5 Ways Booking.com Gets Referrals for Hard-to-fill Roles

November 10, 2015

Booking.com – the planet's #1 accommodation site – serves millions of customers around the world. And that means not just having a global website, but also providing customer service in 42 languages to support their customers and hotel partners. Customer service executives not only need to speak one of the 42 languages, but also the company’s universal language, English.

Therein lies the problem. 

Booking.com has found it difficult to find bi-lingual speakers using traditional recruiting methods, like job advertisements, career fairs and recruiting agencies. However, what they did find was that bi-lingual speakers typically know other people who also speak the same two languages. Problem solved: Referrals.

Booking.com has put a lot of energy into its referral program over the past few years and their efforts have paid off. For example, 413 of their 1,000 North American-based customer service hires this year have been sourced via referrals, equaling a rate of 41% of total hires. 

“If we didn’t have a successful referral program, we would drop the mic and walk off stage,” Steve Klingensmith, Recruiting Manager in North America, said in an interview with LinkedIn.

How do they do it? Specifically, they use these five tactics to continuously fuel their referral engine.

1. Increasing referral bonuses for roles that are in high demand or hard to fill

If Booking.com is having trouble sourcing a particular customer service role – say, a customer service representative who can speak English and Russian to serve the Russian market – they will double the referral bonus for that position for a certain period of time.

Once the bonus special is campaigned around the company, referrals come rolling in. “The higher pay out creates a buzz and excitement around the offices,” Klingensmith said.

2. Not capping referral bonuses

One example is an employee who successfully referred 20+ people. This is a nice supplement to a person’s income and incentivizes employees to refer high quality people. Good people know good people, so we encourage and reward that type of behavior. 

3. Asking for referrals during the interview

Why wait for the first day? If someone is performing well during the interview, a Booking.com recruiter will ask him or her if they know someone else who would be good in a customer service role - someone they would like to work with.   

If they refer someone, the recruiter will contact and interview that person. If they hire them, Booking.com will pay the referrer the referral bonus after they have started working at the company.

“Additionally, during onboarding, a Booking.com recruiter discusses the company’s culture of referrals and ask for referrals,” Klingensmith said. New employees have an untapped network. And, this is also part of the company’s strategy of keeping referrals top-of-mind.

4. Giving their recruiters creative license 

Booking.com's offices throughout the world are given the freedom to try innovative ways to generate referrals. “It’s part of our culture, to try new things and to fail fast. If it doesn’t work, we try something else,” said Jennifer Boulanger, Head of Global Recruitment in Amsterdam.

She gave an example of when one of Booking.com's offices was having a hard time sourcing Portuguese-speaking customer service representatives. The solution? The recruiting team brought in Portuguese food for lunch for the entire office and left referral cards, asking for more Portuguese-speaking referrals. Viola - it worked!

5. Making it easy to refer

Booking.com strives to make its referral program as easy as possible for its employees to refer great people. They have several ways of doing this:

First off, Booking.com’s ATS allows employees to post a job on their social media account and if someone clicks through and applies, the employee will get credit for it. Also, some offices host sourcing parties, where employees go through their networks and refer people they know. “We host these types of parties 1-2x per month in Amsterdam, and this trend is spreading globally”, said Boulanger.

The company also allow candidates go the old school route and email in referrals or to just go up to a recruiter and give them a person’s contact information.

What this means for you

When you create an employee referral program, the goal is to make it attractive and easy to use for your employees. Even a well-oiled employee referral machine will get stale over time, so you have to keep it fresh and constantly try new marketing tactics. Remember to keep it simple. A Portuguese lunch might be the answer. 

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