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Building a Successful Employee Referral Program
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Building a Successful Employee Referral Program

May 26, 2019
Employee Referral Program

We’ve all heard that old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” And oftentimes, it’s true! As a manager, internal referrals will likely stand out more than a random applicant from the internet.  After all, current employees probably know who would bea good fit at their company or on their team better than anyone. And knowing a trusted employee can vouch for a candidate provides a certain peace of mind that can’t compare to qualities promised only by a cover letter.

For these reasons, you’ll want a reliable supply of referrals, which requires some organization. The best employee referral programs benefit employers, employees, and candidates alike. Employees have an easy way to follow through on recommending their connections, and hiring managers have a robust collection of potential candidates.

What’s an Employee Referral Program?

In short, it’s an organized system by which current or former employees may recommend people they know to work at your company. It involves a defined procedure for employees to submit referral information, incentives for them to do so, updates provided if the candidates move forward, and recognition when referrals are hired. The most successful employee referral programs will be easy for employees, updated and maintained regularly, and full of incentives. Let’s cover the best practices you should keep in mind when building a referral program.

Make It Easy for the Employee

If the process is too complicated or hard to find, employees won’t do it. Simple as that. There should be a clearly defined and communicated way to submit a candidate’s information, whether it’s a Google form, a certain person to email, or a link to a submission page.

Ideally, recommending someone should be as simple as giving their name and contact info. However, this could lead to a wide pool of names you know nothing about. You may want to leave optional open-ended questions about how the employee knows the candidate, why they think they’d be a good fit, plus a space to submit their resume and cover letter.

Train Employees

Again, employees won’t refer people if there’s confusion about how to do so. Hold a training session or at the very least send out an email explaining the process.

Ask for Specifics

Being asked to refer any and all candidates may not remind them of the person they met at a networking event or the assistant they had at their old job. But asking them to submit the name of a great graphic designer or a former colleague with the best work ethic may get them thinking, and get you more tailored responses. Think of qualities you’d evaluate in a performance review that could trigger names in their minds.

Keep Diversity in Mind

One of the downsides about hiring from internal suggestions is that people tend to know and refer people that are similar to them. If your office already struggles with diversity, this can keep you from hiring from a pool with diverse talents and perspectives, and ultimately keep your workforce from performing at its full potential.

To avoid this, don’t rely exclusively on your referral program. Post job listings online, and in coworking spaces, get them on the bulletin boards at applicable colleges and reach out to networking organizations that focus on diversity.

Provide Incentive

Nothing makes people think of candidates like the promise of a reward, This could be a cash bonus, vacation, time off, gift card or any other giveaway that you think will motivate your employees.

Many companies have found success in creating a tiered system of incentives. For example, rewarding employees at a higher level when they suggest candidates for hard to fill positions, or when a certain number of referrals are hired.

Give Reminders

Send out email blasts, post flyers around the office, do what you have to do to keep the referral program fresh in everyone’s mind.

Update Employees

It can feel like a waste of time to submit names into the void if you never hear anything back. Make sure to notify employees when you call their referrals in for an interview or hire them. It lets them know you see their contribution, and will motivate them to make further referrals in the future.

Recognize Success

Don’t forget to call out employees when their referrals lead to hires. Publicly acknowledging their success boosts morale and will likely encourage other employees to get going as well.

Include as Many People as Possible

Don’t restrict the referral program to certain departments, or even to current employees. Keeping the program open to former employees who’ve moved on, or even clients and partners only widens the pool of applicants you’ll have to choose from.

Consider In-Person Recruitment Events

This could mean hosting a networking event, encouraging employees to bring contacts to company happy hours, or any other event that gets these referrals some face to face time.


To end, we interviewed Hanna, our very own HR manager at Kisi, to share why having a successful referral programm is important to a company.

“Referrals are a great way of hiring since it's faster, and thus a cheaper way to hire. Companies generally get a better hire since the new team member has been “pre-screened” by an employee who already understands the company culture and tasks. This lowers the turnover rate at the company since employees who refer others will not want to risk her/his reputation by referring someone that is unsuitable for the role and the team.

At Kisi, we have an internal referral program which gives the employee a bonus if they know someone that could be a great fit for one of our open positions. Having a great referral program encourages employees to refer contacts for specific positions. This turns the whole team into recruiters which makes it a lot easier to scale the company!”

Written by:

Junel Seet
Digital Marketing at Kisi