| 27 September, 2023 | 9 Min Read

10 Most Attractive Employee Referral Program Ideas & Examples

Do you know that an employee referral program, when done right, is one of the most effective methods to recruit top talents? Here are some ideas to build and improve your referral program right away.

Recruiting top talent has always been challenging. But maybe because you're so focused on finding a suitable candidate in the vast sea of talent, you may overlook a valuable hiring resource at your fingertips: your current employees.

Zippa’s research on job referral shows that:

  • Employee referrals make up 30-50% of all hires
  • Hiring referrals reduce company turnover by up to 20%
  • Referred candidates are about 6.6% more likely to accept job offers
  • The cost-per-hire of job referrals is $1,000 less on average than other hiring sources
  • Referred hires stay 70% longer than job board hires
  • Referral employees are 25% more profitable

It proves that the referral program can power up your hiring process, as it can save time and hiring costs and allow you to find more engaged and productive new employees.

So, in this article, we'll explore the 10 best employee referral program ideas and some referral program examples from big companies.

Let’s inspire now!

What Is An Employee Referral Program?


An Employee Referral Program is a structured recruitment strategy where companies encourage their current employees to refer suitable candidates for job openings within the organization.

To enhance the program's effectiveness, companies usually offer a referral reward or referral bonus to individuals who successfully refer qualified new hires.

10 Top Employee Referral Program Ideas


To truly engage your employees and encourage them to refer the best candidates, you need innovative and attractive referral bonus ideas.

Here are some top employee-to-employee referral ideas to consider:

Use tiered rewards

Tiered rewards are a highly effective employee referral program policy that you can implement. It provides a progressive incentive for employees to refer multiple candidates. 

You could offer different levels of bonuses or prizes for the first, second, and third successful referrals, and so on. The more referrals an employee makes, the greater the rewards they earn. 

This approach motivates employees to refer more candidates and rewards their ongoing commitment to the program.

Another type of tiered reward is breaking down the rewards in increments at different stages of the recruitment process, such as when the referred candidate submits their application, successfully completes the interview, gets hired, and successfully passes the probationary period.

Your employee may find it frustrating if their referral candidate isn’t hired. This approach keeps them engaged and encourages them to continue supporting their referral once they become part of the company.

Bigger referral bonus for harder-to-fill positions

Some positions often demand specialized skills or expertise that can be challenging to find.

By offering a larger referral bonus for these positions, you incentivize employees to actively search within their networks for candidates with the unique qualifications needed.

This approach addresses critical hiring needs and recognizes the additional effort and value in referring candidates for roles that require a more extensive search. 

Get a good tagline

A catchy and memorable tagline can make your referral program stand out. 

Consider an employee referral program tagline that resonates with your company culture and encourages employees to participate. 

For example, "Refer and Rise Together" or "Building Our Dream Team, One Referral at a Time." 

A compelling tagline can make the program more relatable and appealing to your workforce.

Free download: 'We’re hiring' social media post templates

“Bring a friend” happy hour

Organize a "Bring a Friend" happy hour or social event where employees can invite potential candidates to meet and mingle with the team in a relaxed setting.

This informal gathering allows candidates to get a feel for the company culture and facilitates a deeper connection between them and your employees.

It's a great way to encourage referrals while showcasing your workplace environment.

Experiential rewards

While cash incentives are the most common referral rewards, many employees prefer to be treated with an unforgettable experience.

For example, you can offer them adventure getaways, interesting workshops, travel vouchers, or gourmet dining experiences.

Experiences create lasting memories and can be highly motivating for employees.

However, you should survey employees beforehand to determine what experiences they will most likely enjoy.

Incentivize with days off

Many employees appreciate extra days off to spend more time with their families or get cherished "me time." 

Thus, you can consider offering additional paid time off as an incentive for successful referrals. 

This approach recognizes the value of your employees' time and, moreover, promotes work-life balance. 

Not to mention, according to Forbes, giving your employees days off can help boost productivity. The study found that people who took more than 10 vacation days annually had a 65.4% chance of receiving a raise or bonus, whereas those who took fewer than 10 days had only a 34.6% chance.

Give back to charity

Encourage employees to refer candidates by pledging to donate a certain amount to a chosen charity or cause of their choice.

This not only motivates employees to participate but also aligns your organization with social responsibility. 

This approach can foster a sense of purpose and community within your workforce, making your referral program even more impactful.


Gamify your referral program by turning it into a friendly competition.

Create leaderboards, badges, or points systems to encourage employees to refer candidates actively. Recognize and reward the top referrers regularly and organize challenges or contests to keep the excitement alive. 

Gamification taps into employees' competitive spirits and can be a fun way to drive participation.

Welcome lunch

A great way to welcome new hires is to sponsor a nice lunch for them and their friend or the person who referred them.

It allows referring employees to bond with their referrals and reinforces their role in building a strong team.

Extend to former employees

Don't forget about your alumni network! Extend your referral program to include former employees who have left on good terms.

These individuals may have strong connections within your industry and could refer valuable candidates.

Expanding your outreach can enhance the chance of having more high-quality referrals.

Employee Referral Bonus Examples from Big Companies

In this section, we will learn some examples of employee referral bonuses from industry giants, where top companies reward their employees for helping build exceptional teams.

Google’s: Trip to Hawaii

Google found that rewarding their employees with trips to Hawaii is better than $1 million in awards.

It proves that a lifetime memory is worth more than a million dollars.

We understand that not every company can give out such a big prize. But you can still test out Google’s employee referral program idea by offering more affordable experiences, such as weekend getaways, spa treatments, and tickets to concerts or sporting events.

Intel: 2X Bonus

In 2015, accelerating an effort to diversify its workforce, Intel decided to reward employees with double the regular referral bonus to those who suggested candidates that helped them meet that goal.

This referral bonus idea helped them find many talented women and minorities to join their company.

Booking.com: Portuguese lunch

When Booking.com needed to hire more Portuguese-speaking representatives, they came up with an excellent employee referral program template.

They bought a Portuguese lunch for the office and then left behind referral cards to get input from their employees.

Adobe: Paid time off

Out of work, your employees have their personal passionate projects or hobbies.

Understand that, Adobe rewards their employees with paid time off to relax, recharge, and reenergize.

DigitalOcean: Charitable donation

In 2017, DigitalOcean launched a new referral incentive structure. For each successful job referral, in addition to a $3,500 referral bonus, the referring employee received a $1,500 charitable donation paid by DigitalOcean on the employee’s behalf.

As a result, in 2017, 40% of their new hires have been referrals.

While the above examples are primarily from a few years ago, due to their proven effectiveness, they still serve as excellent inspiration for your referral program.


These innovative ideas for employee referral programs will make your hiring process more engaging, rewarding, and effective.

By incentivizing your employees creatively and creating a positive experience for both referrers and candidates, you can transform your job referral program into a powerful tool for attracting top talent to your organization. 

Read more: 10+ essential recruitment email templates

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