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The No. 1 Way to Get Hired Today

These days, a personal referral is the key to landing a new job, so here's how to get one.

By Nancy Collamer

Does it seem like the resumés you submit online vanish into a black hole? You’re not alone. Most job seekers applying for jobs online never get so much as an email in return.

So how exactly are people snagging offers?

Well, I’ll let you in on a secret: The people who land positions these days increasingly get them through personal referrals from friends who work for employers with job openings. A 2012 Federal Reserve Bank of New York study found that referred candidates were twice as likely to get interviews and 40 percent more likely to be hired than other candidates.

(MORE: The Perfect Elevator Pitch to Land a Job)
So if you’re not doing all you can to get a referral, you’re not looking for work effectively. I’ll give you some pointers in a minute.

Referrals Are More Important Than Ever

Employee referrals have been part of the hiring process for years. But according to a recent New York Times article, “In Hiring, a Friend in Need Is a Prospect, Indeed,” employee recommendations have become the key that unlocks the door.

Workers at accounting giant Ernst & Young, for example, have been responsible for 45 percent of non-entry-level placements, up from 28 percent in 2010, the article said. Other companies, like Deloitte and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, offer prizes and cash incentives for employees who refer new hires. Sodexo, a food service and facilities management firm, even has a mobile app to let its employees easily submit recommendations from their phones. 

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Referrals vs. Job Postings

It’s easy to understand why hiring managers have grown so dependent on referrals.

When I was a human resources director in the 1970s, I’d receive maybe 50 resumés, tops, every time I advertised a position. Today, when companies post openings online, they’re deluged with hundreds (if not thousands) of resumés for each one. (For more on this, read Paul Bernard's Next Avenue article on the right and wrong ways to use job boards.)

Sifting through that mountain of responses takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. By contrast, employers can tap into their employees’ LinkedIn networks to zero in on quality candidates in less time and with better results.

Referrals and Job Discrimination
The ugly side of this trend: Choosing new employees from referrals can be discriminatory. The Federal Reserve study noted that 71 percent of employees who recommended candidates named ones of their own race or ethnicity (which tends to be white) and 63 percent favored their gender. That’s a troubling reality for minority candidates and, to some extent, women.
What’s more, the hire-by-referral practice makes it tough for the long-term unemployed to get a new job. That’s because the longer you’re out of the workforce, the weaker your network tends to be. Employees are also often reluctant to refer friends who’ve been out of work for a while.
(MORE: The Right Way to Evaluate a Job Offer)
4 Ways to Get More Referrals

Fair or not, companies will continue to rely heavily on employee recommendations for the foreseeable future. So here are four ways to help get a referral that could lead to your next job:

1. Let people know what you do for a living. This sounds so basic, but it’s amazing how many people don’t explain their line of work to friends or contacts.

By simply making it a point to be more forthcoming about your professional life when you’re, say, getting a haircut or sitting on the sidelines at your daughter’s soccer game you’ll increase the number of people who might refer you for a job that's right up your alley.

I’ve known of several cases where these types of conversations have led to people getting hired. Just last week, I started talking to a man sitting next to me on the train. He engaged me in a lively chat about his work, which resulted in my offering to introduce him to a potentially valuable job contact.

Remember to keep your “old” friends up-to-date on your professional world as well. Include a few lines about your current job (or the type of position you’d like) in your annual holiday letter, for instance.


2. Become an active player on LinkedIn. Still not on LinkedIn? Shame on you! These days, whether you’re working or looking for a job, you can’t afford not to use LinkedIn. It’s the single most important professional networking site on the Internet.

Once you’ve created your LinkedIn profile to promote your “personal brand” and set up your network, mine that network to find connections at your target employers. Then, email them to learn more about their companies and, when appropriate, ask for referrals.

You can also use LinkedIn to build goodwill, which could ultimately inspire your contacts to recommend you for openings where they work. Share articles, routinely participate in LinkedIn’s group discussions and send congratulatory notes to others in your network. This way, you’ll be on the radar of LinkedIn members whose firms are hiring.

3. Expand your in-person networks. As powerful as online networking is, it pales next to the effectiveness of meeting people in person.

Commit to getting out of the house on a regular basis: attend a conference, take a class or go to a local college alumni meeting. The more people who know you, like you and are familiar with your work, the greater the chance they’ll put in a good word for you.

Of course, meeting people is just the first step. You’ll need to work at networking by cultivating those relationships.

Add your new acquaintances to your online networks; ask them to get together over lunch or coffee; and always, always, always look for ways to help them before you ask for anything.

4. Volunteer. I think volunteering is a wonderful way to expand your network of influential people and let others see your skills in action. (Don’t forget to ask fellow volunteers to join your LinkedIn network.)

But don’t just volunteer for the sake of volunteering. Always pitch in when needed and offer to assist whenever the group needs a hand. You’ll develop a reputation as a reliable, hard worker.

Make an effort to engage in conversations with other volunteers, board members and executives at the nonprofit, too. Once they know you better and learn your capabilities, you can engage them in more substantive conversations about your career goals and job objectives.

Ultimately, this could convince them to refer you for a job at the nonprofit or anywhere else they work. Doing good as a volunteer could lead to someone doing something very, very good for you.

Photograph of Nancy Collamer
Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a semi-retirement coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. You can now download her free workbook called 25 Ways to Help You Identify Your Ideal Second Act on her website at (and you'll also receive her free bi-monthly newsletter). Read More
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