The Top 20 Employee Referral Program Best PracticesComments Off

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Employee referrals are the #1 source of quality candidates for the most successful organizations, resulting in faster hires, improved employee retention levels and higher profitability. While this might seem like common sense, employee referral programs are typically under-invested in when compared to other sourcing channels.

It’s time to change that. For companies that are serious about building a competitive advantage, here are 15 top employee referral program best practices:

    1. The timing of the bonus payout. Paying bonuses for successful referrals three months or in some cases six months after a candidate starts work is bad practice. If you’re worried about hiring the wrong people, fix your selection process and don’t hold your employees hostage by bad HR practices.
    2. There is no black hole. Employee referrals shouldn’t disappear into the black hole of HR or your ATS. This results in lost credibility with your employees AND your referral. Slow responses also suggest your organization isn’t serious about attracting or hiring the best talent – which impacts your employer brand.
    3. Reward outside of your organization. Many organizations understand the value of a new client and have a client referral program – bring that same mindset and reward those outside of your organization for referring talent.
    4. Auto-matching. Inside the average company, employees are busy doing their day jobs while new jobs are being opened and closed throughout the week. Having software to automatically match your open jobs with the professional networks of your employees can dramatically increase the success of your referral program.
    5. Build an employee referral program brand. Put on your employment marketing hat or partner with your marketing team! Consider running 2-3 campaigns throughout the year and branding your program through various communication channels internally.
    6. Use collateral to reinforce goals. Send postcards to all of your employee’s homes, brand a referral page on the intranet, or implement random desk drops. It’s about education and reinforcement.
    7. Make a big splash at new hire orientation. There’s no better time to solicit referrals and set program expectations with your new employees. Be creative and make it an engaging experience.
    8. Engage leadership. Your leaders play an important role in setting the tone for referrals. Attend their team meetings, town halls and highlight successes.
    9. Hold contests. Which leader’s team is generating the most referral activity? The most hires? Build excitement and teamwork by having contests and rewarding great results.
    10. The program strategy. Perfecting your employee referral program requires application, effort and strategic planning. Relying on periodic e-mails to employees casually inquiring about ‘who they know’ won’t produce results, so focus on building and perfecting your strategy and measures of success up front.
    11. The fewer rules the better. Don’t make it complicated or time consuming. Submitting an employee referral must be a straightforward process. Set clear expectations at the outset so all parties know exactly what to expect and when – then stick to it.
    12. It’s more than the $. Identifying reward as the most important element of your referral program prioritizes quantity of referral over quality. It’s not always about the cash incentives, think more broadly. Set goals and publicly acknowledge top referrers. Build excitement when paying referral rewards.
    13. Always accept referrals. You only accept referrals when you’re in hiring mode. Always be prepared to accept a referral regardless of whether you have a vacancy. It keeps your employees on constant alert for talent.
    14. The feedback loop. Employees won’t always get it right without guidance. Provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of referrals. Help your employees to help you by pre-qualifying your requirements for a better candidate match.
    15. The candidate experience. You treat your referrals like every other applicant. Pay special attention to them! Tag referrals in your applicant tracking system to enable a fast track through your hiring process.
    16. Set clear expectations and follow-through. Employees should know what to expect with regards to candidate communication, follow-up and next steps.
    17. Create a referral culture. Initiatives start at the top and leaders need to be invested in the referral culture for it to take hold and thrive. Executives first need to know the details of the program and understand its importance so they can guide employees through the process. Specify what managers should tell employees about the program and how they should motivate employees to participate.
    18. Recognize top referrers. For the program to work, employees need to be invested as well. A little recognition will go a long way when establishing a referral culture. In a survey conducted in February 2015 by Kronos, 55 percent of respondents said receiving a ‘“thank you” from their direct manager gives them high levels of satisfaction at work. 
    19. Educate employees. In a survey conducted by TINYpulse in 2013, only 42 percent of employees surveyed knew their organization’s vision, mission and cultural values. How can employees be expected to advocate for the company and bring in new hires without a firm grasp of its mission and values? 
    20. Every employee is a recruiter. For employees to participate in the referral program, they need to be kept in the loop and treated as recruiters. They need to know what positions are open, the kind of talent you’re seeking and which skills and backgrounds are the most important. And don’t forget to arm them with an elevator pitch!


As with anything, you’ll get the return from your employee referral program based on what you invest into it. If you’re looking for mediocre results, close your browser tab and do nothing. :) The other option is to pick 3-5 from this list and get started on transforming your employee referral program today.

About Jason Buss

Talent HQ’s creator and editor is Recruiting & Diversity Leader, Jason Buss. Talent HQ is a premier online news and information channel for the Recruiting and Human Resources community.

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  • Posted on: Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015