Effective Employee Referral process: How to be successful

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Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends. – Walt Disney

One of the best tools for talent acquisition in any company is the employee referral process. Research suggests that the employee referrals are and remain top hires among many sources and with good reason. They prove to have the best ROI, are cost-effective and bring similar persona to an employee who recommended them. Setting up a referral process isn’t that hard in terms that there are many complex steps to implement it but what is a bit harder is to motivate the engagement from your employees to respond. Dean is a recruitment specialist and has been looking for a good candidate for a few weeks now. His company has an employee referral process in place but the employees rarely use it because the internal communication isn’t effective enough to provide good enough guidelines on how to use it and to make matters worse, the process isn’t that user-friendly either. Employees know that and that’s why they rarely bother to even respond to emails they get regarding internal vacancies. One day, Dean’s colleague Leon from a different department sat with him for lunch. In the midst of the conversation, Dean finds out that Leon has a potential candidate for the position he’s currently working on. After asking him why he didn’t respond according to process in order to recommend that candidate, Leon told him that he didn’t exactly know how to use it and even when he did, he would encounter some kind of glitch in the software which didn’t let him go forward. On top of that, sending one email in the period of one month is seriously lacking on the HR department’s part because people are forgetful and constant reminder is a must.

In the above scenario a company might as well not have an employee referral process because implementing it is one thing but how to effectively use it is something else entirely. Proper technical usage and good communication are essential if we’re to achieve maximum benefit from our employees for the entire business. How do we proceed from scratch?

employee referral process
Communication channels.

Focus on simple

The first thing to have in mind is that any kind of referral process should be as less painful as possible. Engaging people today has become a bit harder because of the rapid technology growth, evolution of social media, a multitude of information coming from different places at the same time and a lot more which caused a bit of an attention span problem, especially among newer generations. This isn’t to say that it makes them look bad, just that companies have to adapt their behavior and in turn their process if they want it to be effective. What this all means is that the process should have a couple of different easy steps with simple guidelines. Let’s say a company is accepting referrals for managerial positions and that the reward is a certain monetary sum after 6 months of working for the company. If you don’t have any software through which you can track referral data, you can do so just by making an excel sheet. The point of origin can be an email in which the referrer has to state the name, the position and the referrals’ CV in order for it to be legit. That’s it, no more, no less.

The rules also don’t have to be too strict either. For this scenario, you can have a rule which states that the referrals would be accepted only through an email channel and that they have to work for 6 months until you can receive the reward. This sounds simple enough for employees to engage easier because it doesn’t look like that much of a hassle and it doesn’t require any kind of software.

If there is a way to make it more interesting, companies could play around with the reward system. A monetary reward is probably the most popular one but if they can throw in some kind of incentive like an organized trip somewhere, a mobile phone as a gift or something similar, all the more reason for employees to be motivated.

Communication options.

Effective communication

Once a company has a process in place, the final thing to keep an eye on is how they communicate it to employees. If the employee referral process is simple, the explanation on how to utilize it should also be simple. A good email should be constructed which explains in steps the whole process from start to finish. A good idea would be to create some form of info graphic to make it more interactive and user-friendly. The simpler it is, the more chances an employee will react to it. This is why gamification of the process became so popular nowadays. All the information about the reward system and rules should be in there, along with the fact that they can ask you anything if needed, motivating more engagement in the employee referral process.

One of the more important aspects here is how much you actually send that info towards employees. If a company is really stuck with a certain position, sending an email once a week to remind them isn’t that much big of a deal. Remember that attention span we mentioned earlier.


Being the best source of talent, this is an important HR aspect. If a company has an employee referral process in place, they have to make sure they’re using it to its full potential. Just having a process and letting chips fall where they may isn’t enough anymore. Going the extra mile is adapting the process to the needs of target employees in terms of simplicity, reward demand and effective communication. There is also a key to hidden cost here which we didn’t discuss but is equally important (covering it in a different article). A good emoloyee referral process will almost guarantee acquiring top talent on the market today. If you have any other take on effectiveness of the referral system, please be sure to let me know in the comments!

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