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Beyond the Bonus: Motivate Employees to Refer Great Candidates

Many recruiters say that employee referrals are the best way to hire. In fact, 88% of employers said that referrals are the #1 best source for above-average applicants (source: ERE). But getting those qualified, interested candidates isn’t easy. Recognizing the importance of referrals is a good start, but it takes time and resources to implement a successful employee referral program.

The good news is that it’s a worthwhile investment. Here are our top tips for leveraging your most popular source of hire.

Give your team some networking tips

Your employees will only feel qualified to refer someone if they have a robust network of peers. Outreach is second-nature to recruiters, but that isn’t the case for everyone. Shy people or recent arrivals to the area might need to build up their personal connections before they can contribute to hiring efforts. Make sure they know the importance of professional associations and local meetup groups, both for finding new potential talent and also for their own professional development. Connecting with peers and influencers who share their industry and skill set on LinkedIn is a great way to start out. Give them time for meetups during lunch or late in the day.

Spell out exactly what you want employees to do

Communication is key. Make sure your team knows how to make a referral in your ATS. Be clear about the requirements for the open positions, so you get qualified referrals. Employees can be hesitant to make referrals because they worry it could reflect negatively on them if the candidate isn’t a good fit. A detailed, specific job description will help reassure them.

Talroo’s Director of Human Resources, Neil Davis, PHR, SHRM-CP, likes to get the message out early and often. “It’s essential to keep referrals top-of-mind with employees. At Talroo, we make it part of the onboarding process. We’re clear about what positions we’re hiring for, what the qualifications are, and of course, what the referral bonus is.”

Don’t ghost your referrers

When you have a new vacancy, make sure employees know about it right away. After you ask for referrals, keep everyone up to date on how many applications have come in and when the interview process begins. Let referring employees know the status of that candidate so there are no surprises that may cause negative feelings. Your ATS might have the capability to automate this for you (Greenhouse, Talroo’s ATS does). Sharing progress will make employees more invested in the hiring process, and it won’t be thought of as just another department’s work.

There’s an app for that

As with most things these days, there’s innovative technology that can help you out. Your ATS might have a referral program built in—make sure you know all the capabilities of your software. If you need to do high-volume hiring, check out an employee referral platform like Simppler, Boon, or Rolepoint. These services aim to save recruiters time and money, and streamline the process for employees. You can even gamify the process with RippleHire or Teamable. The competition with co-workers can make for increased motivation. Speaking of which…

Incentivize! Financially AND psychologically.

Most referral programs include a cash bonus for the referring employee. Make sure you focus your resources on the most critical hires. That hard-to-fill engineering job may be worth five times your standard referral bonus. And believe it or not, cold hard cash may not be enough. Cash bonuses may not get paid out until 90 days—and they can be heavily taxed.

Make sure to also reward an employee with company-wide recognition when their referral is hired. But prizes certainly don’t hurt, and if you want to get creative, Blueboard incentivizes with “experiential rewards” like glass blowing classes and skydiving. And no one ever complained about more paid vacation.

Play the long game with social

Your employees may try to think of an ex-colleague or friend who would be a good fit for your company’s open position, come up empty, then move on to something else. But quality referrals aren’t just about who’s qualified and on the job hunt now. Encourage your employees to post open positions to their social channels. This will help reach passive candidates, and with your company’s recruitment branding efforts. Many ATSs allow employees to automatically re-post updates from the company feed, reducing the manual work. Look into the capabilities of your system to see what it can do to make social sharing easy.

Finally…do we need to state the obvious?

Make sure your company is a place that people would recommend to their friends! If morale is bad and turnover is high, you can pretty much forget about referrals. So hold yourself and your company accountable for giving employees a phenomenal experience. Make sure you showcase your company with an amazing careers page, and brag about your company’s accolades. Be transparent with your team, and remember that purpose often matters more than money. Do these things well and you will have a team of advocates to help you recruit the best!

More resources on referral programs from Greenhouse and ERE.