Recruiters - Want to Impress Your Boss? Get More Employee Referrals (Here’s How)

November 16, 2015

Recently, we surveyed nearly 4,000 talent acquisition leaders across the globe and asked them what their priorities are for 2016. There were several, but one certainly stood out: they wanted to increase the number of employee referrals they were getting.

Specifically, one question we asked them was what they believed to be one of the most essential and long-lasting trends in recruiting. More than a quarter said employee referrals, a stark increase from last year:

  • employee referrals

We also asked them how strong they thought their employee referral program was at the moment. The majority said they were not totally satisfied with their employee referral program:

  • referrals

In those numbers lies an opportunity for recruiters everywhere: Recruiting leaders are more and more likely to care about employee referrals, and yet the majority aren’t totally happy with their existing program. Therefore, if you can improve your employee referral program, you’ll likely make your boss – or your boss’s boss – very, very happy.

So what are the keys to a best-in-class employee referral program?

Most companies already have a referral program of some sort. And yet, the numbers show most talent acquisition leaders don’t think their program is best-in-class.

How can you improve your program? Well, there is no shortage of ways, many of which are outlined here. But four action items you can implement right away are:

1. Keep referring employees in-the-loop

Nothing will ruin a referral program quicker than one of your employees referring someone and never hearing back about it. Although unintentional, it gives the impression to the referring employee that they’ve wasted their time.

Instead, ensure your recruiting team responds to every single employee referral, even if it is just to tell the referring employee why you’re not moving forward with the candidate they suggested. Not only does this ensure people feel like their referral was actually considered, it also helps educate your workforce on who they should be referring.

2. Ensure it is really easy to refer at your company

The easier it is for an employee to refer someone, the more referrals you’ll get. The best bet is having multiple ways for people to refer – perhaps they can just email someone’s LinkedIn profile or resume to a recruiter or they can just meet with a recruiter quick and tell them in person.

3. Instead of a cash referral bonus, try giving away experiences

Most companies generally give out some sort of cash bonus if an employee refers a candidate that ultimately gets hired. While that’s great, there’s strong evidence out there that an experience of the same cost – say, a trip or a prize of some sort – will encourage more referrals than just straight cash.

InMobi and Google both tried this and immediately saw their number of referrals increase. InMobi, in particular, made the change from a cash referral bonus to an experiential referral bonus and saw their amount of referrals increase by 250 percent almost overnight.

4. Market, market, market

One of the biggest reasons people don’t refer is they don’t know what positions are open at the company or referring isn’t at the top-of-their-mind. So, market your employee referral program by advertising open positions and publicly recognizing employees who do refer.

This can be as simple as starting all-hands meetings with hiring managers talking about open positions within your company and encouraging their colleagues to refer anyone they feel is good. Conversely, on the reward front, a company-wide email celebrating people who do refer will lead to more people referring candidates.


The reason more and more recruiting leaders are caring about their employee referral programs is there’s a lot of data out there that employee referrals is one of the best ways to hire. Generally, it is the cheapest way to source a role, and a referred hire tends to stay around longer and be a better performer, as opposed to other means of hiring.

So, yes, if you can find a way to re-energize your employee referral program, you’ll make your boss happy. But, more than that, you’ll make your company stronger, by bringing in more high-quality talent in a highly efficient way.

*Image from The Wolf of Wall Street

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