Recruiting Strategy: Get More Phone Referrals with These 5 Simple Tips

Mar 11, 2014 - Joe Matar

Referrals are a vital part of recruiting. Not everyone you speak with on the phone will be the right fit for a job, so the best way to increase the number of qualified candidates you’re able to reach is to ask for referrals.

People you’re referred to will be more receptive to hearing about the opportunity you’re calling about. They’ll also be more likely to be a high-quality job candidate since one of their colleagues recommended them to you.

The following five steps will maximize the number of referrals you’re able to get over the phone:

1. Ask the right questions

Don’t ask yes or no questions when trying to get referrals over the phone. A question like, “Can you recommend anyone who’d be a good fit for this opportunity?” is too easy to shut down with a simple “no.”

Instead, ask questions that can’t be countered with a one-word answer. For example, you could ask, “Who do you know who’d be a good fit for this opportunity?”

Another way to get more referrals is to be specific about the type of person you’re looking to be referred to. If you ask someone to name the best engineer they know, it’s entirely possible nobody will come to mind. They’re not blowing you off if they say they can’t think of anyone; you haven't asked a question specific enough to make them think of somebody.

The goal is to ask a question narrow enough to put a person’s name in their head. After that, it’s a matter of getting them to give you the name.

Using the engineering example, here are a couple detailed questions that could help the person you’re speaking with think of a specific person:

“Who’s the best engineering manager you’ve ever reported to or worked for?”

“Who’s the best engineer you worked directly with at your previous company?”

2. Use silence to your advantage

After asking the right questions, the worst thing you can do is cut into the silence and fill the space with nervous chit-chat while waiting for an answer. Ask specific questions as described above, then be quiet.

During this silence, the person on the other end will be thinking about your question and will be more likely to give you a name if you let them take their time. The silence also puts pressure on them to think of a name.

If you speak again before allowing three to five seconds for this silence to occur, you’ll either distract the person you’re speaking with or you’ll give them an easy way out by taking the pressure off them.

3. Use networking as a fallback

If somebody is reluctant to give you a colleague’s name (often due to the location of a position or level of the position), say you’re hoping to network and connect with as many qualified people as possible for this opportunity.

You should be able to get names from people even if they’re unsure their colleague would be interested in the job.

Here are some good networking questions to ask if somebody is hesitant to provide you with a colleague’s name:

“Who did you have in mind? Even if they’re not interested, they might know somebody else who would be.”

“Who do you know who’s well-connected within this area and could point me in the right direction?”

“Who can you refer me to who’s well-networked within this field?”

4. Help them before asking them to help you

People are more willing to go out of their way to help you if you’ve done the same for them. (Click here to tweet this thought.)

If somebody isn’t a good fit for a particular job or if they decided they’re not interested in a specific position, focus on finding other ways you can help them before asking them for referrals.

You can discuss what types of opportunities they’d like to hear about in the future so you can keep them in mind for other jobs you come across. Tell them you’ll keep their resume on file and will let them know as soon as you see anything that could be a good fit.

After this, it’s a lot easier to ask for referrals, and you’ll be more likely to get a positive result.

5. Get multiple names

The best way to get referrals as a recruiter is to obtain as many names as possible once you identify somebody willing to refer you to their colleagues.

Not everyone will be willing to refer you to someone, so when you do find somebody who’s willing to give you a referral, this last step is crucial.

After you’re given one name, ask one of the following questions:

“Great! Who else comes to mind when you think of that person?”

“Thanks. Who else do you know with a similar background I could also speak with?”

Biron Clark is an executive recruiter specializing in the biopharmaceutical industry. He’s also a career advice blogger and founder of You can find him on LinkedIn here.

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