Employee Referral Program Best Practices

I recently wrote a post about fixing your employee referral program.

Well, those of you in the know, know that Dr. John Sullivan is kind of "the man" on this stuff. He wrote a couple pieces on ERE.net a while ago that capture the range of best practices around employee referral programs. You need to read these if you're serious about referrals.

Below I've clipped out some highlights but you really should go read the whole thing:

The Complete List of Employee Referral Program Best Practices (Part 1 of 2)


Do-it-for-the-team should be the primary motivator - instill in your employees that the primary reason that they should refer people is because the team wins “when it has the best players.” It is a superior motivator over monetary rewards, because it turns referrals into an opportunity to provide their teammates and themselves with the very best coworkers. By emphasizing the superior capability of employees to make contacts, to build relationships, and to assess potential candidates, you can educate your employees about the critical role that only they can play in filling the team with top performers and innovators (Accenture, Google, & Cisco).

Prioritize your jobs — referral programs that focus their resources on attracting top talent, game-changers, and innovators produce the highest ROI. The best programs do not cover all jobs and instead prioritize high-impact and hard-to-fill jobs. Don’t waste employee time and burden your program’s administration with “junk referrals” and referrals for jobs that can be adequately filled through normal sources (Aricent).

Settle for names only — often top employees do not have the time to thoroughly research and to capture a resume from a hot prospect. Consider offering a small reward (up to $100) for simply providing the names of obviously qualified candidates. In some cases, top employees are willing to provide names only without any bonus. In these cases, regular recruiters can pick up the follow-up and the prospect selling (Children’s Hospital & Google)..

The Complete List of Employee Referral Program Best Practices (Part 2 of 2)


Reference referrals – this approach emphasizes approaching the top references of last year’s top hires as referral sources. They are thanked for their helpful reference and asked if they “know anyone else equally as qualified.”

Onboarding referrals — make it a regular part of onboarding to highlight the employee referral program and to provide new hires with a referral information kit. Also make them aware that you have a recruiting culture and that they are expected to continually provide referrals. Each new hire should be asked to immediately provide top referrals from their former firm. (Aricent & Eli Lily)

Referral Program Killers To Avoid
Delaying the reward/bonus payment for three to six months
Failing to periodically re-energize the ERP
Equal rewards for all jobs
Not tracking referral rates by manager
Too many rules and restrictions

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Referral Programs