How many times have you heard that your existing employees are your best source for finding new hires? Back in my days as a corporate recruiter, I was told this all the time. I had grand goals in place for my teams to hire a minimum of 30 percent from internal referrals. We crafted elaborate programs around employee referrals and offered big cash payouts (and free lunches) when referrals got hired. We wrote great communication pieces and hung signs around physical office spaces advertising our programs and — wait for it…
OK, maybe not crickets. We got a few hits and a few great hires, but after the first few weeks, our employees forgot all about us back in the recruiting office. And we had to figure out why our approach wasn’t working.
Bill Boorman, an adviser to talent technology companies and founder of the global #tru Unconference, writes and speaks often about employee and social referrals. One of my favorite of Bill’s comments is that by the very point of calling it an employee referral “program,” it is destined to fail. Programs, by definition, have a start and an end. They’re linear. They have rules. They’re planned series of events. On the contrary, employee referrals should be spontaneous and unrestricted. And, most importantly to the future of recruiting for your organization, they should be ongoing.
For one client who needed to hire a fairly large number of people, we ran a referral contest. Every time an employee referred a unique candidate, we entered his name into a raffle. Five referrals meant five entries. At the end of the contest, we randomly chose a winner. The prize was a two-night, three-day trip for two to Boston, and the company paid travel, hotel, and entertainment expenses.
Another hat-tip (pun intended if you know him) to Boorman for the trip idea — it worked wonders. Not only did the contest get us more than 150 employee referrals in three months with a 75 percent employee participation rate, but the employee who won also posted pictures all over social media and talked about her trip for months after she got back. Talk about generating excitement around employee referrals! This client plans to now choose a winner for this contest semi-annually.
So how do you create a stream of ongoing employee referrals? Here’s a five-point strategy that has worked well for many of my clients:
- Hire the right employees who really fit your business. This may seem obvious, but it’s a really important place to start. If you want your existing employees to refer their networks to you, it’s best to be sure they’re the people you want working for you.
- Be a great place for them to work. This is another obvious one, but again, it’s a very important part of the strategy. Would you refer a friend to work for someplace you couldn’t stand working?
- Lose the fine print. Make it easy for employees to refer candidates. The easier it is, the more referrals you’ll get, especially if you make it clear that a referral doesn’t equal a recommendation. It’s not your IT guy’s job to select talent — that’s the recruiter’s or hiring manager’s job. Don’t tie rewards to hires; tie them to referrals. And the rewards don’t need to be huge cash payouts — lose those, too. Reward for referrals alone.
- Ensure a great candidate experience. If candidates referred by employees have a horrible application or interview experience, it will set your employee referrals back significantly. Bad news travels fast. Treat each referral like the VIP he or she is. Keep your employee and the referral informed at every step of the process, and provide timely feedback around the selection decision.
- Be persistent and consistent. Creating a true culture of recruiting takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. A contest is great, but don’t stop there. Build on the momentum. Promote your company’s culture across social networks, and let your employees do the same. Remind your employees often that you’re hiring, and give them the freedom to share that message with their networks in their own way. Highlight the employees who refer, and make them feel special.
Bottom line: Referrals generally have a lower cost per hire, a shorter time to fill, a stronger performance rating, and a higher retention rate.
Get started on transforming your company to a culture of recruiting today by downloading our “Top 10 Tips for Working With a Third-Party Recruiter” below:
Jennifer Scott is the Vice President of Talent Acquisition and HR Strategy at SUM Innovation.
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