Making employee referral programmes work for you

There comes a time in the life of every team or company when it realises that one of its best potential sources of quality recruits is its own people.

The idea is that the referrer will, to some extent, pre-select potential hires on the basis of their own working experience, the characteristics that have made themselves successful in the workplace, and have built a network of relevant contacts to exploit.

It makes a lot of sense because, after all, the immediate potential benefit is that of more candidates through the door or even more effective recruitment.

And the further good news is that, because of this pre-selection, employers are thought to be around three times more likely to hire an employee-referred candidate than one sourced through other channels.

Clarity and consistency

So, in theory, a referral program should be producing a stream of great candidates at all levels pre-selected by people that know your company very well. Good people get hired, great employees get rewarded and are motivated to seek out more candidates.

A virtuous circle. What could possibly go wrong?

The bad news is that it’s often the case that soon after the announcement of such `initiatives` the number and quality of referrals tail off rapidly.

That’s because referral programmes are often ill thought through and executed. Like any other business activity, to be successful, they need clarity in their conception and consistency in their management.

So, how can you make sure that your employee referral program gets off to a good start and continues to work for you? Here are a few pointers to keep it delivering.


Referral programmes are continuous

Particularly given that most companies bemoan the ongoing lack of talent and expertise available in the jobs market, employee referral isn’t something you should turn on and off.

If you use your referral program only when you have a position open it goes stale and disrupts your team’s focus and drive to find fresh talent.

Think of it as a relentless process by which the success of your company or team is constantly and effectively marketed onto the talent pool which, of course, includes the positive effect on your current employees.


The why, what and how

But simply exhorting your team to `send us more referrals` over and over again is unlikely to inspire action or excitement. If you want those employees to seek out the best talent you need to continually engage and make it easy for them.

Be explicit about what’s wanted and help your people `sell`. Give your team the tools to explain your culture and brand to outsiders and the do’s and don’ts that govern that process.

To do this you could run a short workshop to go through support materials and sources and go over the whywhat and how of engaging potential referrals. Use this to develop a sense of pride based on belief and responsibility in your team.

At least supply a clear, understandable job description – one that’s easy to cut and paste into email.


Be proactive

This approach is important because your system should keep recruitment top of mind in employees but ensure individuals in your team have the time and creativity to focus on and personalise the referral process.

For instance, no employee should have to search your job listings for open opportunities they can aim to fill with talent. Push the information to your people. Let them know why you are recruiting and what you are recruiting for using company emails or social media-based systems.


Candidate care

All candidates are important and deserve careful handling, but never forget that because you have an employee’s reputation riding on the referral recruitment process you should take special care of it. If it’s a bad experience for the referred candidate that’s a surefire way never to get another recommendation from their referrer.

It doesn’t take much to make a massive difference. Ensure the candidate’s journey through the hiring process is particularly smooth and that HR is ready and able to offer both referrers and those they identify an exceptional experience.

Make sure there are no communications `black holes`. The aim is to create a flawless process that’s timely and reinforces the corporate brand values to both parties.

For instance, ensure that communication is prompt, clear and courteous with HR – or whoever is managing the interview process – keeping the referrer informed at all times about the progress of the interview process. Ensure the referrer is aware of when their candidate is likely to be in the building, so that they may welcome them or catch up after meetings.


Reward for success

Make sure everyone is aware of and has an equal opportunity to contribute. Not only to buy into but to benefit from the recruitment process.

But if your employees receive a cash or in-kind bonus for each successful referral then make sure they understand it’s linked to an employee that is hired and develops successfully.

That means an initial payment or benefit should only be released when the new hire arrives for work and the remainder of the payment when they pass their probation. If the candidate doesn’t exit probation, then no second payment applies.

This decreases your financial risk as an employer. It also further anchors the referrer to the responsibility that they have to themselves and the business to focus on securing quality talent. Certainly not to succumb to the temptation to foist on the recruitment process their jobless or underachieving mates or anyone they happen to meet that looks like they might be a likely candidate!


Quality is all

Finally, it’s crucial for management to retain the right of refusal over referred candidate CVs.

To ensure that this is a rarity and doesn’t serve to demotivate, constantly educate your team as to what constitutes a ‘quality hire` and use examples of success in that respect.

Be sure, as part of this process, to give them feedback on the standard of referrals they provide you with; at the CV stage, and as they go through the interview process – whether they succeed or not.


You get out what you put in

So you really do get out what you put in when it comes to a referral programme.

Give it the time, effort and commitment it demands and you’ll not only increase your talent pipeline and secure the best candidates but you’ll develop a powerful tool for developing loyalty, pride, responsibility and brand understanding in your people.

Written by FDIN advisory panel Partner, Jonathan Simnett of Big Stick

FDIN Jobs is the career development portal for The Food & Drink Innovation Network - the UK's community for successful innovation professionals.

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Views: 254

Comment by Katrina Kibben on January 6, 2016 at 9:41am

Are there any example referral programs you thought were well executed? 


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