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How to ask for a referral for your next job?

The good practices and thoughts to ponder

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Getting referrals is a very efficient way to land an interview at any firm. Also, most firms have a referral program where the employees get a small referral bonus if the person they referred gets hired.

So, it is a win-win. If you are a strong candidate for a job, people would be happy to refer you. They have nothing to lose. However, there is a problem. Many people seem to be doing it wrong- how they seek a referral. I am sharing some of these thoughts from my own experiences and those of the people around me. I hope some of these points help improve your conversions for referrals.

That said, do add a disclaimer and think through for yourself as to what is applicable for you.

The key to improving your referral conversion is in making it very easy for the referee to give that referral.

Here are some dos and don’ts while seeking referrals via LinkedIn.

  • Do not start with a one-liner greeting and expect someone to reply to you and then you’d pitch your profile. For example, starter lines like, “Hi”, “Hello”, “Hi there”, and nothing else, no context whatsoever. Someone might reply to them but I think that’s not the best approach. Imagine someone getting tens of messages from tens of strangers. People may not have the time or the headspace to make casual conversations. Give all the information they need in a very precise manner in your first message itself. I’d personally love that instead of a random “Hi”. If I have all info and I do see a good fit, the chances of me replying become 10X.
  • Your first message needs to give a bunch of important information. It should not be too short or lengthy and must be to the point. Make it clear that you are a strong candidate. Give details distinctly, maybe in bullet points. These include your email id, job id, and resume. Also, it is a good practice to have your name on the filename of your resume. E.g. “Aditya_Resume.pdf”.
  • Always do your own research about the role, the company, and have the JOB ID along with the link to the job posting within your first text. Mention why you are a good fit too, based on the job description. So many people somehow miss this. If there is a job id and a job link, you MUST send that to your referee. The job link must be the official link from the careers site and not some third-party link or something.
  • Understand that the people you are reaching out to are most likely busy with their own chores, deadlines, and work. They have their own personal life, hectic schedules, and many other people to attend to. Unfortunately, giving you a referral may not be their priority. They won’t have the headspace to reply to you, even if your request is simple. It’s difficult. Maybe, they have some ten other people who ask them the same thing. Even if they are free, they may have other stuff they are preoccupied with. We have to empathize with this.
  • Don’t ask questions you need to find answers yourself or give work to your potential referee. They should not do your work.

Some common one-liner questions better NOT to ask:

  • Can you give me a referral?
  • Is there any opening at your firm?
  • Can you refer me to an XYZ role?

You have to mention the context, job id, job link, email id, and why you are a strong profile. If you aimlessly ask a question like the above, people are not going to spend their time giving you all the details. It’s your responsibility to search and provide them. Go to the official careers page of the company and identify the exact role you want to apply for. Find the job id there. Read the JD properly. Send all these details to your referee in your pitch. If you do not do your due diligence and ask someone to do it for you, that’s rather unwelcoming. Show that you are really interested in your career and have done your research. If you yourself do not know what job you are applying for, it doesn’t make sense, right?

  • While you should get hold of the job id, do not apply to the job directly and then ask referral for it. Here’s how referrals work at most places. An existing employee will give your email id in an internal job board and then you get an email to apply to that role. So, you do not have to apply directly and have to apply via that email only. This is a rookie mistake I have seen some people do.
  • Giving a referral doesn’t imply a 100% interview call. Your referee is as clueless as you. Of course, they can put a word to the hiring manager, but yeah, anything can happen. That said, finding the right person to seek a referral is important. This would be the hiring manager themselves or someone from the hiring team. To know the hiring team you should carefully go through the JD of the specific job you are targeting.
  • Another way in which you can get a referral is by applying through a referral link. The existing employees can create a special link and whoever applies through that link is attributed as referred by them. Ask your potential referee to send a referral link if they have such an option. This can make the process easy for everyone.
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Here’s a little demo of how to approach seeking a referral. I hope this gives a good demonstration of how to go about various intricacies.

Let’s say you are a software engineer looking to find a referral for a job with Amazon. You go through the Amazon careers and job page and browse through the current openings as per your interest and location. You then pick a job relevant to your profile and get the job id, link, and any other required info. For example, say you are interested in an SDE2 role, you go and find out the most recent openings. You have found an opening, say, this one:

The job id is 1827193. Upon reading the job description, you will find the relevant skills needed and how to pitch yourself.

Now, you can go to LinkedIn and find some existing Amazon employees and pitch yourself in the very first message you send them. Give them all the details I have mentioned before and hope for the best. If the person doesn’t reply within 24 hours, you can find some other Amazon employee and pitch again. Try it 4–5 times and eventually, you’ll get a reply. If you give all details directly, it makes it easy for someone to refer to you.

At the same time, look for referrals for jobs that really match your profile. That saves time for everyone. You may not want to seek a referral for a profile where the JD doesn’t match properly with your resume.

I try to explain all this in detail because people are sending messages without context. If you send a message like, “Hi, can you refer me to Amazon?” without any context, it can get pretty directionless. What job role should you be referred to? Where is the job id? Do you have relevant experience? You get the point right? Do not expect your referrer to search for a job for you. That is your basic responsibility.

A referral pitch format checklist

  1. Greetings
  2. One-line introduction of yourself. Your current affiliation/status.
  3. Your interests, and the role you are interested in.
  4. Mention the job id, job link, attach your resume, and give your email id. Better keep them like bullet points. Add any other relevant link- portfolio, GitHub, etc.
  5. Mention why you are a good fit. Mention a project/resume point that validates this.
  6. Ask for a referral. Be short and direct. Ask for a referral link if that’s convenient for them.
  7. Thank them for their time.

All said it’s ok if you never get a reply or a referral you expected. Sometimes, even when you did everything perfectly, things might not work out as expected. Just remember that you have many more opportunities and so many more shots to take.

And you will miss 100% of the shots you do not take. So take every shot you can for the opportunity you seek.



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