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Written by Paul DruryPaul Drury

How to put a referral in your cover letter (with examples)

10 min read
How to put a referral in your cover letter (with examples)
Hiring managers love to hear that one of their colleagues feels that a candidate would be a good hire. But how do you embed such a referral within the cover letter?

When you consider all the levers that you could pull in your job search, mentioning that you have a contact at your target employer who feels that you could be a good fit for the role is a powerful one indeed. Putting such a glowing referral from an influential individual in your cover letter is a power move that not all candidates can manage.

It might genuinely be the case that someone told you about the role, but it is not so hard to find a contact or manufacture a relationship for the sake of getting an inside track on your dream job. At the very least, it shows a decent degree of commitment and passion.

The cover letter is the ideal place to mention a referral—after all, it is hard to tell such a story in your factual resume. But how do you integrate the referral into your career story? What does it fit in with your tale of motivation and promise? In this blog, we explore what you might consider when it comes to including a referral in the cover letter:

  • How does a referral help you to get a job?
  • How to find a referee
  • How to put a referral in a cover letter
  • Example referral cover letters

How does a referral help you get the job?

The secret to getting a job is convincing the hiring manager that you have what it takes. Credibility is hard to come by when you are blowing your own trumpet, so having someone from the company vouch for your competence is an excellent way of elevating your candidacy above your competition. Referrals add that personal touch to an application.

Obviously, you should check that the referral gets on with the hiring manager first. Such small moments can obviously make or break a referral. If the referral comes from someone the hiring manager doesn’t know, that may be a problem. Also, the referral should be sufficiently senior in the company to give the recommendation enough gravitas. 

When you have a referral, a hiring manager will also assume that you understand the company culture and the challenges that the company is facing. They want to find talent that will stay with them for a long time. The main reason why people leave employers early is because jobs are not what they were expecting. Your referee can be someone who can give you the lay of the land.

Advantages of putting a referral in your cover letter

How to find someone to give you a referral?

Finding someone to vouch for you at a company where you do not yet work is no simple matter. You may be lucky enough to know someone. If you do not, all is not lost.

For the referral to be credible, they should ideally be someone that knows you reasonably well. Former colleagues or industry partners are ideal as that implies a level of professional objectivity. If the referral comes from a family friend, it can still give you an advantage, but maybe don’t mention the relationship in the cover letter. You can then be honest about the friendship during an interview. The key is to secure the interview in the first place.

If you don’t have an obvious person available and want to look for someone, consider this:

Do: use networking

Social media is a fertile ground for job search referrals. It is likely that you will share several common interests with your connections, so search through the employee lists in relevant departments at your target employer. Maybe a name or two will stand out to you? Approach them on socials and ask if you could have a chat to get to know a bit more about the company and whether they think you would be a good fit. People are more willing to help than you might think. The law of reciprocity rules.

Don’t: use cold messaging

Cold messaging total strangers is the worst idea and could be utterly counter-productive. They might even know the hiring manager and this could backfire. People tend to be annoyed when they are approached by someone that they do not know. If you are keen to get on someone’s radar for a referral, at least warm them up by engaging with their content for a few months before you ask them for a favor.

Things to consider before putting a referral in a cover letter

Get express permission

Before you assume that someone would be happy to vouch for you, make sure that you ask whether they would feel comfortable with you mentioning their name in a cover letter. It is one thing for them to casually say “hey, you should come and join us,” another thing entirely if their judgment is put on the line with a formal referral in a cover letter.

Ask the referral for advice

If you have a close enough relationship with the person referring you, don’t hesitate to ask their advice about how to approach the job search and cover letter itself. If the hiring manager knows them, they might sense some of their knowledge seeping through the application. Doing your homework in such a way displays dedication and curiosity.

Share your cover letter

Sharing your cover letter and resume with the referee before they agree to refer you will give them an idea of how you are pitching your talents. If they feel comfortable that you are a good fit for the role in question, their recommendation will be that bit more genuine. If you are going to mention their name, they may well have a conversation with the hiring manager at some point. Give them some ammunition to help your cause.

How to put a referral in a cover letter

There are several things that you should consider when putting a referral in a cover letter. You need the cover letter to be all about you, but mentioning the opinion of an insider in the right way can elevate the content to a whole new level.

Mention them early in the letter

If a hiring manager notices the name of the referral early in the cover letter, they will be far more likely to read on. If they feel that you already have a connection to the company, the rest of your application will feel that bit more closer to home.

Be specific: why would the referral vouch for you?

You are missing an opportunity if you mention the name of the referral and say that they “think you would be a good fit for the role.” That is worryingly vague and would surely create some doubts in a hiring manager’s mind. Make sure to hint at the close nature of your relationship and expand on why they think that you should get the job.

Example referral cover letters

The whole cover letter cannot be about your relationship with the referral. You have plenty of other things to talk about (motivations, accomplishments, and personality), so keep the referral to a brief paragraph at the beginning of the cover letter.

Make sure to get the name and position of the referral right. Any mistake here would be disastrous. Also, if possible, mention why the referral thinks that you would be a good fit for the role. Their opinion adds that extra bit of credibility to your job application and you can be sure the hiring manager will talk to them about you if your application moves forward.

1. If you have worked with the person previously

  • I am excited to apply for the Marketing Assistant position at Hedges. Your current Brand Manager, Gill Hammond, felt that my expertise in executing innovative digital marketing strategies would be an ideal fit for your needs. We worked together on the Indus campaign, which resulted in a 30% increase in online engagement and a 25% boost in sales over six months.

2. If you know the referral personally 

  • I am writing to express my keen interest in the Registered Nurse position at St. John's, a role brought to my attention through a personal referral by Kate Lambert, a Senior Nurse at your facility. I trained with Kate a few years ago and we have kept in touch over the years. She feels that now is the perfect time to bring my focus on holistic patient care and passion for patient advocacy to your medical center.

Key takeaways

Referrals are a great way to warm up the hiring manager. Reducing the level of uncertainty will make a decision about an interview invite that little bit easier. Of course, a referral will only help you to get your foot in the door. You need to make a compelling case once you have secured that initial opportunity. 

  • Realize the genuine power of a professional referral.
  • Make sure that you know the person well enough.
  • Prepare them for detailed conversations about your candidature.
  • Mention the referral at the beginning of the cover letter.
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