How to Ask for a Referral for a Job

Employee referral form

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What's a job referral? How can a referral help you get hired, and what's the best way to ask someone to refer you for a job that you're interested in applying for?

A job referral can be the best way to get a hiring manager to give your resume a closer look when you are applying for a job. When you're referred for a position by someone at a company or by a connection you have in common with the hiring manager, and you mention this referral in your cover letter, you've got a built-in recommendation for the job in the first paragraph.

It's even better when the person referring you for a job can take a couple of minutes to personally mention you to the hiring manager.

Chris Forman, Founder of StartWire, says, "Referrals are the #1 source of hires in corporate America. And for good reason. Research shows that'referral hires not only stay longer in their jobs but perform better over the long term. Anytime you can get your application tagged as a referral, your chances of getting to an interview skyrocket. And getting this designation is easier than you think... often times a phone call or email to HR or the hiring manager is all it takes."

How can you get a referral for a job? What's the best way to ask someone to refer you for a job at their company?

Who to Ask for a Referral

The best type of referral for a job is an employee referral. However, clients, vendors, friends, family, and other people who are connected to the company may be able to assist, as well.

If you know anyone who is affiliated with the company, ask them if they can put in a good word for you.

There are a variety of other strategies you can use to find connections at a company, and to find contacts at a company you already know you want to target your job search at.

How to Find Someone to Refer You

Use LinkedIn: Start by checking for connections at the company on LinkedIn. Search by company name, then click on the company you're interested in. You'll see a list of contacts in your network who may be able to assist.

Check With Your College Career or Alumni Office: If you're a college graduate, check with yourcollege career services office or alumni office to see if they can put you in touch with alumni who work at the company you're interested in.

Ask Your Network. If you're employed, and of course, you want to do this carefully, check with your friends and professional contacts to see if they know anybody at the company who could help.

How to Ask for a Referral for a Job

What's the best way to ask for a referral? You can ask for a referral by sending an old-fashioned letter, an email message, or a message on a networking site like LinkedIn or Facebook. 

Whichever way you chose, it's better to ask in writing than over the phone. That way, the potential referrer has time to think over if and how they can refer you for a job. It's also easier to decline in writing than during a phone conversation.

When you ask someone to refer you, don't ask: "Could you write a reference letter for me?" or "Can you refer me?" Just about anyone can write a letter or say they'll refer you.

The problem can be what they are going to say. Rather, ask: "Do you feel you know my work well enough to refer me for a job at your company?" or "Do you feel you could give me a referral?" That way, your referrer has an out if they are not comfortable providing a referral for you, and you can be assured that those who say "yes" will be enthusiastic about your performance and will write a positive letter or give you a strong endorsement.

Especially when you don't know the person you're asking very well, or if they aren't familiar with your current work history, offer to provide an updated copy of your resume and information about your skills and experiences, so the reference provider has current information to work with.

Employer Referral Programs

Don't be shy about asking. The person who refers you may be able to earn some extra cash if you're hired. Many employers have employee referral programs that provide bonuses for referring candidates for employment. If you're a strong candidate, it's a win-win-win situation. You get the job, the employer gets a top-notch new employee, and the employee who referred you gets a bonus.

Referral Letter Examples

Not sure how to ask for a referral? Review examples of referral letters for suggestions on asking for a referral, using referrals in your cover letters, and sending a thank you note after receiving a job referral.