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Sarah Reidf

Careers clinic: Get a reference... from your colleagues

A referral by a friend or colleague is one of the more fruitful avenues to explore in job hunting.

STUDY AFTER STUDY shows that ‘referral by colleagues and friends’ is one of the most common ways people find new jobs.

A poll we at recently conducted on LinkedIn saw this trend continue. “How did you get your current or last job?” was the question we asked, offering five answer options. A total of 319 LinkedIn voted. This is what emerged:

  • Referred by colleague/friend – 43 per cent
  • Head-hunted by employers – 21 per cent
  • Print media advert – 14 per cent
  • Applied to recruitment company – 13 per cent
  • Heard via word of mouth and applied – 9 per cent.

Not only was ‘referred by colleague/friend’ the most popular method of getting jobs, it was twice as popular as the next most popular method ‘head-hunted by employers.’

Were we surprised? Not one bit.

All the anecdotal evidence we come across points to this conclusion. Colleagues and friends are a key component when it comes to helping people get jobs. A ‘word in the right ear’ travels a long, long way. Some will see it as ‘who you know, not what you know’, but I would look upon it differently.

Colleagues and friends know you. They know what you’re made of: they can testify for you and give the potential employer badly-needed comfort and reassurance before making a decision.

Remember, a bad appointment can cost an employer dearly: it is the gift that keeps on taking. So, if this is how many/most jobs are filled, it leads to an obvious question: how well do job-seekers (be they currently employed or unemployed) propagate/feed/develop their network of colleagues and friends so that they can put it to work for them.

If you’re currently looking for work, do your friends know you are? Do your former colleagues know you are? Do they know what kind of work you’re looking for? Do they know what new courses you have taken since last you spoke? Do they know what new work experience you have gained since last you spoke?

My advice for any job-seeker would be to take the randomness out of referrals by friends and colleagues. Instead of hoping that a friend or colleague might happen to put a word in a receptive ear for you, be proactive and ask them to do just that. Make it easy for them by letting them know your current situation. Let them know exactly the area(s) in which you want to work – don’t say “I will do anything”, be explicit about your preferred zones.

A simple email could do the trick. Here’s a sample:

Hello Mary, just making you aware that I am currently looking for work. As you know, I have a proven record in sales, and am still keen to work in that area, particularly consumer or retail sales. That was where our paths first crossed and I still have the same passion and enthusiasm for that area.

However, I would like you to be aware that I have also trained in the past few years in graphic design and am rather good, if I do say so myself. Please see attached a flyer and a brochure I recently designed. If you hear of any company who might be interested in hiring me – even on short-term contracts – I’d be extremely grateful if you would let me know or mention my name to them. I attach my updated CV. Kind regards, Tony.

Send the same email to everyone you think might respect you and your work. Personalise it each time so that it doesn’t feel like a general broadcast. In my experience, very few people reach out like this, despite the evidence that colleagues and friends are the most fertile source of job leads. You never know where one of your approaches may pay dividends.

Liam Horan of is’s resident careers writer. Sli Nua Careers offer CV preparation, interview training and mock interview services. They have offices in Dublin, Galway and Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo. They are running a ‘Get That Job’ Career Workshop in Dublin on Saturday, 10 November – details here.

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