How to Ask for a Referral

I love subscriber questions – please ask me yours! I answer each question to help you, and then anonymize them here to help us all improve our chances for a dream digital development job

Here is this week’s question:

How Can I Ask for a Referral to the HR Manager?
I just applied to a job at an organization and I kinda know someone there – a friend of friend I met once. How can I ask this person to put a good word in for me with HR or the team lead I want to work for?

My usual response to this question is two-fold.

  1. You are starting late. You should never apply to an organization where you don’t at least one person there well enough to recommend you, or at the very least, give you the insight on how that organization really works. You are essentially flying blind, and I know from first-hand experience how painful it can be when you find out the org isn’t a good fit.
  2. Network your way in. So you’re applying anyway, and hey, that’s sometimes the only option. Then don’t connect directly with that person, but go through your friend, Have them contact your target with a request to refer you. That is a much stronger social bond and greater chance to success.

But what do others think about this situation? Luckily, Quartz just wrote about this exact issue.

What Experts Say About Asking for Referrals

In the recent Quartz article “How to network with job contacts you don’t know well,” Alison Green, who writes the popular “Ask a Manager” blog, points out that asking people you don’t know to give you a reference with their employer rarely ends well:

“When people say ‘I applied!’ they’re hoping the subtext is ‘So would you please recommend me to whoever is doing the hiring?’” But unless you’ve worked together before or are a known superstar, upon receiving your message, your contact will probably think “good to know,” or “good luck,” without being particularly moved to help you.

As I said above, its best to start with people you know and then work towards your target with very clear action items. Emily Miethner, founder of the career website FindSpark says that you should think of your email as a mini-cover letter and include:

  • The job title, and job ID if it’s a larger company
  • One sentence on the details of the role, and one or two lines on why you’re a good fit for it
  • Who you’d appreciate them “dropping a line” to. (Don’t guess—do your research to see who they’re connected with, or who the head of the department or recruitment is.)
  • Attach your resume and cover letter you used to apply to the email so they have a reference point.

And always, always follow up with your progress. Let your friend and their friend know when you interview, accept, and start. By helping you, they’ve invested in your success. Give them the feedback to know you succeeded.

What Question Are You Wondering?

The job search process is hard and never-ending. We all have questions. What is yours? Ask me your career questions now.

Thanks for reading this far,