The Dos and Don’ts of Asking for a Referral

A great way to take your career to the next level is to get an exceptional referral from a credible source. Referrals can mean the difference between getting a job or losing out: between finding new opportunities or sending your resume into the black hole of online applications.

Referrals aren’t the be all and end all of job searches, but they can be your keys into an organization or industry.

So, let’s start with the basics. There are two types of important referrals that I’ll be giving advice about in this post:

1. Job referrals

Job referrals are when an employee from inside an organization or with connections in that organization refers you for a position by giving you a positive recommendation.

2. People referrals 

People referrals are when a person inside your network makes an introduction that allows you to meet a person of interest outside your network.

Unless you’re very lucky, chances are that the person who could give you great referrals isn’t someone that you’re close with. More often than not, you’ll need to reach out to this person. An example of this is if you meet a Recruiter at a networking event. You don’t know them well, but they can get you to where you want to go.

So, if you’ve just met someone and you just know that they can give you the referral that you need, you can always reach out to them. If you’re nervous about this, remember: people like helping people. But, on the flip side, people don’t like being used. If you give the impression that you’re using a professional for their network, they won’t be eager to help you. Since it’s likely that you’ll be reaching out to them online via email or LinkedIn, you also have to be careful about your wording.


  • Let your first email to your referee be a request for a referral for a job at their organization.
  • Phrase your emails in a way that makes the referee feel like you only connected to them for their network.
  • Let your relationship with your referee be one-sided.


1. Acknowledge them. If they can help you, chances are that they are successful themselves. Before you reach out, do some research on their LinkedIn profile to find out what they have achieved and reference some key points in your outreach email.

2. Ask questions. It’s so important to build rapport with your referee before you make a request of them. Great questions will draw on what you’ve learned about their career-path while demonstrating your own knowledge. I’ve had so many people ask me right off the bat: “Can you introduce me to ___, ___, and ___?”. Instead, try something along the lines of: “I would be grateful if you could provide me with your expertise. I’m very interested in ____ because I’m passionate about ____. Which organizations would you recommend that I explore if I’m looking for new opportunities?”

3. Add value. This ties in with ensuring that your relationship with your referee is not one-sided. If you want to make a lasting impression, add value before asking them for a referral. This can be in the form of an interesting article, your expertise, or a referral of your own to a professional that you’re connected to.

4. Share your interests. Creating a genuine relationship online is tough, but it’s possible as long as you remember basic rules of relationship-building. People like people who they share common interests with, so if you can sense common ground while you’re reading their correspondence, be sure to expand on it in your own messages!

You should do all of this for one reason: to build trust. Your referee will be much more likely to refer you if you take the time to do this. Once you know that there is trust in your relationship, you can ask for a referral and you’ll likely get an exceptional one!

How do you reach out to ask for referrals? Let me know in the comments section!


1 thought on “The Dos and Don’ts of Asking for a Referral”

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