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Your Employee Referral System is broken. Here’s How to Fix it

Here's how proactive referral flows help recruiters save time and hire faster.


If we were to take a random sample of recruiters and ask them one question - If you could hire from just one channel, which one would you choose? I believe the unanimous answer would be - Employee Referrals.

The answer isn’t surprising at all. After all, employees hired through the referral process are:

  1. Faster to hire
  2. Cheaper to hire
  3. Quick to be onboarded
  4. Will stay longer at the job

Further Reading: Here is Why Employee Referrals are the Best Way to Hire by LinkedIn Talent Blog

And all the recruiters in the world know this - 82% of employers rely on the employee referral programs.

And yet, on ground, the best laid employee referral plans fail. Why?

Let me tell you a referral story.

The recruiter is assigned a newly open role in the intake meeting

She comes out and creates a well structured Job Description and uploads it on the Application Tracking System (ATS). The ATS does its blitz and the opening with the JD is live at 50+ job boards. 

The ATS doesn’t stop there. It creates a unique referral link for each employee of the company. Anyone who applies through that link is counted as a referral by the employee (whose link it is) and the referral bonus gets credited.

It’s the perfect set up. It should work flawlessly. Only, it doesn’t.

Let’s get to the root cause of why the existing referral program doesn’t work.

While recruiters do all the hard work of setting up the referral program and the links for each open role, the steps beyond that are beyond the recruiter’s control. All the recruiter can do after the setup is - Follow Up.

And that’s for the recruiters. 

Conclusion: The existing referral process doesn’t work because it is Passive. It expects the employees to do everything while making the recruiters handicapped.

How to make employee referrals work?

The answer is pretty simple - by making referral proactive.

The real question, however, is how to make referrals proactive. Let’s explore that.

How to turn passive referrals into proactive?

The existing systems of recruitment aren’t really built for proactive referrals. However, you can follow the system manually, hacked together with spreadsheets, Airtable, LinkedIn, and Gmail.

Here is the hacked-together system of proactive referrals:

  1. Create the job description.
  2. Get the opening up on the ATS.
  3. Start your search on LinkedIn.
  4. Shortlist the best-fit candidates.
  5. Add them to the Airtable database.
  6. Fill in the mutually connected employee fields.
  7. Go on LinkedIn to execute a boolean search.
  8. Find more candidates and add to the Airtable base.
  9. Repeat the exercise for mutually connected employees.
  10. Ask for intros by sending emails to all the mutual connections.
  11. Update the status of Intros made periodically (ideally, everyday)
  12. Set up automatic reminders for employees who haven’t made an intro.
  13. Repeat till you have enough intros to begin the evaluation process.

Here’s the Airtable Database you can use to run referrals: Airtable Base (make sure you make a copy and use it). And here’s how to set up automated reminders on Airtable.

Here is the one-click way to make referral proactive:

  1. Use Kula Circles
  2. That’s it.

Ok. Jokes apart, the Circles module is built to make referrals dead-simple for companies. The recruiters are always in control and can orchestrate the entire referral flow rather than just ‘following up’.

What is Circles?

Circles is the internal network of employees and their first level connections - imported from LinkedIn, Gmail, and other private sources.

The way we think about Circles is:

  • Imagine a private network of your employees and their closest connections available to you in one module
  • With filters to find just the right candidate for an open or a future role
  • Your own private and comprehensive talent pool that makes referrals simple and easy

Recruiters on Kula have access to the Org Circles. Org Circles is the cumulative view of all the individual employees' ‘Circles' combined. It's an exclusive talent pool of all employees' first-degree connections and a talent goldmine for recruiters to source and make demand referrals.

Using Circles for Referrals 

Recruiters have a list of open roles with them. Instead of asking employees to find out a best-fit candidate from their network, recruiters find that candidate from the Org Circle and ask for an intro from the connected employee.

Here's the referral flow with Circles

  1. Navigate to Circles on your Kula workspace
  2. Select Org Circles from the drop-down on Top Nav
  3. Use filters to find the best-fit candidate
  4. Click on the 'Get Intro' button
  5. Select an employee from the mutual connections
  6. Send ‘Get Intro’ email.

The above flow triggers an email to the mutually connected employee with an intro request email. 

As you see above, the email would have 2 CTAs:

- Make Intro: Clicking this CTA will bring the employee to the Kula dashboard with a pre-filled email, keeping the recruiter in CC, and the candidate in the 'To' field. The employee can click on send with the pre-filled email or edit the email content to make it more personal.

- Deny Intro: If the employee isn't comfortable making the intro, they can deny it. While denying, the employee is again brought back to the Kula dashboard, where they can confirm denying an intro by selecting a reason for denial.

  1. Once the employee makes the intro by clicking on the ‘Make Intro’ button, the email is triggered from the employee to the candidate with the recruiter in CC.
  2. The employee doesn’t need to do anything else.
  3. All communications are tracked from start to finish, across Kula workspace and the ATS.
  4. When the candidate finally gets hired, the employee is up for a referral bonus automatically.

The proactive referral flow is a gamechanger for brands. It cut the hiring TAT for one of Kula’s customers by 80%. The usual referral flow took them 6 weeks, the Circles flow took less than 10 days to hire an engineer in their founding team.

Here’s the story of how Chronicle, an early stage start-up made referrals proactive.

You can run your referral program with your current setup, or using the Airtable hack. However, if you believe your recruitment stack needs a raise and deserves to function with the tools of today, sign up for a demo of the Kula platform.

Rohit Srivastav

Founding Marketer

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