The Network Journal / Carlota Zimmerman

How to Get That Knockout Job Referral

December 13, 2016


A good job referral can make or break a job opportunity, but asking for one can be a bit tricky, so asked a few experts for some advice. Here’s what they said:

Q: Should you ask your current boss for a referral?
A: Transparency is the best policy: If you have or had a solid relationship with a past boss or manager, don’t be afraid to let them know you are back in the hunt. These are the people who are most likely to understand your value to other hiring managers. While you are letting them know you are looking, take the opportunity to let them know that they may receive calls about you and references as well,” says Erica B. McCurdy of McCurdy Life Coach, a business and life strategies company.

Q: Should you approach ex-bosses for job referrals?
A: Cross that bridge if you didn’t burn it: “You can approach a former boss for a job referral if you left on excellent terms, if this boss made it clear that he/she thought you had a great future and you’re giving him/her sufficient time, and information to write a useful review,” explains career coach Carlota Zimmerman.

Q: Who else should you ask?
A: People in your network–and even those in your extended network: “You should ask the people you enjoyed working with for referrals. If you liked working with them they probably liked you,” says business coach John Paul Engel of Knowledge Capital Consulting. “Anyone who has good relationships with you or knows your character. There is a theory of weak ties that says that people on the outer rim of your friends are the best people to ask.”

He adds that you should even reach beyond. “I typically tell my students there are 250 people that would go to your wedding or funeral. Each of them have 250 people. Therefore, you have an immediate network of 250X250 people that will help you,” says Engel.

Michael Iacona, founder/CEO of job search app Rake, agrees, advising: “Look for any connections you may have to the company you want to work for. You can ask colleagues, friends, classmates, relatives, and even distant connections like friends of friends. Search for the company name on LinkedIn and see if you know anyone who works for the company currently or who has worked there in the past.”

Career coach Carlota Zimmerman also points out: “In your professional circle, ask the people who know and get you. Ask people at your level or, ideally, higher. Ask people who are friends.”

Tips on how to ask for (and get) a referral

–Arm your referrals with data: Give your recommenders a full packet of information:your resume; info about the company and position you’re applying to, and why,” suggests Zimmerman. “Give them one packet which has everything including stamps and a blank envelope.”

–Tell them exactly what you need: “Be extremely clear about what you want referred to you,” says Engel.

–Be appropriately aggressive: “After all, this is your life and your ability to sustain yourself. If a contact mentions hearing about a possible opportunity, ask for permission to make contact directly. One of the biggest mistakes job seekers routinely make upon hearing of a potential opportunity is to leave the next contact in the hands of others,” advises McCurdy.

–Don’t rush your referrals: “Give people at least three weeks to write a recommendation; your inability to use a calendar isn’t their problem, not to mention, it’s a red flag about your ability to handle a new, more demanding position,” notes Zimmerman.

–Don’t burn relationships during the job search: “Don’t forget the people behind your requests. Remember to ask how others are doing. Have conversations that include topics other than your search for work. Always remember to follow up on leads that have been sent your way, even if they don’t feel like strong opportunities. While even a poor lead could connect to a better opportunity within the organization, the real reason for the follow up is to maintain the goodwill of the connection who was willing to send you referrals and leads in the first place,” says McCurdy.

–Say thank you: “Afterwards, make sure to send them some kind of personalized thank you gift. This person took time out of his/her life, not to mention their reputation, to help you. Make it clear that you value their contribution,” says Zimmerman.

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