Serious businesswoman encircled by digital interface showing human facesEmployee referral programs have long been attributed with numerous benefits, which include speedy and quality hires and better performance and retention at lower costs than other recruiting sources. These known benefits have provided ample motivation to recruiting professionals to discover new ways of acquiring referrals.

In the late 1990s when employee referral programs were nowhere in the radar, Cisco came up with the Cisco Friends concept giving candidates an opportunity to connect with Cisco employees to know more about the company and the job openings rather than just sending in their profile. Realizing early on that employees were in the best position to promote the company to prospective candidates, Cisco managed to source 50-60 percent of its talent requirements through this initiative in a tight IT talent market. The astounding success of the program demonstrated for the first time the tremendous benefits that could accrue from leveraging your entire employee workforce as recruiting partners. Not only did it help recruit better quality talent with higher productivity but in fact also helped to  close positions much faster as compared to traditional recruiting channels.

Times have certainly changed since then with employee referral programs now occupying center stage in all recruitment initiatives. However, as the war for talent further intensifies in the years to come, organizations will need to start thinking differently about the manner in which they design, implement and manage their referral programs to ensure they remain ahead of their competitors in the hunt for talent. Some organizations have already started experimenting with and implementing new referral techniques; others have yet to accept this trend completely but all in all new and innovative experiments with employee referral programs will certainly gain popularity in the years to come.

Below are some of the recent trends in referral recruiting that recruiters and organizations alike should be looking to adopt in the future.

Employee Referral programs will become more scientific as data metrics will drive decision making toward specialized or focused referrals targeting specific referral groups, be it college referrals, high performer referrals or specific skill referrals. A host of organizations, including Oracle, use data driven decision making to ensure referral campaigns are targeted toward specific employee groups to ensure greater effectiveness.

Reward Schemes that go beyond cash incentives and are more inclusive in nature are going to become more dominant in employee referral programs as organizations look to reward employees not only for successful referral applications but also for participating in the program irrespective of the outcome. Accenture, for instance, rewards 100 EUR to all employees whose referrals are called in for an interview. Employees whose referrals are hired are invited to participate in a lucky draw with exciting prizes (like world trips) to ensure that employees remain excited and motivated to participate in the program.

Employees will soon have the flexibility to upload the social media profiles of their connections rather than go through the hassle of securing their updated resumes and then uploading it on the referral site. This is something that is already being practiced in most organizations. In fact, with specialized employee referral tools like ZALP available in the market today, enabling this has become a low cost and high ROI affair. Enabling social profiles, especially LinkedIn profiles, will also open the door for actively targeting passive candidates for open positions as employees will be encouraged to actively seek out social connections that match the job descriptions but are not actively seeking a change.  Microsoft is a big believer in harnessing the power of social media for driving referrals. It’s “Spreadthelove” program allows employees to create individual stories including videos, pictures, graphics and testimonials regarding their work and life at Microsoft and then share the link to “Spreadtheirlove” about Microsoft on social sites with friends and family, including potential candidates.

Referral programs will move toward introducing gamification in a big way to stimulate internal competition. Many organizations have already started making way for this trend while others are still skeptical about it. Accenture has an employee scorecard where employees can track the progress of their referral and the amount of bonus they have collected by participating in the referral policy. TCS and Aricent, on the other hand, hold contests and share dashboards capturing referral successes across the organization to foster competition among business units and employees.

As employees start referring anyone and everyone in an effort to make some extra money out of the referral policy, organizations will also have to start looking at ways of discouraging low-quality referrals. For instance, Agilent requires employees to assess every referral’s skills, experience and cultural fit. Employees are also asked to rate their knowledge of the candidate on a scale of 1 to 10 to ensure that random referrals are identified early on in the process helping Agilent save precious recruiting time.

A final major trend that has already gone mainstream as far as employee referral programs are concerned is the use of a mobile platform. Almost all organizations claiming to use referral programs for recruiting have ensured a mobile friendly referral portal giving employees the opportunity to refer-on-the-go directly from their mobile phones and tablets. This is a great value addition, especially since more and more people today use their smart phones for virtually everything.

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