How to Get Employees to Recruit Candidates—Naturally

If you’re wondering how to get employees to refer candidates to your company, you’re in good company. Your business could be a non-profit, school, restaurant, or service provider. In all cases,  employee referrals are incredibly important. Recruiting employees can take many forms, including head hunters, internal or outsourced recruiters, job apps, and networking sites, but employee referrals are by far, the best source of hires1

  • Better Retention: Referred employees stay 70% longer. Also, small companies tend to see the best gains from their referral hires, as these hires stay 122% longer than hires from job sites and similar channels.
  • Faster Hires: Time is money and this applies to open positions for many reasons. An unfilled position means other employees are picking up the slack, and errors and delays are more likely. Employers save an average of 13 days when hiring a referral vs other channels.
  • Lower Hiring Cost: Employers spend more than $1,000 less in hiring costs when they hire a referral compared to job sites and similar channels.
  • Cultural Fit: “Hire for attitude, train for skill.” This applies to cultural fit as well. A killer resume and a toxic vibe are a recipe for disaster for a small business. Getting a referral candidate from a top employee gives you some peace of mind that character has been vetted. In fact, 70% of businesses say referral hires have the best culture fit.

How Can I Encourage Employee Referrals at My Small Business?

As a result of the impressive ROI an employee referral brings, there is a plethora of Employee Referral Program (ERP) options and employee recruitment incentive programs designed to encourage more of the same. Programs can include incentives such as cash, trips, prizes, and other perks. But guess what? You don’t actually need a formal ERP to inspire your star performers to bring their friends to the hiring department: 

  • Referrals Are Natural: Just like a fabulous new restaurant or quick and easy service provider, we like to let our friends know the inside scoop on stuff we love. This goes for our job as well. If our employer is amazing, we sing it from the rooftops (likewise if they’re horrific we don’t hold back, so if you’re seeing zero referrals, consider that a weathervane of sorts).
  • On a Talented Team, Everyone Wins: The best employees at the best companies know that bringing more great talent makes their own job easier and their own future brighter. In fact, most employees do this without incentive. A whopping 94% of employees will refer a candidate to help their friend, help their company, or to be seen as a valuable coworker. Only 6% do it for money and other recognition.1

Best Employee Referral Program Ideas (No Program Required!)

If prizes and programs aren’t your thing, or your Human Resources department is non-existent or consists of one person wearing 17 hats, there’s good news: Most employees refer friends and former colleagues to their company regardless of a monetary or other incentive. When morale is high, employees are respected, and work is fulfilling, employee referrals follow. Focus on factors that inform employee satisfaction (and feed naturally into your referral pipeline):   

  • Appreciated Employees: Show appreciation for your employees, their effort, and their work.
  • Enjoyable Teammates: Organize employee teams and project groups so employees spend working hours with colleagues they enjoy.
  • Win-Win Reporting Dynamic: Ensure the employee-boss dynamic is functional, respectful, and stable.
  • Fair Compensation: Pay a good wage or salary.
  • Interesting Work: Let employees try new areas and initiate new projects if they are inspired to do so.
  • Stable Job: Ensure employees experience job security; this promotes happiness—and referrals.
  • Sustainable Pace: Make sure employees are not working too many hours or under too much stress.
  • Kind Culture: Know your company values and express them often. Employees are proud to be associated with—and refer others to—companies whose values match their own.

When Seeking an Employee Referral, Make It Personal

When a position opens, let specific employees know you’re interested in candidates they may know. Tell them what you’re looking for, and what qualities they possess that you want to duplicate. Include skills, ethics, attitude, and cultural contributions. 

And if You Really Want to Say Thanks for That Employee Referral….

Employee gifts help create a positive work environment that leads to referrals, so spread the love with personalized gifts for special occasions or just because. And when an employee refers a friend who joins the team, celebrate the event with gifts for both of them. We like these: 

Mineral Mia Gift Set in Thank You Box: Give your star employee and the new team member they referred a gift they’ll use daily, reminding them you appreciate what they bring to the table.  

Engraved 9 oz. Julian Stainless Steel Tumbler: Thank your top employees and those they refer with an engraved tumbler that keeps their beverage piping hot (or icy cold) for hours. This super trendy, practical gift works at a desk or on a daily commute and makes it clear you’re the coolest employer.  

Here’s to great business, happy employees, and the new team members they bring onboard.  


Karleen Wise Andersen

From marketing tips to product recommendations, I’m here to help small businesses be their best.

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