Referral Recruiting: 10 Employee Referral Strategies and Examples

January 15, 2019

Building a talented team is a never-ending process.

Qualified candidates are hard to come by in today’s market. This is, in part, thanks to the historically low unemployment rate. Fortunately for hiring managers, there is a simple recruitment strategy to improve the quality and quantity of candidates: Turn all of your employees into your very own recruiting army.


Because your employees are gold. They’re bright, exceptional people. They know your business inside out. That's why referrals are a tried-and-true recruiting strategy.

While all companies find and source candidates in their own unique ways, referrals can help, and they make the most impact when it comes to employee retention. 

Making an employee referral program a serious part of your recruiting program might be your secret sauce when it comes to recruiting talent for your business.

TIP: Many recruiting tools and platforms have built-in referral programs for employees, such as simple social media sharing and gamification features. Find out more by researching the best recruiting software in 2019.

What is an employee referral program?

This is a process through which your employees endorse or recommend qualified people from their own networks. Organizations with a formal program in place can reach more than 50 percent of all hires from those referrals! 

Establishing a referral program can also help hiring managers source, screen, and score talent much faster and with, ultimately, long term placement success. The best programs are the ones that incentivize their employees and offer recognition, and, not to mention, are low-effort on your employees part.

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Employee referral recruiting strategies

It has been found that 73 percent of hiring managers struggle to find qualified talent today. If you’re wondering how to integrate an employee referral program in your hiring process, here are 10 ideas to try.

Whatever your approach to recruiting, it’s hard to deny that referrals are a great source of hire.

1. Make a “sourcing jam” part of your on-boarding process

There’s magic in the air during a new hire’s first few weeks on the job. Capitalize on their excitement and eagerness. Put time on the calendars of your new hires within the first 30 days to talk to them about who they know who would be a good fit for the company.

This is the prime time to win the hearts of your new employees. They’re excited about the role and company, and it’s on their brain.

2. Host monthly or quarterly recruitment happy hours/events

This is a great informal way for employees to invite people they want to refer to get acquainted with potential candidates in a low-key, no pressure setting.

For a human touch, highlight recent placements and share the details of how an employee was referred, their journey to getting hired, and their contributions to the team since.

3. Localize your incentives

For multi-city or global companies, tap into local knowledge and build employee referral programs to motivate your employees on that level.

Is there a particular business or product only available in Chicago? Do your employees value working with local businesses?

What is meaningful to people in one market may not have the same impact in other areas.

4. Gamification

Add a competition element by giving employees points through gamification for all actions they take, and notify them about status changes of their referrals.

5. Make a charitable donation

Making referrals makes employees feel good. Maximize those “feel good” feelings by giving employees the opportunity to donate a part of their referral bonus to a charity of their choice, and match the amount.

6. Give on-the-spot bonuses or SWAG

One reason employees don’t refer more candidates is because they don’t know what jobs are open within the company. Include HR in monthly meetings and educate employees on any high-quality roles open.

To encourage your employees to make referrals, give out on-the-spot cash, an extra day off with pay, a free lunch, or fun SWAG like shirts or Yeti water bottles.

Related content: Check out these awesome company swag ideas from SnackNation

7. Turn to social media

Help your people make referrals and keep things simple by creating recruitment-based content on social media . Send an internal email with your top jobs every week. Include social media copy that your employees can paste to their LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter profiles and share with their followers for open jobs.

8. Build a culture around referrals

Create a dedicated page/section on your website to share employee testimonials and their experiences, and do this either through text or videos.

9. Encourage transparency

Develop a simple system for tracking who referred whom, the date of hire, when a bonus will be paid out, etc. The easier the system, the more likely an employee will be interested in referring other candidates.

10. Offer public recognition

Organize company events to honor and publicly recognize employees who refer qualified candidates. Refer employees as champions and celebrate their success for greater engagement.

4 examples of employee job referral programs

Many millennial companies boost great job referral programs. Here are four of the best examples.

1. Salesforce job-referral-program

A strong employee referral program is the secret to Salesforce’s recruitment strategy. Between offering employees VIP treatment, hosting employee referral happy hours, and contests and spiffs, Salesforce offers a well-rounded and incentivized program to help the brand build bigger, better teams faster.

2. Fiverrinternal-referral

Take a page out of Fiverr’s hiring strategy and level-up your recruiting efforts by adding in some gamification tactics. Fiverr not only grew its employee size, but increased its brand exposure on social media by tracking social job sharing and offering points for sharing jobs and referring friends.

3. Buffer employee-referral-example

Known for its transparency, company culture, values, and open communication, Buffer carries this into its recruitment strategy. The business offers a very detailed look at what life is like working at Buffer with a robust portal filled with employee stories and testimonials.

4. PURE employee-referral-strategy

This insurance group looks to get employee referrals right away – almost from the moment a new person is hired. Within the first month of being hired, a recruiter will ask the new employee if they knows someone who would be a good fit for the company. The company actually sources 40-to-60 percent of talent with this tactic.

Next steps in referral recruiting

Building an effective employee referral program will be different for every business.

Consider testing different incentives and structures to find what works for your organization. Remember, you don’t need a huge budget to create a program centered on the needs and motivations of your employees.

Ready to learn more about recruiting in 2019? Discover the best employee referral software from real-user reviews.

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