Ask for Referrals Not References

Jan 27, 2018

Forget about having three references available upon request.  The new way to search for work is digitally driven and led by connections.  Connections start with who you know.

Some of the most crucial connections you’ll ever make will be in the workplace. These workplace relations will shape the course of your career and feed your professional opportunities.  Whether you are an entrepreneur or job seeker, this means you need to cast your networking net far and wide.

Who Knows What You Know?

The question today is not what you know or who you know, it’s who knows what you know that matters.  And the truth is, you don’t need to know that many people, just the right people.  People who know, like and trust you, and if asked will help you.

Building strong, mutually beneficial relationships with people needs to be a daily practice.  Don’t get lackadaisical about this just because you have a job.  Smart people put themselves in front of opportunities by consistently putting themselves out there and building relationships before they’re needed.

In today’s economy there are a variety of ways to put yourself out there, but the results will be determined by the quality, not quantity of your relationships.

It was my quality of relationship with one person that made all the difference for me when I was laid off as a result of my department being outsourced.  While my colleagues went to work updating their resumes and lining up their references, I tapped my network.  Having been active in my professional circle I knew just who to turn to.  And because that person was familiar with me and my work, I was able to pitch the idea of a new service resulting in a position being created for me.

Plan Your Approach Around People

To compete in the modern day workforce you have to evolve how you think about connections.  It’s fine to get to know people online, but the connection will be incomplete until it’s taken offline.  Plan your networking approach around people, not platforms or algorithms.  Over-reliance on technology will lead to overlooking the value of human nature to connect.

Solid connections are naturally built through shared stories and experiences, not just stating a need to be filled.  Be helpful and be helped.

When you are the one asking for help, seek other people’s time wisely by being considerate in the way you go about asking for help.  You’re asking them to be more than a reference, you’re asking them to be a referral source.


Start your efforts off with focus.  Know what you want.  The more clear and focused you are, the easier it will be for someone to help you.  Stay connected.  Keep people in the loop.  Follow-up.  Send thank you notes.  Let them know how your search is progressing.  If they make an introduction or refer someone to you, be sure to let them know how it went.

Connections via a trusted mutual connection not only have the potential to grow your own network, but they have stood the test of time and have long been the strongest way to connect to professional opportunities.

So all and all, it’s not the size of your network that matters, it’s the quality of the relationships within your network that will have the greatest influence on your next professional juncture.

Who knows, likes and trusts you enough to do more than confirm dates of employment and answer a few questions?  Who knows what you know well enough to recommend you and send leads your way?  Download our In The Know Worksheet and start identifying who the backers are in your life.