8 ways to ruin your employee referral program

Recently I wrote about the importance of employee referral programs and offered tips for how to give your program a facelift.

As discussed in that post, the person or team managing the referral program is vital to its success. However, there are many other factors that can work against the program, no matter how enthusiastic its manager. Here are eight ways to ruin your employee referral program.

  1. You prohibit HR and management from participating in the program. Understandably, recruiters won’t be included in the program since talent acquisition is their main responsibility. But excluding managers or HR personnel whose main job functions do not include recruiting (payroll for example) can eliminate a wealth of connections.

  2. You don’t prioritize jobs. Not all positions are created equal, and not all skill sets are equally plentiful. Focus your referral program on high-value positions and give a bonus payout to those employees that identify viable candidates for the roles. Hard-to-fill jobs that are that are filled by an employee referral will save a lot of money on sourcing efforts and revenue loss caused by the vacant position.

  3. You spam employees with mass communications about the program. Communication in any program is essential. However, do not bombard your employees with information about the referral program. Create and manage a targeted messaging campaign. If you’re only trying to enlist specific skill sets, target the employees within your organization that would be most likely to have a network of those types of candidates. Current employees’ skill sets and previous employers can help you predict who might have access to the targeted audience.

  4. You keep the bonus amount the same year after year. Inflation, a tough economy, and the increase of global competition make organizations more stringent with spend. But the same issues are also impacting employees. What $100 meant last year might not mean the same this year. Revisit employee referral program payouts to ensure the monetary award is appropriate (and exciting).

  5. You disregard your employer brand and messaging. For job seekers, brand and name recognition of an organization can be one of the most appealing aspects of a potential position. Having a strong and consistent brand image in the market will make it easier for your employees to convince good talent that your organization is worth considering.

  6. You provide only one avenue for referral submissions. Limiting the ways to submit referrals will limit your conversion of potential candidates into actual candidates. Additionally, requiring employees to go through multiple steps of submission could deter them from participating. Given today’s fast pace, employees should have the option of providing referral names and emails on a referral card and handing (or emailing) it to HR.

  7. You don’t involve social media. Just as there should be many avenues of employee referral submissions, allow your employees to connect a referral to your company through social networking sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook. That way, interested applicants can easily land in your candidate pool or participate in your talent community.

  8. You ignore incoming referrals that are not a perfect match. Employees spend countless hours creating and sustaining in-person and online networks and relationships. Therefore, handle all referrals with attention and a high level of customer service. A referral’s negative experience will likely result in an employee being unwilling to submit additional referrals.

In general, your employee referral program should involve clear, established processes that help the candidate and the employee understand each step of the referral and what to expect. You must determine how all incoming referrals will be handled and back them with action and consistency, while also keeping job priority in mind.

Finally, provide personalized feedback to the candidate, over the phone or face to face, if an employee has taken the time to refer a candidate -- especially those who have interviewed for the role. Your standard thanks-but-no-thanks email template will not do.


This post was written by Jessica Bacher. With extensive experience as a recruiting operations manager, Jessica has provided strategic planning and consultation to leading health care, call center, retail, telecommunications and government clients worldwide, and has led complex initiatives for Fortune 500 organizations. In 2010 and 2011, the Electronic Recruiting Exchange, the largest recruiting intelligence community, recognized her branding and digital solutions work, and Jessica was awarded the Creative Excellence Award for her work in employment branding for Latin America. Learn more about Jessica.

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