Employee Referral Program Boosts Hiring at PFL

As one of Montana’s longest-running and most successful tech companies, PrintingForLess.com (PFL) has had nearly 20 years to develop its playbook of best practices for recruiting in Big Sky Country. PFL founder and CEO Andrew Field has attracted a team of 170 talented employees to his Livingston, Mont. location. PFL’s unique work environment and innovative human resources policies have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and on CNBC.

Founded in 1996 as a traditional print shop in Livingston, Mont., PFL went online in 1999 with the first ever e-commerce site for commercial print – PrintingForLess.com. Tapping new opportunities created by desktop publishing, PFL landed on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies three times.

Attracting Tech-Savvy Employees to Montana

Two decades later, PrintingForLess.com has served the commercial printing needs of more than 125,000 customers all over the U.S. PFL continues to leverage technology to provide high-level customer service for every order, from Fortune 500 companies to small business print customers.

For example, PFL offers micro-targeted print mailings integrated with systems like Marketo, Sales Force, and Exact Target.  APIs on websites trigger a process to automatically populate, print, and mail one postcard to a prospective customer at exactly the right time.

Finding the tech-savvy, customer-focused employees needed to fuel this high level of service has been a challenge for Field and his team over the years, even with an impressive slate of perks.

Located just 20 minutes from Bozeman, Mont. and 50 miles north of Yellowstone National Park, PFL employees enjoy breathtaking mountain views and easy access to the great outdoors.  The company offers competitive salaries and benefits and on-site day care. PFL allows dogs to come to work with their owners and was named one of the top five dog-friendly employers by Christian Science Monitor.

Designing an Effective Employee Referral Program

According to Suzie Lalich, director of human resources, the company’s employee referral program has given a huge boost to hiring in the last few years and now accounts for at least 15 percent of new hires.

The referral program started when PrintingForLess.com was having a hard time attracting the talent pool they needed to grow their business. “We needed people like the ones we already have, so we decided the best way was to let them recruit for us,” said Lalich. “Referral programs are a good way to generate leads when your applicant pool is not as robust as you would like.”

At PrintingForLess.com, referral cards are handed out at new employee orientation. Employees are asked to let their friends know PFL will be calling so it’s not a surprise. Employees are also advised that PFL may not be able to hire every candidate they refer, but they are encouraged to keep trying. “Very rarely do we get someone who is upset because we didn’t hire their candidates,” said Lalich .

Referrals must be for a full-time position for which the company is hiring, though sometimes referrals are logged in the system for future opportunities. When employees refer people for temp jobs, the referral bonus is honored if the new hire eventually moves into a full-time position.

Employees receive $500 for referring a friend or acquaintance who is ultimately hired. This bonus is added to the referring employee’s paycheck on the day the new hire starts. Employees receive another $500 if the person they referred is retained six months, which is the end of the probationary period. The incentive is “enough to be enticing,” said Lalich.

Keeping the Referrals Coming

On the day the new hire starts, the employee who made the referral gets a water bottle with a helium balloon attached. These balloons hover above the workspaces throughout PFL’s offices. According to Lalich, “This gift is an acknowledgement of what they’ve done for the company, and it gives visibility to the program.”

Occasionally the human resources team lends additional visibility to the program by having events like “Referral Fun Friday,” holding a drawing for a gift card for anyone who referred a friend that day.

According to Lalich, the referral program tends to produce a better pool of job candidates because employees do a lot of the pre-screening. The program has also helped to defer advertising costs as the  company no longer has to place ads for open positions, a tactic that Lalich said is, “expensive, and doesn’t work for us.”

The referral program has proven popular among employees. “In general, I think they love it,” said Lalich. “New people who come in are especially jazzed about it. After they’ve been here six to eight weeks they understand the culture and start thinking about who in their network would be a good fit.”

Last year, seven of PFL’s new hires were from employee referrals.

Christina Henderson, Executive Director

Photo Caption: PFL team members Kimberly O’Neil, Ashley Stonecipher, Suzie Lalich, and Valerie Gravage show their school spirit while recruiting at a recent Montana State University career fair in Bozeman.

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