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How to Get an Employee Referral for Internships and Graduate Jobs

Frances Chan

Careers Commentator
Learn how an employee referral could get you noticed by recruiters – and how you can secure one!

We'll cover:

First off, what’s an employee referral?

  • A referral is a recommendation from someone within the company or connected to the company where you're applying. This individual vouches for your qualifications, skills, and suitability for the position.
  • Typically, the person referring you knows you personally or professionally and can attest to your work ethic, character, and abilities. 
  • Referrals are basically like someone inside the company giving you a thumbs up and saying, "I know this person, and they would be a great fit here." 

Why should I get an employee referral?

Reason #1: Most recruiters love referrals – especially when it comes to students & grads

  • Recruiters see employee referrals as the 2nd most popular source of quality candidate.
  • From the recruiter’s perspective, the only thing better is an “internal hire” – that’s when a company recruits someone from a different part of the company.
  • But internal hires are practically non-existent for students and grads, you can think of employee referrals are basically your best bet for being noticed.

Reason #2: Referrals can boost your chances

While referrals don’t guarantee you the job, they usually do increase your chances of landing the job – or at least an interview.

📣 Hear it from a recruiter 
“If a recruiter has a stack of five hundred resumes to look through, there are typically about ten resumes on top of the pile that have been forwarded from someone inside the company. Chances are a recruiter will pick the best five of those ten off the top of the stack and then the best five of the remaining five hundred for an interview. The odds are a bit more in your favor!” – Recruitment Director

📣 Hear it from a grad
“Referrals are also a great way to secure a phone interview!” - an account manager at Amazon (source) 

Great, now how do I get an employee referral?

There are a few different approaches to getting an employee referral depending on whether you already have personal connections to the company and how much time you have before the application. 

If you already know someone at the company

  • Always check your personal network first! Does a friend, classmate, family member, or former coworker work at the company? 
  • From a recruiter’s perspective, referrals from people who actually know you carry the most weight – especially if they’re someone you’ve worked with before.
  • If nobody in your immediate network works at the company, you can also try asking the people they know – i.e. a friend of a friend, a friend’s parent, a parent’s friend, you get the gist.

📣 Hear it from a grad
“I was looking for jobs for eight months during COVID … I finally got a job after I got a referral from a friend’s friend. So yeah … let people know you're looking for a job … people will ‘pass the work around.’” – Associate Software Engineer at Xero

If you don’t know anyone at the company & you've got time

If you don’t know anyone at the company and neither does anyone in your network, your best bet is to find employees to connect with, build relationships with them, and then ask for referrals.

  1. Identify potential contacts: Look for employees within the company who share common interests or backgrounds (e.g. alumni from your school), have similar roles to the one you're interested in, or are involved in projects that resonate with your skills and passions.
  2. Build relationships with them: Building a relationship takes time and effort, so be patient and authentic in your interactions. Here are a few ways to do this.
    1. Follow them on professional platforms like LinkedIn and engage with their posts in online forums. This shows genuine interest and can spark a connection.
    2. Send a personalised message and express interest in them (their career and their role). Ask for general insights or advice rather than jumping straight to asking about the company. 
    3. Request a short (e.g. 30-minute call) to ask them about their career. Most likely, if they’re a recent grad or intern, they’ll be flattered!
    4. Continue to engage with them over time, sharing relevant content, asking thoughtful questions, and offering value in return. 
  3. Ask for the referral when appropriate: Once you've established a connection and have a better understanding of each other's professional interests and values, you may feel comfortable asking for a referral. Be sure to explain why you think you're a good fit for the role and how their endorsement would be meaningful.

By this point, they’re almost guaranteed to offer you a referral! 

If you don’t know anyone and you're running out of time

But we get it, you don’t always have the time for all that, so here’s a simplified process:

  1. Identify potential contacts
  2. Reach out directly, express interest in their career, and request an informational interview
  3. After the chat, request a referral

And if you really don’t have time, you can skip to asking for the referral from the get-go. This is the option with the lowest chance of success, but it does occasionally work. Here’s how you make it happen:

  • Personalise your approach: Send a personalised email or message explaining why you're reaching out and how you know them – you can say that you’ve been following them on Linkedin for a while or that you admire their work.
  • Give them context: Explain the role you're interested in and why you believe you're a good fit. Ask if they would feel comfortable referring you.
  • Provide support: Provide your resume or other supporting materials and offer to discuss your qualifications further if they would like more information.

What do I say to get a referral?

Here are some samples you can use as a basis for your own requests.

Sample #1: Phone call to a family friend 

I was chatting with [Family Member's Name] the other day, and they mentioned that you work at [Company Name]. 

I've been researching the [specific position] there, and I'm really excited about the opportunity. It seems like a fantastic fit for my skills and interests.

Listen, I was wondering if you might be willing to refer me for the position? I believe that my experience in [mention relevant experience or skills] aligns well with what they're looking for and I’d really love it if you could vouch for me … but no pressure obviously!

Sample #2: Message to a contact on Linkedin

Hi [Contact's Name],

Just wanted to let you know that over the past few months, our conversations on LinkedIn about [industry or shared interest] have been incredibly insightful, and I've truly valued your perspective.

Recently, I came across an opening for [specific position] at [Company Name], where I understand you're currently working. The role aligns perfectly with my experience in [mention relevant experience or skills] and my career goals.

I've attached my resume for your reference, and I was wondering if you might consider referring me for this position? I believe that my background and passion for [specific area of interest] would make me a strong fit for the team.

I completely understand if you need more information or if you're unable to assist with the referral. Either way, I appreciate your consideration and would be happy to continue our conversation about [industry or shared interest].

Thank you so much, [Contact's Name]. Your support means a lot to me, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best regards,
[Your Full Name]

Sample #3: Cold message on Linkedin

Hi [Contact's Name],

My name is [Your Full Name], and I'm reaching out because I came across your profile while researching [Company Name]. Your experience in [specific area related to the job] caught my attention, and I was hoping to connect with you regarding an opportunity at your company.

I recently discovered an opening for [specific position] at [Company Name], and I believe my background in [mention relevant experience or skills] aligns well with the role.

If you feel comfortable and think I might be a good fit, I would be honoured if you would consider referring me for this position. I recognise that this is an unusual request, and I appreciate your consideration. 

Whether or not you're able to assist with the referral, thank you for taking the time to read my message, [Contact's Name]. 

Best regards,
[Your Full Name]

What else should I know about referrals?

How do referrals work?

Traditionally, a referral involves someone walking your resume over to HR. These days, it can take many forms.

  • Your referrer might submit your resume through a special portal within the company's hiring system. 
  • You might submit the application yourself with a referral code.
  • If the company asks you to email your application materials, you can write in the email header “Referred by so-and-so.”

Whatever the case, the HR department or hiring manager usually prioritises your application, knowing that you come with an internal stamp of approval.

Then, assuming you land the job or internship (or meet some other metrics), your referrer might get a financial bonus or other incentives, such as additional vacation days or gift cards. 

Can I get a referral after I’ve applied?

  • Yes, you can still get an employee referral after you’ve applied. 
  • In some companies, the referral process is integrated into the recruitment system, allowing current employees to vouch for candidates at any stage of the application process.
  • At other companies, an employee may not be able to refer you in the computer system, but can still contact the recruiter or hiring manager to make a case for your application.
  • The main difference is that the referrer won’t get a referral bonus. This is because the bonus is meant to encourage employees to identify talent that might not otherwise apply – and if you’ve already applied, then they’re technically not “referring” you to the company!

📣 Hear it from a recruiter
“Yes, a Google employee can refer you even if you’ve already applied. Although this will still be connected to your prior application, it will result in a flag being added to your record that will get priority attention from the position’s recruiter(s). However, if you apply … before the referral is submitted, the referring employee may not be eligible to receive Google’s employee referral bonus — since they won’t be considered to be the original source … of you entering the system.” – former Principal Recruiter at Google

Do I need a referral from someone high up in the company?

Nope, just focus on getting a referral!

📣 Hear it from a recruiter
“At my former job, referrals from well-performing middle managers or junior staff actually held more promise for me since I figured these folks really knew the quality and the caliber of whom they were referring. Oftentimes the CEO types were merely passing on the name of the son of their investment club associate or bridge partner whom they had never even met before.” – Recruiting director

Can a referral get me a job I’m not qualified for?

No, a referral just helps move your application towards the front of the line. If you're not qualified, this just means getting rejected sooner! In this case, your time is better spent getting qualifications instead of a referral.

📣 Hear it from a recruiter
If someone has been referred and I'm not sure I see a fit or I'm really questioning like ‘Hmm why did they make this referral,’ I'm gonna call the employee that made the referral and … have questions’.” – Recruiter at Amazon

Can an employee referral hurt your chances?

Referrals generally don’t hurt your chances of landing a graduate job or internship. That is, unless perhaps the person referring you has a negative reputation within the company.

However, there are cases where referrals don’t matter. This may be because:

  • A company doesn’t have a referral policy.
  • Too many people get referrals.

Different offices of the same company may even have different policies. When in doubt, ask the recruiter!

📣 Hear it from a recruiter
“We do not give priority to candidates that are referred by an employee or former intern. Our goal is to review all candidate applications within 90 days of when they are submitted.” – Recruiter for Microsoft in Atlanta, USA

What next?

Ready to take the next step? Prosple is here for you! 

With curated job boards specifically for students, real employee reviews, and insights into what it's really like working at various companies, Prosple is your one-stop-shop for finding, researching, and landing that graduate job or internship. 

Happy hunting!

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