Employee referrals are easily one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways of attracting talent to organizations. You can count on new hires referred by current employees to be fully immersed within your company culture in a matter of weeks.

But sometimes employee referral programs don’t bring desired effects and result in few, if any, quality hires. Here are some key reasons why your employee referral program might be failing and some tips to help you fix it:

1. No Information Flow About Open Positions

As a recruiter, you clearly know what positions are open at the company. But if you never communicate these open positions to employees, how do you expect them to bring in quality candidates? Consequently, few employees participate in the referral program, and it slowly become irrelevant as a source of great candidates.

You can use automatic tools to keep the communication flow open between you and your employees, or simply send weekly or monthly emails in which you list all open positions.

2. You Fail to Keep Candidates in the Loop

Organizations often fail to engage with a candidate for weeks after interviewing them. Naturally, job seekers grow frustrated and turn back to the employees who referred them in the first place.

It’s your job to keep both candidates and employees in the loop about the recruitment process. It is also important to group referred candidates separately from candidates sourced by other means. This will allow you to stay informed about who referred whom – and whether or not your employee referral program is actually resulting in great hires.

3. You Never Change Referral Rewards

DisintegrateIf you stick to the same referral rewards for a long time, you’re effectively failing to excite employees about the opportunity to refer their friends. Naturally, as employees lose motivation to participate, you lose out on quality hires through their referrals. Shake things up from time to time to keep employees engaged in your referral program.

4. You Use an Ineffective ATS

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are great for sorting through many candidate profiles and matching them to keywords in job descriptions. But by reducing candidates to mere keywords, you’re losing out on their industry insights, drive to innovate, and/or learning capabilities.

When hiring through employee referrals, avoid running these resumes through the ATS, but keep another channel open to grant them priority in the recruiting process.

5. You Fail to Respond to Referrals in a Timely Fashion

When and how you respond to employee referrals has a huge impact on your employee referral program. Many recruiters make the mistake of failing to respond personally to every referral that comes their way. A lack of a response – or a response that comes too late – can damage the performance of your employee referral program.

Respond to each referral in a timely manner, and you’ll show employees that their referrals are treated seriously and are worth the effort. 

6. You Never Set Expectations for Your Program

Launching a referral program without a clear objective is pointless. Determine what such a program can accomplish and set clear expectations for recruiters and employees alike. Keep communicating these expectations throughout the duration of the program and you’ll never find yourself breaking your promises.

7. Your Site Isn’t Mobile-Optimized

A referral website that isn’t optimized for mobile is a serious mistake. It will limit the number of referrals arriving at your doorstep because employees do more work through mobile devices rather than their computers. Optimize your website for mobile, and you’ll be offering a great experience for employees willing to refer a quality hire on the go.

8. You Exclude Some Employees From the Program

Business ManExcluding certain employees from the program – e.g., senior managers or HR professionals – is another bad idea. Your motive might be transparency and fairness of the process, but by excluding these people from the program, you’ll affect employee motivation. These figures should lead by example, and their participation in the program matters. If they don’t participate, why should other employees?


If you don’t want to lose a considerable number of quality hires, address these problems with your employee referral program. You’ll be on your way to making the most of your current employees and the talent pools they bring with themselves.

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