4 Defining Traits of a Successful Employee Referral Program

4 Defining Traits of a Successful Employee Referral Program

Employee referral programs are a cost-effective recruitment strategy that can significantly reduce your company’s average time-to-fill. According to iCIMS, hires made via employee referrals are proven to outperform non-referred workers, improve retention rates, and increase the recruiting departments’ overall ROI. By designing a successful referral program, your company can tap into an entire pool of qualified passive job seekers and convert your existing workforce into a band of brand ambassadors and recruiters.

Creating a vibrant referral program can also increase the likelihood of the referred talent successfully aligning with the company culture, thereby improving employee engagement and satisfaction. To be successful, however, these programs require preparation and a focused strategy. While quickly throwing something together is tempting, the more thought you put into the program’s development, the better the payoff will ultimately be. Here are four elements that are key to a successful employee referral program.


Culture Driven Buy-In
Companies that craft successful referral programs know that financial incentives alone do not equate to results. It all starts with your internal culture. Building a positive working environment that accentuates the company’s values and goals is the most effective way of inspiring employees to share open opportunities with their friends and professional networks. Continually working to improve employee satisfaction will directly impact the efficacy of the referral program. If you create a workplace where employees are invested in the mission and truly enjoy coming to work each day, they will be much more inclined to introduce their friends to the exciting environment as well. Developing a company culture that’s enticing is the first, and most important, step in establishing a successful referral program.


Make the Stakes Fun
Chances are, many of your employees spend a vast majority of their 9 to 5 in front of a computer screen. Between responding to emails, inputting data into the company’s CRM, and using web-based software to carry out daily initiatives, employees would welcome a bit of vibrancy and zest in their referral program’s platform. Steer clear of applications that resemble your regular proprietary software or that fail to inject some flair into the process.

As AI becomes more integrated with standard business practices, employers can incorporate new and innovative techniques, such as gamification to boost employee engagement and participation rates. Employees can earn points that can later be swapped for prizes – i.e. extra vacation days, a swag bag, or Visa gift card. Launch competitions, create a leaderboard to recognize key contributors, or design badges, like ‘social ninja’ or ‘referral guru,’ when employees hit certain levels of success.

While dollar signs are always a motivator for employees, thinking outside-the-box and offering a unique array of incentives will help drive the program’s success. This is especially true if a large portion of your staff is made up of Millennials, which have surpassed baby-boomers and Gen Xers as the largest generation in the American workforce. Millennials have a diverse set of interests and value things like work-life balance, community involvement, personal and professional development, and new experiences. With this in mind, get creative with your program incentives and incorporate a wide variety of offerings, such as movie tickets, cooking classes, additional PTO, catered lunches, or tuition reimbursement. You should also consider asking your employees for their input regarding what types of incentives they would find exciting.    


Diversify Your Efforts
Referral programs should embody the organization’s overall recruitment objectives with unintentional bias factored into their design. With each employee comes a wealth of untapped resources – unique interests, backgrounds, etc. – that employers can use as a way to attract new and diverse talent. Your employees are the best way to broaden your reach beyond standard job board channels and uncover pools of quality, passive candidates.  To keep everything cohesive, hiring procedures for employee-referred talent should echo that of an applicant who came through the company’s ATS. Onboarding referred hires is usually a more seamless process as they already know and respect one or more of their coworkers and culturally align with the organization's core values.   


Build Hype Internally
Spreading internal awareness through consistent marketing will help propel your referral program from its infancy to a fully developed, successful initiative. Creating a buzz among coworkers should stem beyond initial efforts, with continual reminders about the potential rewards employees could earn by participating in the program. As mentioned above, having a plan in place to recognize top performers and spotlight recently hired referrals will not only spark the innate human need for competition, but it’ll also keep the program top of mind.


A Game-Changing Strategy
By using a well-thought-out employee referral program as an instrument in the company’s holistic recruiting picture, you have the opportunity to usher your hiring efforts to new heights. Employees are a company’s most valuable asset and successful referral programs are designed to attract the likes of similar, high-caliber talent - just like the people you already have in place.