Get Paid for Having Smart Friends


Calling all amateur recruiters

Some employers in search of engineering talent are offering referral bonuses to anyone who recommends a candidate who then gets hired. That’s right—anyone.

Companies have long used bonuses and other rewards to get employees to recommend their friends for jobs. About 25% of all new hires come from referrals and 90% of those are from current employees, according to HR consulting firm CareerXroads. Now, thanks to a labor market where the demand for people with hot technology skills outstrips supply, some firms are expanding beyond their employee base.

Squarespace, a Manhattan start-up that helps users build websites, last week began offering a free plane ticket to New York City to “anyone off the street” who refers an engineer or product designer who’s eventually hired, said head of HR Joris Luijke. The company aims to hire 30 such professionals by March 15.

Unlike Google Inc. or FacebookFB -0.65%, he said, “we don’t have a massive recruiting team or an army of sourcers. We have to think of interesting ideas to get people telling their friends about us.”

The campaign has brought in more than 567 applications since it was launched February 4. At least 65 of those have come from non-employee referrals, according to a spokeswoman.

Even if Squarespace ends up buying several plane tickets, it will be a savings, Luijke said, since professional recruiters can “easily cost $20,000” for a hire.

Other reward programs give cash to off-the-street referrers. In 2012, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles sought IT professionals who were certified in a healthcare application called Epic and offered a bounty of $5,000 to be shared by the person hired and the non-employee who referred him or her.

Of course, as in all referral programs, such rewards are contingent on your friend being hired and, in most cases, staying on for at least a few months. Unless you know armies of talented application developers and Ruby on Rails programmers, don’t expect to make a living at this.