Main image of article How to Ask for a Job Referral: Tips and Best Practices

No matter how qualified you are, sometimes landing a job comes down to who you know, not what you know. In fact, the latest data continues to show the advantages of being referred for a job by a current employee or someone in your network.

For example, the chances of a referred candidate getting an interview is around 40 percent. Even better, referred candidates have a one in 10 success rate in landing the job, compared to one in 100 candidates who apply through traditional channels.

Clearly, having someone put in a good word for you can help you stand out from other applicants; the tricky part is knowing how to approach someone about a referral, especially when so many people conduct networking activities online.

While there are no guarantees, implementing these tips and best practices can increase your chances of being referred for a job.

Identify and Engage with Potential Referrers

Ideally, you’d like to be endorsed for a job by someone you know professionally. However, today it’s not unusual for someone to pass along the name and resume of someone they just met, especially when 70 percent of organizations offer financial incentives to employees who refer new hires.

How can you identify and engage with potential referrers inside your target companies?

Look for employees who have been active on LinkedIn or other professional networking sites in the last 90 days, advised Sarah Johnston, a former executive recruiter and founder of Briefcase Coach. Johnston finds that professionals who regularly post and engage with others online are more likely to respond to connection requests and highly personalized introductory emails.

Not all referrers carry the same influence within an organization, warned Ashley Thomas, job search coach and founder of Write Step Resumes. Identify the best person to push you forward by researching a potential referrer’s professional background, connections, shared interests and standing in the company before you reach out.

Also, remember that no one wants to refer someone who isn’t qualified for a job; make sure your resume and other documents highlight work experience, professional skills and education that qualify you for a specific job.

Start by Asking for “Free” Things

While you’re welcome to try cold outreach via email, the looser your connection, the more thoughtful and intentional you need to be about asking for referrals.

If you don’t have a strong relationship, then asking for a referral requires professional courtesy and laying a proper foundation, explained Marc Miller, career coach and founder of Career Pivot. Most people want to minimize the risk and consequences of making a bad referral. So if the person isn’t familiar with your work, it’s better to ask for things that don’t require a commitment such as advice, insights or recommendations, Miller said.

For instance, say something like: “What do you know about the opening at your company for a senior software engineer?” Or, “What can you tell me about the hiring manager and the team?” Then explain why you’re asking by providing a brief, two-sentence summary of why you’re interested in the position and why you’d be a good match.

Asking for an informational interview or “get-to-know-you” meeting can help you build trust and even gain valuable information and insights about the company and the open position.

For instance, you might learn that the hiring manager has been dragging their feet in granting interviews or that you might be qualified for a more interesting position that hasn’t been advertised. When you use questions to gently guide the conversation, you gain advice about how to move forward or not, or maybe some form of recommendation or referral from a new friend or colleague.

Help Them Help You

You need to be very clear about what you’re looking for and why you’re a great fit for the company and the role in an outreach email (or introductory meeting with a prospective referrer) if you expect them to advocate on your behalf, Johnston said.

A compelling value proposition instantly shows your worth, passion and interest to potential referrers and encourages them to go out on a limb for you. The more information you share about your alignment with the company’s mission and goals, the more comfortable and motivated they become about referring you.

Express Gratitude and Follow Up

Be sure to track the open rates for your “ask” emails and don’t rule out the idea of showing your interest by making an introductory phone call, especially to a potential referrer at a top-priority company.

“Phone calls are a lost art,” Johnston noted. But placing a polite call to a potential referrer who didn’t respond to an email is a great way to stand out. Simply refer back to your initial email and ask if the potential referrer would be open to a virtual coffee or in-person meeting to discuss the mutual benefits.

Always be polite and show gratitude by sending a thank you note, regardless of whether you received a referral or not. And be sure to follow up every week with someone who commits to referring you for a job.

“Even if they start online, the key to referrals is relationships,” Miller said.

Showing your appreciation and follow-through is a good way to build a relationship for the future with someone who isn’t comfortable referring you today.