How to Create an Employee Referral Campaign

by Allison Reilly

employee referral campaign

The number of employee referrals a company receives is a major indicator of employee morale. If employees are referring people to open positions within the organization, then it's likely that they like their jobs and like their employer. So, how does an organization encourage employee referrals without coming across as tacky or desperate for talent?

In the first part of this two-part series, we're going to go over how to create a campaign the number of employee referrals within your company. The first part will discuss everything your organization needs to have planned before launching the campaign, such as what a campaign should include and when it should launch. The second part of the series will cover everything that happens from the beginning to the end of the campaign, after planning all of the campaign's details. Once the series is over, then your organization should be able to create successful employee referral campaigns over and over again.

Organizational Support

Both employees and the executives need to support the upcoming campaign. The support should be for both increasing the number of referrals and for rewarding employees (and even non-employees) for the referral. Buy-in from both sides is necessary for the campaign's success. For employees, this means making the campaign fun to participate in, but not mandatory or an initiative that looks like the boss is asking people to do one more thing. An employee referral does not show a high employee morale when employees feel they have to refer a candidate.


Campaigns that last about three months are more effective than campaigns that last a whole year or don't have an end date. If the campaign lasts for too long, then people will forget about it and the excitement will die down. Instead, plan for a three-month or four-month campaign, with the intention to launch a new campaign two to three times per year.


Simply having an employee referral campaign or program is boring to employees (which is why they ought to have an end date). It's nice to have, but there's nothing for them to get excited about, which is where the theme comes in. A great theme for an employee referral campaign should be motivating and should reflect the personality of your employees. The theme can also tie back to the campaign's primary goal, but this isn't mandatory. Download our employee referral campaign e-Book if you want idea for creative campaign themes.


Once a theme is selected, then the awards for various accomplishments should fit the theme. It's up to you whether you want to have one grand prize, or several prizes for different feats (most referrals, most referrals to hires etc.) or prizes for first, second and third place. The prizes should be big enough to get employees excited, but they don't necessarily have to cost thousands of dollars. Tickets to a sporting event, or a new tablet, will often work. It's also best if the prize isn't work-related, such as a day off, a free lunch, or a birthday pizza party, because those types of prizes are demotivating instead of encouraging.

Also consider awards that are gender neutral. A paint ball event for 40 people may sound like an awesome grand prize, but it may only sound awesome to the men. Thinks of prizes that fit the theme, but seem exclusionary to some of your employees. Instead of a paint ball event, the prize could be a wine-tasting event or a trip to an amusement park. After all, the grand prize is the ultimate motivator, so it needs to be something that your employees would be willing to put in the time to win.

Research has shown over and over again that employee referral is the one of the best, if not the best, source of hire for an organization. Candidates referred to the company by an employee tend to be of higher quality, a better fit for the company and for the position, and are less likely to be fired. The next part of this series will cover the launch of the campaign all the way to announcing the winner and evaluating the campaign's success.

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