Get Employee Referral Results Without the Referral

Employee referrals are arguably the most effective way for companies today to recruit.  Here are the stats:

#1 in quality of applicants

#1 best source of above average applicants

#1 in retention within the 1st year and beyond


What can we learn from the success of referrals to make all of our recruiting efforts better?

The premise of the great employee referral is simple – you like the people you have working for you now, so you want to hire more like them.  Not necessarily creating a homogenous workplace devoid of diversity, but certainly a team that shares similar values, work ethic and passion for the company.  The easiest way to work the odds is to hire the friends, classmates and previous colleagues of your best people.   Great humans know other great humans.

3 important things happen with a good referral program:

  1. Your employees will do the screening for you, only referring people who they like and trust – people who they think will make them look good.  They’ll instinctively refer people with the right ‘fit’ for your team.
  2. Your employees have pre-sold the job and have probably prepped candidates for the interview.  So you start the process with a candidate who is pumped up about the job and who has extra insight into the organization, the hiring manager and the role.
  3. The referred candidates end up, no doubt, on the top of your stack of resumes and are fast tracked into the process.  They are treated with extra care and probably have a better overall candidate experience.


The bad news is that you can’t rely exclusively on employee referrals to fill every open role on your team.  The good news is you CAN get the same results, even when your candidates come from other sources.  Here’s how:

1. Discover the human behind the resume

Odds are, meeting an actual live candidate to determine ‘fit’ is only done after you’ve sorted resumes by education, technical skills and other magical ways of turning a big anonymous list of applicants into a managable group.  While your employees are thinking about fit from the start, your traditional resume gathering and screening tactics rarely go past the cold hard facts on a resume.  At the extreme, big companies will use software to further de-humanize the process, turning a candidate into a few dozen fact-based points on an application form and a file attachment.

Granted, interviews take time so you ideally want to meet just a few people and then make a decision.  But if you’ve only looked at a resumes, or worse yet done a keyword scan, you’ve certainly missed some great humans who could make difference on your team.

To get better insight, try this:

  • Take the time to look at your best people and understand what values, characteristics and attributes are common and how they make your company great.
  • Find ways to ask revealing questions to uncover ‘who’ the candidate really is at the beginning of the process
  • Look at other sources of insight, like LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs etc.
  • Expand your ‘employee referral’ network to partners, suppliers and customers and make sure they know what human qualities you are looking for


2. Prep and Pizzaz

Enable your candidates to put their best foot forward by arming them with as much information as possible prior to the interview.  They will be impressed and will be able to better provide you with the information you need to determine whether they are the right hire.  It is easier than you think, and it really doesn’t give anyone an unfair leg-up.

  • Send your candidate a list of people who are going to be involved in the hiring process and links to their LinkedIn profiles.
  • Share relevant press releases or links to parts of your website that are particularly relevant to the role.  This is an easy email to prepare and can be used again and again.
  • At later stages in the process, connect the potential hire to someone in the company who would be a peer, so that they can have a candid conversation about the culture and the daily work
  • Make sure your job description is not just a shopping list of skills.  Tell candidates about the role, the company and build in some excitement.  Then describe the type of person who would be most successful in the role, so that your candidates can see themselves in the role.


3. Treat every hire as a strategic hire and every candidate as your next top performer

This may sound like more work than necessary for some hires, but every great employee has a story of a job they didn’t take because of a bad recruitment experience.

  • Provide timely and personal feedback after each meeting
  • Aim to progress candidates as quickly as possible through the process, so that they see that the role is an important hire, that the manager is decisive and that the company is indeed moving and growing quickly
  • Be respectful of a candidate’s time and effort in the process and avoid last minute cancellations, unprepared interviewers and ambiguity about next steps


So really, why are employee referrals better hires?  Because they are always better candidates, or do better results come from a hiring process that starts with an assessment of human factors like fit and values vs the dry facts on a resume?  If we do a better job of helping our candidates prepare for an interview, will we have better results?  And if we treat our candidates with more care during the hiring process, do our employee relationships have a stronger start?  I believe that these answer to all of these questions is a resounding Yes!

Please comment with your feedback and with more tips and ideas!

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