Employee Referral Program Ideas
employee referral program ideas
Advice for Management & Companies

Employee Referral Program Ideas

Employee referral programs are a great way to make your employees happy and a great way to attract talented people to your company. Your referral program can build a culture based on productive business connections and respect for the abilities of one’s peers, but only if your employees are engaged in your referral program.

You want your employees referring the people whose abilities have impressed them the most, and coming up with some new ideas to organize and incentivize your referral program will drive the effectiveness of the program as a candidate source.

Here are some stats on why you want more referred employees from iCIMS

  • The majority of employers find that referred employees outperform other employees on most aspects of overall company fit, which is highly valued by employers when evaluating applicants.
  • Overall, referred employees are more satisfied with their current job over the job they had previously in which they were not referred.
  • As referred employees work longer at a company (more than five years) their satisfaction with how they fit within the company’s culture and their ability to fulfill job requirements tends to increase.
  • Referred employees also tend to refer others. Almost two thirds of referred employees have referred at least one person to an open position at their current company

Referred employees are a better fit in a series of metrics, but there are no guarantees of success. To get the results you want, you need your employees searching for the best referrals possible, not just referring the friends they want to work with. By evaluating your employee referral program and adding some new ideas to it, you can get the results you’ve been looking for in your employee referral program.

Employee Referral Program Ideas

The results you get from your referral program will depend on the level of engagement you can build with employees, the incentives you offer to successful hires and the offer that you’re presenting to referred candidates.


The level of engagement you can create for your referral program will be the biggest factor in its success. If only some employees are engaged in the idea of bringing you great referrals, then you won’t be getting many great referrals.

Here are the most common reasons that referral programs fail:

  1. Your employees don’t know about your referral program or how much it depends on them.
  2. Your employees don’t know about your open job.
  3. Your employees don’t see the connection between their jobs and your open job.
  4. Your employees believe that their referrals won’t matter.

To be engaged with your referral program, your employees need to know about: how much better referral hires are, the details of your open job, the connection between making a successful referral and their work experience and how the program depends on employee engagement.

Here are some ideas to help you accomplish these goals:

  • Every time a job opens up at your company, arrange a short meeting for your staff called “picking your future co-worker,” to explain the open or opening position and the qualities and qualifications that will make a great referral.
  • Give feedback to employees who come to you with referrals to help them improve and to demonstrate that management is engaged and happy about their efforts.
  • Acknowledge all referral givers with a small reward (A half-day off, Starbucks gift card, etc.).
  • Write a memo at the end of each candidate search, personally thanking all who contributed referrals, acknowledging any employee who made a successful referral and introducing the referred (or non-referred) hire.


So, your employees know that your referral program depends on them, but what’s in it for them?

There is a long tradition of incentivizing successful referrals and, to get the results you want, you will need to provide a grand prize. This prize doesn’t have to be lavish, but a lavish prize doesn’t hurt either.

However you decide to incentivize your referral program, it should be geared towards the interests and “likes” of your employees, but not so specifically that it will be an unattractive incentive for some employees or some groups of employees.

Generally awesome incentives, like Sumo’s referral incentive of flying you anywhere you want in the world 1st class, will have employees lining up with the results of their contact list search.

Here are some ideas for incentivizing your referral program:

  • Offering a cash incentive bonus to employees who make successful referrals (Just think what you’d be paying a recruiter for finding a successful hire).
  • Offering fun experiences to employees who provide successful referrals (tour of a local attraction, tickets to see a local sports team, concert tickets or a groupon for paddleboats, paintball, etc.
  • Offering a new tablet, phone or other piece of cutting-edge tech for a successful referral.
  • Taking everyone out for a delicious lunch on the company in the event of a successful referral (and an individual prize for the employee who made the referral.)
  • Offering time-off and/or travel incentives for successful referrals, like an extra 5 days of PTO and/or 1000$ toward the trip of your choice.
  • Offering even greater rewards for employees who have provided several successful referrals.
  • Offer prizes to  both the referred hire and the referring employee so that former colleagues have something extra to celebrate when they catch up. 

The Offer

No matter how focused your employees are on bringing you quality referrals, their hard work will be in vain if your job offer isn’t competitive by your industry’s standards for the open job.

Here are some ideas to help your employees sell your offer to their referrals:

  • Research the competition and be sure that you are presenting an offer that matches or out-matches the compensation your competitors are offering for this kind of job.
  • Make your job description easy to share for your employees
  • Increase the referral power of your employees by telling the top 5 selling points of this job for someone who is seriously interested in the role.