How To Boost Your Hiring With An Employee Referral Program

Contrary to what some job seekers think, not all employers and recruiters have vast databases of resumes they can pull up at anytime to find a qualified candidate to fill an open position. They don’t have hours of free time to spend interviewing three, four, five candidates for one job. And they don’t have a chance to meet with every person who wants their help in finding a job. Let’s face it – recruiters, hiring managers and HR professionals are busy, most wearing many hats and taking on many different challenges throughout the day.

One of them is hiring. And to make that task less of a challenge, employee referral programs can be put in place to help reduce the burden of finding top talent by encouraging employees to recommend their company as a great place to work and advance their career to friends, family and anyone in their professional network. In fact, studies have shown referred employees have higher retention rates and increase employee engagement within a company.

That being said, what are some ways an employer can implement an employee referral program? What can be done to get employees to brand the company as a great place to work? And then, how can these employees who do provide the referrals be rewarded and recognized, especially if money is tight (and when isn’t money tight?).

Wanda Barrett, an employment manager at the Society for Human Resource Management and Bill Peppler, managing partner of Kavaliro, a national award-winning staffing firm, talk about how to make an employee referral program work.

“If the program is important to the organization it must develop a targeted plan around branding the program to employees, determine how the program will work, provide timely rewards and finally, measure the results, which are critical to its success,” says Barrett.

A simple way to get employees to promote your company is through social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, says Barrett.

“By having employees share the opportunities, you’re essentially raising your organization’s brand profile,” says Barrett. “Employees want to help their friends and acquaintances land on their feet. Having employees share jobs and commentary with their friends about the company and culture provides a direct feed to a populous you may not have reached with a general job posting.”

In order to get people involved in your company, Barrett recommends setting up a special task force of volunteers who are passionate about social media to tweet their jobs out; as well as to share and promote the opportunities with colleagues to get them involved. However the company should establish some basic guidelines around social media practices. Be sure to recognize the progress of the task force via corporate recognition or other incentive measures.

Some companies have referral programs in place that reward the current employee with a nice monetary bonus, in some cases as much as $2,000 or more. That’s not possible for all employers, especially small businesses. But by thinking of creative ways to recognize employees, such as through an employee perks and rewards programs, employers can be certain to show their appreciation to current staff members.

“Sometimes just a special parking spot or even social media recognition can be enough to encourage internal employees to refer friends and colleagues to your company,” says Peppler. “This type of compensation can be just as effective as cash.”

When a match is made, rewarding the employee with recognition makes it more exciting for the employee, says Barrett.

“Recognition by the employee’s leadership via corporate-wide meetings or a letter from the CEO, or having their picture in the company newsletter or on a company bulletin board can be an effective means of recognition,” says Barrett.

The key, formal or informal, is to make sure leadership is on board and employees are well aware of the goals of the program. Let staff know they value them as employees and that’s why they value their input on recommending future employees. It does take time, commitment and continuous effort to set up an employee referral program. It’s also important to remind employees, over time, through internal communication for example, about an employee referral program, especially around peak hiring times.

“It’s not hard to convince leadership that a referral program would benefit the business,” adds Barrett, who cautioned, “referral programs work, but they don’t run by themselves.”

In many corporations, employees refer friends and acquaintances without having a structured referral program. The reality is people want to work with people they like – which can be their friends or professional contacts – such as a previous co-worker who would be a fit at their current company. Or perhaps someone they know from an industry networking group. And the reality is employers want to reduce the time they spend hiring, so they will lean on professionals they respect in their organization. When they mention someone they know who may be a fit, they can learn about that person before interviewing them. They can learn about their experience and background from the employee in an informal setting and already get a feel for what they might offer before setting up the interview. This helps both the interviewer and the job seeker.

“The employee’s ultimate goal is to help out a friend in need of employment and that is just as rewarding,” says Barrett. “Those companies with successful programs have a strategic plan, a dedicated person to carry out the plan, training on how the program works, and measurement criteria for the plan’s effectiveness. In order for this program to be successful you have to treat it in a manner that demonstrates its importance to the organization.”

That being said, the best way to implement an employee referral program is by making your company a great place to work. If current employees feel valued and are satisfied with the mission, values and opportunities at the company, word of mouth is going to spread and your employees will already be working for you, trying to find people that can fit and keep the company a success. So don’t underestimate the satisfaction of current staff and the role it plays in finding future talent.

“One of the best ways to encourage current employees to participate in a referral program is to make the company attractive to internal employees and external onlookers,” says Peppler. “Whether it is the addition of needed resources, rewards for quarterly goals reached, or other fun and productive activities, employees will bring their friends/colleagues to a company where they know they want to stay for years to come.”

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Matt Krumrie is a career columnist and professional resume writer who has been providing helpful information and resources for job seekers and employers for 15+ years. Learn more about Krumrie via, connect with him on LinkedIn ( and follow him on Twitter via @MattKrumrie.

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