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Written by Paul DruryPaul Drury

Getting “referred by”: definition & meaning in a job search

6 min read
Getting “referred by”: definition & meaning in a job search
If you are lucky enough to know someone at your target employer, getting referred by them is the best way of creating an early connection with the hiring manager.

The early stages of the job search are often worryingly impersonal. Most people send their carefully crafted resumes into an ATS black hole and hope for the best. There is another way. You can get referred by a company insider who can vouch for your suitability.

Getting a referral is like a job search cheat card. You will automatically move to a different level of consideration in the hiring manager’s mind. If the referral is done in the right way, your chances of securing that first interview are significantly higher. Then it is up to you. Hopefully you will justify the referrer’s confidence in you.

There are several considerations when asking a company insider to vouch for your suitability. In this blog we consider the following:

  • What does getting referred mean?
  • The benefits of being referred
  • The process of asking for a referral
  • Does it matter who referred you?
  • How to mention a referral in a cover letter
  • What to do if you don’t have a referral

What does “getting referred” mean?

In a job search content, getting referred simply means getting a current (or recent) employee to recommend you to the hiring manager. This is not as common as you might think, with maybe 5-10% of candidates coming through the referral method.

As the credibility of the person referring is on the line, hiring managers generally take such suggestions seriously. It is normal to mention such a referral at the end of a cover letter. This should not typically be mentioned on the resume, but you are relying on the fact that the hiring manager will read to the end of the cover letter. One additional option is to highlight a LinkedIn recommendation from the referrer (and maybe ask them to send the hiring manager a message with a link to your profile).

The benefits of being referred

Getting referred can be a real ace up your sleeve if you approach it correctly. This extra dimension to your application brings plenty of upside.

  • Competitive advantage. When your resume is alongside countless others with similar experience, you need to take every opportunity to stand out. If you have someone on the inside to refer you, it can only be to your advantage.
  • Culture match. An employee would not refer someone if they do not think that they would make a suitable colleague. Culture fit is one of the hardest things to understand in the recruitment process—referrals are particularly useful from this point of view.
  • Bank some credibility. If you walk into the interview room with a referral in your back pocket, the hiring manager will already look at you a little differently. One of their colleagues has gone out of their way to back you—they will be curious as to why.
  • Relieve HR of responsibility. The HR department often plays an important role in the early stages of candidate selection. If a candidate has been referred by an employee, this adds weight to their argument and reduces the responsibility for their decision a little.

Asking for a referral

Before you ask for the referral, it is important to assess just how well this person knows you. Will they be able to justify the choice? Will they be able to have a conversation about you with the hiring manager and answer some basic questions about why you would be a good fit for the role?

If the referral is weak, this can work against a candidate. It may come across as a sign of desperation if you are asking an employee to exaggerate their relationship with you. You obviously don’t have to be best friends, but they should know enough about you to sell your skills effectively.

If you ask for a referral from an old contact that you haven’t spoken to in a while, it may be worth having a conversation before they refer you. Hopefully, they will be happy to do this as they will want the likely referral to be genuine. 

Does it matter who referred you?

You might think that only referrals from senior employees would be deemed credible.

This might be the case for director and board roles. An admin assistant may not have enough insight to comment on their suitability. However, for entry and mid-management roles, where personality and culture fit is key, a referral from any employee may tip the scales in your favour. If they have enough genuine insight, their views will be welcomed.

Try to avoid referrals from family or close personal friends. If the referrer engages regularly with your personal social media pages, it might hint at a certain degree of bias. On the other hand, if they are the only person that you know at the employer, a referral from a friend is better than no referral at all.

How to mention a referral in a cover letter

The most important message in the cover letter is why you think you are suitable for the role. Cover letters should complement a resume and give a personal slant on the cultural fit and specific reasons why a particular job is right for you. 

The conclusion of the cover letter is the place to mention the referral, but this should be brief and should not detail the reasons why the referrer thinks you would be great. If a hiring manager is interested, they will initiate a conversation about you. 

When you mention the referrer, make sure to include their full name and title. Do not assume that the hiring manager knows them.

What to do if you don’t have a referral

Many companies run referral programs for employees, so it may be worth asking a social media contact who doesn’t know you so well. As previously mentioned, there are risks with this approach, so make sure that they understand the reasons why you would be a good fit for the role so that they can do a good job of being your advocate.

Employers won’t mind such a weak connection if you are worth inviting to an interview. The employee referring you will often receive a monetary reward if you are hired, so if you really think that a referral will make a difference for your application it may be worth asking people (who know who you are) on socials.

Key takeaways

  • Ensure that the referrer knows what you can bring to the company.
  • Make sure that they are happy to refer you.
  • Mention them on the cover letter, not on the resume.
  • Name drop them in the interview if you get the chance.
  • Don’t be shy—you will need all the help that you can get.
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