How to Make Employee Referral Programs Work for You

Eemployee referral programsmployers love employee referral programs!

And nearly 80% of employers with 1,000 employees or more have formal programs. Which makes employee referrals the “fast-track” to a new job.

A 2015 survey of hiring practices revealed that 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 might be missing the quickest way to be hired.

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.

Do not, however,  apply for a job expecting an employee referral without first understanding that program’s rules!

Know How Employee Referral Programs Work

While the basic elements are the same, each employer has their own approach to the process, and all employee referral programs are 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 in two main ways:

  • 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. It is usually in the “how did you find out about this job” section, but you may need to type the referring employee’s contact information in somewhere else.
  • 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, however, 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 program rules on the employer’s website, if you can, before you reach out to an employee is a very smart idea.

Here are some potential issues to keep in mind:

  • Timing is criticalYou can be disqualified for the employee referral program 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 websiteOthers allow the referral to happen after you have officially applied for the job.
  • Not every employee can make a referralA 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 that employees not refer a relative.
  • Not every job may qualify for the rewardTypically, the jobs that are in the referral program, or pay the best referral reward, are the jobs that are the hardest to fill, like senior level jobs or jobs for which qualified candidates are scarce. So, not every job may be included.
  • Not every location may qualify for the rewardSome 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.

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.

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


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Work Coach Cafe.




Susan-P-Joyce-AuthorAbout 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. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management since 2012, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.



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