The Most Effective Job Referral Approach You’ll Ever Find

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Most managers already realize that employee referral programs routinely produce the highest quality of hires, but few know that the “Give Me 5” program produces the highest-performing hires of any individual referral approach.

The “Give Me 5 Names” tool is easy, fast, and free. You start by proactively approaching individual top performers in the target job area, but instead of asking them the standard question “do you know anyone?” (which usually draws a blank), you instead stimulate their recollection by using an effective memory stimulation trick known as “a retrieval cue.”

What you do is stimulate the employee’s memory by asking them a more targeted question like “name the best innovator who you know in this field. Almost without exception, providing that “cue” (innovator) will result in them providing you with the name of an innovator who they know.

You then continue asking them for names in up to four additional categories — like best manager, best problem solver, best team player, and best under pressure — until you have five great names (which is why the program is called Give Me 5). And then because the employee will likely personally know each individual, you ask them to help you to contact them and to convince them to consider working at your firm.

Advantages of a “Give Me 5” approach

The “Give Me 5” approach produces amazing results because it has these 10 powerful elements:

  1. It is a proven best practice – This tool has been used for over 15 years at many firms, including Google and DaVita. Over all of that time, I haven’t encountered a single case where it has not produced results.
  2. It uses a scientific approach – Providing “memory retrieval cues” is a proven tool for stimulating memories. If you’re skeptical, try it out on a colleague and you will immediately see how effective providing a memory cue can be.
  3. It is proactive – It’s a proactive approach, which is several times more effective than the traditional “passive approach” of posting referral notices or spamming them with referral requests. By proactively seeking out individual employees and asking them directly for names, you get their undivided attention and focus on referrals. Because top-performing employees are extremely busy, they may never provide a referral without a personal face-to-face request.
  4. It’s easy – The approach is simple to understand and it doesn’t require detailed training. Although recruiters often apply it, any employee or manager can use it with the aid of a single page “how-to sheet” that contains several desired characteristics to consider. In most cases, the approach can be applied independently without any formal approval from HR.
  5. It’s fast – This approach generally takes less than five minutes of the employee’s time. Try to catch the employee right before or after one of their regularly scheduled meetings. If their manager is willing to administer it, their closeness means that it can generally be done within a day or two after a targeted position comes open.
  6. It targets top-performing employees – The best referrals come from top-performing employees because top performers become successful professionals because they are continually reading, benchmarking, and building their network. As a result, they have made it their job to know the very best in their field. Some organizations make the mistake of assuming that capturing the entire list of names from the phone, social media, and email contact lists of your top employees is enough. Unfortunately, that approach almost always fails because even top performers know a good number of mediocre people. By specifically asking for only the best names with superior skill sets, you not only get quality referrals but you also avoid getting a single weak referral (professional pride prevents them from naming casual acquaintances). As an added benefit, if one of their referrals is hired, the top-performing employee is likely to mentor and coach them, giving the new hire an increased chance of succeeding on the job.
  7. Employees are effective screeners – All referral programs that require employees to make a professional assessment of all potential referrals produce superior results. This is because their experience in their field makes them more effective than recruiters in accurately evaluating the skills, capabilities, and the likely fit of any potential prospect.
  8. Employees might help with the recruiting – When you ask a top performer to provide the names of the very best, more often than not they already have a current or past relationship with this person. In many cases that means that the employee may be willing (and even eager) to contact the individual and perhaps to even talk to them over coffee or lunch. If they help, this obviously can reduce the load on your recruiters. But, it can also increase your chances of landing the prospect because the person trying to sell them is already known and respected by them.
  9. It can be free – This is an informal approach. Most employees are willing to provide you with names and even follow-up support without any expectation of a reward.
  10. You may end up with continuous Talent Scouts – Don’t be surprised if the individuals who you targeted with the “Give Me 5” approach contact you the next day with additional names, because your conversation caused them to continue thinking about your names request. Ask those who produced the very best names to continue to act as informal talent scouts and to let you know when they remember additional names or when they meet new top talent.

How categories of names can stimulate skills and capabilities

When you think back over your working life there are always special people who leave an indelible mark in your mind because of some special skill or advanced knowledge that they have.

Unfortunately, the average person might not quickly remember the names of the special individuals without a verbal prompt or cue forcing them to link a name with a specific skill, capability, or identifying characteristic. When selecting from the following list of “cues,” remember to limit the number that you present to any individual or you run the risk of quickly tiring them out.

Ask your target to think back and remember the name of the very best 

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  1. Top performer who you ever worked with in this field;
  2. Manager you ever had;
  3. Team leader you worked with;
  4. Idea person, innovator, or out-of-the box thinker;
  5. Technically skilled person;
  6. Problem solver;
  7. Customer service person;
  8. Product development wiz;
  9. Agile/adaptable colleague;
  10. Colleague who excelled under pressure;
  11. Executive in a particular function;
  12. Salesperson who always beat the competition;
  13. Student while in college who was smart and effective;
  14. Mentor;
  15. Team player/co-worker;
  16. Forecaster/planner;
  17. International talent in a region;
  18. Colleague from a diverse background;
  19. Professor/researcher;
  20. Attorney, marketer, accountant, finance person, etc.

Additional action steps

Some additional action items to consider under the Give Me 5 approach include:

  • Let them know how valuable “Give Me 5” referrals are – Use metrics to measure how effective the program is in producing quality hires. Then when meeting with a targeted employee, increase their commitment by providing some of that historical performance data, so that they are aware of the high-quality results that the approach has produced.
  • Approach managers and executives as well – In addition to top performers in a particular field, also consider using the “Give Me 5” approach on managers, executives, professional association executives, and even vendors that your firm works with.
  • Also use it for internal openings – The “Give Me 5” approach can be equally effective for finding top prospects in your employee base for open jobs, transfers, promotions, and project work.
  • Consider a remote conversation – Although a face-to-face meeting is the most effective approach, telephone or Skype calls can also work in some cases. I have not, however, found email to be a viable option.
  • Prioritize your jobs – Rather than covering every job, you should prioritize the use of this approach primarily on hard-to-fill jobs and those that require top performers.
  • Consider paying for lunch – When top performers agree to meet with a prospect who they have provided, make sure that you cover their costs.
  • Consider guaranteeing an interview – Those providing you with names will likely become frustrated if there is slow or inadequate follow-up by the recruiting function. You should also consider guaranteeing at least a phone interview to the prospects provided by a top performer and especially if the employee took the extra time to meet with them and convince them to apply.
  • Don’t forget diversity – If you don’t include diversity as one of your five categories, perhaps let the employee know in advance that the name of a diverse prospect would be welcomed.

Final thoughts

If you’re not getting nearly 50 percent of your hires from employee referrals, you need to revitalize and modernize your referral program. When doing your research and benchmarking on the most effective practices, you’re sure to find that the most effective program components include proactively approaching employees and seeking referrals from your top performers.

Fortunately, the “Give Me 5” approach meets both of those requirements. And in addition, it produces the top results because it uses memory retrieval cues to get names that simply wouldn’t be captured using any other referral approach.

And, if you use metrics to identify the quality of higher, you will undoubtedly find that it ranks at No. 1 (where referrals focused on recapturing top former employees usually rank No. 2).

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," Staffing.org 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 www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

 

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