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Ask most hiring managers to identify their most powerful recruiting tool and they’ll likely say, “employee referrals.” Not only do internal referrals tend to attract better talent, they also help create brand evangelists within the company, further strengthening the company’s ties to current employees and its culture.

Yet the majority of managers still don't make the most of this valuable resource. “If your corporation is not getting close to 50 percent of your hires from employee referrals, I have gathered 10 compelling numbers that should change your perspective,” writes Dr. John Sullivan, an advisor to Fortune 500 and Silicon Valley firms and a well-known HR thought leader.

Employee referrals lead to more diversity, faster application-to-hire times and greater happiness -- and yet the vast majority of applicants are still coming from career sites and job boards, according to Jobvite’s monthly index. Meanwhile, the top sources for actual hires are coming from employee referral programs – 39.9 percent, to be exact – clear evidence that it’s time for employers to rejuvenate the way they tap their current employees’ networks for their next hire.

The authors of Recruit or Die: How Any Business Can Beat the Big Guys in the War for Young Talent – Chris Resto, Ian Ybarra and Ramit Sethi – offer some practical strategies for expanding your employees' referral potential:

Host an Employee Open House

Host an open house, happy hour or panel discussion about the state of your industry and invite current employees to help drive the guest list. Their friends, the ones interested enough to attend your event, will already be a step above the rest because they’re making the time to brush up on their industry.

Leverage Your Employees' Social Networks

There's a vast pool of untapped talents at our – well, our employees' – fingertips; don't let it go to waste. Employees who are willing to be brand evangelists are a great resource who can be tapped to post company news, job openings and updates on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. An employee's stamp of approval adds an extra layer of authenticity that may be lacking in a company's post about its own news. 

Tap Into College Alumni Associations

Identify the universities that have brought you the top talent at your company. Got a couple of standout performers from University of California, Santa Barbara? Are some of your best writers straight from the journalism programs at Ohio University or University of Kansas? If you’re noticing a trend, it’s probably not a fluke. Ask those employees to post openings on their alumni association’s job board, speak at an alumni event or reach out to fellow alums via social media. A note from a fellow alum seems much friendlier and more inviting than one from a complete stranger. 

Reach Out to National Professional Organizations

Many of the strongest employees are active in large professional organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists or the Association for Manufacturing Excellence. Since these organizations are national, tapping into those connections will reach a wide range of targeted folks, ones who are very much involved in networking around their particular career.

Be Strategic About Your University Targets

If you’re a small tech company, it's obvious that you might not want a booth next to Google at the next recruiting fair: you need to be careful about selecting the right audiences for the positions you’re trying to fill. Do your homework and identify the universities, big and small, that will produce the candidates best suited for your company. 

Go Greek

With regional and national chapters, there’s plenty of networking going on among fraternities and sororities, and you shouldn’t leave them out of the mix. As with professional organizations, take stock of the different fraternities and sororities your employees are involved in and ask them to be advocates for your company when networking with their brothers and sisters.