Referral Cover Letters Are Highly Effective, But You Must Be Qualified


Continuing our series excerpted from our new, free white paper, Cover Letter Reboot: A Crowdsourced Update of Traditional Cover-letter Advice for Today’s Job Search, which you can download here. If you prefer not to download, you can read the contents here. WhitePaperScreenshot.jpg A referral letter that mentions the name of a mutual contact of you and the letter’s addressee will usually get your foot in the door, but you must be qualified for the targeted position.

The second kind of cover letter I’ve written about since Day 1 is the referral or networking cover letter, in which the job-seeker “name-drops” the name of someone mutually known by him or her and the hiring decision-maker (“Your Director of Marketing, Jose Perez, recommended I contact you about your opening in Sales.”)

Most of the hiring decision-makers I talked with would interview a candidate who sent such a letter. “Our philosophy is to always honor referrals,” Smith says. “We will grant interviews to anyone that comes to us through a referral, because it is a great way of giving back. People who thought enough of our company to go out of their way to make a referral should be treated with the utmost respect.”

Shelton notes that social media can be instrumental in finding and establishing connections that can result in referrals for cover letters. “When we have a mutual acquaintance that referred the candidate my way, I’m going to make the effort to meet them. I think this is an area that Linkedin and other sites bring value,” he says.

As effective as referral letters can be, the respondents offered a few caveats about them:

  • The decision-maker must actually know and respect the named referral person.
  • The named referral person must actually be someone who will advocate for the candidate. If you name-drop a referral person, be sure this person truly will sing your praises if the letter’s recipient contacts him or her. You can reinforce the referral’s advocacy by asking him or her to separately contact the hiring decision-maker with a recommendation.
  • As the sender of the referral letter, you must be qualified for the targeted job. Use of a referral name will rarely make up for a lack of qualifications. “A recommendation is not as important to me as someone being a great fit for the job,” says Shilonda Downing, founder of Virtual Work Team, Flossmoor, IL.
  • Referral people within the letter recipient’s own organization are usually the best choice.
See also the other parts of the white paper/Cover Letter Reboot package: Cover Letter Wish List: Hiring Decision-Makers Reveal What They Want to See in Cover Letters, Hiring Decision-Makers Cite Top Cover-Letter Mistakes that Disqualify Job-Seekers, and Cover Letters That Wowed: Hiring Decision-Makers Describe Winning Cover Letters.