“Nothing is better than bringing in people who your own people are willing to vouch and take accountability for…It always works” – Ruchi Kulhari, Coforge Limited, from 11 Passive Recruiting Strategies To Help Employers Land The Right Candidates, Forbes, September 22, 2022.
Referrals are a powerful tool for landing that perfect job– even better than a fancy resume or a ton of education. Don’t believe it? Data backs it up.
Jobvite’s 2020 Job Seeker Nation Survey reported that recruiters and HR professionals say employee referrals are their second-best hiring source, right behind internal hires. 71% think so highly of referrals that they offer an employee referral program, and 88% of them incentivize referrals, putting their money where their mouth is.
In a Zippia study, employers report they are four times more likely to offer a job to a referred candidate than a candidate who applied via their website. Employee referrals make up 30-40% of all new hires. However, only 7% of all applications are referrals. Think of those odds. When you get in the proverbial door via a referral, you are almost guaranteed at least an interview, if not more. You’re halfway to “you’re hired!”
Note to Employers: While referrals are a great way to connect with talent, they can also lead to homogenous teams due to affinity bias. Please take time to educate your team and be intentional about referring candidates from underestimated backgrounds!
Who Should I Ask?
Hopefully, you are convinced that referrals are a smart job search strategy. Now you may be wondering how to get started. Your first task is to identify who to ask for a referral. The best job referral is someone who works at the company you are applying to. That person doesn’t necessarily need to work in the same department or division (although that doesn’t hurt). However, they should be someone in leadership who has worked at the company for at least a year. Your relationship with this person shouldn’t matter as long as they can articulate something about your character, personality, and values. So, it could be a past colleague, a friend from college, a neighbor, a family friend, or your best friend. That said, asking your mom to be your referral is probably not the best idea.
What If I Don’t Know Anyone at My Dream Company?
In that case, you’ll need to be strategic. It is possible to find someone working at your dream company who will refer you. It will take some work on your part, so plan for that extra time before applying for the job.
Start by searching LinkedIn for second connections and ask your connection in common if they would introduce you. Let your connection know you are interested in learning more about the company and the work that person does. Once you are connected, ask if your new connection would be willing to share their experience working at that company. Once you’ve communicated for a while, ask for the referral. If you have first connections you don’t know well but work at the company, reach out to them to start a conversation.
Also, ask your LinkedIn network if they have any offline connections to the company. If so, ask if they’ll put you in touch via email. This is also an excellent time to expand your LinkedIn network. Reach out to old friends, past work colleagues, acquaintances, and even family members. Connect with them and let them know about your job search in case they can help. If you are a college graduate, check with your alumni office to see if they will connect you with other alumni who work at your target company.
You can also ask for a referral from someone who does not work for the hiring company but knows the hiring manager. This strategy is not a slam dunk because your referral source will not be privy to the company’s hiring practices or culture. However, if your connection is well-respected in your field and is willing to make the referral, go for it.
How Should I Ask?
It’s never easy to ask for help. But most people are happy to do so, especially if they like you and want you to succeed. Plus, many tech companies pay an internal bonus when referrals are hired so employees are motivated to refer candidates. A personal email or LinkedIn message is the most effective way to approach someone for a referral. Asking in writing instead of over the phone or in person gives your contact time to formulate their thoughts, decide what they feel comfortable doing, and respond accordingly. They will feel good about what happens next instead of feeling like they were put on the spot.
Also, when you ask for a referral in writing, you can craft a persuasive request that convinces them to say yes. You can remind them of your connection, offer reasons why you are a fit for the job, and highlight your enthusiasm for the company. You are more likely to get the referral you want when you send a written request.
Note to employers: Consider offering an Employee Referral Program to motivate your team to bring in talent from their network. Read more from Indeed here.
What Should I Say?
To be persuasive, don’t just ask, “Hey, can you refer me?” Instead, give your contact reasons to say yes by asking, “We worked so well together at XXX. Do you think you would feel comfortable giving me a referral for this position at your company?” Or ask, “Do you feel I would fit into your company’s culture? Would you refer me for this job?”
Give your contact two options: a personal introduction to the hiring manager, where you can present your accomplishments and experience to the hiring manager, or a letter of recommendation to the hiring manager, where they outline your achievements. An introduction is preferable because the ball is in your court to follow up. However, a letter of recommendation can be powerful as well.
Here’s another no-no. Don’t just ask for the job. Unless they are the hiring manager, your referrer does not have the power to make that decision, and you are putting them on the spot.
If you don’t know your contact well, include your work history, accomplishments, portfolio, and the job description to make them feel better about a referral. And make it super easy for them to refer you by providing text they can use in their note to the hiring manager. You could also offer to write a referral letter for them to sign. Of course, tell them they do not need to use your copy if they would rather write their own.
Here’s a Template
Try to keep the note as short and succinct as you can. Here’s a template to get you started.
I hope you and your family are well and have enjoyed the summer.
Make a connection between you and your contact.
It’s been a while since we were in coding bootcamp together. I hope you have recovered!
I graduated from UT a couple of years after you did. Hoom ‘Em Horns!
Include something current about your contact that shows you’ve kept up with their career without sounding stalkerish.
I saw your post on LinkedIn about your promotion to Vice President. Congratulations!
I’ve been following your company’s progress on the XXX project and can’t wait to try the beta when it’s ready.
Highlight your job search and the job at their company.
I’ve been searching for a software engineering opportunity and saw that XX company is hiring a Senior Engineer.
XX company is hiring a Senior Engineer and I would love to be a part of the new product launch.
Make the ask.
Would you feel comfortable introducing me to NAME, the hiring manager?
It would be a huge help to have a recommendation from a fellow Longhorn for this job.
Include details they can use in their referral.
With my XX years of experience as a coder, you know I have the chops to do this job. If you need it, here’s a list of my work accomplishments.
For your reference, I’ve included my resume. Please note that after graduating from college, I worked at XXX for XX years as a junior dev, where I helped launch a new XX product.
Offer more information if they need it.
I am happy to provide you with more information about my accomplishments and career if you need it.
Thank you and sign off.
Thank you so much for your time. Have a great week.
If your contact makes the referral, don’t forget to send a thank you note and an offer to return the favor should they need it in the future. If you do not hear back from your contact, don’t be afraid to follow up with a quick note asking again for the referral. If you still don’t hear from them, move on and try to find someone else who might refer you. Keep track of the people you ask for referrals, so you don’t accidentally ask them again.
When looking for a job, it can come down to who you know. As much as we want to be hired based on our experience and skills, sometimes we need help getting there. Think of it this way. When buying a house, would you ask your friends and family for recommendations on neighborhoods or communities? Of course you would! The stamp of approval from someone you know is influential, especially when it’s part of a big decision.
The same is true in hiring. Hiring employees is expensive. Losing employees and having to rehire is even more costly. Top recruiters understand that new hires coming from referrals stay longer at their job and save their company money. They leverage that advantage every chance they get.
Referrals are a powerful tool in your job search toolbox. Don’t be afraid to pull it out and rev it up to find the tech job you’ve been looking for.