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How to Find Jobs Through Employee Referral Programs

By Susan P. Joyce

Find Jobs Through Employee Referral Programs

Employers LOVE employee referral programs! Employee referrals really are the “fast-track” to a new job. Nearly 80% of employers with 1,000 employees or more have formal programs. Job candidates hired through referral by employees are usually more successful as employees. They stay longer than average and are high-quality employees.

A 2017 survey of hiring practices revealed than 30% 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 are missing the "inside track" to a new job:

  • 1 in 3 referred employees are hired (vs. 1 in 18 via other sources) *
  • Refererals are the fastest way for an employer to fill a job, averaging 29 days vs. 45 days for job boards. *

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.


Employee Referral Programs Can Differ Greatly

While the basic elements are the same, each employer has their own approach to the process, and every program is different!

Do NOT apply for a job expecting an employee referral without -- FIRST! -- understanding that program’s rules! Without understanding how a program works, you may disqualify yourself from the program before you start.

Be VERY 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 two main ways:

1. 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 (usually in the how-did-you-find-out-about-this-job section). Or, you may need to type the referring employee’s contact information into another section.

2. 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, 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 ERP rules on the employer’s website — if you can — before you reach out to an employee is a very smart idea. If you can't find the ERP rules on the employer's website, then you will need to ask the employee to look for the program's documentation which may be on the "intranet" (internal, employee-only website) or through the HR organization.

Look for the employer's policy on each of these criteria:

  1. Timing of the referral.

    You can be disqualified for the ERP 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 website. Others allow the referral to happen after you have officially applied for the job.
  2. Who can make a referral.

    A 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.
  3. Who can be referred.

    Some employers prefer not to have an employee refer a relative.
  4. Which jobs qualify for the reward.

    Typically, the jobs that are in the ERP — or pay the best reward — are the jobs that are the hardest to fill, like jobs that are senior or jobs that are hard to fill because qualified candidates are scarce. So, not every job may be included.
  5. Which location may qualify for the reward.

    Some 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.

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

Making an Employer's Program Work for You

When you have a contact at a target employer, ask the employee to send you the rules for their employer's program. Then, make sure that you both comply with those rules to make the referral (and the reward to the employee) happen the most easily.

Understanding the program's rules, and complying with them are essential for success. I recently heard from a job seeker who had a friend send them a link to a job with the friend's employer. The job seeker immediately applied for the job and immediately disqualified himself from the employee referral program because the application was supposed to come through the employee. OOPS!

If someone has offered to refer you, be sure you have shared contact information, like this:

  • 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.

Bottom Line

Employee referrals are a very effective way to land a job, but don't assume that all employee referral programs are alike. It is too easy to mess up and disqualifiy yourself permanently for an employer's program.

* Source of data: 10 Compelling Numbers That Reveal the Power of Employee Referrals.

Next: Leveraging Employer Websites for a Successful Job Search

About 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 recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, 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 Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.

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