Happy Employees Refer Their Friends: How to Build a Hiring Referral System

We’ve written a lot lately about ways to impress potential job candidates, from planning ahead for their visit, to adding “wow factors” in the lobby, to making sure that interviewers are prepared.

But sometimes, the work required to land the best job candidates happens long before any potential hires step into the office, or even land on the “careers” page on your website.

Referred clients get the first impression of your company from a friend or colleague who is already working with you. These referred candidates tend to outperform non-referred candidates in most metrics, from retention to performance.

By encouraging referrals, you’re leveraging the power of your whole workforce to help attract quality hires. Plus, hiring people who already have relationships in place with existing employees can improve the culture of your company. Having a friend at work has been shown to have lots of productivity and performance benefits, as anyone who has had an office friend will know firsthand.

So, how can you leverage the power of a great referral system to impress and hire better job candidates? It all starts with empathy. We’ve already mentioned that empathy is the key to a great visitor check in experience and to providing great customer service, but empathy is important in almost all facets of work relationships — and this is no exception.

Put yourself in your employees’ shoes and develop a referral system they’ll love to use, keeping the following three rules in mind.

Your Employees are Busy

User-friendliness isn’t usually the top priority in a referral system. After all, referring your friends seems like it should be a pretty simple process. People should naturally want to work with friends and colleagues and control who they work with, right? And especially if there are already incentives in place, why would employees hesitate?

Your employees probably agree on all of those counts. However, knowing that they “should” refer their friends and colleagues and actually making the effort to do it are two very different things.

When you think about it, what seems like it should be a one-step task (send the name and contact info for a potential candidate to the recruiters) is actually many steps:

  • Check for your company’s job openings, or stay aware of what job openings are available
  • Think about who in your network could possibly fit that criteria
  • Double check that the potential referred job candidate is still qualified, lives in the area, etc., and potentially reach out to them to see if they’d be interested
  • Figure out how to actually make the referral (who to contact at the company and what info you need to submit), which doesn’t tend to be not top-of-mind since referring happens sporadically
  • Actually fill out the referral form or send the email with the referral

If your employee gets stuck at any one of those steps, the referral won’t happen at all.

As any sales or marketing professional will tell you, if you want someone to take a certain action, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to do it.

If you really want your employees to prioritize referring people to open jobs, you have to remind them often, and make the process as easy as possible. You can remind employees with periodic emails, or in regular staff meetings (consider building it into the regular agenda). Take out any unnecessary steps in the process and simplify, simplify, simplify.

Today, we all have tons of demands on our attention at any given moment. Your employees are already dealing with the work that they’re responsible for at the office, the needs of their personal lives, and the constant trickle of emails, social media pings and other news vying for their attention. Take that seriously and make sure your referral system adds as little to their to-do list as possible.

Your Employees Want Their Work to be Recognized

As we’ve already established, making a referral for a job isn’t always a super-simple task. So when your employees do it — and especially when they refer a winning candidate — they deserve some credit.

It’s not exactly a shock that people like to be thanked for their work, or at least recognized for putting in a little extra effort. This is as true when it comes to something like going out of their way to make a referral that benefits the company as it is for the regular tasks that they’re responsible for.

That’s why so many companies are happy to reward referrals with cash bonuses when the referral results in a hire.

As this Workable blog sums up, “There are many different types of employee referral bonuses. They’re usually offered as cash, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000, sometimes reaching up to $10,000 in the tech industry. They can also include trips, gifts, vouchers, time off or other forms of reward.”

These cash bonuses are certainly worth it for quality hires. However, it’s not enough to only reward winning referrals, or to simply send the cash and call it a day.

Positive reinforcement comes in many forms, and some of those can be as simple as verbally recognizing the employees who have made referrals, either one-on-one or in a company meeting. Other companies have smaller rewards like T-shirts for certain number of referrals, regardless of whether those referrals resulted in a hire.

Bring the employees into the fold and make them understand that when they make referrals, they’re helping the company meet its goals. Make it clear that finding the best candidates, ideally through referrals, is a top, company-wide priority.

Your Employees Care About Their Friends

We all care about our friends, and we all care about our reputations among people we respect.

So if your employees sense in any way that referring someone for a job will end up reflecting poorly on them, they won’t do it.

Remember that when they make a referral, your employees are putting their reputations on the line. #receptionistapp Share on X

There are a few common ways companies fail to empathize with their employees in this department. The main one is encouraging employees to make referrals, but then failing to keep them in the loop about what’s happening with those referrals.

In this situation, when the employee’s friend checks in with them about the status of their application, the employee is left looking out of the loop and helpless. As you can imagine, this predicament only gets worse if the hiring process drags on longer than expected or, even worse, the application is somehow lost in the shuffle.

One way to rectify this situation is to use certain recruiting software programs, sometimes referred to as “applicant management systems,” to manage the process. Some of these programs let users log in and see where applicants are in in the hiring process.

The other problem that companies might be dealing with is that employees simply don’t want to refer their friends because they don’t like their jobs. Clearly, no one would want to bring a friend into a bad situation. We want the best for our friends, and that means that only those offices with healthy cultures will enjoy robust referral programs.

If you’ve already made your referral system user-friendly, have emphasized it in company meetings, and added plenty of incentives, and you’re still not getting many quality referrals, it’s time for a deeper level of troubleshooting. You may want to find a way to engage company morale and employee happiness. Address that issue and see if those improvements are reflected in the referral program.

Related reading on hiring top candidates:

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