There has been a few posts recently on refferal recruiting, and whether technology and employer branding initiatives will make every employee a recruiter for the company.That's not a view I hold. The best people to recruit are recruiters, Their job is to identify the best candidates for a post, manage the hiring manager and both sides of the process and close all parties down to a decision.It is a paticular skill set that is still quite hard to come by, in my opinion.

Where all employees can play a very active part however, is in talent attraction. Feeding recruiting teams with candidates to review, and helping with the introduction. Technology can play a big part in this.

I recently wrote a "long" paper on this, followed by a blog post, which I thought was worth sharing again for anyone interested in this area. I don't work for anyof the products mentioned, and the list is by no means complete. I have included those products I have hands on experience of. I'm sure other products can also do a great job.


Warning: It's a long post. if this is not an area of interest, quit now.


I've been involved in implementing social referral programs for the last 7 - 9 months, and they are proving very effective. The principle is simple, each employee has an average of 125 Facebook friends and 220 LinkedIn connections, (less the 20% cross-over), theres significant reach across combined employee networks. The relevance of these networks also makes for a greater potential for success. Most people's networks across these social channels consist of family (less likely to be relevant), then school/college alumni, many with similar academic backgrounds, former colleagues, similar business contacts, people located close to the employer/employee and other industry contacts. When you combine this reach and relevance it's a really attractive proposition for recruiting teams.

 One of the new features of the Work4Labs referral application that really works for me is that recruiters get notifications of those employees who have matches for jobs without giving the detail of the match, names etc. This enables the recruiter to see where they should be focussing internal relationships and referral partnerships. If you work in the sales team and have matches in your network, it's a great time to have a coffee and a conversation about how we can work together to strengthen the team.The key here being that the recruiter can influence the referral program (and it's outcomes), while leaving the network and the message firmly with the employee who has invested time building the connections.

The 3 referral products that I'm very familiar with are wok4labs, Bullhorn Reach and SocialCruiter.Whilst the first two allow Facebook sharing to all, both have the functionality for targeted shares via private messages in FB. One of the key benefits of 2 of these, Work4Labs and Bullhorn Reach, are that they are opt in, and users signing up in to the referral program can choose the frequency and channel for messaging.

If you are messaging all employees or contacts to ask if they know any referrals regardless of who is in their network, then this quickly becomes spam, by allowing the user to dictate how they want to receive messages you keep them happy, engaged and in control.

The real  confusion for people is over the term referral. I think most social recruiting products have seen the need to move away from the broadcast approach to the targeted approach after negative user feedback. The new referral tools are clever in the way they work, the trick is in how you market this internally, the big step being getting trust to access their networks.You also need to reassure staff that they control the message (not you), who they send it to and what it says, and that you wont retain any contact details in a database.

The other challenge is getting recruiters to understand that a social referral is not a recommendation in the old way. It's an introduction to a profile/job match. the referral data quoted by many refers to old school recommendations where one person knows another and feels there is a real fit. you need to overcome this perception to make referral programmes work. The exception to this is the soon to be launched SocialCruiter from Michelle Rea's company SocialHonesty, which helps promote internal referral networks  through recruiter/employee partnerships. This emphasis on genuine recommendation over social referral, whilst lacking the volume of reach, promises better conversion ratios because of the concentration on known matches. You need to weigh up what you want, social refferal or recommendation. Both has a place according to the volume of hiring you need to do.

Interestingly, offering cash rewards for referrals hired are proving to be a real negative. it seems people don't like to feel they are selling their friends/contacts. What works best are initiatives like i-pad competitions. Art Papas, CEO of Bullhorn Reach commented that when they offered an i-pad for a week-long referral competition, he wondered if anyone had done any work such was the volume of referrals. I have heard similar storys from larger corporate companies who have been looking at why what looks like a tempting cash referral program just doesn't return the numbers. I was lucky enough to visit Rackspace at San Antonio for #TNL, and the work Michael Long is doing on global culture branding is really outstanding. 100's of different Rackspace branded T-shirts with appropriate slogans adorn the walls and are proudly worn by the staff around the building. It's small things like this that make the difference between employer branding and what I call employer blanding. (Copying what everyone else is doing and turning out all the same.). One of these shirts that really stood out for me was one with the slogan on the frount: "It takes one to know one!" and on the back, "Certified Rackspace Referrer.". Winning shirts that denoted Certified Racker Referrer were highly prized.

I've used a similar tactic and those without shirts do all they can to make referrals and join the club! Long has gone much further in developing this concept. Theres a Racker referral charter that goes around through all internal comms and a most wanted list (along with posters), to remind the employees the talent they want to connect with through referrals.

As a note of caution, even if the rewards are"token" with little value, if people feel cheated they will stop referring and start complaining.I've seen more people complaining over referral rewards than anything else. Make the way in which points are awarded very clear, communicate them early and make sure they are very visible in all communications.

One big area you need to consider before launching a referral campaign is the rules of ownership of referrals. If the candidates are already in your ATS, what happens? If more than one employee sends a link to the same candidate, who owns that application? Consider all the variables that can cause conflict and they probably will. Success comes from transparency and clarity. One of the benefits you get from using the applications listed is that the original message to connect the contact with the job or intro can be tracked via a unique URL or reference. Applying these references to the stage of the introduction process makes automated tracking, scoring and reward via your ATS quite simple. What I have been finding is that by applying a rule of "ownership" to the Another potential development to consider is internal mobility via referral.

I know from the time I've spent with Arie Ball at Sodexo that internal mobility represent 10% of their current management hires. Sodexo have had to work hard on developing a culture where active internal sourcing was possible and accepted. If you consider the potential for an internal referral program where colleagues can refer colleagues for jobs, and priority is given to these referrals as the relationship goes beyond the social connection with current working knowledge. Using the Sodexo recruiting model, the sameprinciple can be applied to the group Sodexo refer to as reconexions, former employees who have left the organisation. Former colleagues can use the referral messaging technology to identify jobs former colleagues may be suitable for, and sendpersonal messages. Reconnexions represent 15% of Sodexo's management hires.The introduction of a referal program in this area would only serve to increase this %, again based on pre-established relationships. When you know somone, yourmore likely to open their message, consider it and respond. Thisis a great model for other businesses to consider implementing.

Matthew Jefferey of Autodesk wrote recently in his excellent post, recruitment 4.0 that the future of recruiting, along with manyother points, lies in an organisations capability to crowd source and gain internal and external referrals. These referral applications take the hard work out of the matching, stretching reach beyond memory. The key factor here is that the technology makes referrals quick and simple to effect, critical when you consider the time pressures employees are under. While Matthew's post might seem a pipe dream, with the technology, reach and creating a referral culture, it is not inconceivable that all sourcing and hiring can go this way.

I recently spoke with Quezia Soares, the Recruiting Marketing Manager at Accenture in the UK, about how they are implementing their referral program. Accenture are looking beyond their employees for social referrals, opening their referral program to external contacts who are connected with any of the Accenture talent communities.When you consider the volume of contacts who belong to these networks, then you're talking significant reach. Incorporate the right recognition and reward program for external as well as internal contacts and you expand the potential to fill your requirements quickly. In a recent post I wrote about predictive internet behaviours of people when they are preparing to move from passive to active job seeker, and how the radar application within Bullhorn Reach currently does this with great accuracy with LinkedIn, and will soon incorporate channels like Facebook, Twitter, possibly even Google. Bullhorn reach have recently launched a refferal application that works in much the same way to those described, scanning the same channels. If you can combine Radar across all employee's networks, matching contacts at this critical stage as they are preparing to enter the job market with open requirements, and make it easy for employees to send relevent jobs with a personalised, private message, then you could be on to something really effective.

One of the interesting aspects of the referral application that is soon going to be piloted in Monsters BeKnown application is a public referral area. This enables recruiters to offer rewards for referrals and promote the opening associated with it. Once registered for the referral, 6th Sense, Monsters matching software scans the profiles of their network making suggestions on matches. What I really like about BeKnown is that the profiles are built on combined skills over job titles.This feature combined with geolocational matching of user profiles will, I'm sure, produce different results to the standard matching and opens another referral avenue for recruiters. The removal of the LinkedIn API from BeKnown will have some impact on reach, but the Monster network, as well as the users FaceBook connections makes for pretty big potential reach.

Another byproduct of increased referral recruiting is going to be the candidate experience. When your employees or contacts are making referrals to you, they expect you to treat them properly, in a timely way with accurate feedback. If any of these areas are poor, then the referral program will fall down. People will always go back to their original introducer if they are not hearing back or feel badly treated. Before going down the route of implementing a referral program, employers need to get the infastructure in place to manage this candidate flow and make sure they are being looked after, fail in this and the referrals dry up.This need for real candidate attention will have a big impact on moving the candidate experience in the right direction. The recruiters pledge to employees or contacts needs to be that whoever they introduce to the process will be taken care of, and won't be going back to them for anything other than thanks! To cope with the volume of referrals and the level of care needed for these candidates, it is realistic to look at redeploying resourcers from sourcing to candidate care, managing the process and acting as the filter to manage the transition from referral to candidate and beyond.

Your employees will do the sourcing for you in an effective way!Due to time pressures, recruiters will always prioritise clear matches, with those who don't fit current requirment falling between the gaps without feedback. Using resourcers in this way means that the referrrals can be prioritised, directed to the best recruiter for them, or given feedback to keep them happy. The only thing to consider here is that even the best automated matching technology is no more than 70% accurate, although the vendors would probably claim better. The "magic" hires tend to be in the grey rather than the black and white matching that comes with automation. You can never automate the sourcers ability to know what'snot included in a profile that you can make an informed assumption that it is probably there. You can also never automate recruiters gut feel, when you know personality or culture feel will more than make up for a lack of skill or experience. However successful the automated match and referral process may prove, always ensure you keep human elements in the process.

The other consideration is the potential impact of mobile on the process. I have been speaking with Chris Bradshaw at Allthetopbanas, the all round mobile guys around where mobile can fitin with refferal. Its well documented that 55% of socialmedia content is posted by mobile. we also know, as has been discussed in previous blog posts that visits to social places and career sites rise significantly at the down times in the day. This is usually between 7.45 and 9.00 a.m, 10.50 - 11.10 am, 11.40 - 2.10 p.m, and 4.50 - 9.05 p.m. This is the times when people are commuting or on breaksand "browsing" the internet during their down time. This impacts on when we should be live in the social channels to respond to requests or conversation. From a referral point of view, adding mobile capability either through a dedicated referral app or incorporating referral functions in to your internal communications app. By keeping the functions simple, enabling matches to be pushed out to employees who have opted in to your referral scheme,and for them to send messages and introductions simply from mobile devices, i'm confident that this could play a key part in driving social referrals.

At #TruBoston, Mike Vangel, the VP for Client Talent Acquisition Strategy at TMP, gave me access to the data from the succesful social recruiting campaign he put together for UPS. What was really interesting about this story was that by far the most succesful method of communication was via text. Text had by far the highest open rate and response. I accept that this was effected by the high volume of hourlypaid staff recruited on a seasonal basis, but theres no rule that referral can't apply at every level. Because of the personal nature of text, it needs to be opt in. This leads me to think that when the first referral message is sent, the recipient should have the function to elect to receive further updates by text. By the same token, users of the referral scheme amongst employees should also have the option to receive notifications and communication by text. Put the power to the user to choose how they want to be communicated with, where and when! We don't have enough data yet to know the effectivness of social referral programs, the referral data often quoted really relates to traditional referrals: i:e: Recomendations basedon previous relationship and experience.

We do however have the right conditions to confidently predict that social referrals will become a main source of hire by the early part of 2012 for corporate recruiters. The technology makes it quick and simple. the employees have the networks, which when combined, offer unprecedented targeted reach. We understand enough about the recruiting infastructure needed tomake a referral program work,and we are begining to learn what rewards and recognition employees want to make referrals work. While it can be argued that in many cases we don't have Recruiter 1.0 yet, with these considerations Matthew Jefferey's vision outlined in Recruitment 4.o with reguards referrals are a distinct possibility sooner rather than later!

Those recruiters who have been around a few years have always worked on referrals from well established networks, that take years to build.These will never be replaced by technology based referrals or social networks. You can never under value these relationships, and the matching that comes with it. Whatever Jefferey says, these recruiters will always be in demand.  Those recruiters however, who have relied on post andpray, workingon a more transactional basis, may well be in for a shock.


Views: 2347

Comment by Noel Cocca on September 24, 2011 at 10:05pm
Thanks Bill, great information here.
Comment by Francois Guay on September 26, 2011 at 6:44am



Great article. I am a great proponent of referral and social networks. I am in agreement with you that recruiters will always be necessary in the ERP process, although less recruiters will be required as the tools catch up to vision. Referral networks will get even bigger in the coming years once social media networks start building more business social networking tools on their platforms. As more of the business community see the value of using social media within their profession, referral networks will grow even bigger and allow corporations to leverage them even more.

Comment by Kirby Cole on September 26, 2011 at 1:46pm
Awesome post.
Comment by Ben on September 26, 2011 at 3:23pm
Superb post Bill. Loads of considerations RE tools to use in the digital social referrals space. Plenty to think about in my new role. Cheers.
Comment by Tim Spagnola on September 26, 2011 at 3:47pm
A shock indeed- I echo the others Bill in saying that this was a wealth of great content to take in. Thanks for sharing.
Comment by Valentino Martinez on September 27, 2011 at 9:47pm


Very well stated, extremely thorough--and thanks for the mention of personalities by name, who have sweat equity in the innovative work you so well outlined...problems included.  Advances in technology will bring ever newer advantages to the recruitment game; as well as problems.  How these advances will enhance selection efficiencies; and quality of hire, inclusive of diversity, remains to be seen, but there are positive indicators here.

I also liked your mention of what I consider an important finding:  "Interestingly, offering cash rewards for referrals hired are proving to be a real negative. it seems people don't like to feel they are selling their friends/contacts. What works best are initiatives like i-pad competitions. Art Papas, CEO of Bullhorn Reach commented that when they offered an i-pad for a week-long referral competition, he wondered if anyone had done any work such was the volume of referrals. I have heard similar storys from larger corporate companies who have been looking at why what looks like a tempting cash referral program just doesn't return the numbers."

I've long recommended against cash payments as a problematic incentive.  I also appreciated the insightful comment in conclusion: "Those recruiters who have been around a few years have always worked on referrals from well established networks, that take years to build.These will never be replaced by technology based referrals or social networks. You can never under value these relationships, and the matching that comes with it. Whatever Jefferey says, these recruiters will always be in demand. Those recruiters however, who have relied on post andpray, workingon a more transactional basis, may well be in for a shock."

I've established networks going back 40 years and interestingly enough find many of my contemporaries still alive and kicking.  So knowing people (and earning their respect) who know people, who know people, puts one personally closer by degree to so many.  The value of that goes without saying, however I will add that I'm a big believer in:  It's not just about who you know that makes a difference but who respects you and/or respects the people you know that makes the difference in the candidate referral recruiting challenge.
Comment by Bill Boorman on September 28, 2011 at 7:44am


Thanks for commenting. I don't hold by the view that all recruiters are going to die out. Personal relationships will always have more value than social connections, but those who have not invested the time in will suffer. It is puzzling why people continue to put up cash bounties when they are killing referral schemes.


I don't think there will be less recruiters, just different recruiters. Increased volume of candidates means more engagement. Each candidate from referral needs a greater degree of care.  That means more people.


Good luck with what looks like a great job.


Comment by Michael Smith on September 28, 2011 at 10:37pm


Lots of great insights there.  It's fascinating to see how we are all trying to get to grips with how exactly online networks will benefit the recruiting space (and particularly from a referral perspective). 

In my opinion, at the end of the day, we have a continuum of quality versus quantity.  Online networks will never be able to replace their real world equivalent, without becoming commoditised.  The trick will be in retaining the value of a referral, while leveraging the scale of online networks to find a deeper talent pool.

I fully expect a number of different business models to be viable in this brave new world, but I'm not sure that anyone has got the formula quite right yet.  I don't expect that there will be a one size fits all solution (such as facebook for social networking), but horses for various different courses.  The interesting question will be which of the multitude of startups will be successful!

I recently launched my answer as to what might work in a well connected professional industry sense (law, accounting, banking etc), and have written about why social networks aren't ready for the big time from a recruiting perspective on my blog, so it's certainly a subject that's close to my heart.  As such, your insights are of great interest.

Best regards,


Comment by Bill Boorman on September 28, 2011 at 10:41pm

Thanks Mike,

Be glad to take a look at it.



You need to be a member of RecruitingBlogs to add comments!

Join RecruitingBlogs


All the recruiting news you see here, delivered straight to your inbox.

Just enter your e-mail address below


RecruitingBlogs on Twitter

© 2023   All Rights Reserved   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Service