After carefully crafting your cover letter and tweaking your resume, you’ve finally applied to a position at your dream company. You know it’s important to make sure your application doesn’t get sucked into the black hole of resumes, so you start thinking of ways to stand out. Then, you wonder if you should ask a connection to put in a good word for you — after all, they say that can improve your chances of landing the job!
Hopefully, you’ve taken the time to connect with people during college and throughout your job search. Now, it’s time to strategically utilize those connections. Your resume is more likely to be reviewed if you have someone at your target company who can vouch for you. Here are some tips for how to leverage your network to increase your chances of getting your dream job.
Find someone to help make an introduction
When asking someone to put in a good word for you, you want to make sure that the person you choose is directly connected to whoever is going to make the final decision — which in most cases will be the hiring manager. Tom Dezell, the author of Networking for the Novice, Nervous, or Naïve Job Seeker, says to use your connections strategically, and consider who can help the most during this process. “I recommend first reaching out to the connection you have the strongest relationship with at a company,” he says.
People who know you well will be more equipped — and more likely — to recommend you, because he or she has firsthand knowledge of your skills and abilities! However, you want to be sure that this person can help facilitate a meaningful connection for you and put in a good word that counts. For instance, your best friend may work at your dream company, but if she doesn’t know the hiring manager, she may not be the best person to make the connection.
“You need to get to someone that has influence that can help you find the hiring manager or contact someone in HR,” says Neal Schaffer, global social media speaker and author of Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging and Maximizing LinkedIn.
If you have a good friend (or even an acquaintance) who you only speak with only every now and then, but he or she knows the hiring manager personally or can put you in touch with someone who does, then you may want to consider nurturing the relationship so that they can eventually make a connection for you. If you don’t contact this person often, you ask? Schaffer says not to let this deter you. “Even if it’s a ‘weak’ relationship, that should be no excuse not to contact them,” he explains. Schaffer says that it’s perfectly okay to ask for help from someone who doesn’t really know you at all — as long as it’s done in a respectful way.
In some cases, you might not know anyone at your target company, but Schaffer says this shouldn’t stop you from trying for an “in.” One of the best ways to do that is by networking on LinkedIn, seeing if you have any mutual connections, and reaching out in a professional way, even if you don’t know a connection very well. If you feel intimidated “cold” messaging people on LinkedIn, don’t worry, you’re not alone — know that everyone has to start somewhere, and you can always become less of a stranger by sending a nice note and establishing something you have in common.
Establish a connection with the person
Whether it’s a friend, acquaintance, mentor, or someone you barely know, you never want anyone to feel overwhelmed or burdened with your request. People are busy, and you want to make it easy and efficient for them to help you. Some connections may require a bit more effort from you before they have the ability — or reason — to put in a good word. One way to achieve this is by nurturing the relationship and establishing common ground between the two of you.
“Try to make a connection with this person — through whatever filter you have — [so that] when you reach out to them, they’ll want to help you,” Schaffer says. That “filter” can be that you went to the same school, were in the same sorority, grew up in the same state, or maybe you have a mutual friend on LinkedIn that you can mention.
If you don’t have something obvious in common, use your research skills to dig deeper. Google your connection or scour their LinkedIn profile to see if he or she has an interest in sports and follows a team you love. Or perhaps they took a class with a professor that you did, too. Once you’ve figured out something the two of you share, mention this when reaching out to your connection. Try something like, “Hi, [name]! It looks like we went to the same school, and I saw on your profile that you worked closely with [name of connection, professor, etc.]. I’ve just taken a class of hers, and it was really eye-opening!”
Reaching out to make a connection may feel awkward at first, but the important thing is to remember that you’re trying to establish common ground — write naturally and authentically while maintaining a respectful tone. Doing so will make your connection feel more comfortable about helping you. “Once you create that affinity, it becomes much easier to ask for something,” Schaffer explains.
determine the best way to get an “in”
All companies have different hiring processes, and if you are going to ask a connection for a good word, then you want to be sure of the necessary procedure for doing so. “A good opening question is to ask about how the company’s hiring process works, since based on that, you may learn [the best thing] your connection can do for you,” says Dezell. “At some places, the personal introduction may be best, and at others, it’s [a formal] referral.”
A referral is when your connection gives you the name and contact information of the hiring manager, then you contact the hiring manager directly, mentioning that your connection referred you. With a personal introduction, your connection will actually reach out on your behalf to introduce you to the hiring manager, whether that’s through an email, a phone call, or an in-person meeting with all three of you present.
Schaffer argues that in most cases, the personal introduction is the way to go, but Dezell says it’s important to ask before you make your request, because different places may have different methods for handling such requests. For example, if you’re looking to go into government work, Dezell points out that the hiring process is closely monitored to provide equal opportunity for all candidates. “There are no referral incentives, so email correspondence can create a record of favoritism toward a particular candidate,” he says. In such cases, a professional referral or personal introduction over the phone might be best.
A connection will be more likely to handle your request if there is a formal procedure, so be sure to research and know what a company’s policy is. Dezell points out that some companies offer bonuses for referring candidates who go on to be hired — so know that in some cases, if your connection also gains something from helping you, they may be more willing to do so. To find out what the company recruitment process is like, ask the following: “Does your company have any special requirements for referrals or introductions?”
Be specific with your request
Now that you’ve found the right connection, established common ground, and researched how a referral can be made, now it’s time to get specific about what you need. Maybe it’s an email, phone call, or personal introduction, or you’re applying directly through a company’s website and would like to list a connection on your application. Regardless, be sure to do your research and have a specific ask for people — the more respectful and clear, the better.
No matter what your “ask” is, Dezell recommends figuring out who the hiring manager is first — and if that info isn’t immediately apparent — asking if your connection can share that information with you. “The contact you want a referral or introduction to is the hiring manager in the department you hope to work at the company,” says Dezell. “Always ask the connection, no matter how strong, who that individual is.”
Once you know who the hiring manager is, be very specific in your request to “put a good word in.” For acquaintances, start your request with something like, “Dear [name], I hope you are doing well. I am planning on applying to [XYZ job position], and I’m reaching out to see if you would be open to introducing me to the hiring manager.” Then, without going overboard, include a bit of your background and communicate your enthusiasm for the role — in other words, don’t just ask and expect the person to help you just because (remember: they may receive many emails like this per day!). Always offer to send your resume, a short bio, your professional portfolio, and any other materials so that your connection can have a stronger grasp on your skills — and feel more confident introducing you to someone on their team.
Always stay professional, but if you know your connection very well (i.e., a close friend from school), your request might be a bit less formal: “Hi, [name]! I’m applying to [XYZ job position] and I noticed you are connected to [hiring manager] on LinkedIn. Do you think you’d be comfortable passing my name along to them, and putting in a good word?” Know that even if you’re asking a close friend, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get you the job — nothing is guaranteed, but it’s always worth the ask!
Give the person an “out”
The last thing you want to do is pressure your connection, or make them feel as if they have no choice but to help you. Your connection may have just started working at the company and doesn’t have very much influence, or perhaps they don’t know the hiring manager very well and would like to avoid coming across as “pushy.” When asking someone to put in a good word for you, always be sure to “give them an out” and be respectful — not demanding — in your request.
“Put yourself in their shoes,” Schaffer says. “They’re going to go out of their way to help you. Sometimes they’re putting their own professional reputation on the line by asking for an introduction for you.”
Asking someone to put in a good word can be a risky favor, and you want your connection to be able to respectfully decline your request if they don’t feel comfortable. Schaffer says that one quick sentence near the end of your request is a polite way to let your connection bow out. For example, you might say, “I totally understand if this is too much” — or, Dezell suggests the following: “Any assistance or helpful information you can provide will be greatly appreciated.” This indicates that even if they can’t make a direct connection right away, their time and energy is still appreciated — and they may have other opportunities in mind for you, too.
The bottom line is that you want to make sure your connection is comfortable with helping you. Having an “out” lets them know that you know their time is valuable, or that you understand they might not be able to connect you directly with a hiring manager right away.
say thank you
Whether you’re reaching out to a stranger on LinkedIn or asking a close friend to put in a good word for you, always remember to say thank you! No matter what happens in your job search, make sure to thank your connection for their support — so much of career growth depends on connections, and you always want to be known as a respectful person who shows gratitude. “Very few people actually send a thank you email after they get a connection, or after they get introduced,” says Schaffer. “You want to use this to strengthen your relationship.”
You can send a quick email or a thank you note that says something along the lines of: “Thank you so much for referring/introducing me to [hiring manager’s name]! I really appreciate your assistance, as well as your confidence in me. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on my progress!” If your connection is a good friend, call them up, or invite them out to coffee or lunch as a sign of your appreciation.
If you do end up getting the job, Schaffer and Dezell both say that sending a small gift — like a Starbucks gift card — can be a nice way to thank your connection. And don’t worry too much about whether to snail mail or email your token of thanks. “The method of delivery is not as important as actually [saying thank you], and doing it in a timely fashion,” Schaffer says. So whether it’s a handwritten Hallmark card or a thoughtfully-crafted letter via email, pick one that works for you and make sure to get it done as soon as you can!
Not only is it important to say thank you, but gestures like this can go a long way and strengthen the connection for the future. “If they introduce you once to someone of influence, who knows when they’ll make another introduction for you?” says Schaffer.
Your network is a vital aspect of the job hunt, and sometimes, asking someone to put in a good word for you can pay off in a big way. Even if your first connection says no, don’t stop the search — always be on the lookout for potential connections, including in places and industries you wouldn’t normally expect. Keep your chin up and keep looking until you find someone who is willing to help. And if he or she asks you to put in a good word in the future, or any other request, be sure to return the favor!