How to Cultivate Referrals From Rejected Candidates

By Kevin Grossman – Published March 8, 2022 on

Employee referrals are a cornerstone of any sound talent acquisition strategy, especially when upwards of 20%+ of your hires come from referrals. But what about candidate referrals, those made by individuals in your talent pipeline who don’t even get hired?

Like employee referrals, candidate referrals can be an effective source for tapping into passive job seekers. In the current talent market, where the competition for qualified workers is tougher than ever, the value of candidate referrals can be invaluable.

The question is: What inspires candidates to refer qualified colleagues and friends to you, particularly when you’re not offering cash incentives (as is often the case with employee referrals) and you will have rejected most of these candidates, possibly even before they’ve made a referral?

The answer is: a respectful, high-quality candidate experience.

How To Cultivate Candidate Referrals

Make no mistake — your jobs and your company (its mission, culture, and reputation) are the primary drivers of referrals. Your candidate experience, however, is close behind when it comes to motivating people in your talent pipeline to refer others. The more positive the experience you provide, the more likely candidates are to make referrals.

Talent Board has been researching the candidate experience for more than a decade, and the data consistently shows that when employers provide positive experiences, candidates are significantly more willing to increase their relationships in all sorts of ways. That includes applying to their jobs in the future, purchasing their products or services, and influencing the opinions and purchases of others — even when they’ve been turned down for a job. That’s a pretty nifty set of outcomes for providing positive candidate experiences.

As for their willingness to make referrals, among all of the thousands of candidates who participate in Talent Board’s annual benchmark research, each year roughly 30% say they’re extremely likely to refer others as a result of positive candidate experiences. Here’s the remarkable part: Nearly 90% of these individuals are rejected for the jobs they applied to. That’s how powerful a positive candidate experience can be.

Talent Board’s latest research reveals several key actions you can take at various stages of the candidate experience to generate referrals. These include:

Being transparent about salary as early in the candidate experience as possible. Pay transparency is a hot topic right now, as it should be. Research has shown that when pay transparency is lacking, employees are 50% more likely to leave their company, and hiring new talent becomes exponentially harder because nearly two-thirds of the country’s adults say that salary is one of their most important decision-making factors when looking for a new job.

Eight states have already passed pay transparency laws, and a growing number are considering doing the same. Legalities aside, Talent Board’s research shows that when candidates were told about a job’s salary without having to ask, their likelihood to refer others increased a whopping 132%. Sharing salary information in job descriptions, on company careers sites, during the application process, and during interviews are all becoming more common — and the earlier in the recruiting process the better, as salary is a deciding factor in whether many individuals will even consider a job.

Giving and asking for feedback at the interview stage. When employers gave specific feedback to candidates, candidates’ willingness to refer others increased by 24%. And when employers solicited feedback from candidates after an interview, candidates were 74% more likely to refer others…


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