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How to Generate Quality Candidate Referrals

Candidate referrals are critical to a company's hiring success. It depends on them, so much so that 20%-40% of a company’s hires can come from referrals. But in today’s labour market, they are a challenge. Based on recent research we did at Talent Board with virtual recruiting platform provider, Brazen, candidate referrals are a top 10 challenge for companies when they’re trying to attract and source qualified candidates.

Employee referrals is a core pillar of any talent acquisition strategy. And because there continues to be a drop in applicant quality, it makes sense that recruiters have focused more intensely on employee referrals, as they have long been reported to be a key source of higher-quality candidates.

When we dig further into our Talent Board candidate experience benchmark research, a candidate rates their experience more positively if they are referred, in comparison to those who did their own job search or who had unsolicited outreach from recruiters (see Table 1).

It's clear that employee referrals result in a much higher candidate rating – 57%+ higher. That’s quite significant, especially in today’s challenging hire environment. A higher candidate experience rating also leads to a greater willingness to refer others again and again, which is why more employers should look to strengthen this important source of talent, as the global talent crunch continues.

How Did They Hear About the Job?

Willingness to Apply Again NPS

Willingness to Refer Others NPS

Willingness to Continue a Relationship NPS

Employee referral




Unsolicited contact from recruiter




Their own active job search




Table 1. How candidates heard about the job and how they rated their willingness to engage the company again

Keep in mind that in our Talent Board research, 12% of the candidates who were current employees or past employees would actively discourage others from applying where they worked – in other words, they would not refer – due to their own poor candidate experience internally. And that impacts your business and your brand over time, besides losing potentially key hires and current employees.

Nearly a third of all the other candidates in our benchmark research, those who weren’t current or past employees, said they were still extremely likely to refer others, and over 90% weren’t hired for the job they had applied for.

Talent Board’s latest research reveals several key actions you can take at various stages of the candidate experience to generate quality referrals, and help you retain current employees (internal candidates).

These include:

Being transparent about salary as early in the candidate experience as possible. Pay transparency is a hot topic right now, as it should be. Research has shown that when pay transparency is lacking, employees are 50% more likely to leave their company, and hiring new talent becomes exponentially harder because nearly two-thirds of the country’s adults say that salary is one of their most important decision-making factors when looking for a new job.

Eight states have already passed pay transparency laws, and a growing number are considering doing the same. Legalities aside, Talent Board’s research shows that when candidates were told about a job’s salary without having to ask, their likelihood to refer others increased a whopping 132%. Sharing salary information in job descriptions, on company careers sites, during the application process, and during interviews are all becoming more common — and the earlier in the recruiting process the better, as salary is a deciding factor in whether many individuals will even consider a job.

Giving and asking for feedback at the interview stage. When employers gave specific feedback to candidates, candidates’ willingness to refer others increased by 24%. And when employers solicited feedback from candidates after an interview, candidates were 74% more likely to refer others.

Keeping candidates informed post-interview. Unfortunately, too many employers stumble on the timeliness and clarity of their communication with candidates after holding interviews. This is a shame because candidates’ willingness to refer others was 78% higher when they were kept apprised of their status and given clear information about their potential job fit following their interviews. Additionally, when candidates were given any information about the next steps and were followed up with consistently by the recruiter/HR professional, their willingness to refer others increased by 68%.

If you have an employee referral program, it basically turns your employees into recruiters. A quality candidate experience does the same thing but with your candidates — people who’ve touched some part of your talent attraction process and are motivated or inspired by it. When you think about the sheer numbers of those individuals, that’s an awful lot of potential recruiters who could be out there advocating for your employment brand.

You can find more of these valuable insights combined with real-world practitioner proven practices in our new book, Candidate Experience.

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