Top Talent Knows Top Talent

Vistaprint-Employee-Referral-ProgramMy company has a high bar. Those aren’t our words (Glassdoor put us in the same category as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook), but the caliber of people we look for are highly sought-after technologist, analysts, marketers, manufacturers, all of whom we vie for in an increasingly competitive market, and most of whom aren’t even looking at all. Sound like your company? Well guess what; as the economy improves, and companies’ bottom lines grow, it’s only going to get tougher.

Eight months ago we realized this, and that we needed to do things differently. The demand for the hardest-to-hire talent within the company grew exponentially and we were asked to find more talent in a shorter period of time than ever before. So we developed a plan to do everything differently – from outbound sourcing to employer branding to agency engagement – and in doing so, we uncovered a previously untapped and barely engaged with pool of talent who were always right under our noses. And that’s why we doubled-down on Employee Referrals.

We re-launched our Referral Program focusing on five core ways in which we could win big within this recruiting channel. Whether it’s ongoing campaigns that drive external awareness of opportunities, improved internal communication with clear calls-to-action, rewards that go beyond the wallet, or a singular approach to how we handle the volume we expected, our goal was to eclipse 40% of hires resulting from a referral while ensuring a best-in-class experience for our employees and their friends. We’ve blown that away.


  • Brand: Like any product in the world, we set out to create an image for our program that would bring its identity to life, elicit an action, and tie very closely to our overall employer branding efforts. By doing so, we were able to center the conversation on the true impact of the program, which is something far larger than filling jobs – building the company.
  • Engagement: There is absolutely no value to be gained from a referral program without a plan to drive participation in it. To that end, we created all sorts of engagement opportunities for our employees to get involved from new hire learn-at-lunches to free pizza for the office if we collectively could share 200+ jobs on LinkedIn. On this topic, innovation has been the key.
  • Communications: A successful ERP needs to always be top of mind with your employees. Our communications plan aims to build awareness of openings, step-by-step tips on how to network, and even has embedded LinkedIn search strings making it simple for our employees to identify talent. And email blasts aren’t the only way to communicate. We leverage functional leaders to communicate with their teams about their most critical needs and how our own networks can meet the need.
  • Recognition: Although people can be motivated by a desire to help, most folks are motivated by money. For that reason, we leverage time-based increased incentives that create a sense of urgency. And since money isn’t the only incentive, we’re constantly finding new ways to reward like public recognition, team outings, and crazy raffle items like an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii and 30 consecutive days of paid time off. Lastly, we don’t wait 90 days to pay out a bonus. 98% of our referrals stay past a year, so why should employees have to wait to get their check?
  • Logistics: Lastly, your ERP will fail unless your employees can rely on a consistent, high-touch experience. That means a simple and efficient way to make and accept a referral, setting and meeting expectations for meaningful feedback for every referral, frequent updates about their status during the interview stage, and processes that don’t let anyone fall through the cracks.

The results have been awesome. In the last eight months, in some of our toughest to fill functions, our successful referral rate is above 50%, and all functions are on the upward trend. Our time-to-fill is down, and the bottom line; the business is happy with the work we’re doing, and employees are referring at rates never before seen. On top of that, we’re leveraging this employee-driven momentum to ramp up the conversation on employer branding. After all, the first people that hear what employees say about your company are also just waiting to be referred.

What have we learned?

  • Our referral program is only winning when it’s constantly driving engagement. So we designed it to be highly promotional, really no different than any other marketing campaign our company runs. By doing so, our employees are not just thinking about who to refer, they’re constantly motivated to act.
  • We’ve also learned that employees need a simple solution for identifying and engaging with their own networks, so we invested in technology that matches network connections with opportunities, enables employees to socially share jobs, and simplifies the referral process. One employee used it and posted a job to Facebook. Seven of his friends applied and three were hired netting him a cool $30,000 bonus.
  • Lastly, you have to innovate and think outside the box at every turn. When employees see the same carrot, it becomes less appetizing.

How can you apply this in your company? Here are four steps to boost your program:

1) Get some wins. Find out what your folks think of your current program – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and improve quickly. For some, that could be addressing the lack of awareness by putting in place an easy-to-execute and ongoing communication plan. For others, it could be tapping into employees networks when they’re ripest – right when they start – and building that into your onboarding program. Find quick wins to build credibility and scale.

2) Feedback, feedback, feedback. There is no quicker way to kill your program than to have black holes and recruiters who don’t provide feedback to candidates and employees. Stop biting the hand that feeds you and instead give it a white-gloved service.

3) Innovate. Regardless of how your program is performing today, it can always be better. The best way to boost its performance is to constantly be thinking about ways to innovate across every touch point, which keeps the program fresh and top of mind.

4) Never take your foot off of the pedal.

Now go. GO!