When It Comes to Referral Bonuses, This Company Proves that Experiences > Cash

October 20, 2015

Before April of this year, InMobi sourced roughly 20 percent of their tech hires via referral. Since April 2015, 50 percent of InMobi’s hires have been sourced via referral.

What changed?

InMobi stopped giving out cash for referral bonuses.

Instead, they started giving gifts or experiences – all-expense paid trips, motorbikes, etc. – that cost the same as cash bonuses they were paying out earlier. And then they marketed the heck out of the program -- this included parking a motorbike employees could win for successfully referring a friend right in the middle of their India and U.S. offices.

“Experiences motivated our employees more than cash ever did,” Kevin Freitas, InMobi’s director of human resources, told LinkedIn. “No one remembers their fifth pay check, but everyone remembers the trip they made to Hawaii or the bike they won in a raffle.”

The referral program: An idea born out of necessity

In the beginning of 2015, InMobi had six recruiters to support the 900-person company. Knowing it would be nearly impossible for those six to keep up with the hiring demands of the company on their own, the team led by Freitas focused on the referral program.

The problem with InMobi’s referral program at the time was that very few employees were responsible for the vast majority of referrals. This meant that the majority of InMobians were rarely referring anyone, equaling to a missed opportunity for the company.

So, the team did some research on how to scale the program, which included reading a whitepaper based off a 2009 Wichita State University study that said that people found experiential awards more motivating than cash awards. Off that, the team proposed to stop giving out cash bonuses, and start giving out experience based awards in the form of gifts and trips instead.

The program was buoyed by a multi-channel marketing effort

Once InMobi decided to give out these experiences, instead of cash, it was time to market the program. The recruiting team used every free channel at their disposal to keep the program top-of-mind.

That meant:

1. Team huddles

InMobi announced the program via “team huddles,” where they would bring 20-to-30-person groups of InMobians together and share the details of the new referral program-  they would now be getting experiences for a referral, instead of cash. The response to these huddles was "overwhelmingly positive, which created a buzz throughout the company," Freitas said.

2. Screensavers and posters advertising the referral program

Like most companies, InMobi’s offices have TV monitors placed all over, for presentations and conferences. Identifying this as unused internal advertising space, InMobi’s recruiting team put screensavers on those monitors listing all the rewards people could win if they successfully referred a candidate.

Additionally, they hung up posters throughout their offices highlighting the details of the referral rewards. Here are some examples of the posters:

Poster from the India office

  • india referral program poster


Poster in the US office

  • us office poster

3. They publicly recognized employees for their referrals

InMobi wanted to recognize the employees who successfully referred applicants, beyond just the reward they received. One of the most noteworthy examples was when one employee in the India office successfully referred someone and was rewarded with an iPhone .

Rather than just have a recruiter give the person the iPhone, the company’s founder awarded the employee the phone in front of an audience of other employees. Obviously, the employee appreciated the extra attention, and it served as another great way to market the referral program.

4. They parked a Vespa in their San Francisco office and a Royal Enfield bike on the floor in the Banaglore office

In India motorbikes are very popular as they are a low-fuel, efficient way to get around the country’s streets. To keep the bike – and, through that, the referral program – top-of-mind, InMobi parked it right in the middle of their Indian office. Employees had the chance to win the bike if they referred an employee to a critical role.

In the San Francisco. office, each time an employee refers someone, they are entered in a lottery to win an InMobi-themed Vespa scooter.

  • SF vespa

They made referring as easy as possible

InMobi also focused on streamlining their referral program, so it was easy for employees to refer and referring employees got quick feedback on their referral. Specifically, that meant:

1. An easy-to-remember email

To make the referral process as simple and easy-to-remember as possible,  InMobians were told to email all referrals at referrals@inmobi.com. Obviously, the simpler the email address was to remember, the more likely people would use it, Freitas said.

2. Canned social media messages for new job postings

One of the big ways InMobians began to refer their friends was by posting an open job on social media and asking their network if they were interested. To make this even easier, InMobi recruiters would draft social media updates, along with fun images for advertising new jobs, which employees could cut-and-paste onto their own feed.

  • referrals ad

3. All referrals were immediately sent to hiring managers, with referring employees cc-ed

Once a referral came to InMobi’s recruiting team, and after a review for legitimacy c, the recruiter would forward the email to the corresponding hiring manager, with the referring employee cc-ed.

Firstly this streamlined the referral process so a hiring manager could quickly respond if they were going forward with the candidate or not. It also gave quick feedback to referring employees, as they came to know if their referral was a strong one or not and the reasons for the same.

The results and making sense of it all

The efforts of InMobi’s recruiting team paid off. Just six months in, the company is now sourcing 50 percent of its tech hires via referrals, a 2.5-fold increase of their historic average of 20 percent.

More importantly, the program has enabled its small recruiting team to keep up with the demands of the company.

Bigger picture, InMobi is not the first company to go from cash rewards to experiential rewards and achieve success. Google, for example, started giving out experiences instead of cash for recognition awards, and had similar success.

Just as importantly though to InMobi’s success was the marketing of their employee referral program and how easy they made it to use. Recently at LinkedIn, we interviewed Kara Yarnot, whose made a career studying employee referral programs, and asked her what are biggest mistakes companies make with them.

She said the number one mistake companies make with their referral program is it isn’t marketed effectively and most employees don’t even know what jobs are open at the company. InMobi, thanks to all of its creative marketing efforts and because experiences are easier to market, referrals were consistently top-of-mind.

Additionally, Yarnot said the other common problems with employee referral programs are when they are hard to use or when the referring employee doesn’t get feedback about their referrals. Again, InMobi addressed both of these issues by making it easy to refer at the company and by keeping referring employees in the loop.

Bottom line, with strong data out there suggesting employee referrals are the best way to hire, InMobi’s plan is one worth copying. Without spending any more money, their small team was able to effectively fuel the growth of the company with strong, qualified talent.

* image by Bastian Sander

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