How to get hired faster with internal referrals


Did you know that about 70% to 80% of job openings aren’t actually advertised? Companies fill these vacancies through word of mouth - not by the traditional job postings that you see! Knowing someone might not guarantee you a job, but it will definitely give you a competitive edge over other candidates.

Human Resources analyst Laura Handrick shared that internal referrals are important because at least one person in the company will definitely look at your CV. And she is not wrong! Since it lowers the cost and speed up the hiring process, companies like to hire through referrals as opposed to expensive job postings and recruiters.

We understand that internal referrals are powerful - but why aren't more people doing it? It's probably because it's never easy asking someone for a favour - or perhaps we don't know how! Asking for a favour is nerve-racking, and asking for a referral is even more intimidating. Try these easy steps to help make the process easier for you.

When you don’t know anyone in the company

You are not doomed if you have no connection within the company. You can reach out to employees there through LinkedIn or their work email, if you can find that online. Here are some suggestions of people you can reach out to:

  • A recruiter
  • The hiring manager for the position
  • A teammate on the team with the opening
  • A university alumnus who works for that company, or better yet, in that department!

I speak from experience too. I personally have reached out to a fellow alumnus in a startup that I was interested in applying for. It turned out that she was interested in my experience and background too, so we had a great chat about working in startups. As scary as cold messaging is, I encourage you to try it since you never know what good may come out of it! After all, the worst you can get is a “no”, right?

Here's how to cold message someone:

  • Introduce yourself: Talk about your current position and duties, and how you found the person.

  • Common interest: It is rude to bluntly ask for a referral, so you should try mention a common interest between you both. Networking book author J. Kelly Hoey suggested that applicants should use their interest in the opportunity to approach the person. Try starting with expressing your interests in the role, and asking about the company culture there. You can also ask about what they do in the company, or even the team they work with!

  • Schedule a meeting: Emails and LinkedIn messages are easily ignored. When you see the opportunity, ask the person if they are free for a coffee or a quick phone call to discuss the company and the role.

  • Prepare a self-pitch: Once you have established a connection, explain why you're interested in the opening. Convince the person that you are a strong candidate who can add value to the team. You should try supplementing your claim with education and past working experience, including internships.

  • Be polite and express gratitude: Since you are essentially asking a stranger to vouch for you, don’t forget to show your gratitude. The best case scenario is that they agree to be your referer. Even if they say no, still thank them for their time and ask to stay in touch! It will still be a valuable addition to your current network.

When an acquaintance works at the company

Whilst it is easier to approach an acquaintance, such as a friend of a friend or a former colleague, you must still be polite and grateful to avoid ruining the connection. Take notes of the following steps:

  • Break the ice: If you have not spoken to this person in months, remind them who you are by mentioning how you both know each other. It could have been that you were former colleagues, or have a mutual friend. Remember to mention the mutual friend's name!

  • Provide context: Tell them why you are reaching out. You can start by saying “I recall you working at [comapny]. I am interested in the [role]. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone there. Can I trouble you?” - or something along those lines.

  • Pretend it is a job interview: Why do you think the position and the company will be a good fit for you? Show that you are knowledgeable about the industry and explain how your past experiences prepare you for this position. It is better to show the person that referring you will not embarrass them. You must remember that a referal puts the referer's reputation on the line!

  • Be grateful: Regardless of if they're an acquaintance or not - always show gratitude. In the end, the person may not feel comfortable putting themselves on the line for you. Whether the person recommends you or not, send them a note to thank them for their time and keep in touch. This will keep you on their minds when more suitable positions arise.

If you need to write a thank you note - ou may also be interested in this article: How to write a perfect thank you note

When your close friend works at the company

Asking a close friend for internal referral is blurring the boundary between your professional and private life. Handled poorly, you may lose both the opportunity and your friendship!

Follow these guidelines when asking a friend for referrals to ensure this doesn't happen:

  • Honesty is the best policy: Be upfront. Tell them you are looking for a job at their company and would like to see if they refer you for a position.

  • Stay professional: This is where you are stepping near the fine line between work and life. Compose yourself in a professional manner and treat your friend as another professional, not your Friday night drinking buddy.

  • Give them a way out: Your friends (or even family) have no obligations to help you. Give them a way out - you could say, “I would love to have you as my referrer. But I understand if you don't feel comfortable.” It is polite to say this at the start, so your friend won’t feel pressured to help you, nor will they feel guilty by saying no. We wouldn’t want to jeopardize your friendship for a job!

  • Sell yourself: Remind your friend about your background and experience. While they may be familiar with you on a personal level, they may not know how you perform at work. You can share how you led a project or achieved your sales goals. This will give them grounds to recommend you!


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Sophia Wong

Brand and Marketing Strategist in Hong Kong, writes about career, job hunting and interview tips.

5 min read

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