How to Generate Employee Referrals with LinkedIn

LinkedIn outreach

Being referred into a company to be hired seems like the holy grail when you're searching for a new job. An employee referral to a hiring manager from someone in your LinkedIn network means bypassing the job boards, applicant tracking systems and low-level gatekeepers. You get a direct line the to decision maker(s), and possibly even someone on the "inside" willing to advocate for you as the right candidate for the job.

So how do you leverage your LinkedIn network to generate referrals for the jobs you'd actually want?

Below, I share my proven, seven-step process. It's worked for many job seekers at many levels, including me. Be aware though that everything below (including the LinkedIn outreach message template) has a very important caveat (which I state at the bottom of this article).

(1) Make a list of companies where you want to work.

It’s important to start with an end in mind of where you want to land. You won’t help your job search if you don't have clearly defined parameters for what you're looking for. Having a list will help you speak in specifics as you network.

(2) Research if your target companies have an employee referral bonus program.

This information helps with how to strategically approach the company. Clearly, if a company has a referral bonus program for referring hires, this could be helpful to you. But the lack of such a program shouldn’t discourage you from applying. It’s just information to leverage.

(3) Research company size and any known LinkedIn network connections.

Look the company up on LinkedIn to see how many employees work there and who you know that may work there. (2nd-degree connections).

(4) Determine if there are any open jobs that you are qualified for and interested in.

Using this information as a leverage point could be helpful in your strategic approach. But like the absence of a referral program, don’t let the absence of a relevant open job deter you from approaching a company.

(5) Once you have completed your research, identify someone whom you know or have a mutual connection with on LinkedIn to approach to ask for an exploratory conversation.

Don’t be afraid to approach someone cold, as well. Ideally, choose someone that could be in the area where you want to work, but if you have a personal contact in another area, use the best contact you have for this initial attempt at entry.

(6) Ask for a 10-15 minute exploratory conversation.

You can use a note formula that factors in research from their LinkedIn Profile (be sure to read it) and the company research you did before making this connection:

“Hello ____,

I am reaching out in the spirit of networking, as we have mutual connections on LinkedIn (or whatever is the reason that connects you or motivated you to reach out to them.). Your background at ______is admirable and I was hoping you would be open to a 10-15 conversation as to how you came to join ___ as I am doing my research in applying for ___role. I am also flexible in doing this “chat” through email if this is the best way for you to connect.

If so, let me know what is the best way to have this conversion that is the least burdensome to you. Present me some time options that are most convenient for you or let me know that I can email you my questions seeking your insight. I’m grateful for your consideration.”

You could always be more specific with this request based on mutual connections had, knowledge of work they performed, articles you have read about or written by the person you are contacting, etc. Be creative and personal here when possible.

Generally speaking, this formula can be used to craft your e-notes requesting a chat or referral.

  1. Read their profile.
  2. Tell them how you found them.
  3. Leverage something you've learned about them in your note.
  4. Ask for a 10-15 minute chat and make it easy for them to schedule.

(7) Take time to nurture the relationship before you ask for a referral.

Based on how you may know or come to know this person, explore how they came to the company and, when appropriate, then ask for a referral to be considered for roles in your area. Don’t assume a referral will happen. Earn it through curiosity and genuine interest.

Now, here is the caveat:

Don’t do any of the above without updating your LinkedIn Profile first. It would be a terrible mistake to go out there and do all this LinkedIn outreach only to have a dated, vague, and unprofessional profile.

Join me on my LinkedIn Profile Masterclass and I will show you how to create a LinkedIn profile that captures your career story.


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