3 Steps to Building an Employee Referral Program Your Employees Love

It’s that time of year again! We’re not just talking pumpkin spice lattes, blanket scarves, and that crisp fall chill in the air, but something a little less cozy—end-of-year headcount planning. You might even be reading this between meeting breaks as we speak. It’s that time of year when Executives, Talent, and HR leaders huddle around to evaluate the company’s progress and determine what human capital will be needed to secure your desired growth rates in the new year. While the process is essential for workforce success, it often leads to hustle and stress at the end when thinking about all of those roles you’ll need to fill.

So how can you set yourself up for success (and limited panic attacks) once all of these new roles enter the wild? Easy: Build a solid pipeline of employee referrals. It’s no secret that employee referrals are the most qualified candidates you can bring in. According to a recent review by LinkedIn, they:

  • Get hired faster (cutting your recruiting timeline by 55%)

  • Cost less to acquire (saving 80% in fees on average)

  • And the best part? They stay with your company longer (46% of referrals stay with a company for 3 or more years, compared to 14% of hires from other external sources like job boards).

Earlier this month Greenhouse’s Associate Recruiter Katie DiCioccio shared a peek into Greenhouse’s employee referral program, and in this post I’ll be sharing a few additional best practices learned from our clients at my company Blueboard, who are leveraging our experiential rewards platform to incentivize and build excitement around their employee referral programs—and seeing some pretty fantastic results.

So let’s get to it! Here are 3 ways you can build excitement around your employee referral program and in turn, see your volume take off!

1. Simplify the call to action

If you’re like most organizations, you have loads of events, programs, launches, and other hot-off-the-press initiatives demanding 100% of your employees’ attention at any given moment. Remember that referrals are not part of someone’s day job; you’re asking them to take time out of their normal schedule to do something genuine on behalf of the company. It’s important to make the program mechanics easy to understand (snackable) and easy to take part in (simple).  

Here are tips to create an employee referral program that’s as snackable as whatever you've got in your office micro-kitchen:

Don’t overcomplicate the objective of entry with too many rules (e.g. must refer more than X candidates, in Y months, for Z types of roles—too much!). Stick to a simple call to action that employees can easily understand and remember.

Typically our clients are running a referral contest that’s open to all employees, for any open role that they refer a candidate to (not just tech and not just senior-level roles), and incentivizing the referral or other milestones, not just the long-term completed hire (which can seem too far out of reach). Keep the process for entry streamlined so that your referring employees can easily check their candidate’s status, and to make tracking clean for you (not to mention saving your inbox from emails like “Has my buddy Pete set up his interview yet?”). Encouraging employees to refer through your existing ATS platform (like Greenhouse) will keep things clean and tidy.

2. Make the program social

Once you have the mechanics down, it’s time to start spreading the word. And beyond crafting a simple and memorable call to action, the incentive itself can also get people talking.

Here are tips for a program that’s as sociable as your favorite office manager:

Announce the program during high-energy team gatherings, like all-hands meetings or Friday happy hours. This allows for the program to be nested around other exciting news and leverages chit-chat time among employees as they make their way back to their desks. Equip employees with suggested social posts they can leverage for spreading the word.

And beyond in-person launches, it’s important to have continued follow-up through channels like ongoing inter-office email communications, lunch and learns, or staffed info tables set up in your shared cafe space or popular common areas.

And lastly, support from executives can go a long way—invite your co-founder, general manager, or VP of People to share a personal office-wide email announcing the program and reiterating the value employee referrals bring. This shows the company that everyone—even those high up the chain—are contributing to the shared greater cause.

The incentive itself can also be sociable. You might be rewarding referrals with cash incentives, company swag, or gift cards. These are all nice gifts, but are they getting people talking? 

Here’s a quick win from one of our favorite customers who was also recently recognized as a Bay Area Best Place to Work. Our customer launched a 5-month referral contest inviting all employees to refer new candidates into their pipeline, with a goal of growing their percentage of new hires through referrals (pre-contest, the channel made up just 18% of all hires). 

To encourage referral volume, they promoted an internal leaderboard of employees who had referred the most new candidates within each month of the contest, as well as the overall referral leader. Each monthly winner received a Blueboard Ivory reward, good for their choice of over 300 custom experiences

The first winner chose to go skydiving for the first time in his hometown of Dublin, Ireland and came home with an awesome video capturing his experience. 

The recruiting team was able to leverage this video collateral (as well as photo and video assets from the additional monthly winners) to continue to hype up the referral program and build internal buzz. By contest end, they had brought in over 700 new candidate referrals and grew their overall percentage of hires from referrals to 25%.

3. Celebrate your results

Whether you have a grand finale contest finish or an ongoing evergreen program, it’s important to celebrate the results your squad has delivered to continue volume momentum and excitement.

Here are tips for celebrating your program like you did when leadership announced Work From Home Wednesdays:

Start with transparent communication. Whether through an internal webpage or old school poster board, showcase the number of new referrals and how many have been successfully hired, to bring the effort and numbers to life in real-time. If you don’t hit your numbers at first, it’s okay. Studies show that honest communication around failure in the workplace only builds trust and helps to rally the troops.

Next, celebration! If you’re hosting a contest, show off that leaderboard or running list of contest winners to build excitement and a healthy dose of competition. Announce winners through company channels (all-hands meetings or a dedicated Slack channel) where they can feel the full, warm hug of verbal recognition. And don’t forget to connect the dots once these referred hires join the team. If you have a habit of company-wide announcements to announce new hires as part of your onboarding program, be sure to mention which employee helped to refer them, or even let them be part of the introduction with the new hire’s manager.

Feeling energized and ready to start growing your referrals pipeline (or maybe first you need another one of those lattes)?  We hope so! And if you’re running a rockstar referrals program of your very own, we’d love to hear your personal best practices in the comments below.

Looking for even more tips on building out a better employee referral program? Download our eBook on the topic by clicking the button below!

How to Build a Strong Employee Referral Program
Morgan Chaney Headshot

Morgan Chaney is Head of Marketing at Blueboard, an experiential employee rewards platform for the modern workplace. Living Blueboard’s mantra of adventure and exploration, when not at work leading marketing and content strategy, you’ll find Morgan photographing wildlife, practicando su español, or trying her hand at watercolors. Connect with Morgan on LinkedIn.

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Referral Programs