Where do companies go wrong when it comes to employee referral programs? One mistake is failing to market it to their existing staff, says Kleiman. Owners and managers don’t talk up the program or keep it front of mind for employees. Many employees likely don’t know the program exists or have forgotten how it works. 

Going a step further, employers can provide additional tools to make referring candidates even easier. 

Troy Hopkins, author of “Making Cents Of A Dirty Business,” as well as area development manager for a Huntsville, Alabama, Office Pride Commercial Cleaning franchise, says the franchisor encourages its owners to provide key employees with business cards. In addition to the employee’s name, the local office phone number, address and recruitment website link, the card also says “Join Our Team.” 

“Sometimes, it’s their first time ever to have their name on a business card,” says Hopkins. “They pass them out to anyone they see in the community that would be a good employee. [The business cards] give the current employee a sense of pride that prospective employees can see and respect.”

Determining who to refer can be daunting if everyone is technically an applicant. Employers can help their recruiters narrow the field. 

“Learn how to ask. Shrink the pool. Don’t ask ‘do you know anybody?’ That’s too big,” says Kleiman. “Instead, ask them if there’s anyone they play soccer with or if there’s anyone in their Outlook contacts who might be a good person for you to talk to.” 

What spells the difference between an employee referral program that works and one that fails to deliver? The first criterion is that it needs to be formal, structured and documented, says Hopkins. Take too casual of an approach — for example rewarding some employees for referrals but not others, an unacceptable managerial inconsistency — is bound to create problems down the road.

These programs also require ongoing and effective communication between employer and staff, says St. John. Employees need to know there are open positions and that referrals are being sought. It may sound obvious, but it’s not always being done.

“Notify all employees when jobs become available,” says Hopkins. “Use an electronic notification process to inform current employees. You must always announce job openings so your employees can be your recruiters.”

However, communication doesn’t stop with job notices. Providing the referring employee with a progress report and the outcome is important, not only if the individual is hired, but also if he or she is not (in which case, St. John advises explaining within reason, why the decision was made not to move forward).

This calls up another concern that may inhibit employees from making a referral — the fear it will reflect poorly on them if the hire doesn’t work out, says Kleiman. This is why employers have to make such programs risk-free for their staff, explaining to the referring employee that if something goes awry, it’s not their fault, he says. St. John agrees.

“The referring employee can be worried he or she is diminished in the eyes of the employer,” she says. “So you have to make it very clear when you launch a referral program that this is not a reflection on the referring employee and that it is the obligation on the part of the employer to interview, screen and onboard.”


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