While a referral never guarantees an interview or job offer, having a few quality people willing to espouse your viability as an employee can go a long way to getting your foot in the door; especially referrals by people already working at your potential employer. On the side of the coin, however, a poorly chosen referral can have pronounced negative effects on your chances as a job candidate. Hence, knowing how and whom to ask for a referral can give you a decided advantage over other candidates.
There are many bits of advice regarding asking for help in typical situations (“it never hurts to ask” springs to mind) but soliciting a job referral is not a typical situation. Most people will accept an invitation to write a referral due to the difficulty in turning down such a request, so it’s really up to you to ensure that your referrals are from the right people, at the right time, and in the right way.
One of the most common obstacles for someone when writing a referral letter is simple unfamiliarity with the subject. The first consideration to make before asking for a referral is whether or not that person knows you well enough in the right ways to produce a ringing endorsement, without sounding generic or forced. While the relationship needn’t be chronologically extensive, it should be close enough, and with enough professional appreciation and respect, to tie together your reputations. If an interviewer senses a lack of authenticity in the referral, he or she may develop an immediate negative bias against you.
Next, never take a referral for granted. A request for a recommendation should be couched within the context of why you feel that particular person would be best suited to recommend you. Furthermore, it should be briefly explained that he or she needs to describe why it is felt that you would fit well in the position for which you’ve applied. If at any point you sense any reluctance from the referrer, strongly consider getting your recommendation elsewhere. It’s better to take the time to shop around for the best endorsement than to settle for a half-hearted referral which may do more harm than good. After an agreement is made, do your best to help yourself and explain how you feel you will contribute to your new employer.
Finally, if you do reach the interview phase, do not simply assume that a referrer has filled in the interviewer of every detail of your history. Don’t rely on the referrer to get you employment and don’t exaggerate your relationship with that person in order to exploit his or her reputation for your own gain. Be honest with the interviewer and focus on your own strengths, abilities, and experience to get a job offer. And remember, the stronger your network of professional relationships, the better the endorsements you’ll receive from sources both solicited and unsolicited.