In a tough job market, a job seeker needs to use every tool at their disposal to find a coveted role. A referral from an employee might be the most effective way to land a job, which is one of many reasons intentional efforts in networking are so vital. By getting a recommendation from someone already with the company, you’ll get an edge on the competition, or even gain access to hidden jobs that haven’t been posted online yet.

A 2022 Aptitude Research survey found that around 82% of employers use referrals to source, identify, and shortlist candidates. But many job seekers don’t know the best way to ask for a referral, or they’re reluctant to tap into their network. In order to help, we dive into the best practices to use when asking for a referral.

Consider your relationships

Before you send a message requesting a referral, consider your relationship with the person you’re asking for. Is it a close friend or family member, an acquaintance, or someone you met at a conference? The level of familiarity will determine the tone and approach you should take.

Forbes’ Jack Kelly uses example templates for how to ask a close friend compared to an acquaintance. For a close friend, you can take a slightly more informal tone (though you should maintain some professionalism), and you likely won’t need to sell your skills as much because of the familiarity. For someone you’re less close to, a more professional approach and a summary of why you’re a good fit will increase your chances of getting a solid referral.

Personalize your message

If you’re expecting help from your network, you need to respect your connection with this person. These network members might be in a position where they get many requests like this, so if it sounds like you’re asking them generically, you’ll lower your chances. Instead, take your time and offer a personalized message.

Epam Anywhere’s Gayane Hakobyan says that by tailoring your approach, you’ll sound more authentic and respectful, and it makes it easier to tie in past experiences to the role you’re interested in. Avoid generic greetings like “Hi” and “Hello” in favor of making sure your request is in your first message.

Be clear

Networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and many of us don’t like to ask for something directly. But if you’re looking for a referral, you need to be clear and make sure to actually ask your contact for one.

Being specific about your goals and what sort of opportunity you’re seeking makes it easier for your contact to know how to respond. You don’t want to overwhelm them, but the more information you add, the more they’ll understand how your past experiences relate to this role.

“Tell them exactly what kind of job you’re looking for and what it involves. Giving specific details helps them understand how your past experiences can help you in the new job.” –Spotgiraffe

Don’t make things difficult

People are busy. Even if someone is in a position to help you and wants to, they still might not be able to if you’re asking too much or if you’re too vague. In order to get the response you crave, make sure you’re making things as easy as possible.

Konex.Work says to avoid requesting that person fill out long forms or find the information on their own. Provide all of your relevant documents and a quick summary of your skills and why you’re a good fit for the role, and be willing to accept if they refer you to a different person to contact.

“Some people might prefer to receive a draft of a referral letter or email to only add their signature. Keep your request concise to help your contact learn about you in minimal time.” –Indeed

Offer value in return

Good networking should be mutually beneficial. It’s always good practice to show how your skills and experiences will help an organization solve its problems. You may be seeking the opportunity, but you want to express the value you’ll bring in return.

You may need to lean on your network at times, but be willing to help others in a similar matter. If you’re asking for something, be prepared to be able to give back in return. Spotgiraffe says to give referrals back when you can. This will increase the chances of people being willing to work with you again in the future.

Say thank you

No matter what, you need to express your gratitude and say “thank you” to your contacts for even considering your request. You’re asking for something, and they are giving you their time by even reading your request. Be sure to make it clear that it’s okay if they aren’t able to help right now.

There may be good reasons why they can’t help you right now, and as unfortunate as it is for your needs, you don’t want to burn any bridges. Express your gratitude anyway. They may be able to help you in the future, or at least point you in the direction of someone who can help.

Wrap up

Employers like referrals because they have someone they trust vouching for a candidate and have good reason to believe that person would be a good culture fit. Get a referral from your network by considering the right people, sending a clear, personalized, easy-to-cooperate request, making it clear you can provide value in return, and offering sincere appreciation. With luck, your network will elevate you and help you land the role.

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