How to find and use employee referrals in your job search

Have a friend on the inside? Here's how to take advantage of someone who works at your dream company.

How to find and use employee referrals in your job search

Employee referrals can be one of the best ways to find a new job.

Conventional wisdom says that an employee referral equals a fast-track to getting a job. And in many cases, it’s absolutely true. According to a study, over 39% of recruiters check referral programs as a source for hiring new employees, higher than any other source.

But, having a referral does not mean that landing the job is a sure thing. You have to know how to capitalize on that connection to get your foot in the door and impress the hiring manager.

How do you ask the employee who works at your target company to help? Once they’ve put in the good word to HR, what’s your next step? Should you mention them in your cover letter/interview? If so, how?

With these questions in mind, we asked career experts to weigh in on the best ways to maximize an employee referral.

Plumb your existing network

The key to making a referral work is by finding a connection between a job opening and someone you know. So, start by searching your network to see who may be working at companies where you’d like to work. Then search for openings at those companies. 

Once you've identified a connection in your network, send them an e-mail asking about the specific job that you’ve seen at the company (not: “are there any openings?”), and include the link to the job description if you can.

Debra Broggs, co-founder of Maine-based D&S Professional Coaching, shares an easily customizable template that you can use:

“Hi (Name), I hope you're doing well. I am in the middle of a job search and would like to apply for the open (insert title) position at (Company Name). Do you know who I should talk to? I have attached my resume for your reference.”

Keep in mind—it’s crucial to find out the best contact to send your resume to (don’t just send it to your connection). Why?

“I have seen too many cases of candidates thinking they were referred only to find out their friend never shared their resume as promised,” says Elizabeth Becker, a client partner at Protech, a recruiting firm in Boca Raton, Florida.

Ask permission to name-drop

This might seem like an obvious step, but it’s an important one to remember. The last thing you want to do is to lose the trust of your connection by using their name in your application when they feel uncomfortable doing so.

“If it is okay with them, by all means use their name as it is a good common denominator to start building the relationship with the recruiter or hiring manager,” assures Laurie Kahn CEO of Media Staffing Network in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Use your reference in email and cover letter

Once you have permission to use your contact’s name in communications, it’s wise to include them in both your initial outreach to the hiring manager and in your cover letter.

How should you include this information? Kahn shares her customizable template:

“An example could be: I spoke with (Name of Connection) who suggested I reach out about the (Name of Position). From the information shared, I am confident I am a good fit because of ( _________ reasons).’”

Keep your reference informed of progress

After you submit your resume, cover letter, and any other required application materials to the hiring manager, you should let your friend know.

“The friend may be able to provide back-channel, insider information and/or help you navigate potential hazards in the actual interview process—if they know what is happening in real-time,” says Kelly Hoey, author of Build Your Dream Network.

Keep this line of communication open throughout the entire application process with quick status updates, and be sure to express your enthusiasm about the opportunity in each message.

Mention your reference during the interview

Even though you’ve already mentioned him or her in your cover letter and correspondence with the hiring manager, it’s also a good idea to mention your reference once you get to the interview stage.

But the trick is to mention your connection in the right way—in relationship to the work the company does—otherwise you risk putting focus on the wrong thing.

“If you are asked why you want to work at their organization, it might not be a good idea to say, ‘My friend works here in the sales department and considering he's one of the best sales people I know, I'd love to work at the company that hired him,’” suggests Becker.

Instead, say, “I have a connection that works here on the sales side and was telling me about how great the culture and leadership is here, which is why I'm interested in joining.”

And if all goes well you’ll be treating your connection to a celebratory lunch on the first day of your new job.

Cast a wide net

Referrals can help you get your job search going, but one of the easiest ways to let people know you're in the market for a new job is by getting yourself some valuable exposure. Need some help? Join Monster today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume and cover letter—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top positions with qualified candidates, just like you. Think of Monster as the contact with a far-reaching referral network that can help you get your foot in the door with minimal effort on your part.