5 Ways to Generate Job Referrals by Conducting Informational Interviews

5 Ways to Generate Job Referrals | HIRECONSULTING.COM

The biggest mistake that keeps most people from getting more job referrals is by not asking.

5 Ways to Generate Job Referrals by conducting Informational Interviews.

Here are five ways to ask for a job referral that might help you become more effective at generating new referrals. These techniques are not intended to manipulate, but to enhance the ability of the prospect to help you with referrals by conducting Informational Interviews.

RELATED | The 2-Step Method to Getting Job Referrals

1) Ask Based on the Category

In this case, we want to set the context for the referral request.  You have been referred or introduced to someone. Your ultimate goal is to set up a time to discuss his or her role, industry, company, goals, vision, and future hiring requirements?  This method helps narrow down the myriad of possible prospects by having the request targeted more specifically to your job search strategy.

Your request can be industry-specific, demographically specific, business-specific, or background/expertise specific. An industry-specific ask narrows the field of prospects to those in a certain industry group—for example, banking, high-tech, healthcare, manufacturing, or construction. It could be an industry you are targeting or it could be generated by a question about what other industries might round out the group. For example, the subsets of high-tech could include software, cyber-security, artificial intelligence, and data analytics.

A demographic request focuses on the specific attributes of an individual.  Target individuals who are most connected, most successful in their current job, specific job titles, and their career tenure.

A business request pinpoints companies with unique characteristics, such as private or publicly-held, profit or non-profit, fast-growth trending companies, small to large, ESOP or employee-owned companies, women-owned businesses, or leading companies who are on the Fortune 100, 500, or 1000 companies list.  It could be private equity funded startups, turnarounds, acquisitions, mergers, and IPOs. In another type of business, it could be based on their financial worth or their need to protect their assets.

A background/expertise request focuses on people who are highly accomplished or experienced in a specific industry sector or space.

2) Ask Clients and Customers

When you have a solid reputation with a former or current client/customer, find out where they are currently receiving great value and service from their successful suppliers, vendors, distributors, and OEM’s.

The key is to conduct a productive Informational Interview with compelling questions. One method is to review the elements of your value proposition with your client/customer, probing as to where the most value was generated for them this year. 

Another method is to review the individual products or services provided and asking when and where the value was generated? 

A third way to ascertain the information is to focus on the intended goals/outcomes they have for their product/service and how they are doing? 

The real conversation starts, once the client/customer has articulated the value they have received (which in and of itself is important for you to know), you have the opportunity to ask who else they know or have come in contact with, who might be able to benefit if they received the same kind of value the member just described to you.

3) Ask Service Providers

This is suited for the client/customer and contacts who have built their own businesses by referrals. The most likely candidates are accountants, insurance professionals, attorneys, or investment advisors.

The idea is to visit these individuals (conduct an informational interview) and present the question, “You have built a successful business based on referrals, I am conducting my job search campaign based on referrals…would you tell me how you did it?” “How are things going now?” “Any regrets?” “What are your biggest obstacles?” What opportunities or needs exist for outside expert help, consulting, full-time employment, interim or fractional management”?  

Then, be quiet, listen, and then ask clarification questions. They will usually provide great information as they reflect on their current and future company direction.  Towards the end of the meeting, after you have developed a good rapport, simply say, “I guess I would not have learned much today if I did not ask you for a referral or introduction to some one you respect who can put me in the right direction?” The key is to get more referrals and introductions to important contacts and repeat this process over and over….and never stop for the rest of your career till your retirement! 

4) Ask Connectors and Net-Weavers

If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, you probably remember when he talks about categories of people. One of the types is a Connector, or as I like to call Net-Weavers. Connectors just know more people than the rest of us. They collect relationships like others collect stamps or baseball cards. They typically do not mind trading them. Some of them go out of their to help and connect people together, hence they are weaving their a network of contacts.

With a Connector, the goal is to ask them to open their Rolodex (Android or iPhone these days) and give multiple referrals. (always set a minimum of 3 referrals) They are usually very social beings and like to set up breakfast, lunch, or dinner meetings for you, them, and their referrals. The people you are referred to by Connectors are “usually” responsive and thoughtful. 

Put this action with a Connector/Net-Weaver and say, “Mark, you know I am asking all my contacts/clients/customers/key relationships for referrals, but the reality is you know more people than the rest of them combined, so can we work through your contacts and come up with some ideas on how to approach them?”

Remember it’s a two-way street. Don’t forget to offer the reciprocal and say 8 little words; “Is there anything I can to help you?” 

RELATED | The Critical Importance of Following Up and 7 Ways to Do It

5) Ask For Directions

One of the hardest things for most of us to do is simply look another person in the eye and ask for help. I guess we are brought up to see it as a sign of weakness, yet every time I do it, the response is “How can I help?”

There is a nice way to ask this way, by not really asking. Instead, you use what I call a “pre-ask.” First, make a declarative statement, like “I would like to ask you for some important advice?” Notice we didn’t really ask yet, but the response is usually, “I would be glad to help” or “Sure, what do you need?”

Now set the stage and explain what you are “specifically” looking for in a client/customer or company contact and/or segue way back to one of the other ways to ask. Here is one of my all-time favorite questions to ask for help; “Can you please put me in the right direction?”

Lastly, asking for help, advice, and guidance is a compliment. Don’t ever be shy about this.  The next time you think about asking for job referrals, first think about HOW to ask for it. Matching the method to the correct people makes all the difference.

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Mark James, CPC is the founder and president of Hire Consulting Services (HCS), established in 1999. HCS is a highly customized executive outplacement and career coaching firm for executive-level professionals. Recently published in 2018, Mark is the author of the best-selling book Keys to the C Suite: Unlock the Doors to Executive Career Path Success. He is equipped with over 25 years of experience in Executive Career Management Coaching, Outplacement and Executive Search Consulting. He has been a Certified Partner with Predictive Index® Behavior Assessments since 2016. He focuses on providing a proven and successful strategy and a structured process to fully enable his clients to conduct a professional job search campaign and with the singular goal of securing their next career opportunity in significantly less time it would take without a career coach. Clients gain a new perspective of their marketing value coupled with executing a strategic plan and closing the deal on their new role in their next job.


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