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Hendon Publishing

Employee Referral Systems

When police agencies search for a wanted person, they do not withhold information regarding the offender or assign a couple of officers to locate the suspect. They broadcast critical information to every officer in the department to ensure they assist with the search.

The same should be true when looking for the most valuable people in the department—employees. Implementing an employee referral system (ERS) enables a department to make every officer a potential recruiter. In return, people who refer candidates who are eventually hired are provided some type of reward.

A number of advantages exist for departments to implement an employee referral system. First, research indicates that employee referral programs are the most effective recruitment technique. Incum-bents inherently know what is required for a candidate to succeed in the department. Before making a referral, officers conduct an informal screening of potential candidates. Due to this, candidates who are referred by another employee are more likely to successfully complete the selection process. Officers who are referred by another officer are working with their friends and are more likely to stay with the agency.

Employee referral systems provide lower cost per hire and greater return on investment than other recruitment techniques. Departments also benefit through higher morale when officers begin to focus on and highlight the positive aspects of working with the agency. In addition, the environment within the agency becomes more positive and productive because employees naturally enjoy working with their friends.

At the same time, agencies should be cautious of using employee referral systems if they have a homogeneous workforce or a dysfunctional organizational culture. Without proper controls, the program is likely to attract the same types of employees.

When seeking to implement an employee referral program, departments should follow four steps. First, identify the reward for successfully recruiting a candidate. Providing employees a bonus / reward for referring a successful candidate is central to the employee referral program. Rewards do not have to be extravagant to be effective.

Rewards typically include money (ranging from $100 to $5,000) or paid time off (one to five days off). In other instances, non-cash prizes such as a television, stay in a resort motel, or prized equipment may be used. Every department is different. To determine which reward is best, involve staff in designing the program.

Many agencies provide the bonus in two parts. For example, if the department provides a $1,000 bonus for recruiting an officer, $500 is provided when the candidate is hired and $500 is given upon the candidate’s successful completion of his probationary period. This two-phase approach maximizes the motivational aspects of the benefit and helps to ensure that the sponsor mentors the new candidate to success.

Second, develop the process for making a referral. Officers usually make referrals in one of three ways. Many times, the candidate tells the recruiter or HR staff the employee who suggested they apply for the position. In other instances, the officer will talk with the candidate to assess his interest in the position. The officer forwards the name of the potential candidate to department recruiters for them to contact. Finally, officers can provide the candidate with an application to complete. The referring officer returns the completed application to HR for inclusion in the selection process.

Third, distribute a written policy outlining the program. While a policy does not have to be elaborate, it should thoroughly outline the process for referring a potential candidate, rewards for making a successful referral, supporting forms, eligible personnel, and how rewards will be distributed. In addition, the policy should clarify that every candidate for employment is subject to the same employment standards. Once the policy is finalized, staff should be provided a copy of the guidelines and answers for any questions they may have.

Fourth, keep the staff informed. Department leaders must constantly advertise the program and keep staff abreast of the need to recruit good candidates. Failing to keep staff informed of the program will eventually result in fewer candidates being recommended.

When an employee makes a referral, it is critical for recruiters and human resources staff to keep the referring officer informed of the candidate’s progress. Otherwise, the employee becomes frustrated with the progress of the program. If a candidate is eliminated, the officer should be informed of the reason, whether the candidate is eligible to reapply, and what the person needs to do to improve his performance in the future.

Employee referral systems are the most effective recruitment technique available for agencies to attract potential candidates. To successfully implement an ERS, departments must outline the process for making a referral, rewards provided for making a referral. Once developed, employees must be explained the program and kept abreast of the progress the candidate. Finally, employees must be frequently reminded of the program’s goals and the department’s progress in attracting employees who meet the department’s standards and fit within the organizational culture.

Dwayne Orrick has been the Cordele, GA Police chief for 18 years. He can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2008

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