How to Mention a Referral in Your Cover Letter
A referral can help you stand out from the crowd when you are applying for a job. Hiring managers and recruiters are more likely to take a closer look at candidates with whom they share a mutual contact, and for good reason: studies have shown that hiring through employee referral is faster, cheaper, and more effective than relying on job sites. Referral hires also tend to get up to speed more quickly, fit in better, and stay at the company longer.
A referral cover letter can make the difference in helping your application get noticed by prospective employers. It also gives the hiring manager some context for your work and provides additional information about you.
What Is a Referral Cover Letter?
A referral cover letter is used to mention a mutual connection when applying for a job. You might be referred by a colleague, a friend, an employee at the company you’re interested in, or even your college career office. Having a referral to mention in your cover letter helps the hiring manager relate your experience to the open position, and can provide some insight into how well you might fit in at the company.
Your cover letter is your opportunity to highlight your education, skills, and qualifications for the job. In addition to your referral, you will have the chance to mention a few specific examples of why you are the best candidate for the position, and give more detail than you can on your resume.
How to Get a Referral
The referral doesn't have to be a business connection. You can ask anyone you know at the company or who has a contact at the company if they would recommend you for a job.
Just be sure to check with the individual in advance and ask if they are willing to give you a referral. Even if you’re certain they’d vouch for you, giving a potential referral a heads-up ensures that they’ll be able to offer the best possible recommendation, given the job requirements.
You can send a letter or email asking for a referral, which will give the person the time and opportunity to think through what they can do for you, and how to proceed.
How to Mention a Referral in a Cover Letter
When you use a referral in your cover letter, you should mention it in the first paragraph. Include the individual by name and describe your connection with them as well. Give a brief account of how you know the person, in what context, and for how long you have been acquainted.
In addition, if the person recommended that you apply for this particular position, take the opportunity to mention why they are endorsing you. What qualities of yours made them think that you would be a good fit for the company?
My colleague Amy Smith recommended that I contact you directly about this position. Amy and I have worked closely in the industry for many years, and she thought that ABC Inc. would be a good fit for my style and experience in sales. She pointed out that as a successful, award-winning salesperson I would be an excellent addition to the sales team at ABC Inc.
Referral Cover Letter Tips
Name-dropping does not come easily to some people, especially if you're already struggling with how to write about your accomplishments and sell yourself to a hiring manager.
For this reason, it is often helpful to look at examples of cover letters. Be sure to tailor your letter to fit your personal and professional circumstances.
You should include a brief mention of the recommendation right away in the letter. This strategy puts the referral in the front of the reader's mind, giving them context for what follows.
This leaves you plenty of space to expand on your strengths and why you're the best candidate for the job. Your cover letter is your chance to make a strong first impression, since it is likely the first thing a hiring manager will see, possibly even before your resume. Take the opportunity to impress them with your contact and their recommendation, and then go on to show examples of your successes in the workplace to prove that you are the most qualified person for the job.
As with all your business correspondence, make sure that you proofread your cover letter for correct spelling and grammar, and check that the information matches on all the documents you submit.
Read More: How to Ask for a Referral for a Job
by Katharine Hansen, PhD.
The Ten Most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Job-Search Cover Letters
Downsizing. Rightsizing. Streamlining. Corporate restructuring. You’ve heard the buzzwords. You’re terrified. And you’re ready with a spanking, new resume. But at a time when employers are inundated with resumes, how can you make yours stand out in the crowd?You can write a dynamic cover letter. The cover letter is usually an afterthought, dashed off to accompany a resume into which you’ve poured blood, sweat, and cash. Its potential as a powerful marketing tool frequently is overlooked.
These expert answers to these 10 commonly asked questions about cover letters can help you write a letter that is a key part of a hard-to-resist sales package:
- Why is a Cover Letter Necessary?
- What are the Biggest Mistakes Cover-Letter Writers Make?
- Which Kind of Cover Letter Will Work Best for Me?
- Can’t I just Mass-Produce the Same Letter to all the Companies for Which I’m Interested in Working?
- What’s the Most Important Thing to Include in the Body of the Letter?
- What Other Approaches Make a Cover Letter Dynamic?
- Should I Include References in my Cover Letter?
- How Long Should the Letter be?
- What’s the Best Way to Make Sure my Cover Letter is Well-Written and on Target?
- Are Thank-You Letters Necessary?
Why is a cover letter necessary?
- A cover letter should always accompany your resume. Few employers will seriously consider a resume without a letter. A cover letter tells the employer exactly what kind of job you want to do and tailors your qualifications to that job.
Frequently the job-seeker will see this line in a rejection letter: “We chose the candidate who provided the best fit with our needs.” The cover letter is the way to show an employer how you fit the company’s needs.Given the screening process, a cover letter may have as few as 20 seconds to grab an employer’s attention. A well-written, interesting cover letter that opens a window on your personality has a much better chance of enticing the employer to interview you than a boring, formulaic one.Go back to top of page.
What are the biggest mistakes cover-letter writers make?
- Addressing the letter to “Dear Personnel Director,” “To Whom It May Concern,” “Dear Sir or Madam” (or worse, “Dear Sirs”) instead of a named individual. The largest employer in Central Florida tosses cover letters in the circular file if they are not addressed to him personally. “To Whom It May Concern” shows the employer that you were not concerned enough to find out the name of the person with the hiring power.
- Telling the employer what the company can do for you instead of what you can do for the company. This mistake is particularly common among new college graduates and other inexperienced job-seekers. In most cases, employers are in business to make a profit. They want to know what you can do for their bottom line, not what they can do to fulfill your career dreams.
- Leaving the ball in the employer’s court. Too many cover letters end with a line like this: “If you are interested in my qualifications, please call me.” Proactive cover letters, in which the job-seeker requests an interview and promises to follow up with a phone call, are far more effective.
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Which kind of cover letter will work best for me?
- The invited cover letter is a response to a want ad and can be tailored to the job requirements listed in the ad. This kind of cover letter is effective for the 20 percent of jobs that are publicly advertised.
- The uninvited or cold-contact cover letter is usually part of a mass mailing and requires the job-seeker to do some homework to find out about each prospective recipient company. The uninvited letter is the best way to tap the “hidden” job market, where 80 percent of the jobs lurk.
- The referral cover letter, which uses name-dropping to get the employer’s attention, is another excellent way to tap the hidden job market. When a mutual acquaintance tips you off to a job, you can use his or her name to your advantage in a cover letter: “Joseph Burns suggested I contact you about the opening you have in sales.”
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Can’t I just mass-produce the same letter to all the companies for which I’m interested in working?
- Never — unless you use word-processing equipment that enables you to personalize each letter and include at least one paragraph specifically revealing your knowledge about each company and how you can meet its needs. Nothing turns off an employer faster than getting a letter that looks like the same one everyone else is getting. Why bother to do a cover letter if you don’t tailor it to the company and position you want?
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What’s the most important thing to include in the body of the letter?
- Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). An advertising term, the USP is the one thing that makes you better qualified to do the job than anyone else. The USP should answer the question: “Why should I hire this person?” Want more?
Learn more about your USP here
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What other approaches make a cover letter dynamic?
- You can visually call attention to your qualifications by underlining them, boldfacing them, or indenting them in a list with bullets.
- You can quantify to tell the employer how many employers you supervised, how many customers you handled, how much money you saved the company, and most importantly, by what percentage you increased sales or profits.
- You can demonstrate your creativity and potential for innovation by revealing one or two ideas for how you would improve the employer’s operation or bottom line.
Entice the employer, but don’t give away too much for free. Tease in a non-threatening way; don’t turn the employer off by trashing the current staff.Go back to top of page.
Should I include references in my cover letter?
- Unless an ad specifically requests references, they belong in the interview phase of the job search. Most companies won’t check references until they become seriously interested in hiring a candidate.
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How long should the letter be?
- Only in the rarest of circumstances should your letter be longer than a page, and considerably less than a page is best. About four paragraphs should do the trick. The first should grab attention, tell why you’re writing, and reveal what you want to do for the company. The second should introduce your Unique Selling Proposition. The third should further amplify your qualifications (without rehashing your resume). The last paragraph should ask for an interview, tell how you plan to follow up, and thank the employer for considering you. Answering an ad may require another paragraph or two to tailor your qualifications to the job requirements.
Your letter should be not only fairly short, but also concise and pithy. Edit your letter mercilessly. Follow the journalist’s credo: Write tight! Cut out all unnecessary words and jargon. Then go back and do it again. Need more tips on your cover letter format? Check out our Cover Letter Formula Page.Go back to top of page.
What’s the best way to make sure my cover letter is well-written and on target?
- If your time frame will allow it, put your cover letter down, and then pick it up a day or two later as though you were the prospective employer. Does it grab and hold your attention? Is it concise? Is it free of typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors? Is it interesting? If you were the employer, would you know what this job-seeker wants to do and why he or she is the best person to do it? Would you invite this job-seeker for an interview?
Before you mail it off, check out our Cover Letter Do’s and Don’ts Page.Go back to top of page.
Are thank-you letters necessary?
- Given the fact that almost all job-hunting books advise sending a thank-you note after an interview, it is surprising how few job-seekers do so. A thank-you letter probably will not make the difference between getting the job and not getting the job, but if the employer is weighing two equally qualified candidates, the one who sends a thank-you note just might have the edge over the one who doesn’t. It’s common courtesy to thank the employer for taking time to interview you. The thank-you letter also enables you to amplify the positive aspects of your interview and, perhaps correct any negative aspects.
What does a good thank you letter look like? Check out this sample thank you letter… as well as all of our sample Dynamic Cover Letters.Go back to top of page.
Have questions about other aspects of job-hunting? Find our entire collection of answers to the most frequently asked questions in the Quintessential Careers Career, Job-Search, and Job-Hunting FAQs for Job-Seekers.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.