Employee Referral Emails - Do You Really Need Them?

Aubrie Przybysz
Marketing at Drafted

We’ve all seen it at our workplace, many of us are even guilty of it - the dreaded blanket email to your coworkers asking for a favor.

Here’s the scenario: You work at one of the fastest growing start-ups in Boston and you’re behind on headcount. Your CEO, sales, and engineering leaders are feeling the pain, and you need an across-the-board spike in the candidate pipeline. You think about your best source of hires, and think about how easy it is to refer friends to work at your company. You ask yourself, “Why aren’t our employees referring?” and think, “Maybe it’s because they forgot about our employee referral program." And then it happens: You decide, “I’ll send an email reminding everyone, and we’ll get more referrals.”

Stop Sending Emails About Your Employee Referral Program

Seriously, no one wants it and there's better ways to engage your coworkers in hiring. If you haven’t already read about it in recruiting trends articles across the web, new-age recruiting is marketing. It's all about conversion and engagement. Here’s why you should press pause on those rah-rah employee referral emails, and the tips you can apply from marketing’s  playbook to get more employee referrals, consistently.

Two calls to action equal no action

Perhaps the number one rule of marketing: Have one Call to Action (CTA). This means you choose one, single action that you want your recipient to take, and then do everything in your power to get them to do this.

It sounds simple, but it requires great discipline. Why? Because instead of one mass-email, it now means more mini-emails and more work for you.

Take a page from our friends at Drift, who recently removed all of their links from their Welcome Email with the single goal of getting a response and saw incredible results.

Try this: Send each department an email highlighting the number one role you are hiring for on their team. You can also include a postscript with a link to all jobs, but it should be super clear that you need their helping finding this one special person. You should also recruit that team’s VP to send this email on behalf of your hiring team first. Odds are, their team is more likely to take action when their fearless leader is making the request. You can reply a week later as a good reminder.

Personalization is key

Great marketing is all about hitting the right person, with the right message, in the right place, at the right time. Mass marketing teaches us that the more you can customize a message, the higher the response rate.

What small steps can you take to personalize your employee message? Free tools like Yesware and Hubspot Sales, or even a simple mail merge, allow you to send messages that include someone’s first name, and any other customizable field (think: department name, custom URL).

Try this: The more you personalize your emails, the higher chance that you’ll get those referrals. Find the balance between bespoke referral requests and that generic “don’t forget to refer” email.

Diversify your referral channels

While email is the leading form of communication for most company messages, consider what other resources you have at your disposal -- both digitally and physically. With the rise of slack, for example, many teams are sharing open roles and asking for referrals in hiring specific channels. With the physical space around your office, you might find that posters help remind your team who you’re hiring for and the rewards your employee might receive.

Try this: Test 2 alternative channels to email to promote your open jobs this month, and compare the number of referrals from your last email to this month’s referrals. Do they trickle in over time, but at a higher volume? If you’re stumped here are 25 more ideas to kickstart more referrals this month.

Lead with feel good content

If your referral program has a reward associated with it, you might lead by dangling $3k in your email opener. While it’s a good reminder, 65% of employees refer to help a friend or your company. Only 6% your employees are referring for the reward. Make sure you appeal to why employees make referrals and the referral bonus can be a nice motivator to get their introduction over the line.

Try this: Next time you message the team, lead with something unique about the role you are searching for, a reminder of why hitting growth goals is good for everyone or a summary of the core values you look for in teammates. Then, throw a p.s. in the bottom of the copy with the reward. Something like, “Oh and you’ll get $3,000 to work alongside a friend.” Place the value on the quality and not the reward.

Promise and deliver VIP treatment

VIP treatment

One of the biggest complaints that employees give about referrals is that they, as the referrer, aren’t updated on the hiring process. They have to ask their friend for updates, or hound the recruiting team. When someone takes the time and social capital to refer someone for an open position, give them a way to be part of the process -- and make this loud and clear in the messages you send to them about referrals. While simple hacks like calendar reminders and tagging referral conversations in your email go a long way to reminding you to update employees, modern ATS tools like Greenhouse (and yes, Drafted) allow referrers to log in and see their candidate’s progress.

Don’t be afraid to make referrals feel welcome, too. Candidate referrals get hired faster, onboard faster, and last longer at your company than any other candidate source.

Try this: Develop a service-level agreement (SLA) with employees for how you will treat referral candidates, and how and when you will update them. You can do this manually with reminders, or use technology to track each candidate’s progress.

Offer resources to make referring easier

Although it’s surprising, most of your employees don’t know what to say about your company. Unless you’re a sales person, hitting the phones with your pitch every day, or a marketer who knows your company positioning by heart, your employees are probably writing something like this to reach out to referrals, “Hey, what’s up? We have an open Product Manager position. It’s pretty cool here. We get free lunch on Tuesdays and a have co-ed softball team.”

Try this: Make it easy for employees by packaging up a shareable statement about your company, and each department -- and including these in your sample email. An example: “We're proud to be the fastest provider of on-demand frozen, organic dog food in the U.S. We’re driven by our love of four-legged furballs and a passion for local, sustainable meal options for every member of the family, whenever you need them." For your Engineering team, you’d write, “As a member of the Engineering team, you’ll be working with some of the most talented engineers and dog-lovers in the Bay Area, from companies like Barkbox, AirBnB, Slack, and Whistle.

Don’t forget to nurture

People often ask “Don’t all those messages get annoying?” and the short answer is, “No.” When done thoughtfully, follow up can be a helpful reminder. Think about the last email you liked getting, and what you took action on.

(A personal example: As a food-lover, I don’t mind OpenTable’s restaurant suggestions in my neighborhood, and once every couple months they hit me at the perfect time and I book a night out through that email.)

Try this: Don’t let your referral program’s success rest on a single email to your employees. Instead, add volume and value. Make follow-ups concise, valuable, and have a single CTA.

Expand referrals beyond just employees

Almost 40% of all of your referrals come from outside your organization. These community referrals are often (mis)counted as employee referrals. While some progressive hiring teams are already using the power of external referrals, there’s still a huge competitive advantage for teams who adopt this nontraditional strategy.

If you had an entire network of supporters (friends of the company, investors, customers, fans) you’d be able to 10x your referral stream and motivate people outside your company to connect you with their talented friends.

expand your team

Try this: Run a pilot program with a subset of community members that your CEO and executive team pre-approve, and measure how many referrals you make from those intros. If paying non-employees a reward is sensitive, test it without the reward or offer to donate their reward to a charity of their choice. The further you extend your network the more referrals will fill your pipeline.

So, next time you’re about to hit “send” on that employee referral email to spike your referral pipeline, press pause. These tips from marketing help you improve employee engagement, conversions and drive more referrals for your team.

About Drafted

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