Careers

4 Points to Keep in Mind When Considering Job Referrals

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I recently met with a student who expressed frustration that employers post positions even when they have an internal candidate in mind. Although my student prepared and did his best in the interview, he had no chance of being selected. The practice may not seem fair, but if you regard the situation from the perspective of employers, you realize it makes sense. Employee referrals reduce the cost of hiring, improve the quality of candidates and result in lower turnover rates. That’s a win for hiring managers who have no desire to go through the process multiple times.

Hiring and onboarding cost time, effort and money, and employers want to select candidates who have the required abilities and are motivated to do the job. Instead of feeling frustrated, you may want to start developing connections that can make you one of those referred candidates. Referrals often come through employee referral programs, but you may also be referred through former employees, interns or clients engaged with your target employer.


Networking is the most effective way of finding opportunities in your target companies, securing interviews for your target positions and receiving meaningful offers. As you work on growing your network and becoming a referred quality candidate, you may want to keep the following four points in mind.

Be Specific with Your Contacts  

To avoid having to interview for opportunities you are not interested in and to ensure you hear about opportunities you are excited about, you may want to communicate with your connections what your target is. Be specific. Avoid simply mentioning a title or a company. Describe what you are looking for in detail, including geography, culture, responsibilities, impact and expected salary. You may be tempted to say that you will take anything -- but please don’t. I hear it a lot, and I know that the person who says it rarely means anything. Saying that implies that you have no idea what you are interested in or what value you can bring to potential employers. As a result, either no one will refer you for opportunities they come across or when they do, you may end up having to decline them. Having a clear idea of what you are after helps your connections guide you to appropriate opportunities that you will actually enjoy.

In terms of contacts, keep in mind that certain people within a company have more weight when it comes to hiring decisions, so as you build connections in target companies, be sure to keep track of the ones you know are valued employees and are willing to take a risk on you.

Take Referrals Seriously

If a current employee at your target company refers you, she is putting her reputation on the line for you. Her referral increases your chances of being considered a worthy candidate, but there are no guarantees that you will receive an offer. Therefore, you want to take the opportunity seriously and not count on the referral to do the job for you. A referral gives you the chance to interview and communicate your qualifications; it doesn’t mean that you can take it easy during the interview. Just the opposite. Since someone gave you an "in," you have to shine even brighter, you have to perform at your best, you have to prepare fully and showcase your abilities and motivations.

You are the one who ultimately does the work to secure the position through clearly communicating the value you will bring and the strong and genuine motivation you have to join that particular employer. Know who the employer is, what the employers’ needs are and how you can help them meet those needs. Even if you are not selected -- or if you choose not to move forward -- the impression you leave as a professional will reflect well on you and your referral.

Be Professional If You Have to Decline An Offer

If you have clearly communicated your career goals to your network, you are hopefully being directed to positions and employers you are targeting. That said, as you begin the interview process, you will naturally discover new information about the role and the team, and that can help you determine whether the option is a good fit after all. If at this point you receive an offer, you may feel the pressure to accept it, but you don’t have to. Rather, you want to focus on declining in a professional manner.

1. Call, Don’t Email

When someone takes a risk on you and recommends you, the professional thing to do is decline the offer by calling the hiring manager, not sending an email. That way, you avoid having a message that comes off as impersonal and cold. Inform your referral around the same time you call the employer so that neither is surprised by your decision.

2. Keep It Simple

Avoid going down a rabbit hole of lengthy explanations and justifications. Keep it simple, mention one or two specific reasons for the decision, and focus on highlighting your continued interest in the company and in keeping in touch with your referral and the hiring manager. Communicate the same message to the employer and your referral, because they may confer about it.

3. Consider Recommending a More Appropriate Candidate

If you are turning down the offer because it does not align with your abilities, interests or motivation but you know of someone else who is a better fit, you may consider rejecting the offer and connecting the recruiter and your referral with that person. From the recruiter’s perspective, that’s a good move because they don’t have to start the search from the beginning.

Follow Up with Your Contacts

No matter the outcome of interviews, you want to keep relationships with your network strong. You may interview and not receive an offer. You may start interviewing and realize the position is not a good fit so you decide to decline an extended offer. You may interview, confirm the job is a perfect fit and accept an extended offer. In all of the above cases, you want to update your referral and express gratitude. Otherwise, they may not be as inclined to refer you the next time an opening comes along. To say thank you, consider giving your contact a small gift or inviting them out to lunch. Remember also that you can’t go wrong with handwritten thank-you notes. The goal is to show your contacts that you acknowledge them sticking their necks out for you.