In his book Socialnomics, Erik Qualman highlights how, in this social media era   

we currently find ourselves, word-of-mouth has gone world-of-mouth.  As in consumer marketing, you can advertise until you’re blue in the face but the fact of the matter is people are more likely to react to a call-to-action if they receive it from a trusted source such as friend, family member or close colleague etc

The same principle can be applied to recruitment.  Today, the temptation is to get entirely caught up in the social media recruitment frenzy that’s doing the rounds.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive believer in SM + Recruitment = incredible results (and I’m sure I’ll be dedicating blog space to it over the coming months) but for the time-being I want to focus on another “social” way of driving candidates to your company. 

Before going out and spending a budget on researching and implementing a social media recruitment strategy lets remember an old, trusted, and in my opinion, often forgotten compadre of ours – the in-house referral scheme. Commonly known in many quarters as refer-a-friend.


When it comes to a recruitment sourcing strategy it makes sense to start by drawing on the resources already at your disposal. When hunting for the talent needles in the candidate haystacks some forget to start simply by getting their existing employees to do some of the work for them?  There must be people in your departments who are linked to networks, groups, alumni’s etc who would be more than happy to reach out to their connections and sell the benefits and culture of working in your organisation.  A word of warning though.  Keep your referral programme as simple as possible for employees to get on board with.

I am a big fan of simple & effective (it probably best describes my personality…  Or is that, “ineffective”?)… anyway.  If it’s too bureaucratic people will simply loose interest.  As a potential referrer could you be bothered if it meant reams of arduous form filling and numerous hoops to jump through?

Ask yourself this, “what am I trying to achieve with my referral scheme?”.  For me it’s basically a case of driving quality traffic to help build talent pools for each function within the organisation.

When I was in charge of re-launching a referral scheme in a head-office environment consisting of 200-250 employees I made the referring process a 3 step process.  It was quite powerful to say, “look guys, all you need to do is:

  1. Speak to your friend, contact or relative etc and get their CV.
  2. Ask for your friend’s / acquaintance’s consent for you to pass on their details to me and be contacted.
  3. I’ll do the rest.”

There was no form filling or admin on behalf of the person making the referral other than emailing me the details of their recommendation.

I accept if you’re launching a scheme to a larger population and you’re working across multiple sites more processes and controls may be required but don’t make an industry out of it.

Be sure to keep the referrers experience front of mind at all times.  For me, does it matter if they haven’t done a massive sales pitch on their referral?  No, that’s a recruiters job when they engage with the friend.  Do I want the referrer to fill out forms detailing why they’re recommending the person and provide me with a behavioural profile, DNA swabs, inside leg measurements etc…  Again, nope.  let the recruitment team do that.

Obviously you need some rules in place.  You’ll have your own but as an example:

  • You can’t refer anyone who has left the organisation within the last ??? years.
  • The referral has to complete their probationary period before rewards are paid out.
  • If you are dismissed / leave the business within this time you forfeit your reward.
  • Retrospective referrals will not be accepted.
  • Etc etc

Whatever you do make the process as simple as possible and don’t apply 100+1 clauses in the small print.  After all, you want people to refer future talent to your recruitment pipeline.  Don’t make it a complete mission for them to do so.

I’m in the process of typing up another post outlining  a re-launch of a referral scheme I led.   It will detail the research carried out through to launch and successful recommendations made.  The intention is it will assist anyone looking to launch / re-launch their own refer-a-friend programme in the near future and throw up some considerations you may not otherwise think of.

You lucky lucky people.  I bet you can’t wait… Oh… You can.


Hungry for more?  Check me out at - training and coaching through recruitment complexities.  Follow on Twitter @TRecKnowledgy


Thanks for your time.

Views: 293

Comment by Sandra McCartt on March 26, 2011 at 12:51am


One of the most "readable" and enjoyable articles i have read in a long while.  I can't wait..well let's say i look forward to the next one.  thanks for good info.

Comment by Ben on March 26, 2011 at 8:51am

Thanks Sandra.  


Always appreciate the feedback.  It's even better when it's positive!  


Look our for more posts in the near future.  Or, if you just can't contain you're excitement and have a burning, uncontrollable urge to see what may be coming next pop over to my official blog at and feast at my table of blog :o)


Kind regards



Comment by C. B. Stalling!! on March 28, 2011 at 8:49am
As I have said many time on this site. SM is one tool. ( take it or leave it.) Pick up the phone and call a candidate to set up an interview..
Comment by Valentino Martinez on March 30, 2011 at 3:00am
Comment by Valentino Martinez on March 30, 2011 at 3:01am



You’re quite right about Employee Referral Programs (ERPs) and their potential to be a great benefit to an employer if the ERPs are quality oriented, made simple and judged beneficial by all participants.  Established rules to follow are important but have to be adhered to otherwise problems will occur.  Your appreciation for keeping it simple is important, but you also have to keep it effective.


I also ran and ERP for a much larger organization and benchmarked ERPS with the competition within the aerospace industry.  I found many of them to be lacking in terms of resolving challenges, keeping the process efficient and getting good results.  ERPs have great value when they leverage the employee network for recruitment purposes, but only when their efforts don’t detract from an employee’s fulltime job; do attract highly qualified/quality candidates; and do not create more problems than they bring benefits.


Plus factors can be:  “someone we know, knows and recommends you”—that qualifies as a positive reference check, right?  Then there is cost savings, maybe; quality results—and hopefully; time efficiencies.


Negative factors:  can promote and solidify the good old boy network for filling positions.  Hiring then embraces discriminatory hiring practices.  Example, some ERPs can take a life of their own when some employees can/will “push” (attempt to influence) hiring managers to hire their referral—in-house advantages give employees direct access to hiring managers—which can be good and bad


Also, monetary incentives can cause unfriendly competition among employees, e.g., more than one employees claiming same referral and issuing a challenge; which can lead to lawsuits or threat of lawsuits by unhappy campers--can/do result.  Employees can become so focused on earning placement incentive fees at the expense of not doing their full-time job. ERPs can also present a limited candidate population and can actually lower quality results rather than improve them.  Non-diverse organizations can continue to replicate themselves if employees choose not to pursue better diversity outcomes—and once a hire is made that opportunity to make a quality or diversity difference goes back to square-one.


So Chris—I do recommend ERPs but warn of the extra workload and lurking problems if you’re not prepared to manage it with strict adherence to operating rules.  I also recommend against monetary awards because it motivates the wrong incentive in a human being—greed.  Rather, I recommend “creative recognition” which eliminates most of the negative fallout that can occur --mentioned earlier.  I ran an effective ERP over a six year period with no monetary incentives against very aggressive competitors in the aerospace industry.  Some 8-10 competitors offered cash incentives, gold ingots, vacation travel, televisions, watches, etc.  My logic?  Appeal to a person’s pride in their job, the people they work with and for.  Promote job/company pride and ownership rather than greed.  Sure, surveys say employees want pay incentives or they won’t play.  I beg to differ.  employees value recognition done right over monetary incentives.  I want to know an employee values the company enough to highly recommend someone that is a reflection of the employee’s values and loyalty to the company,  I know a mercenary will also bring in a candidate—a placement that will get them paid.  So are pride, ownership and company loyalty the drivers?  Or is it greed and a payoff incentive to the highest bidder that is the true motivator?     

Comment by Ben on March 30, 2011 at 3:43am

Hi Valentino


Thank you for your comments.  You make some excellent points.


I totally agree that, done incorrectly, offering incentives can generate the mercenary behaviours you refer to.  Although I would add that done correctly a token of appreciation / recognition can be a great motivator. 


Maybe I’m over cynical but a lot of people will ask the question, "what's in it for me".  I'm not saying offer fortunes beyond people’s wildest dreams for making recommendations but a small token goes a long way.


You make an excellent consideration when it comes to the potential of the double submission / multi-representation - I've never experienced this in an ERP but coincidentally, I've just published a post about one potential way of resolving this situation when working with agencies / consultancies.

Kind regards


On a side note, my name is Ben.  Honestly, no offence taken, I'm really not that precious. In fact I quite like the name Chris, but I’m not sure my mother would be too please if a changed the name she gave me at birth ;o)


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