A referral is just one piece of the hiring puzzle, but it can support a well-crafted résumé and help your application rise to the top of the stack. It's a recommendation made to a hiring manager, on your behalf, by someone who knows you both.
What can a referral do for you?
You may have one of several goals in mind when asking a contact to refer you: Perhaps you're hoping to set up an informational interview. Or maybe you've applied for an open position and hope to cement your candidacy with a personal endorsement.
A thoughtful recommendation gives context to your résumé and adds a stamp of approval from someone the hiring manager knows and trusts. It's a personal introduction that connects you with the company on a level that's deeper than the rest of the application process allows. A referral says, "This is someone to pay attention to."
What's in a referral?
A strong referral has all the hallmarks of an effective cover letter -- it's persuasive, engaging and relevant. The advocate introduces you and explains how she knows you. Then, the person highlights the characteristics, values, experiences or skills that led her to endorse you. In closing, it might include a personal note or comment that reinforces the connection between your contact and the hiring manager.
A referral does not have to be formal. It can take many forms, from an email or social media message to a quick phone call or hallway conversation.
How to use a referral
Tap into your network to find potential advocates -- and to help them help you. Here's how to ensure a strong referral:
- Ask the right person. Review your closest contacts -- friends, business associates, former managers or colleagues, coaches or mentors. Also make a list of companies you're targeting and positions for which you're applying. Then, determine where the two intersect. Reach out to prospective advocates who have ties to those companies, requesting that they speak on your behalf. Don't send a mass email, which will seem too impersonal. Many companies have incentive programs that encourage employees to refer qualified candidates for open positions. But your advocate doesn't have to work for the company you're pursuing. Your contact and the manager may be connected socially or through a professional or charitable group, for example.
- Provide enough info. Arm your advocate with enough information to make a solid recommendation. Share your résumé and also be clear about how your skills and experience align with the requirements of the open position. Don't assume your friend or colleague knows why you're right for the job. The more thorough you are, the better able the person will be to make a case for your candidacy.
- Follow up. Once your contact makes a referral, the ball's in your court. Follow up quickly so you don't lose momentum. If your advocate copies you and the hiring manager on an email, reply by acknowledging the introduction, attaching your résumé and requesting a meeting. If your advocate sends a written letter or recommends you in person, wait a day or two and then reach out to the employer, mentioning your contact by name and asking to connect. You may not always be able to follow up, but do so whenever possible.
- Rise to the occasion. When a contact makes an introduction on your behalf or endorses your capabilities, the person is putting a little of his own reputation on the line. And if you don't shine brightly, it'll reflect badly on him. You owe it to your advocate to put your best into anything that follows from the referral. That means, for example, responding quickly to any inquiries from the hiring manager or thoroughly preparing for a resulting interview.
Be sure to thank anyone who provides you with a referral. Send a handwritten note or a small gift card or take your contact out for coffee. And if someone you've asked for a referral politely declines, don't press. Not everyone is comfortable or feels qualified to provide a recommendation -- no matter how talented you may be.