Delivering a successful referral scheme can have a huge impact on your overall hiring challenges. When it works, referrals roll in and life is easier for everyone involved. When it doesn't, referrals dry up and the experience becomes much more painful than it needs to be.

Over the years, I've been involved in many referral scheme implementations and designs for a variety of clients across the world. I've seen sophisticated, creative ideas hit home-runs and other projects crash and burn.

But through everything, I've narrowed down these experiences to three key lessons, including a total of 18 practical ways you can build and execute an extremely successful referral scheme today.

Those 18 methods fall into three categories:

1. Make it extremely simple to refer someone.

Many companies create friction by setting up schemes that are too damn hard. Keep barriers to an absolute minimum and design a process that's as easy to use as possible.

Employees regularly cite effort as the main reason for not engaging with a referral scheme. These nine ideas will help you reduce friction and create a simple, intuitive and seamless experience:

  1. Make your message strong with a highly visible, simple call to action.
  2. Make the form less than five fields long.
  3. Have a pre-written message waiting for employees to send, so they don't have to type any more than they need to.
  4. Use one submit action that notifies both you and the prospective candidate at the same time.
  5. Re-enforce what will happen next, including benefits and rewards, likely timelines and how to refer someone else.
  6. Don't forget to thank employees and remind them what a big help they are by referring people.
  7. When promoting any referral initiative, communicate why you need to find people, as well as who and where. People want to feel part of the big picture.
  8. Aim to have the most relevant open jobs displayed; basic, simple personalization can help filter jobs most likely to be relevant to an employee by controlling localized job vacancies relevant to their world, role and function.
  9. Circulate positive stories about people successfully placed via referrals--prove it works and that other employees are doing it.

2. Build referrer feedback into the process.

Often, the referrer never gets any updates. If you have no idea what's going on, why would you go out of your way to help?

Here are five ways to ensure feedback is built into the process from the start:

  1. Ensure you have 'source' fields in your CRM, which allows you to mark 'Referrer' and 'Referrer email', as well as just the source type 'Referral'. If you don't have a CRM, make sure there's a step in your process to record relevant referrer information.
  2. Create an automated status update notification at the relevant stages of the process to let a referrer know what's happening. Again, if this is being done in the absence of tech tools, then at least update your manual process to include an email (or text) that updates the referrer with progress.
  3. At each stage of feedback, reaffirm the benefits of referring and the likelihood of being compensated/rewarded. This keeps people motivated and engaged.
  4. Have your hiring managers reach out to referrers before interviews take place, so they can acquire extra context or detail to use when meeting with referred candidates.
  5. Incentivize or motivate hiring managers to provide additional feedback to the referrer after candidate interviews have taken place, especially if it's someone they know personally.

2. Review your candidate experience.

A successful referral scheme depends to a large extent upon the level of your candidate experience. Nobody wants to put their friends through a difficult or challenging experience, just to have them rejected at the end.

You can take simple steps to ensure the basics are covered by following these four tips:

  1. Apply for a job at your own company so you know what it's like firsthand. Observe quick, easy wins and improve upon these. Common problems include duplicate information requests, laborious forms, ill prepared hiring managers, etc.
  2. Pay attention to notifications or information sent to candidates. Does it sound too formal? Is it on brand? Is it too 'process-driven?' You always want to make sure communication sounds as authentic and human as possible.
  3. Ensure you have a means of answering candidate questions at every stage. Even if it's just an email address, a solid FAQ section on your website or a simple chatbot facility. If you can offer engagement at each stage, drop off will decline and overall candidate happiness will increase dramatically.
  4. Implement a strict maximum time tolerance between each step in your process. If candidates are waiting around for days, weeks or even months to hear back, it can be frustrating to take the next step. Speed and efficiency will keep candidates involved and interested.