4 Ways to Drive Diverse Employee Referrals

There’s a reason why 85% of people get jobs through personal connections: It’s so much easier to have confidence in the recommendation of someone you already know and trust rather than to take your chances with a complete stranger. And there are a number of stats that prove how effective employee referrals can be: 88% of employers say referrals are their number one source of above average candidates, referred candidates are 40% more likely to be hired, and they’re more likely to stick around than employees from any other source.

Yet if you’re like a growing community of forward-thinking companies, you are probably also striving to build a more diverse and inclusive company. It may seem that a focus on employee referrals is at odds with opening your doors to those from different backgrounds, but that doesn’t have to be the case. It just takes some small tweaks to your employee referral process to focus on candidates from underrepresented communities.

One of the most important strategies is to create an inclusive approach to employee referrals. If you don’t engage your whole workforce in employee referrals, you may end up with a pool of candidates that is not reflective of the broader community. However, if you create an environment in which all employees feel enabled, invited, and excited to be a part of the referral process, employee referrals can become a powerful strategy in your diversity and inclusion plan.

Here are four ways to drive diverse employee referrals.

1. Organize “referral-a-thons”

Create a friendly office competition to see who can refer the most candidates in a specified time span. Make it clear that you’re looking for a diverse group of candidates with a wide variety of backgrounds.

These events should be endorsed and driven by company leaders who have political and social clout within the organization. In a recent webinar, Adrianna De Battista, Senior Technical Recruiter at Lyft, explained how seeing the Vice President of Engineering source for candidates from underrepresented groups sent a powerful message about what the company values.

Another important factor of the referral-a-thon approach is that it allows you to reward everyone for participating. The most successful employee referral programs reward engagement rather than results. Providing beer and pizza, or tea and crumpets, or kombucha and seaweed snacks—if that’s more your style—to everyone who shows up is a great first step. Some companies also give small gifts like $5 Starbucks cards or coveted company swag to people who participate. Never underestimate the power of small prizes to promote participation!

2. Host group and one-on-one referral sessions

“At Lyft, referral-a-thons have helped drive a significant pipeline of candidates,” said Adrianna De Battista from Lyft. “Smaller group sessions, on other hand, drive really valuable conversations within the company.” It’s important to think about what will work best within your organization and what format will help you reach your goals.

Get together with hiring departments, hiring managers, and new hires to review your employees’ connections and get introductions to the most promising candidates. Offer employees smaller, one-on-one sessions so they feel more comfortable asking questions and being guided through the referral process. If your organization has employee resource groups, meet with them as well so you can tap into their communities.

In an HROS case study, Greenhouse shares that by creating a full-on partnership with departments: hosting kick-off meetings, providing weekly status updates, and celebrating big (and small) successes, they got better results than simply hosting a one-off event. Try a few different approaches and see what works best for your teams!

You may also find that certain people gravitate towards specific activities over others. At Greenhouse, the recruiting team discovered that Sales Development Representatives were especially keen to identify prospects and send outreach emails (no surprise there, given their regular day-to-day tasks!) while the Customer Success team enjoyed conducting initial phone screens with candidates.

3. Get buy-in from senior leadership

If you want to communicate to your employees how serious you are about recruiting diverse candidates, it’s vital to get support and buy-in from the executive team. “I always say, get your senior leadership involved,” said Adrianna De Battista, “we had our VP of engineering reach out to the entire tech team and invite them to our referral-a-thon and that drove an amazing turnout.” Executive involvement communicates to every employee how important the work of diversity and inclusion is and that your organization is truly committed to it.

4. Utilize the right technology to put referrals into overdrive

Maximize the results from employee referrals by using technology to improve and standardize workflows, create a transparent system of record, and match your employee’s connections to open opportunities. A strong technology partner can make referrals fun for your employees and less time-intensive for recruiters while improving the relevance of referred candidates.

What’s next?

Encouraging your employees to make diverse referrals is a crucial part of your diversity recruiting strategy, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Focusing on your pipeline alone won’t be enough to drive the results you’re seeking. A well-rounded approach to diversity recruiting looks at your alignment around goals, employer brand, and interview process as well.

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