How to Get Employee Referrals: 13 Tips

Statistics show that there are key benefits to employee referrals.

One in 16 referred candidates is hired, compared with one in 22 agency candidates, one in 72 sourced candidates, and one in 152 applicants. In addition to being the most efficient source of hire, employee referrals are also faster and less expensive to hire, onboard faster, and stay longer. However, too few organizations are maximizing these benefits because they treat employee referrals as an organic candidate source. The fact is, they require proactive and ongoing participation from your talent acquisition team in order to yield the greatest results. If you want to start seeing better recruitment outcomes, read on for 13 quick tips to get more employee referrals.

How to get employee referrals

Bake employee referrals into your company culture

Hiring is a team sport in which everyone should feel empowered and responsible for growing the team with high-quality talent—including sourcing candidates.

  1. Begin during onboarding. Employee onboarding sets the tone for each new hire’s employment experience. Use this crucial time period to set the expectation that each person contribute to employee referrals, and show them how to use the tools at their disposal. Thirty minutes to an hour on each new hire’s calendar during the first week should be enough time to run through the basics, and source candidates for a few open roles. If you have several new hires begin at the same time, this can easily become a group meeting. [Lever users: this is a great time to encourage each employee to download Lever’s Chrome Extension.]
  2. Discuss recruiting and employee referrals during company meetings. Highlight high-priority open roles at company-wide or department-wide meetings. Share a little about what the ideal candidate would be able to accomplish in each role, and explicitly ask the team to submit employee referrals. Also use this time to share hiring success stories, and to publicly acknowledge your top referrers.
  3. Host sourcing jams. Whenever you need a big influx of candidates at once, order in some breakfast or lunch for a team sourcing jam. Review your open roles and ideal candidate profiles, and remain on standby to help employees identify and submit high-quality candidates. You may also offer one-on-one sourcing jams to nudge employees to participate—which may be particularly effective with executives.
  4. Get executives involved. Executive buy-in and participation can do wonders to help you get more employee referrals. The whole team should see hiring as a top priority. Plus, if an executive-level employee can prioritize and make time for referrals, the rest of the team will be more motivated to do so as well.

Incentivize employee referrals

There are many different ways to incentivize employee referrals. Experiment with different things to see what works best at your organization.

  1. Provide recognition. A simple ‘thank you’ can go a long way toward incentivizing employees to continue referring candidates, as well as to encourage others to do so. This may be done during a company meeting, in a company-wide email, or via a group Slack channel. It can also be done one-on-one through email, Slack, or a handwritten note.
  2. Award cash. Good, old-fashioned cash is a common way to financially incentivize employee referrals. Play around with the dollar amount to see if it increases referrals, and consider offering a higher reward for positions that are tougher to fill.
  3. Try non-cash alternatives. Mix it up by offering something tangible that employees may enjoy, but might not purchase for themselves. Some ideas: a weekend getaway, a meal delivery subscription, or tickets to a local event. Different things will appeal to different people, so keep mixing it up to pique different interests.
  4. Reward the intent. It’s common to reward employees after their referral candidate has been on the job for 60 or 90 days, but you may get more participation for rewarding the referral itself. A five dollar coffee gift card or some company swag provide a more immediate and guaranteed reward for the effort. A raffle entry for a bigger prize can also be a fun way to incentivize more referrals. If you’re concerned that the quality of referrals may suffer, you can choose to provide a small reward only for candidates who receive a phone screen.
  5. Put up a leaderboard. Publicly share stats on who has referred the most candidates, who has had the most referred candidates in the interview process, and who is responsible for referring the highest number of hires. A little friendly competition may spur people to get in one or two more referrals, if they want to overtake one of the top spots. You can also create a department-level leaderboard to encourage more participation from each team. Sweeten the pot a little by offering a special prize for the person and team with the most referral candidates (or the most accepted referrals).

Make it easy for employees to make candidate referrals

Getting more referrals may be as simple as making it easier on employees.

  1. Provide some basic training. Many employees would likely refer more candidates if they knew how. If you’re not already doing so via onboarding, or a team sourcing jam, offer a quick training or how-to guide to show employees the ropes. Include how to search through different networks, and how to submit a referral through your system of choice.
  2. Ask only for basic information. Some companies furnish lengthy referral forms, which may require a significant time investment from employees—and may deter them from submitting candidates. Requiring a resume can even deter passive candidates who may not have one ready. Simplify this process by allowing employees to submit whatever information they deem important, and have on-hand. For instance, a name, LinkedIn profile, and email address is plenty to get started with the recruitment process. The recruiter can always reach out to the employee or candidate for more information.
  3. Provide templates. Help employees craft an engaging message that they can modify when reaching out to people in their networks about roles at your organization. This may include email copy, a phone script, or social media posts. A little guidance in this area both simplifies the process for employees, while helping you get a better response rate from candidates.
  4. Proactively source employee networks. Connect with employees on social media, or ask them to connect their networks through your referral tool, so you can source their networks. Then, simply ask if they’d recommend the people you found.

How to ask for employee referrals: Final thoughts

With so many benefits to employee referrals, you’re doing your organization a disservice if you’re simply waiting for them to come in. A proactive approach will ensure you’re filling your talent pipeline with these coveted candidates, and improving your hiring outcomes. With a little guidance, you can build an army of sourcers out of your organization’s employees.

Learn more quick tips to supercharge your recruiting efforts in our eBook:101+ Recruiting Hacks to Accelerate Your Hiring in 2018.