The Skinny on Employee Referral Programs

Get an inside push in the right direction when applying for a job.


While you've put in your time networking with people who may be able to help you find a job, you may have overlooked one key way to get an inside push in the right direction: an employee referral program.

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How They Work

Companies find that referrals from their employees often make good new hires. Employees can refer you to hiring managers during your application process. Often companies weigh these referrals more than unknown applicants when choosing their final candidate.

Employees may receive monetary compensation if you're hired, so it's win/win. And beyond the financial benefit, employees want to work with people they know that they can trust and who have a good work ethic, so referral programs have a high success rate.

These programs work in a number of ways. Sometimes it's as simple as stating on your cover letter or application who referred you. Other times the employee should walk your resume into the hiring manager's office, or submit your information through a referral system in their human resources department.

Whom Do You Know?

Is there anyone you know who works at one of the companies that you'd like to join? If not, it's time to get networking. Using LinkedIn to keep up with your professional connections is a good start. Other applications, like BranchOut on Facebook, can help you identify where your contacts work and any potential referral employment opportunities. Previous colleagues, clients, university connections, extended family, and friends of close friends are all potential leads. Find local industry events that you can participate in and get to know the people who work in your field around town. Build those relationships up until it's appropriate to ask for a referral.

[See The Ins and Outs of Providing References.]

When to Use It

If you think you're a good fit for a role and know someone within the company well, ask if they'd be comfortable referring you. Even if there's not an official referral program in place, her connections might still help you secure an interview and bypass the normal application process.

If she agrees to refer you, make it as easy for her as possible. Make sure to provide her with your full name and all of your contact information, the specific role you are applying for, and your resume in a format that she can easily and quickly pass along to the appropriate person.

Be sure to send your contact a follow-up thank you note after the application process. Even if you don't get the job, you want to maintain that relationship, so show your appreciation.

[See How to Follow Up On Your Job Application.]

When Not to Use It

You shouldn't see a referral program as an easy way to get your foot in the door. Employee referral programs work because typically employees of the company only refer candidates for which they can truly vouch. If you're not qualified, you shouldn't abuse the connection. It can make her look bad for referring a poor fit, and it may damage your relationship.

If you don't know someone very well, asking for a referral might be awkward. Instead, work on building your relationship and wait until there's the appropriate level of comfort between the two of you before you ask for a job referral.

If you've initially asked and haven't heard back, follow up once, then drop it. Sometimes it's easier to ignore your request than to just say no.

Employee referral programs can help you get an inside advantage over other job candidates, but use them wisely. Never sacrifice a personal relationship over the hope that someone can pull some strings and help get you hired.

Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.

Twitter: @PRJobs


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