How to Optimize Your Employee Referral Program

Aubrie Przybysz
Marketing at Drafted

Think about it. Referrals happen everywhere. As the recruiter in the office, you’re being sent referrals over email, text, Slack, in person (like you’ll be able to remember the conversation). There’s even a stack of referred resumes on your desk. The amount of time it takes to sort through and appropriately catalog referrals is not worth the fuss.

Even with an ATS in place, there’s still a lot of legwork on your part to get the referrals that made it your way via every other vehicle but the ATS, organized. What a waste of time, right?

Imagine if you could take all of that time you spent doing the busy-work and put it into focusing on the best candidates. The one thing that will actually help put you ahead of the competition in terms of speed and efficiency.

How do you shift from busy-work cannibalizing your time to being able to devote more time to the best of the best candidates and referrals? Here we will discuss 5 steps you can take to make this shift in your referral program.

How to optimize your process in 5 steps

1) Prioritize referrals in this order

High-priority: Referrals relevant to an open role at your company.

When a referral is already qualified for an open role it makes your job 10x easier and you can devote time to nurturing this potential candidate. Their interest might be unknown, but if they’re a good fit it might not be too hard to convince them to get interested. Better yet, utilize the colleague that referred them to help warm them up to your company.

Medium-priority: Referrals interested in your company.

Maybe they aren’t an obvious fit for a current position or maybe they are one of those referrals that was given to you without much context. It may take extra time to figure out what role is the right one for them, but knowing they are already interested will make your outreach to that candidate go quicker and smoother.

Low-priority: Referrals not actively looking for a job.

These referrals will take the most convincing, especially if they aren’t aware they were referred to your company in the first place.

2) Automate data entry

Using an automation system can remove data entry from your life. Embrace those robots to do the busy-work for you!

As long as instructions are clear for your colleagues on how to access this new automated format for sending referrals, they’ll do it. With this new clarity in the referral making process, they’ll probably make even more referrals and you won’t have to stress.

Not ready for an automation system? Pay someone on Upwork to do it for you. Time is money and paying someone to do the manual work will be well worth it. Letting yourself live in spreadsheets all day can be crippling to your productivity and efficiency, especially when it comes to spending time with talented candidates. 

3) Automate referral status notifications

Aside from the manual inputting and sorting, you’re also getting interrupted throughout the day with people asking what happened to the referral they made. The added back-and-forth is a major time sink and can become distracting. Avoid these interruptions by using a system that automatically notifies colleagues with the status of their referral. Or a system that allows them to proactively the current status of their referral on their own. 

They have peace of mind and you have peace.

4) Implement a qualification system for referrals

When structuring the process of how people are going to be sending referrals, keep it clear and simple. Determine a method of entry – Slack, email, or an automation system (like Drafted 😉). Then implement a couple of questions to help create a qualification system around their referral. 

Things like:

  • What job are you referring this person for?
  • Do they know about the referral?
  • How do you know this person?

Questions like this can go a long way in helping you prioritize referrals.

5) Respond in real time

This is where the inbox 0 rule comes into play. The best way to inbox 0 is to look at every email once and make a decision about that email on the spot. Timing and speed are essential in hiring high-priority candidates, so use a referral 0 rule.

When a referral comes in, look at it immediately and make a decision to reject, contact, or request more information from the colleague who referred them while this referral is fresh in their mind. Referrals are one of the most important sources of hires, so giving them the attention and action they require is paramount. 


These 5 steps may seem like a lot of initial effort, but once you start creating an optimized system for your referral program, the easier your day-to-day is going to be. You want to spend more time talking to candidates and less time organizing referrals, especially when you are doing manual work for referrals you know have no real shot at an open position.

Take that time back and put it into the most impactful part of your job -- getting in front of potential hires.

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