Amazing Practices in Recruiting — ERE Award Winners 2009 (Part 1 of 2)

It has been an amazing year in recruiting and talent management, despite severe economic hardships, budget cuts, and widespread hiring freezes.

Unlike the economic turmoil following 9/11 and the dot-com bubble burst, many recruiting functions have continued to innovate and stretch the limits of what can be defined as “standard recruiting.”

If you work in an organization that has given up on innovation and instead has adopted a survival strategy, it’s important to realize that many of your competitors are not standing still. If your organization chooses to wait for an economic recovery to begin modernizing their recruiting practices, you may find it nearly impossible to catch up.

One of the challenges in the fast-moving profession of recruiting is how to keep up with the latest evolutions in best practice. In my experience, there’s no better place to learn about practical tools and applications in recruiting and talent management than

Fortunately, ERE Media holds a yearly global competition aimed at identifying the very best “next practices” in recruiting. Each year, ERE receives hundreds of applications in eight recruiting program categories from well-known organizations like Microsoft, IBM, Ernst & Young, Intuit, Accenture, GE, Yahoo!, and from less well-known but equally innovative organizations like DaVita, the American Cancer Society, and Tata.

Fortunately, as a judge for the Recruiting Excellence Awards, I’m given the opportunity to highlight some of these amazing practices that your organization should consider adopting.


The applications this year were so powerful that choosing a winner in several categories was a challenge. This article will primarily highlight the practices of those organizations that won, but I simply can’t resist sharing some of the practices of other companies.

Category I: Most Innovative Employee Referral Program — Accenture

While employee referral programs have always been a top source for high-quality hires, during economic downturns, they can be adapted to become the most effective low-cost/high-quality source. Accenture’s latest employee referral program is unique because it began life as a pilot program in The Netherlands. Based on the program’s results, it now serves as a model for future rollouts around the globe. The new program radically simplifies the program’s terms and conditions and dedicates resources to marketing the program internally on a regular basis.

Since inception, just a year ago, the program has grown the percentage of hires attributed to employee referral from 14% to 32%. Employee awareness of the referral program has jumped from 20% to 99%, an astounding feat (do a quick survey in your organization — you might be surprised how few people know the details of your program and how to make a referral). The quality of referrals also improved significantly, reducing the number of referrals required to generate a hire from seven to five.

Consider some of their program’s highlights:

  • Charity component. The critical component in any referral program is getting your employees to make high-quality referrals, not for the direct monetary benefit, but for the opportunity to provide their teammates with the very best coworkers. By allowing the employee to allocate a portion of the referral bonus to charity (i.e., KidsRights and local elementary schools), you have added another altruistic reason for making successful referrals.
  • Focused referrals. Its referral application form makes it difficult for employees to make referrals of people they don’t really know. The process requires the individual to explain how they know the individual, that the individual’s skills are exceptional, and that the individual will “fit” within the organization. These types of features can help to limit the number of “casual” referrals that can clog the system.
  • Exciting rewards. Employees receive a small reward for a successful referral and €500 is donated to charity. They also offer an opportunity for employees who make successful referrals to participate in a drawing for exciting world trips. In addition, employees also receive €100 whenever one of their referred candidates is invited in for an interview. Obviously, any candidate invited for an interview is of sufficient quality to merit at least some reward and recognition.
  • Employee scorecard. Employees have their own individual online website that allows them to track the progress of their referred candidates throughout the hiring process (this increases employee involvement and transparency). It also covers the number of referrals and their accumulated bonuses both for themselves and for charity. The scorecard also lists the employee’s personal referral success rate. By allowing the employee to see how well they’re doing in their referrals, relative to others, you can motivate lower-performing employees to increase their referral effectiveness.
  • Referrals are flagged. Employee referrals are flagged by the application process so that they can be prioritized and fast-tracked during the hiring process. Under their enhanced program, every referral is acted upon.
  • Everyone is eligible. It’s fairly common for referral programs to exclude hiring managers and HR professionals, but this can be a mistake because among all employees, these are some of the most well-connected. Accenture’s program now covers all positions and its expanded eligibility now allows everyone, including managers, HR professionals, and recruiters to participate. Other firms that have adopted this practice simply encourage individuals to donate 100% of their bonus to charity when they see a potential conflict of interest.
  • Referral cards. Referral cards can have a major impact on referral program success. Most referral cards are “paper” and are handed out individually. Accenture has taken the practice one step further, allowing employees to send electronic referral cards to people in their network. The e-cards contain a code that allows them to get credit if the individual submits an application.
  • Courage. Even though it’s an intangible factor, it’s critical to referral program success. It’s easy for executives to discourage talk about hiring and winning awards during tough economic times, but the managers at Accenture had the courage to continue the development of this important program and to also follow through on the awards process. I salute them for their courage.

Other outstanding referral features from other companies:

  • Acumen Solutions. Rather than the traditional passive approach, targeted referral percentage goals are set for each department in order to increase healthy internal competition. They provide a toolkit to educate their employees how to more effectively network. They celebrate referral successes publicly at all major company events.
  • Microsoft. Microsoft raises the bar on employee referral related branding with their “Spreadthelove” website. This site allows Microsoft employees to “write up” their own individual story about their career with Microsoft (their story might include pictures, testimonials and video). Employees can then share the web link and “spread the love” with targeted friends, family and potential referrals. Microsoft has increased its process effectiveness by ensuring that every referral is contacted first by an employment specialist, which then introduces them to a recruiter that will manage their experience moving forward.
  • Tata Consultancy. Adapted a marketing/CRM model for its referral program (i.e., the company offers a 24×7 referral help desk with a toll-free number). Another component allows newly hired candidates who have not yet joined the firm to refer their former colleagues (in order to capitalize on their “top of mind” knowledge of their networks in their previous organization). They also instituted a “Rapid Hire” process where resumes were collected at referral desks that provide “on the spot” screening followed by preliminary evaluation and instant feedback. They also offer early bird & spot prizes as well as contests between business units to foster a competitive mindset around referrals. The metrics demonstrated (as many other firms have) that referral turnover rates during the first year are significantly lower than traditional experienced hires (2.9% for referral hires versus 8%).
  • CACI International. It sends targeted messages to employees for open “hot jobs” and has scaled its incentives and process referrals on a daily basis.

Category II: Best employer brand — Ernst & Young

Coupled with an effective employee referral program, a strong employer brandingprogram can be the second component providing firms with a distinct competitive advantage in recruiting. An employer branding program is an image-building program that emphasizes the “viral” spreading of stories and information about the elements that make your organization a “well-managed” firm.

Some of the key components of the Ernst & Young effort include:

  • A targeted branding effort. The most effective organizations try to segment the brand to meet the targeted population. Because Ernst & Young hires a large number of college grads, it has developed an effective employer branding segment that has resulted in them being listed by BusinessWeek as the number one “best place to launch a career” beating out Google and other well-known college recruiting powerhouses.
  • Brand pillars. They have four key brand pillars including Learning and development, Workplace flexibility, Inclusive community, and Opportunity. Brand messaging is embedded in every candidate facing communication.
  • Web 2.0 channels. Even though they operate in a conservative industry, Ernst & Young has chosen to use the latest technology to engage their primarily Gen Y audience. They use modern electronic tools like video, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. They offer “live” question-and-answer exchanges via Facebook where real questions are submitted and then answered online and shared with all. In the experienced hire category, Ernst & Young has been ranked on the Fortune 100 Best Place To Work List for 10 years in a row.

Other notable features of other companies:

  • Microsoft. Adopted a micro-segmenting or micro-targeting approach to employee brand messaging. They used extensive market research to identify the appropriate brand messaging by segment and then the optimal brand messaging channels. Both View and “” enables a targeted storytelling approach to branding that can be targeted at specific population segments, large and small.
  • Johnsonville Sausage. Surveyed employees to identify weaknesses in brand messaging, then created task forces to address the gap between the targeted employee experience and the actual employee experience so employees could become true brand ambassadors.

Category III: Best Retention Program/Practices — American Cancer Society

Retention is always a hot issue, but will become “red hot” when an economic turnaround begins and employees begin to think of “getting even” as a result of their treatment during budget cutbacks and layoffs. Most companies don’t even have a director of retention, nor do they offer formal companywide retention efforts, so invariably, there is a lot that can be learned from best practice organizations.

Some of the key features of the American Cancer Society’s retention program that you should consider adopting include:

  • Significant results. The most important feature of any retention program is the results that it produces. As a not-for-profit organization, the American Cancer Society is limited in its ability to offer significant pay and benefits to retain workers. However, even under those constraints, this program produced breathtaking results, namely a 2% turnover rate among program participants compared to the organization’s 37% overall turnover rate.
  • Business case. Even though they are not-for-profit, they use metrics to make the “business case,” demonstrating the dramatic impact that employee turnover has on organizational objectives. In particular, they showed a direct connection between high staff turnover and the ability to recruit volunteers in local communities. In addition, they put a dollar cost on employee turnover ($11 million per year) so that managers could better see the impact of losing talent.
  • Program elements. The program is called the talent opportunity program. It is a three year, three phase development plan for developing early career professionals. It offers a 5-point support system (online community, a local buddy, a local mentor, a local manager, and a career coach). The program has an electronic component that meets virtually via web 2.0 tools including Facebook and Blogger (used to facilitate a weekly book club).

Category IV: Best Diversity Program — Microsoft

Microsoft has adopted a long-term perspective for diversity recruiting. Rather than just meeting recruiting targets and offering scholarships, they have attempted to actually increase the supply of qualified diverse candidates with technical skills.

Some of the best practices include:

  • A pipeline approach. The recruiting begins early (high school) and contains elements that continually identify and build relationships with potential recruits. They sponsor DigiGirlz, a technology camp for young women in high school and they hosted an annual minority student day to get students excited about careers at Microsoft.
  • Targeted website. They launched an extremely powerful and targeted website,, a micro-branded website offering diverse candidates an inside look at Microsoft from a several different diversity perspectives. This site spotlights the authentic, personal stories of diverse individuals at Microsoft who have forged successful careers in technology.
  • Dedicated diversity recruiting team. Their team has full life-cycle recruiting responsibilities with a special emphasis on executive recruitment.
  • Identified challenges. They convened a panel of engineering and diversity experts to help identify the problems and challenges involved in building a multicultural workforce.

The award recipients highlighted here deserve to be congratulated, and I thank them for pushing the envelope in recruiting and HR.

It should be obvious from both the attendance and the tone of this year’s Expo that the “war for talent” is still going strong.

The rate of innovation in recruiting is increasing. The one overriding trend is that recruiting is becoming more “business-like.”

Stay tuned for part two of this article, which will cover the four remaining awards:

Category V: the best college recruiting program – Ernst & Young
Category VI: the best corporate “careers” website – Yahoo!
Category VII: the best strategic use of technology – Microsoft
Category VIII: the recruiting department of the year — DaVita

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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