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How to Cultivate Candidate Referrals

“Adaptability is the simple secret of survival.” – Jessica Hagedorn, American Playwright

If you have ever been in the recruitment industry, you have most likely heard of employee referrals. The company will usually have a system in place to reward any potential hires that come through an employee’s referral network. This is a sound part of any talent acquisition strategy. But did you know that candidate referrals contribute just as much to a company’s recruitment strategy? Much like employee referrals, candidate referrals can be an effective way of talent sourcing.

The only question is: what motivates a candidate to provide these referrals from their personal and professional networks? Because for the most part, you aren’t offering a cash-based incentive like is the case with employee referrals. There is also the chance that the candidate in question was rejected. So, why in the world would they help the company that turned them away? The answer to that is a quality candidate’s experience. In this article, we will explore what that entails. We also look at how you can go about creating such an environment. This should give you some in-depth insight.

Before we dive into candidate referrals, you should know some of the facts about the referral method of recruitment. This will act as a frame for the rest of the article. In January of 2020, LinkedIn came out with some interesting statistics about employee referrals. As per their research, 82% of employers preferred referrals above all other sources of hiring. This was because they provided the best ROI. Candidates found via referrals also had a higher likelihood of being hired. Around 45% of sourced employees staying more than four years with the company. Comparatively, employees that were sourced via job boards only stayed for 2 years or so.

It is fair to say that the referral system has some weight to it, and it has a proven track record in the recruitment industry. Now, coming back to the candidate referrals, it should be noted that it’s not only a positive candidate experience that makes for better referrals. There are also factors like the company’s brand image, the mission and vision, the workplace culture, and the type of job opening that make the difference.

Having said that, a solid candidate’s experience during the recruitment stages is the leading factor that decides whether the candidate shares their network, or not. So, how do we create a positive candidate experience and improve candidate referrals?

Transparency in Candidate Referrals
Being transparent with your expectations and the job is a good way to cultivate referrals.

1. Be Transparent About the Job

The debate around transparent pay is a hot topic these days, as it should be. There is plenty of research out there that backs up the fact that a transparent salary and job description are key to a positive candidate experience. Over 50% of employees are willing to leave their companies based on salary. A majority of working adults say that it is a primary deciding factor.

At the end of the day, the recruitment process is a lengthy one. Whether they are selected or not, most candidates who apply for the job are going to dedicate their time to it. Sharing the salary information in the job description, on the company’s career page, or anywhere early on in the recruitment process can go a long way. Given that salary and job transparency are such a huge deciding factor, why waste time by prolonging it till after all the stages of recruitment are done? Another advantage of sharing this information from the get-go, you show the candidates that you respect their time, thereby creating a positive brand image in their minds.

2. Giving and Asking for Feedback

One of the big peeves for rejected candidates is not knowing why they were rejected. If you give them constructive feedback at the end of the recruitment period, or better yet, in the beginning, you foster a better relationship between them and the company. This makes the candidate referrals more likely to happen. You can take it a step further by soliciting feedback from the candidate’s end. By doing so, you show them that their opinions and feedback are also valued.

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

– George Bernard Shaw, Irish Playwright

3. Keeping Candidates Regularly Apprised of Application Status

Many employers often stumble over this hurdle of timeliness. When you have a mountain of candidates to work through in a given recruitment process, keeping each and everyone apprised of the status of the application at frequent intervals is tough. However, it is a must if you want to increase the chances of getting candidate referrals on the other side of the recruitment process.

4. Making Timely Job Offers

Staying in line with this theme of timing, it is important to note that being on time with your job offer is crucial. Today’s talent market is highly competitive. This means you stand a high chance of losing the candidate to the competition. Ideally, you want to make an offer within one week of the final interview. It is more than likely that a given candidate has multiple job offers in hand, and if you want to be the top pick, you need to make that intention clear early on.

Keeping the line of communication open helps cultivate a positive relationship with candidates.

Communication in Candidate Referrals

5. Keep Communications Open

While we are on the topic of communicating, as an employer, it is important to keep the lines of communication open for the candidate. The speed and frequency with which your company handles questions and doubts from the candidate’s side will speak volumes about the brand image. There are many options for a business to stay on top of communicating with the candidate. You could opt for a chatbot or grow the size of your HR team to ease the load. Whatever you do, make sure that there is ease of access from the candidate’s side.


When all is said and done, candidate referrals are a great resource in the recruitment game. But, that doesn’t mean that employee referrals should be discounted. Employee referrals have a lot of value. If you ask them to share their network, they are most likely in touch with someone in their field or someone who has relevant experience.

Hiring someone through an employee referral also means that they will gel with the team much better as employees will recommend people they know and work well with. This is one of the few instances where bias comes in handy. Having said that, you also cannot afford to ignore candidate references, because the number of candidates who touch your recruitment process far outnumber the employees you have. This means marginally more referrals just based on sheer quantity. True they may not all be up to the level you expect or want most of the time, but the potential is huge given the current talent market we face.