4 Steps to Launching a Successful Employee Referral Program

When it comes to recruiting, the most important network to leverage is the one you have right there with you in-house. Referrals from your current employees are a phenomenal resource resulting in great quality hires. Let’s make the most of those connections!

An active employee referral program is a fantastic asset for any company, but the truth is encouraging participation isn’t always easy. Not only do you have to generate initial awareness of your referral program, you also need to find ways to motivate employees to actually participate proactively.

These are challenges Andre Boulais is familiar with tackling. He’s faced and overcome them several times, implementing successful referral programs at ExactTarget and now at his current company, Jobvite, where he serves as Strategic Account Director.

Recently, he was kind enough to share some of his tips for installing and incorporating effective referral initiatives. The real key, Boulais says, is finding ways to actually instill it directly into your company’s culture.

Step 1: Draw attention to your program

Raising awareness for your referral program is the first key to achieving widespread adoption of the initiative. Boulais suggests one great way to initiate awareness is by holding events on a regular basis to keep the program top of mind.

Example: Holding a quarterly breakfast to highlight the program, provide a live walk through on how to submit a candidate, showcase the rewards and incentives associated with successful hires, and discus what the company is looking for in their open positions.

This will allow your team to cover all of the main points of interest in a friendly and informal interaction across multiple business units.

Constantly bringing attention to your referral program with events and announcements will allow you to keep employees up to date on current needs, and encourage them to share openings with their friends, family, and social networks.

Step 2: Promote employee referrals as part of your culture

The best way Boulais found to increase the success and impact of employee referral programs is to drive home the idea that every employee has a direct role and responsibility in contributing to the hiring of new team members and the overall growth of the company. It needs to be fully baked into the company culture.

To do that, Boulais says it’s critical for leadership to show their commitment and investment in the program, making it clear that it is a focus and a priority.

As a champion for your referral program, it’s also your job to underscore that commitment by increasing the program’s visibility.

  • Send regular updates regarding referral hire numbers and key open positions. Post them on TVs or boards in the office.
  • Add a walkthrough of the referral program to the onboarding process for new employees. If you’re able to solidify the importance of making referrals from an employee’s first day, there will be a higher chance of acceptance and engagement.

Step 3: Provide timely feedback and rewards

Boulais also stresses making sure you provide prompt feedback and encouragement to referees, especially when first launching a referral program and working to get it off the ground. Make an effort to highlight referral contributions from current employees and share them with the rest of the company.

Many companies have also been able to encourage referral program participation by developing creative reward programs or added perks. Incentives can certainly play a crucial role in getting your referral program off of the ground, and the overall benefits can far outweigh the costs. Studies show referral hires have a higher retention rate and increase engagement within the company.

The incentives that you decide to offer can vary greatly from a monetary bonus, ability to enter raffles for larger prizes, or a wide array of smaller incentives. The smaller incentives can be anything from the ability to work from home, better parking spots, movie tickets, or free breakfast/lunch for a week, etc. There’s no lack of options and opportunities.

Ultimately, you’ll want to choose ones that are the best fit for your organization. Whatever incentives you choose, the key is to make sure they’re delivered/implemented smoothly without much delay.

Step 4: Heat things up with a little healthy competition

Boulais also advocates finding ways to make your referral program a fun and enjoyable aspect of your employee’s daily responsibilities. One great way to do that is by hosting a contest to see who can bring the best talent into the company. We all love competition, and it can be a win-win for your program and company as a whole.

One way Boulais has gamified referral programs in the past is by using a point system resulting in a set amount of points allocated for hires at various levels (the more senior and niche roles should be worth more points based on the difficulty of hiring for that particular position).

You can also create leaderboards listing participating employees to broadcast who is making the biggest impact. Not only does that encourage them, it also motivates employees who are not engaged to get into the mix (just keep in mind the ultimate goal of the leaderboard should be to highlight active participants, not to shame employees who aren’t).

Bottom Line

Building out a successful referral program can be a challenge, but it’s one that is worth the effort and focus to overcome. If you visualize the amount of money your company allocates to hiring and recruiting efforts like job postings, applicant tracking systems, and sourcing efforts trying to engage with passive candidates, the total amount can be staggering.

By implementing a referral program and putting true effort into its adoption, you can help your company save a significant amount of money as well as alleviate some major hiring pain points. Once you’re up and running and achieving great results, you should advocate for a portion of those savings to be reallocated into the program. That way, you can work on bolstering the effectiveness of your program with larger incentives, etc. to keep your metrics trending up!

For more actionable tips on implementing a new employee referral program or improving an existing one, see Jobvite’s free guide The Recruiter’s Insider Series: Optimizing Your Employee Referral Program.

Brandon DeWitt
Brandon DeWitt

Brandon DeWitt is a Talent Acquisition Manager at Criteo Criteo. Prior to that, Brandon was a Talent Specialist at OpenView, focused on recruiting engineering candidates, and also previously served as a contract recruiter for CVS Caremark where he sourced candidates in a variety of functional areas nationwide.
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