Express Lane to a New Job – Employee Referral

WorkCoachCafeA recent article in The New York Times (“In Hiring, a Friend in Need Is a Prospect, Indeed“) highlighted the effectiveness of an internal referral by another employee, particularly in comparison with applying through a job board with no connections inside of the employer.

According to studies quoted in the Times article, being referred by an employee is the “express lane” to a new job:

  • A candidate who is referred is twice as likely to be interviewed, according to a study of one employer by 3 New York Federal Reserve bank economists.
  • That same study also showed that referred candidates who are interviewed are 40% more likely to be hired.
  • A Sodexo study showed that Sodexo is ten times (10!) more likely to hire a referred candidate than any other applicant!

Wow!  While this data is impressive, anyone who has worked in HR has seen it in action.  This is why many employers reward employees for recommending a new hire though employee referral programs.

[Related: To Be Hired, Be Referred — how it works.]

Employee Referrals = Your Network at Work in 7 Steps

How do you connect, or re-connect, with your network?  Here’s a 7-step process.

1.  Attitude Change:  Networking = Fun

Networking is not attending boring meetings in large rooms filled with strangers.  At least not most of the time.

The reality is that you won’t do much networking if it isn’t fun for you, unless you are incredibly disciplined or desperate.  So find a way to make it fun.  Do things you enjoy as part of your networking, whether it’s taking a walk or a jog, eating at a restaurant, or having a glass of your favorite wine (or fruit smoothie) at a bar (or a McDonald’s), taking a class, or…

OK, I know viewing networking as fun is asking a lot of introverts and others who prefer their own company or the company of a very few close friends.  But the reality is that, in these days of “economic readjustment” and layoffs, we all need to keep our networks alive and thriving.  It helps us succeed at our jobs, and it also clearly makes a job hunt much easier.

I’ve heard so many job seekers refer to networking as “using people.”  If that’s how you view it, you need to change your approach and your attitude.  Networking should be mutually beneficial to all members.  You help those in your network as much, if not more, than they help you.

2.  Make Networking a Daily Activity

Networking is much more effective if it is done before you need that referral, not when you are deeply into your job search.  That means it needs to be part of what you do every day.  After a while, it becomes easier (and more fun).  Maybe it’s only sending an email to an old friend or calling an old friend to wish them happy birthday.  Maybe it’s coffee with a new friend.  Maybe it’s attending a meeting or having lunch with people you went to college with or former clients or former colleagues or…

3.  Be a Giver

Networking is about helping people you know and like to succeed.  If you are just asking for help or requesting favors without helping in return (or, better, first), you won’t be a very successful networker.

4.  Identify Your Network

Who’s in your network? The easy answer is family and friends, including neighbors and former neighbors, people you grew up with, people you have gone to school with, people you played sports with, people you met in local social events (from your kid’s school events to the neighborhood or organizing Saturday cookouts), and on and on.

Your network also includes people you work with now or have worked with in the past, plus current and former customers or clients, current and former suppliers, current and former co-workers and bosses and subordinates, people you met at professional and industry association meetings, people you met in the pizza place in your building who work for the employer down the hall or on a different floor, and so on.

5.  Connect with Your Existing Network

These days, you can do much of it at your computer via email or Skype.  If you have lost track of members of your network, use the Internet to track them down:

  • Facebook.  I am NOT a big fan of Facebook (privacy!), but it has enabled me to connect with my older friends from grade school, junior high, high school, and college.  Just search on some names from your past – people who were important to you and respected by you – connect, and catch up on their lives since you last met.
  • LinkedIn. Of course!  I am a big fan of LinkedIn, particularly the LinkedIn Groups.  I belong to several “corporate alumni” groups from several of my former employers plus, natually, college and graduate school alumni groups. These Groups are gold mines for all kinds of networking, including – of course! – job search.  If you don’t find one for a former employer, start a Group.  It’s a great excuse to connect.
  • Google.  Find more corporate alumni groups and long-lost friends using Google.  Simply Google their names.  With luck Google will also show you their LinkedIn Profiles so you can see what they are doing now, where they live and who they work for now, as well as their former employers.

Once you have found some members of your network, use Google or to find their current phone numbers and reach out, if you cannot connect with them via Facebook or LinkedIn.

6.  Add New Members to Your Network

All of your network members won’t be people from your past (you had to meet those people at some point too).  So, set out to meet new people

  • Job search support groups.  These meet in local places of worship, public libraries, coffee shops and restaurants.  Track them down through local bulletin boards and community calendars.  They are excellent for networking and job search.  Don’t job hunt without one!
  • Online news. Find local industry or professional association meetings and other local events.  Reconnect with people you know and meet new people as well.
  •  More local meetings can be found here, or start up your own group.

7.  Be Patiently Persistent

Don’t expect immediate results, and don’t give up.  It usually takes a while for your network to come through for you.  Don’t expect complete strangers to refer you for jobs with their employers, unless they don’t care about their own reputations at work (some don’t).

Networking Works!

I have spoken with so many people in new jobs who were contacted by a former boss or former co-worker when an opportunity became available, and had an inside track to a new job.  I also have witnessed former colleagues connect with new jobs at the funeral of a former co-worker.  We were all talking in line outside of the funeral home and one mentioned that he had several jobs open and needed good people like us.  Bingo!  Jobs filled; jobs landed; problems solved.

More About Employee Referrals

To Be Hired, Be Referred

Find Your Inside Track to a New Job

Express Lane to a New Job: Employee Referral

Why Referrals Close the Sale for a Successful Job Search


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 1998, her company, NETability, Inc. purchased, and Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt since then. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


  1. Ok, this is not really ABOUT this post, so much as related to this post. I am working in a position, and I like the job, but for several reasons I always keep a weather eye on the job boards. I thrive on self growth. Anyhow, I have had some calls for interviews, and a couple were actually interested in me as a candidate. I will never knock people for picking a “better” candidate after a good interview.

    What I do take offense to is, very recently, I applied for a position, and was called for an interview. I am always polite, but I try and schedule any interviews (or other appointments) at the beginning of the day, or the end. I tend to hit the office early and leave early, since we’re flex time. But I gladly will move the day around a little for interviews.

    Anyway, this particular candidate was unwilling to schedule a 4:30 interview, which is reasonable, due to COB and people going home, especially considering (and the person on the phone said this directly) it tends to take an hour to finish an interview. I’m good with that, if it’s a good chance I may be hired. So I scheduled a 3:30, having to leave early and use my personal leave. This is me making concessions for the potential employer, and I know they don’t generally schedule their interviews around my life. No problem.

    Until I arrive. I arrive 10-15 minutes early, take a minute in the car to settle my mind and focus on the upcoming. I’m professional, and courteous, follow all of the rules. I get back to the interviewer’s office, and they spend 5 maybe ten minutes telling me what positions they are hiring, then turn the floor over to me. They don’t really ask questions, just let me go. The interview was about 35 minutes, mostly on my steam.

    I left almost KNOWING that I was a policy interview. They have already picked who they wanted in the position, and I am there to fill their quota. Now, I was put off by this treatment when I was a fresh grad, but now, I find it unprofessional and insulting. I went out of my way (and it is a risk to my job to interview) to schedule this on their time.

    Feel free to respond with how you feel about “policy” interviews, but my real question. Is there a way to professionally tell potential employers that I am not interested in an interview unless I am really a candidate? I want to put “Please- No Policy Interviews” on my resume in big bright letters. Obviously that might be as unprofessional and insulting to them as they are to me.

    That said, the style of interview where you intentionally let the interviewee have the floor and hold the conversation might be great, but they seemed checked out.

    • Hi Ben,

      What a very annoying experience, assuming you are correct in your feeling that it was a “policy interview.” I don’t think that interviewing people just to give the appearance of looking for the best candidate is a good way for any employer to operate. It is, frankly, dishonest, and an expensive waste of time for everyone involved. But, I see no way to really stop the practice from the outside. There must be a culture that does not accept it, and in too many organizations, that culture does not exist.

      I do think you are right not to put “Please – No Policy Interviews” on your resume. Few employers would admit that they are doing policy interviews, and some may not know what the term means.

      Perhaps you could be more insistent that interviews happen when there is no risk to you.

      Better luck next time!

  2. Hi Ben

    What may help (assuming the hiring company is being honest with you) is to ask some questions to gauge how serious they are about considering you for the role.

    For example:

    1. Is this a newly created role or a replacement? (Companies will usually move quicker to fill an existing position than a newly created one, because it’s an acknowledge need.)

    2. How long have you been recruiting for this vacancy? And how many candidates have been interviewed? (You can usually expect to wait longer for feedback if you’re first person to be interviewed, as they’ll still be benchmarking at that point. It’s also a warning sign if a vacancy has been open for a long time.)

    3. Are any internal candidates (existing employees) being considered? If not, why not? (This also gives you some insight into how much opportunity for promotion and progression there is within the company.)

    I hope some of this is helpful to you. Unfortunately though, there are, and always will be, employers who do put themselves in the candidates’ shoes. But if that’s how they’re treating you when they should be trying to impress you, perhaps that in itself should be a red flag.

    Ultimately, it’s short-sighted of companies to behave in that manner. Even if they didn’t offer you the position, you may have walked away from a positive experience with them to go off and sing their praises to other potential applicants. Now, unfortunately, you’ll probably warn others against applying to that particularly company…

  3. I was unemployed for 7 months and wound up under-employed in a position where a recruiter found my resume on Monster and contacted me. I tried using networking and, though I doubt it hurts, in my case it didn’t prove very helpful. In particular, my wife is an attorney who works with many VP and Director-level IT folks at her (large) company. Her company seems to frequently have postings for manager-level IT people like me and, for any position where I was qualified and she knew the hiring manager, she’d send my (tailored) resume directly to that person. When the hiring mgr would respond, she’d invariably get a reply that I was qualified and they would let the recruiter know to look for my resume and add it to the last four the next step.

    I got 1 interview that way out of probably 10-15 attempts.

    What could be happening? Are recruiters so vain at this company to think they know better than the hiring manager?

    • Hi Leibo,

      Yes, some recruiters do think they know better than the hiring manager. But, the hiring manager usually has considerable clout, even in very large organizations. The question would be WHY the hiring manager thinks you are qualified, but the recruiter apparently does not. A miss-match with the job description or something else.

      I must admit that, having worked inside a large company and also as the wife of an attorney, the first thing that popped into my mind was whether or not the people with those job openings were concerned about “leaks” to the law department about things going on in their organizations. The issue wouldn’t even be that they necessarily had things to hide in those groups, just that perhaps the law department is aggressive (or perceived to be “too active”), or they were concerned about some things done inside that group could be “misunderstood” by someone in the law department.

      The attorney-wife-in-law-department issue aside, a whole bunch of other things could be going on:

      * Perhaps MANY internal referrals are happening so you have a lot of competition from other people who have also been referred. Large organizations often have “Employee Referral Programs” which generously compensate employees for referring someone who is hired, often in the thousands of dollars.
      * How good is your LinkedIn Profile and other online visibility? Reportedly nearly 100% of employers and recruiters Google job seekers before inviting them in for an interview, and if you don’t have “backup” online, like a public LinkedIn Profile, that supports what your resume and cover letter tell an employer about you, you don’t get called.
      * Perhaps getting into that company is very competitive. Large companies are popular “target employers” particularly when the economy is growing, so you have a lot of qualified competition.

      Let us know how it works out for you.

      Good luck with your job search!

  4. Great thoughts, Susan.

    At the end of the day, Ben, you’re no worse off for using your networks. With the exception of my very first job, every job I’ve ever had has been secured through networking or referrals.

    You shouldn’t be aiming for a 1:1 ratio of referrals to interviews, though. That’s usually not how it works. I really want to encourage you not to give up…job hunting can be a tough exercise, as we’re intentionally opening ourselves up for rejection.

    Keep at it! The networking may not have paid off just yet, but it’s definitely getting you more exposure than just answering the same old job-board ads as everybody else!

    • chandlee says:


      Thank you for your very thoughtful comment…We appreciate your taking the time and sharing your own experiences. With such generosity it’s no wonder you’ve been hired through networking and word of mouth.

      Good luck and all the best,

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