vendor on Rooftop Slushie, employees must verify their work email. As with users on Blind, both the vendors and the buyers on Rooftop Slushie are anonymous, identified only by screen names (though some vendors choose to reveal themselves to a candidate after making a referral). The small fee paid to the vendor, Kim says, is simply a way to compensate a talented employee for their time. After a referral is sold, Rooftop Slushie takes a 30% commission fee, unless the vendor achieves “ProTag status” by verifying their LinkedIn account, in which case it takes a 15% commission fee.

After purchasing a referral, candidates will often receive a confirmation email with the next steps from their desired company. If candidates don’t receive a referral from the vendor, they can email Rooftop Slushie for a refund.

Most people who are in a position to make job referrals at an elite tech company wouldn’t consider the $20 or $50 they make per transaction on Rooftop Slushie to be meaningful income. One of the platform’s vendors, who has worked for multiple FAANG companies, told OneZero that Rooftop Slushie is instead a way to “give support to candidates he never received himself.”

“It smells like bribery.”

Tech companies like Amazon and Google, though, don’t necessarily see Rooftop Slushie as a helpful recruitment tool. “Receiving payment from an outside third party for candidate referrals is in violation of our conflict of interest policies and may result in disciplinary action,” an Amazon spokesperson told OneZero via email. Facebook, Netflix, and Apple did not respond to a request for comment on Rooftop Slushie.

“We tell them [vendors] to stay within their NDA, make sure you know where your liabilities lie, and as long as you do that — you will be fine,” Kim says.

Should technology companies seek to put an end to the referral service on Rooftop Slushie, Kim says that the nimble company of only 10 employees is always ready to pivot. “We’re considering adding a service which would give people the opportunity to be pre-screened by an employee,” Kim says. “If it goes well, maybe the candidate really deserves a chance at an interview.”

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King has contributed to Rolling Stone, The Jerusalem Post, Quartz and others.

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