How to Ask a Connection to Put in a Good Word (Without Being Awkward)

After painstakingly 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.

Hopefully, you’ve also taken the time to connect with people through college and on into your job search. Now, it’s time to utilize those connections. Your resume is more likely to be picked up if you have someone at your target company who can vouch for you. Here’s how to leverage your network to help increase your chances of getting your dream job.

1. Choose someone who can 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: the hiring manager.

“I recommend first reaching out to the connection you have the strongest relationship with at a company,” says Tom Dezell, author of Networking for the Novice, Nervous or Naïve Job Seeker.

People who know you well will be more able and likely to recommend you, because he or she has firsthand knowledge of your skills and abilities. However, you want to be sure this person is able to get that knowledge where it really counts. 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 be bringing you up.

“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 pretty good friend or even an acquaintance whom you talk to 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 this is the connection you want to go with.

What if you don’t contact this person often? 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.

This is especially true for collegiettes who are using LinkedIn to its full advantage. 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.” The important thing is not necessarily the strength of your connection to them, but how strong his or her connection is to the hiring manager and HR. Even if you don’t know the person, it’s important to reach out.

But how are you going to get a complete stranger to vouch for you? To do that, you’ll need to become less of a stranger by establishing a common ground.

2. Highlight your connection

Whether it’s a friend or an acquaintance—or someone you don’t really know at all—you don’t want anyone to feel overwhelmed or burdened with your request. You want to make it easy for him or her to help you. This is especially true for acquaintances, who may not know you that well, and those who don’t know you at all: These connections may need a bit more from you before they have the ability—or reason—to put in a good word. One way to achieve this is to find a common ground between the two of you.

“Try to make a connection with this person, through whatever filter you have, when you reach out to them, so that they’ll want to help you,” Schaffer says. That “filter” can be that you went to the same school, were in the same sorority or even are from the same state.

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 he or she mentions in one of his or her online profiles a professor with whom you’ve taken a class. Once you’ve figured out something the two of you share, mention this when reaching out to your connection. Try something like, “I know we went to the same school, and I saw on your profile that you worked closely with Professor So-and-so. I’ve just taken a class of hers, and it was really eye-opening!”

It may feel awkward at first, but the important thing is to remember that you’re trying to establish common ground between you and your connection. Doing so will make your connection feel more comfortable about helping you, as you’re no longer a complete stranger. “Once you create that affinity, it becomes much easier to ask for something,” Schaffer explains. Find something that the two of you share, and be sure to point this out when making your request.

3. Find the best method for getting an “in”

All companies have different processes for hiring, and if you are going to ask a connection for a good word, then you want to be sure he or she is following standard procedure in doing so.

“A good opening question is to ask about how the company hiring process works, since based on that you may learn what would be the best service your connection can do for you,” says Dezell. “At some places the personal introduction may be best, at others the referral.”

A referral is when your connection gives you the name and contact information of the hiring manager; you contact the hiring manager directly, mentioning that your connection referred you to him or her. 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 them. 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 referral or personal introduction over the phone might be best.

A connection will be more likely to handle your request if he or she can avoid trouble in doing so by making sure to follow procedure. What’s more, Dezell points out that some companies offer bonuses for referring candidates who go on to be hired. 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?”

4. Be specific with your request

You’ve found the right connection, established a common ground and decided what type of request would be most appropriate for this company. Now it’s time to get specific about what it is that you need.

“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 get a good word in. For acquaintances, start your request with something like, “I’d really appreciate it if you could introduce me to the hiring manager, and if you need to know more about me before you do that, please let me know.” Offer to send your resume and a short bio so your acquaintance can have a better idea of who you are and what you’re looking for.

If you know your connection well—maybe she’s a close friend from school—your request can be a bit more relaxed: “I know you’re good friends with the boss at HR. Do you think you could pass my name along to them, and put in a good word?”

5. Give them an “out”

The last thing you want to do is pressure your connection, or make him or her feel as if he or she has 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 he or she doesn’t know the hiring manager so well and would like to avoid coming across as pushy.

“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 he or she doesn’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.

Try something like, “Hey, I understand if this is too much, but I’d really appreciate a minute of your time to do this.” Dezell also suggests the following: “Any assistance or helpful information you can provide will be greatly appreciated.”

You want to make sure your connection is comfortable with helping you. Having an “out” lets him or her know that you know his or her time is valuable, or that you understand he or she might not know the hiring manager too well. Schaffer says that this one technique will make your requests a lot more successful.

6. Be sure to say thank you!

If your connection agrees to help you out, always remember to say thank you! No matter what happens, make sure to thank your connection for his or her support.

“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 with this person.”

You can send a quick email or a thank you note that says something along the lines of the following: “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 him or her up, or invite him or her out to coffee or lunch as a face-to-face sign of your appreciation.

If you do end up getting the job, Schaffer and Dezell both say that a small monetary gift—like a Starbucks gift card—is a good 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 doing it, and doing it in a timely fashion,” Schaffer says. Pick one that works for you and make sure to get it done!

Again, you want to take this time to not only say thank you, but to strengthen this 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. Even if your first connection says no, don’t stop the search. 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, be sure to return the favor!