3X Your Referral Rates

Human Capital Team

How to triple your employee referral rates

If you’ve used our Recruiting Calculator, you know that the number one thing you can do to hire faster is to increase your number of employee referrals. Most companies will try to do this by offering referral bonuses or sitting down with employees and combing through their LinkedIn profiles—both are good techniques, but they are not enough.

The Memory Palace

We have a radical suggestion that unlocks hidden referrals: launch a deep search in a very unlikely place—the hidden memory palaces of your best employees.

Memory Palace

The term memory palace refers to Cicero’s technique for remembering long poems called the Method of Loci. He’d assign each stanza of the poem to elements in his home and then to recite the poem, he’d simply take a mental walk from room to room. For us, instead of taking a walk through a familiar place, we suggest a guided conversation through your employees’ personal history to trigger memories of great people they met along the way.

Unlocking the Memory Palace: Step-by-step

People have a lifetime of memories living in their long-term memory, your task is to systematically unlock the best people from your employees’ past.

Step 1. Guided Conversation

Have a recruiter (or founder, at a smaller team) sit down with each current team member and go through a guided conversation using our spreadsheet. Start with high school and move on through higher education, internships, and previous jobs.

Download the spreadsheet http://seq.vc/mindpalace

For each stage you are asking questions like, “Who were the three smartest people in your class,” “Who was your mentor at your first internship,” or “At your last company, if you needed something done last-minute, who was your go-to person?”

The point is to help the person put themselves back in those times and physical locations, which will help them recall what they were going through and who helped them succeed. Also, this has the added benefit of making the experience fun rather than tedious. Further, you only need to do this invasive mining once to come up with a list that will help your company for years.

Step 2. Get the Intros

Record the name and a contact method for each person—it helps to assure the team member that you will be respectful and never embarrass them (engineers hate looking foolish) if they put you in touch with someone. Then make time to connect with those people by any means necessary (aim for a 90% response rate). You can also use their referrals as an invite list for your next event, ideally asking the person who referred them to send the invite.

If you can, it’s great to have a check-in with new employees and let them know about your referral process. Give them a month or so to get to know your company and then get them on board for a sit-down. As long as they are happy at your company, it’s likely they’ll be eager to work with some of their favorite people again and, thus, happy to help with referrals. Also feel free to send the employee a copy of list you generate; individuals rarely sit down and think through their connections so thoroughly—they deserve to keep the data.

Step 3. Start a conversation

When you talk to referrals, remember these are the best people your team knows—you shouldn’t expect to hire them next week. Your goal is to start a conversation and to build a relationship for the long term. If you have a good story about why your company is interesting, and you actively get to know them and their desires, they’re very likely to think of you in a few months or years when they are thinking about their next move.

If they say they’re not interested, ask them if they’d be willing to make a few referrals, then use these same questions and process with them. Ask them who you should hire for your team and, if you’ve done a good job pitching, they should be willing to put you in touch.

The downside of referrals

The one tricky thing about referrals is that they can make it difficult to increase diversity. When you ask a team member to remember people from their past, the nature of the human brain means they will gravitate towards people who are like them—and you’ll end up with more of who you already have. When you ask employees to mine their networks encourage them to think broadly and inclusively so you don’t miss that right hire.


Every talent acquisition team searches for the good people. The single indicator for how effective your team is at finding the right talent is to track your employee referral rate. At the most successful talent acquisition teams, 50%-60% of their hires will come from employee referrals. The reason is straight-forward: good people know other good people, you just need to put in the work to extract the very best.