You’ve heard the expression — “It’s not what you know, but who you know” — and that’s never been more accurate than when it comes to searching for a job. When you’re job searching, your personal and professional connections can give you a powerful edge — helping your resume land in front of the right person.
In fact, 70.6% of employers regularly use referrals as part of their recruiting efforts, according to iHire’s 2021 State of Online Recruiting Report. Some companies even offer current employees referral bonuses if they recommend a candidate who gets hired. So, how can you use this to your advantage and know how to ask someone for a job opportunity?
It all comes down to a mix of building connections with the right people and knowing how to ask for referrals when the right opportunity arises.
Building your network is the first step to landing valuable connections so that when those people are asked to refer candidates for an open position, you come to mind. Here’s how you can build and maintain these all-important networking connections.
Face-to-face networking can help you establish connections faster than any other method. Some examples include professional associations and local groups, as well as job fairs and conventions in your field. Your college’s alumni network may also host events. While you’re there, speak with as many people as possible and exchange business cards.
To expand your network, join online industry groups and post on discussion boards related to your sector. Don’t expect these connections to result in job referrals immediately. Instead, hone these connections organically, engaging with their posts and sending links to content you think they’d enjoy.
Regardless of where you decide to network, make sure to let people know that you’re looking for a job. If you prefer to take a less direct approach, ask the person you’re speaking with for advice on searching for a job in your field.
If you’re interested in a particular company but don’t know anyone who works there, try calling and asking for an informational interview. This can help you get to know the company and its hiring managers without the stress of an actual job being at stake.
After you make a networking connection, follow up with an email thanking the person. Continue to strengthen the connection by sending relevant articles or reaching out to congratulate the person if they earn a promotion, for example.
When you have a specific job in mind and already know someone who works at the company, you may be able to fast-track your application to the top of the pile. Depending on how well you know the person, figuring out how to ask for a job referral is tricky. You want to be direct without seeming overly pushy. Check out these tips on asking for a job referral via email.
Get to the point quickly when you’re making a request for a recommendation letter for a job. Acknowledge the other person’s busy schedule, and see if you can get a few minutes of their time to discuss the open job opportunity or receive an introduction to the hiring manager. Share a link to the job posting as well as your resume.
The way you write the email will differ depending on how well you know the person:
Someone you’re close to: Even if the other person is a friend or family member, that doesn’t necessarily mean they feel comfortable referring you for a job. Let them know you understand if they can’t give you a referral. You can say something like, “I understand if you don’t feel comfortable making a referral for me, so it’s completely fine if you can’t. If you can, I’d really appreciate it if you could put in a good word for me with [name of hiring manager].” Then explain why you’re interested in the job and how a referral could help you.
Someone you haven’t spoken with in a long time: If you need to ask for a job referral from someone you don’t know quite as well, start by reminding them of how you met and explain that you heard of a connection they might have at a company. Ask if they would be willing to provide a referral. Say something like, “Here’s what I’ve been up to since we last spoke,” and include some information about your recent work experience and career goals.
Someone you don’t personally know but share a mutual friend or acquaintance: Mention your mutual friend’s name and state that your friend recommended you contact this person for information about a job. Since this person doesn’t know you, provide a little more detail about your qualifications as well as your resume and cover letter. Let them know you’d greatly appreciate the referral if the person feels they can vouch for you as a candidate.
Include a proposed script for your contact to make an introduction in case they’re able to make the referral. That way, your connection can simply send along what you wrote.
If your friend or colleague graciously agrees to refer you, mention them by name in your cover letter, as in: “I recently spoke with [name of connection], who recommended that I speak with you about this position.”
After someone gives you a job referral, send them regular updates during the application and interview process. Afterward, send a thank-you note — even if the referral doesn’t result in a job offer. After all, you never know if that person might refer you for another job in the future.
Now that you’re well-versed in how to ask for a job referral, sharpen your interviewing skills so you can be prepared if someone’s referral helps you reach the hiring manager’s desk.