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The One Question to Get More Out of Employee Referrals

Great people tend to know other great people. When you’re set up on a date by a friend you trust, you know your date is likely to be a match (and a real person) because they’ve been pre-screened. With online dating, though, you only know what your date has chosen to share on their profile, and it’s not always accurate.

Same goes for employee referrals. If a current employee is willing to stake their reputation on someone they think is a match for your open role, that candidate is more likely to be qualified. After all, top performers like to work with others who have similar qualities. Along with a faster time-to-hire and higher ROI, referred candidates are also less likely to ghost you (and less likely to leave once they’re hired).

So to find out how to get more mileage out of your employee referral program, we sat down with Ted Prendergast, manager of technology recruiting at Red Ventures. One of Prendergast’s goals for 2019 was to increase referral hires in tech by 100%, which he ended up reaching six months ahead of time.

How did Red Ventures do it? Below, we’re breaking down five simple strategies that’ll help you get more out of your employee referrals (and the single most important question you should be asking) so you can replicate Red Ventures’s success and start leveraging your current employees’ networks to build high-performing teams.

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1. The one question you should be asking your employees

Don’t wait for referrals to just happen. Sit down with your current employees and instead of asking “Do you know anyone who’s looking for a job?” ask “Who would you work with again?”

This is the one question Red Ventures asks current employees who’ve been with the company for between three and 12 months, as they’re likely to have the most referrals. But you could even ask this question as part of the onboarding process for new hires to see if there’s anyone from their previous company that they’d love to bring with them to their new team.

This question is great for generating warm leads (which Red Ventures says leads to 43% higher response rates over cold leads), since you can then approach prospects by saying “[Employee Name] who you worked with in the past is here at [Company Name] and thought you might be a great match for us.” To boost candidate response rates even further, encourage current employees to handle the initial outreach themselves.

2. How to turn a like into a referral

Referrals don’t just have to be friends, family or former coworkers. In fact, they can be distantly connected (the fourth cousins twice removed of an employee’s professional network) or even complete strangers.

In fact, Red Ventures has seen a lot of success by using an unconventional strategy to turn strangers into referrals. When an employee publishes original content on blogs or social media, Red Ventures combs through the likes, claps and comments to identify any promising candidates. The employee who wrote the article then sends each prospect a quick message asking if they’d be interested in working at the company.

The idea is if someone is interested in a certain topic, they might also be interested in (and qualified for) a similar role. This method works because employees enjoy building their network with people who enjoy their content and “likers” are often willing to chat about opportunities. Red Ventures reports a response rate of nearly 100% using this technique.

3. Unlocking your employees’ online networks

Tap into your employees’ networks to source qualified, connected referrals. If you’re trying to fill a marketing role, for example, look up your company’s current marketers (or employees in related roles) on professional networking sites and search through their connections to find people who might match your open role.

To avoid getting misleading or inaccurate information from candidates, ask employees about potential candidates’ skills before you even send your first message. Would they recommend them for the role? Do they know them in real life? Are the experiences on their profile legit?

If they seem like a good match from both your perspective and the employee’s, encourage the employee to reach out and initiate the conversation, as candidates are often much more likely to consider a job opportunity brought to them by someone they’re connected with.

Identify prospects that aren’t in job-search mode: Taking this more proactive approach to employee referrals can also help you reach a largely untapped pool of passive candidates (70% of the global workforce fall into the “passive candidate” bucket) since most employees only refer candidates who they know are actively looking for a new job.

4. Share your open jobs (and make them shareable)

When employees only kind of know what roles are open, the results can be underwhelming. And employees shouldn’t be expected to constantly check your company’s intranet to see which jobs are open within the company or outside of their team.

So to get better referrals (and keep referring top of mind), communicate your hiring needs. Send out an internal email on a weekly or monthly basis — or include a section in the company newsletter — that spotlights your top open jobs and what you’re looking for in a referral. Include pre-written social copy or any other recruiting materials (e.g., company tour videos, photos of the office) that they can share with their network of followers on social media sites.

The easier you make it for your best and brightest to refer the right candidates, the more likely they will. For example, Booking.com tracks referrals through its ATS so that when employees share open jobs on their social media accounts, they get the credit when someone clicks on the link and applies for the role.

5. Offer a referral incentive employees actually want

We’ve talked a lot about encouraging employees to reach out first. But what’s in it for them? You have to give them a reason to step away from their daily responsibilities to message a referral.

Companies typically offer between $1,000 to $5,000 for each referral that ends up getting hired. Red Ventures, for instance, offers a $2,000 referral bonus to incentivize referrals. Some employees have even earned $10K-$15K by making several hires in a year. Cloud infrastructure company DigitalOcean offers $3,500 per hired referral, plus an additional $1,500 charitable donation to fund a cause of the employees’ choice.

And because a person’s network might be homogenous (i.e., people tend to refer people who are similar to them), lots of companies are pushing for more diverse referrals by offering bigger payouts. Intel, for example, doubles its referral bonus when the company hires underrepresented minorities, women and veterans through referrals.

Your referral bonus doesn’t have to stop at a cash award. Referrals save you time and thousands of dollars, so consider supplementing any monetary bonuses with something creative and memorable, like tickets to an event, a meal delivery subscription, company-branded swag, quarterly prize drawings, company stock, an extra day off with pay, etc. You can even put up a leaderboard and publicly share stats on the number of referrals received and hired to spark some healthy referral competition.

Crowdsourcing your sourcing

To work smarter (not harder) to hire the candidates you need, try experimenting with tactics that’ll get you more out of employee referrals — from asking the right questions to elicit better referrals, to zeroing in on candidates who’ve liked an employee’s tweet to looking beyond active job seekers.

And while it’s true that employee referrals don’t always bring in the highest amount of applications, this collaborative hiring method more than makes up for that in increasing metrics like quality, average hiring time, retention rate and cost-per-hire that’ll help you hit your goals.

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