Reference Referrals: The Simplest, Fastest, And Cheapest Recruiting Tool

Managers frequently ask me, “What is the best recruiting source to use when you have no budget, little time, and don’t know much about recruiting?” Without hesitation my answer is…use reference referrals. The Definition of a Reference Referral A reference referral is quite simply asking the references (that were given to you by previous hires) to act as a referral source for the names of “other” top performers that the references also happen to know. But why does this approach work? The concept is really quite simple. It is well known that the references given to a firm by a candidate are almost (by definition) higher-level performers than your candidate. Traditionally, we call references to get their opinions about a candidate’s performance. However there is a better use for references. Start by asking yourself this question…”What are the odds that the reference will know only one top performer (the one that is currently applying to your firm)? Because the answer is almost always that “they know several other excellent potential candidates also,” smart managers and recruiters need to become regular users of reference referrals. It turns out that “A”-level references know lots of “A”-level players. How Do Referral References Work? Reference referrals work right away; they require no training and no manual. Just follow the steps outlined below and within a day you’ll have great candidates flowing in. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Identify the top performers (top 25%) from those employees that you have hired recently (from six to eighteen months ago).
  2. Look-up the names and the number of the references that they gave when they were hired.
  3. From the list of references, identify the ones that made accurate (positive) comments about the candidate that you hired (assuming you still have the reference notes/ records).
  4. Call the references up and say something like this: “I want to thank them for giving us a reference for Mr./ Mrs. XYZ. Based partially on your recommendation we hired them and they turned out to be an excellent employee.”
  5. Next ask them, based on the success of your last reference, “Would you be willing to help out again by giving us some names of some other equally or better qualified candidates?” If they need more time to think of names, tell them that you will call them back in day or so.
  6. Ask the reference if it is OK for you to use their name as an introduction when you are calling the people they have just referred.
  7. If they seem enthusiastic, ask them to call the candidate first for you. The goal here is to “warm up ” and to “pre-sell” the person as well as to let them know that you will be following up with a call soon.
  8. Next ask them if the person they are now referring also knows the person that you recently hired. If so, use that relationship as an introduction when you call the new referral. Let them know that you recently hired a colleague or friend of theirs, and then tell them how well their colleague is doing at your firm.
  9. Next call the reference referred candidate and tell them who referred you and why you’re calling. Assess their interests and then sell them on the firm and the job. Also offer to send them additional material about the job and the firm.
  10. Even if they are not currently interested in a position ask them if it is okay with him/ her if you put them on your e-mail jobs list. Later you can “push” any relevant open jobs to them. Relevant job openings can also be “pushed” to your reference referral people on the chance that the opening announcement might remind them of possible candidates.
  11. After hiring a few candidates (by using the reference referral tool) gather metrics on the results, in order to see what works in the reference referral process and what didn’t. Then use the metrics to continually refine your approach until you get the maximum yield out of your reference referrals.
  12. If the reference referrals give you names, consider giving them a reward for the referral. (A small bonus for providing the names of great prospects and a larger bonus for any actual hires).

Advantages of using Reference Referrals As you can see using reference referrals is relatively simple to do because it:

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  • Uses existing names and telephone number that are already in your files.
  • Limits the referrals to only the references of top performers that have a track record at your firm and thus you limit the risks you take.
  • Allows you to further narrow down the reference list (from the original three) by eliminating those references that gave inaccurate reference information on the previous hired candidate.
  • Requires no training
  • Provides high quality candidates and hires

Conclusion Reference referrals are easy to do and they produce great results! Don’t be surprised if this cheap, fast and simple recruiting tool becomes your” go to” recruiting tool within a month of trying it. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



2 Comments on “Reference Referrals: The Simplest, Fastest, And Cheapest Recruiting Tool

  1. Great tip! I also recommend asking every candidate for the name of three people they know who would be interested in eharing about opportunities you have. Also references are great sales leads….if an applicant left ABC company to go to your client…then ABC has an opening!

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