|  January 29, 2013

How to ask your contacts for a job referral

The New York Times ran an article yesterday that got a lot of attention. It was about the importance of employee referrals and how helpful they can be in getting a job. No doubts there. Having a current employee of a company vouch for you will do wonders, especially if you are qualified for the job.

If you are in your job search, it’s time to tap into your network and ask your contacts  for a job referral. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Research your contacts and see if any work at companies you’re interested in

Depending on how up to date you are with your network, you may need to take the first step of actually rediscovering it and seeing where people are currently working.  

LinkedIn is a great resource to do this since most people keep their professional information updated there.  However, Facebook, Twitter, and good old fashioned “catching up” can also do the trick.  

Start making by making a list using the template below of people in your network that work at places you’re interested in.  Don’t worry if the contact is a close personal friend, a family member, a former coworker, or someone you’ve only met a few times.  We’ll address that later.



Step 2: Look at the company website to see if there are any current openings that are a good fit

The next step is to see what jobs are available at the companies that your contacts work for. Leveraging your network for a referral is a long-term strategy and so I advise only asking for this favor when there truly is a job you are qualified for.

Read the job descriptions carefully and be honest with yourself about whether or not you are qualified.


Step 3: If there aren’t any open roles, set up a job alert

If there aren’t any roles that seem like a fit at the moment, it’s very possible that some will open up in the future.

For your own sanity, set up job alerts with keywords whenever possible. Most sites will have this as an option (or you can do it from Indeed or LinkedIn) and it will save you the trouble of constantly needing to check back in.


Step 4: Once you’ve found that job, it’s time to ask your contacts for a job referral

This is where the type of relationship comes into play a bit.  You’d probably ask your best friend for a referral in a different way than you’d ask a former boss or someone you don’t know that well.  

Regardless of who you are asking, I recommend asking in a way that doesn’t put too much pressure on the referrer.  Perhaps their company isn’t as open or maybe they have hesitations about endorsing people (many people do). That’s why you should tread lightly when asking and leave it in their hands.  

A great way to reach out is using a note like the below:

Hi [person who you want to prefer you],
[insert any catch-up related stuff first]
I am reaching out because I found a job on the [company name] website that seems like a great fit for me and I am really interested.  I’ve already applied online but was hoping you might be able to pass my resume along to the right contact internally. Thank you so much for your help!
Best, [you]


One exception to the normal rules = internships and/or companies that don’t post roles

I generally advise people to only ask for a referral when there is an open job because it’s “the most bang for your buck” so to speak.

You’re probably not going to want to ask your contacts for a million favors, so if we’re thinking about using a favor wisely, it’s definitely asking for that referral when there is an actual job open that you might get hired for.

However, there are some roles that don’t always get posed online and one very common category is internships. Companies that don’t have a very formal intern program might not even post the job and just take referrals.  

In the case of internships (and any other companies that don’t post their roles online) I’d suggest a slightly different and more general approach:

Hi [person who you want to refer you],
[again, catch up first before you dive in!]
I am reaching out because I am extremely interested in an [internship or type of job] role at [company].  I think I would be a great fit for the company based on [insert skills or experiences that you think might be important to the company] and I was hoping you might be able to pass my resume along to the right contacts internally. 
Thanks so much! [you]

I hope after reading this you are excited to start reaching out to those you know. Don’t be afraid to leverage your network to help you get a job or an introduction to a company and keep in mind there will be times in the future when you do this for others as well.

Remember… Approach respectfully, don’t apply too much pressure, and be gracious. You will be surprised what your network can do for you!

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