How to Make Employee Referral Programs Work for You

WorkCoachCafeEmployers LOVE employee referral programs! Employee referrals really are the “fast-track” to a new job. Nearly 80% of employers with 1,000 employees or more have formal programs.

One in three job candidates referred by an employee is hired — a MUCH higher probability than someone who applies online.

A 2015 survey of hiring practices revealed than between 25% and 33% of all hiring is done through referrals. (Job boards account for less than 12% of hiring.) So, if you are not exploring referrals to find your next job, you are missing the quickest way to be hired.

Do NOT apply for a job expecting an employee referral
without — FIRST! — understanding that program’s rules!

Employee referral programs typically reward employees for referring someone outside the organization who is hired for a job. When/if that person is hired and performs acceptably in the job for at least 90 days (usually), the referring employee usually receives a financial reward.

The reward paid to the employee can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, so employees are usually interested in finding good candidates to refer.

How Employee Referral Programs Work

While the basic elements are the same, each employer has their own approach to the process, and every program is different!

Be careful! The very act of applying before being officially referred may disqualify you for some programs, depending on the rules of that particular program.

You may need to have the employee first register you as their referral, and then you can apply as a referred candidate. Or, you may be able to apply and then be referred. Qualifying depends on the requirements of the program (more below).

Employee referral programs for large employers operate two main ways:

1. Referral as part of the automated job application.

When you complete an online application for the job, you provide the name and contact information of the employee referring you.

There will probably be a section specifically for employee referrals (usually in the how-did-you-find-out-about-this-job section). Or, you may need to type the referring employee’s contact information into another section

2. Referral form submitted by the referring employee.

The employee who is referring you submits a form officially referring you. In many cases, they don’t need to specify the job you are applying for. Other times, they do.

After their form is accepted, you are typically notified of the referral, and invited to look at the jobs and apply.

With smaller employers who don’t have automated referral systems, the process will be different. The employee doing the referral may simply hand your resume to the hiring manager or Human Resources manager.

Know the Rules for Each Target Employer!

Referral programs typically have rules about when and how the employee earns the referral fee. Usually, the referral should happen before you apply for the job or during the job application process, as indicated above.

So, checking the ERP rules on the employer’s website — if you can — before you reach out to an employee is a very smart idea.

The problems:

  • Timing is critical!

    You can be disqualified for the ERP if you apply at the wrong time in the application process! Some programs want the employee to refer you before you apply for the job, or, in some cases, before you register on their website. Others allow the referral to happen after you have officially applied for the job.

  • Not every employee can make a referral.

    A hiring manager cannot typically refer someone, especially not for their own department. People in HR and recruiting are usually not able to refer a candidate, either. Some employers prefer not to have an employee refer a relative.

  • Not every job may qualify for the reward.

    Typically, the jobs that are in the ERP — or pay the best reward — are the jobs that are the hardest to fill, like jobs that are senior or jobs that are hard to fill because qualified candidates are scarce. So, not every job may be included.

  • Not every location may qualify for the reward.

    Some locations have a plentiful supply of job candidates, which means no — or a minimal — reward is offered by the employer. So, location and job matter.

Life is never simple these days. Be sure to understand the rules each employer has for their ERP program so you can be that referred candidate.

Share Contact Information

If someone has offered to refer you, be sure you have:

  • Their name at work (you may know her as Debbi, but at work everyone calls her Debra).
  • Work email address.
  • Their department/division or office.
  • Their location.
  • Their job title.
  • Their work phone number.

Also, be sure to provide the employee with:

  • Your name (as used on your job applications, resumes, LinkedIn profile, etc.).
  • Your personal (not work!) email address.
  • Your personal (not work!) phone number.
  • A copy of your resume.

You must both be sure that you have the information you need to complete the process successfully. You want this person to be rewarded for their kindness, and you also want the advantage that comes from being a referred candidate.

More About Being Hired

To Be Hired, Be Referred

To Be Hired, Be Find-able

To Be Hired, Be Reach-able

Find Your Inside Track to a New Job

Express Lane to a New Job: Employee Referral

Why Referrals Close the Sale for a Successful Job Search


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 2011, Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoachCafe.  A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan also edits and publishes and is a columnist on HuffingtonPost and LinkedIn.  Follow Susan on Twitter (@jobhuntorg) and on Google+.

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