How to Ask for a Referral

If you’re searching for a new job, you know how hard it is to break through the crowd of applicants for every open position. Since many job openings today are listed exclusively online, getting your resume noticed when hundreds — and maybe even thousands — have been submitted for the same job can be a challenge. 

One effective way to proceed with a new job search is to bypass those virtual cattle calls altogether and get in front of the HR recruiter or the hiring manager through a referral. Job seekers who get their foot in a company’s door through a referral are four times more likely to be offered a job than those who apply through the company’s website or a job board. 

New employees hired through a referral are considered a great return on investment (ROI). Not only do they stay longer and fit in better with the hiring company’s culture but they also save the company a lot in recruiting fees and time spent vetting candidates. 

This article will give you the information you need to get a job through a referral, including determining who to ask for a referral and how to approach them to get the referral you need. 

Bonus: Want to finally start getting paid what you’re worth? We show you exactly how in our Ultimate Guide to Getting a Raise and Boosting Your Salary

Who should you ask for a referral?

The best source for a job referral is someone who’s currently employed at the company you want to work for. Employee referrals are valued by in-house recruiters and hiring managers, so much so that many companies have created a referral program that pays cash rewards to employees who refer promising job candidates. Programs like this are a win-win for the employee and you. 

While current employees might be the best sources for job referrals, anyone with a strong connection to a company can also be the source of a good referral. Look for opportunities for existing customer referrals, referrals from vendors and suppliers, and referrals from a friend or family member.

Where to find good referrals

If you already know someone who’s working at the business you’re applying to, consider yourself lucky. Finding a good referral source can be the most difficult part of the process. If you don’t have an “ace in the hole” referral source already, though, you’ll need to do some sleuthing to find someone you can approach. 

A good place to start is your college or graduate school alumni listings. Some schools offer online alumni directories that you can search by company or location. You can also call the school’s alumni office and ask if they can introduce you to a fellow graduate who works at the company you’re interested in. 

Another resource is searching LinkedIn profiles for possible referral sources. Conduct a search of the company name to see if any of the people listed as business owners, employees, or affiliates are members of your network. You can also check out the company’s website and look for a list of employee bios — these are often found in the “About Us” or “Our Team” tab. 

Even if you don’t know any of the people listed, look for commonalities like schools attended, prior workplaces, or the same hometown. You might be able to find someone among your personal and professional contacts who can make an introduction. 

How to ask for a referral

Now that you’ve identified your referrer, it’s time to ask them for the referral. You’ll want to start by gathering information to include with your request, deciding which tone and vehicle to use when making contact, and choosing how you’ll follow up after contact. 

Information to include with your referral request

Before approaching your contact for a referral, think about (and gather) all the information they’ll need to make the referral. You’re asking someone to stick their neck out for you and you want to make them feel at ease about your qualifications and suitability for the position. You also want to save them time and effort. The easier you make it for the person to refer you, the more likely it is that they’ll follow through. 

Toward this end, gather the following documents where appropriate:

  • Your resume or CV
  • A copy of the job posting for the position you’re pursuing (if there’s no formal job posting but you found out about the position through word of mouth, be sure to put that in your email or letter)
  • A link to an online portfolio or samples of your work 
  • Reference letters from former supervisors, teachers, guidance counselors, and others
  • Links to online testimonials about your work performance from your current customer base

You can even pre-write a referral letter on their behalf to save time, as long as you don’t think providing such a draft is too presumptuous. 

Bonus: Want to finally start getting paid what you’re worth? We show you exactly how in our Ultimate Guide to Getting a Raise and Boosting Your Salary

Formal vs. informal approach

Once you’ve targeted the referral source and gathered all the relevant information they’ll need to fulfill your referral request, it’s time to approach them to ask for a referral for the position you want to apply to.

Depending on how well you know the person, their professional position relative to yours, and any inside knowledge you have about their preferences, you can approach them in an informal manner (i.e., greet them by their first name and make the initial outreach personal and chatty) or in a more formal way (i.e., send a formal cover letter using proper greeting titles, keeping the tone professional and businesslike). 

Whether you choose a formal or an informal tone, it’s best to reach out to the person in writing so you can share the information you’ve gathered about your background, education, and credentials. Email is usually best, although you can make your request via mail or through LinkedIn. Using other social media platforms (e.g., Facebook or Instagram) isn’t recommended because you might alienate your prospective referrer by imposing on their personal space. 

You can create an email template if you plan to reach out to several people for referrals, but keep in mind that each email you send should be personalized for the specific recipient. 

No matter what route you decide to take, be sure to:

  • Introduce yourself or remind the person how they know you. If you’re reaching out to them because of a mutual friend or connection, say so. If you know them but haven’t been in contact for a while, put in a reminder about how you’re associated. Put this information succinctly in the subject line. For instance, your email subject line might say, “Request for job referral from Jane Doe, a mutual friend of Jack Smith.”
  • Be upfront about why you’re writing to them. Cut to the chase as quickly as you can by stating that you’re writing to ask them for a referral for a particular job. Point out that you’ve included a job description, your resume, and, if applicable, work samples.
  • Give them an out if they aren’t comfortable offering a referral. The last thing you want to do is put anyone on the spot or make them feel uncomfortable. Qualify your request by offering your referral source a way to decline your request. You can say something like, “If our past history as classmates gives you sufficient confidence to refer me, I would appreciate your assistance in passing my resume on to the hiring manager,” or, “If recommending someone you’re acquainted with through a mutual colleague is something you’re not comfortable with, I’d appreciate your referring me to the appropriate person at the company.”

You can also reach out initially via phone call or even seek a face-to-face meeting, depending on the circumstances, although you’ll need to follow up in writing to provide the information you’ve compiled about the job and your credentials. 

Following up on the request

Always make it a point to follow up on your request. This is especially important if your initial contact was in person or over the phone, but it’s also important if you want to keep abreast of the referral source’s progress or to ensure they’ve followed through with their promise of a referral. 

Thanking the referrer 

Don’t forget to thank your referrer, preferably with a hand-written thank-you note. If the referral culminates in an interview or a job offer, you’ll want to offer your thanks. 

If you know them well enough or it seems appropriate, you can even offer to take them to lunch or out for a cup of coffee to thank them in person. Even if the referral doesn’t land you an interview, though, it’s important to let them know that you appreciate their taking the time and trouble to go to bat for you. 

Grow in your career and life

Of course, securing a new position through a referral is just the beginning of your new career journey. To assist you with planning for even greater success, our team has put together a treasure trove of free career-related resources that offer guidance and insights, including this quiz to help you determine your earning potential. And, to prepare for the interview process, download our free guide to negotiating your salary!

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