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Q:  My company is hiring aggressively.  Employees are eligible to receive a referral bonus if we refer qualified candidates for several of the “hard to fill” roles within my company.  I referred an acquaintance, who was just hired by my employer.  Apparently, my acquaintance was referred through a headhunter three months ago, for a similar role, but not the same role.  Is this a common practice?  How do companies usually handle this?  I feel like I referred an acquaintance and he was clearly qualified, and then I got the short end of the stick!  HELP.

A:  When a company is aggressively hiring, they usually use a number of sources to generate candidates.  Many employers will offer a generous bonus or “finder’s fee” to current employees who refer qualified candidates.  Some companies only pay these bonuses for challenging roles, where a specific skillset is very difficult to find.  Employees, like you, may have professional and personal colleagues who would be well-qualified for opportunities within the company.  Further, employees often “screen out” candidates who might not be an asset to the company, because of commute, experience or other job-related factors.

Most companies do have good intentions when an employee referral program is introduced.  They would prefer to reward their employees, rather than pay a fee to a recruiter or place a costly online job posting.  However, often there are some guidelines for a referral bonus to be paid.  One of the most common rules for a successful referral is your introduction between your referral (or your acquaintance) must represent the first contact with the company. In other words, the candidate should not have applied before through another source (e.g., a placement firm, a job posting, a referral by another employee, etc.).  After all, companies are often seeking to broaden their pool of candidates.  It sounds like your acquaintance should have notified you that he had been presented by a headhunter several months ago.  Additionally, I hope that your acquaintance knew that he had been presented to your employer!  This information would have likely re-set your expectations.  Some companies also have rules like excluding executives, hiring managers or members of the HR/Recruiting teams from receiving employee referral bonuses.

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I can understand your frustration but I also understand why you were excluded from receiving the bonus.  Keep referring qualified candidates.  When you do refer another candidate, I would ask the candidate if they have ever applied to ABC Company.  Hopefully this will save you some disappointment.

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