By Ziv Eliraz, founder and CEO of Zao

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — It's a problem you've probably had at one point or another: How can you find the best employees without tearing your hair out? How can you know which candidates are right for your organization and which are wrong? And, how can you gain the confidence to say your new employees will perform well year after year, will contribute positively to your organization and will stick around for the long run?

The answer to all these questions: Focus on leveraging the power of your network.

There's a reason you need to consider the people you know in the hiring process. Year after year, employee referrals are linked as the No. 1 source of hire and retention. Plus, 41% of referral hires can come from your trusted external network, if you reward them. In addition, 43% of employees from referrals stay longer than three years, while only 14% of job board hires do. So it's a much better tactic than posting a position on a job board hoping the right candidate will come along.

If employee referrals are the difference between finding stellar candidates and just getting by with the norm, how can you launch a killer referral program from the ground up that produces great leads and eventual hires? Check out the guide below.

Have a plan
It's important to have a plan in place before you start. For instance, it's vital to understand your team and how its members may interact with the referral program. Are they in-house or remote? What motivates them? How are they built? In addition, using members of an external network — such as your business partners, vendors or former colleagues — can also boost the success of your referral program.

Create a branded career site
A branded career site is a great addition to your employee referral program, since it helps you promote job listings, show off your company culture and relay why people would want to work with you. In addition, it's a good place for your referrers to point their contacts to if they want more information. Vdeos, images, open jobs, a fun background or a story about your company are informative elements to include in your career site.

Implement a rewards program
Here's the fun part: rewards. Rewards motivate your referrers to participate in your employee referral program since it provides them with a tangible incentive. Plus, you can reward, or at the very least recognize, your referrers at each step of the hiring process. For instance, they could get social recognition for a lead, gift cards for an interviewed candidate and a cash reward for a hire. Tiered rewards encourage participants to provide you with quality referrals, since it increases the chances they'll be recognized for their efforts, even if these efforts don't yield a hire.