How to Increase Unsolicited Referrals in HR

Some time ago I had a long conversation with a colleague about the holy grail of marketing success: the unsolicited referral. We discussed the vital role such referrals play in business development, and when thinking about our chat later, I realized that the same principles and practices that lead to unsolicited referrals in marketing can be used to generate unsolicited referrals in recruiting, too. In fact, developing three core areas can directly increase unsolicited referrals in any field!

Culture. All referrals originate here: companies that lack a strong culture won’t generate—or receive—many referrals. If you want your employees to become your recruiters, you need to make sure that they view the company as much more than a job or a paycheck. By building a culture that encourages fun, hard work, and common goals, you also build a strong culture that fosters employee loyalty and commitment.

Process. Have you ever referred a friend for a job, then didn’t get any status updates from the recruiter until you followed up on the referral yourself? (When I found myself in that situation, I vowed never to send another friend into that company’s referral black hole!) If your employees are referring potential candidates, having an established process in place to communicate the status to the referring employee on a weekly basis is essential if you want to keep those referrals coming. Also, communicating to the referrer why you’re not considering his or her contact will help increase the quality of the referrals you receive from that referrer in the future.

Pride. Now more than ever, employees want to be able to tie their companies and the work they do to a greater good. If you’re having a tough time making that connection between your people and the positive impact of their work, forget about what your company makes or does and focus instead on what you and your employees can do for the community.

All staffing firms should work on these areas in order to improve the quality of their services. At the same time, though, staffing and HR firms should help their clients, too, make improvements in those areas. With a strong culture, clear communication during the referral process, and pride in its contributions, a company can make itself a desirable employer for both temporary workers and permanent staff.

Note that this list contains absolutely no mention of a referral bonus. There’s a good reason for that omission: unsolicited referrals have nothing to do with money. And although financial incentives do a great job of increasing the quantity of referrals, increasing the payout has no effect on the quality of referrals you receive. If you keep your focus on the quality of your efforts, you’ll build a strong reputation that will bring even more unsolicited referrals your way.