Eric Clemons on Strategies for Success in Talent Attraction

March 22, 2019 Alessandra Williams

With a tenure of more than a decade at US Cellular, Eric Clemons is a Senior Manager who has developed the best ways to hire high caliber, diverse talent.


Being an Organization about People, and For People

Eric ClemonsU.S. Cellular is one of the largest wireless service carriers in the nation. It is continually recognized as a top workplace for their 5,400 associates and boasts over 4.5 million customers. Clemons works to uphold the company vision and attract the most innovative, driven, and genuine people who want to collectively build something special and push the boundaries to accomplish greatness. Clemons wants to share how having an employee referral program is the cornerstone of how he is able to attract top talent.

1. What are the most important components of a good referral program?

Basing it off of some of the feedback we are getting back from our associates, efficiency, and ease of use, as well as transparency.

2. Do you think there is an ideal % of hires a company should aim to generate through referrals?

We are aiming for 30%. Right now, we are around 23%, but we’d like to see anywhere in that 30-40% range. From some of the data we looked at, we see that referred candidates stay longer than those not coming in through the referral program, and from a cost perspective, referrals are a little cheaper too to bring on board.

3. Have you seen a positive impact on retention from referred candidates and on the employees doing the referring?

Yes, absolutely, especially on our front lines. Typically, retail stores and call centers environments are going to expect higher turnover. We’re seeing that those coming in through the referral program are actually more likely to make it past their 90 days and furthermore, they are more likely to stay longer than a year, as opposed to those that do not come in through the program. We would believe that what is driving that is we’ve all got these contacts, colleagues, friends, and family that we know would be a good fit for the roles. We know the positions and what they are about and we know those that can handle it or those that would not be a great fit.

4. Have you ever incentivized with participation based rewards like gift cards, charity donations or raffle prizes?

One of the first things we did is that we asked employees if there were incentives they were interested in and gave them multiple options: paid time off, monetary, gift cards, donations to a non-profit of their choice, etc. Monetary came in at number one. Then, paid time off followed. We got a pretty good sample size and most folks are going to be driven by the monetary piece. From the front line perspective, we think we’re pretty close on where we need to be from a monetary perspective.

5. Have you ever performed any offline referral advertising (e.g. posters, lunches, recruiter 1 on 1s with employees)?

We’ve done several things. Since the RolePoint launch, we brought the new technology on board. Probably one of the most significant impacts we did was, we didn’t want to just roll out a new technology and say the process has changed, we said let’s take the opportunity to rebrand the entire program, give it an identity, and now it’s the Strong Connections referral program. There are branded micro-sites that talk about the program, video with a tutorial, different types of referrals for the different stages of the cycle, and more. We are providing associates with as much information, made the site fun and engaging, and promote hot jobs for everyone to see in order to reach out to their networks. With the launch, we created promotional items like pens, notepads, magnets, and posters on every floor and call center to make sure we were getting the word out. Now we’re looking for an end of year campaign. We want every associate to give 3-5 referrals which would get 25,000-30,000 people going into the system. The Branding Team owns this program and works to keep it top of mind and additionally pushes for mobile success.

6. How have referred candidates compared on a cost-per-hire basis to other candidate sources?

We took the costs per hire for those coming into the program versus the cost per hire for those who are not coming into the program. Both the direct and indirect costs. For the most part, indirect costs are going to stay the same regardless. But, it’s the direct costs we start factoring in job boards or search firms, wherever we are able to bypass some of those and go straight to the associates. There may be a payout or an award bonus associated with the hire, but we are also saving money on job sponsorship or search firms. We ran the numbers and if we increased referral hires by 5% we saw a $32,000 savings annually and if increased by 10% it would be $64,000 savings annually.

7. What’s the #1 employee referral program tip you would like to pass on?

As far as my advice to anyone that’s looking to launch a program, I would say the biggest thing is giving it an identity, beyond just an employee referral program. Make it fun, make it engaging, have a logo for the program, give value propositions, make the branding easy for people to recognize and keep it in line with the promotional items. As a teleconnections company, we gave it “Strong Connections, put your network to work,” it’s a play on words of the entire mobile network, phone connections, and connected homes. We are talking about two different things, using the same language. Our branding colors are all the same, a program identity and not just the referral program.


Creating an employee program that truly works takes creativity, effort, and determination. Clemmons has great insight for providing great tips and here are my three takeaways.

Takeaway #1: Reach out to employees for feedback on the program. A company has a strong referral program if their employees are able to find it easy, efficient, and transparent.

Takeaway #2: Even for high turnover environments, referrals are the best investment. They stay longer and are committed for at least a year, which is more than others who do not come in through the program.

Takeaway #3: Increasing referral hires helps to increases annual savings by five, to possibly six, figures. Help keep the program top of mind by keeping it fun and giving it an identity.


What did you find most helpful from the conversation and what did you learn that you’d like to see at your company?

Share the article with your network and be sure to connect with Eric Clemons on LinkedIn!

About the Author

Alessandra Williams

Alessandra Williams, our Marketing Development Lead, spearheads the efforts of organizing company-sponsored events. She loves connecting with passionate and innovative recruitment leaders who believe the people at their companies are genuinely their best asset. For the past several years, she has traveled all over the country to interview prominent thought leaders and provide encouragement to those who want to learn about the best industry practices, such as the benefits of implementing a strong employee referrals and internal mobility program. When she's not working, she is back home in sunny Southern California and loves walking her dog, exploring historical sites and museums, going on hikes, practicing yoga, and eating to her heart's content at the best restaurants (yes, feel free to reach out to her for recommendations and help with SF & LA reservations).

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