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Employee Referrals - A Smarter Way to Hire Your Next Top Performer

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Sudarsan Ravi, Founder and CEO, RippleHire.com

Sudarsan Ravi, Founder and CEO, RippleHire.com

In today’s competitive world, it is critical to have the best talent work for you. Top talent can deliver a premium customer experience with strong business results. This makes hiring critical and every new hire is a chance to improve the organization. At the same time, it is important to get top talent to blend into your culture and deliver results.

Employee referrals are one of the best channels for sourcing top talent and having them blend in. What is an employee referral program? It is a proactive measure deployed by the organization to hire top talent from their employees’ networks. Unfortunately, less than 5 percent of the organization contributes to the hiring cause. So, how do you then get your employee pool to help hire for open roles?

Employee referrals are marketing to the inside of an organization. Great marketing drives engagement and participation. To have employees participate, it is important to understand that the reward for participation has to be beyond cash. Most companies offer a simple bonus as a thank you. The reality is employees refer to help their friends. If you need them to help the organization proactively, it is best to use different motivators. Cause, competition, recognition are far more effective motivators. Imagine a caption that says – Refer a friend and win a Hot Air Balloon Ride. That is more effective as a means to attract employees to participate and contribute.

To hire 45-50 percent through referrals, you also need different strokes for different roles. The engagement strategy needs to vary depending on if you are hiring for volume positions versus niche skills. It needs to vary by the designation of the roles too. In my experience running referral programs for five years, cracking this channel and its contributions becomes effortless when powered by technology. The image below gives you a guideline on whom to engage and the type of motivators to use when hiring for different types of roles.

Hiring for Leadership roles:
Leadership roles are not advertised internally or externally. However, your leaders know and have worked with top talent. It is best to collect referrals against a vague job – “Know Someone Great, Refer Them Here”.
Leaders are competitive so involve them by using gamified leader-boards. It acts as a subtle motivator. Measure their contributions in brand building, applications, offers and hires. Recognize the top performers with the CEO and truly have everyone in the organization take ownership for hiring.

Hiring For Niche Skills/Managerial Roles:
Niche skills are tough to find in the market. Hiring for an UX architect, a machine learning enthusiast or an M&A specialist is hard and costs expensive agency fees. The candidates have multiple offers driving up salary costs and time to hire. It is best to find candidates when they are not actively seeking jobs or are passive. Leverage your employee pool to target these candidates on social and micro social channels. Running special campaigns also helps drive the focus towards these positions. And, targeting existing niche skilled employees makes a difference in driving quick outcomes. Recognize top contributors and engage leadership to encourage these performers to find talent for you.

Hiring for Junior Roles:
Given the high supply in the market, these jobs are easy to refer. So, it is best to offer a negligible or no reward. If you are using a technology tool to drive referrals, it helps filter out junk CV’s allowing you to reward success stories. Open these roles to have more employees engaged in the program so you can tap into them for tougher roles.

Social Referrals:
Allowing employees to easily distribute jobs on social media multiplies the impact of the referral program. Employees share branded jobs and the impact is equivalent to “Word of Mouth” advertising -Priceless. Talented candidates are more likely to trust a friend they respect than a faceless corporate entity. And, referrals bring warmth to the introduction. This makes the difference while building a great employer brand.

To have employees participate, it is important to understand that the reward for participation has to be beyond cash.


Peter Drucker said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. The right culture provides the framework for success. Leaders strive to build and retain the right culture. But, how do you know if you have the right culture?

Culture can actually be measured very effectively. Just look at your hiring percentage through employee referrals. It indicates that your employees are happy working at the company and are proactively recommending that their friends work with you. So, as you aim to hire for your teams, keep an eye out for the referral channel. It gets you the best talent, helps you build a great employer brand and gives you an indicator on the health of the organization.