Skip to content

Internal Referral Into A Cover Letter

It’s the holiday season, and millions of people are about to get a flood of unsolicited career advice from older relatives.

Most of it will be useless.

You don’t need to be told that a resume should be clear, uncluttered, and typo free. (A good summary of common, deal-breaking mistakes comes from Google HR head Laszlo Bock.) But don’t obsess over format and wording, which have rapidly diminishing returns.

Nor should you winnow stacks of job ads to find the one that you fit perfectly. (Obsessively tailoring a cover letter to such a job isn’t as important as you might think either.) As we’ve said before, job ads are mostly nonsense. They describe an ideal candidate who the company doesn’t actually expect to find. In fact, if you perfectly match a job, you’re likely a bit overqualified.

No, statistically speaking, there’s one thing that matters far more than any of these so-called bits of advice: Do you know someone at the company? A candidate with such a referral is much more likely to have their resume read, land an interview, and, ultimately, get an offer.

Referrals account for between 30 and 50% of hires in the US. In a paper published earlier this year, researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and MIT studied data from a financial services company, and found that while referrals only made up about 6% of total applications, they resulted in more than a quarter of hires. That’s more than the number hired via online job boards, even though those job hunters accounted for 60% of applications and 40% of interviews.

In fact, a referral who gets an interview has a 40% better chance of getting hired than other candidates.

Another recent paper from researchers at the University of Minnesota and UC Berkeley found that these hires aren’t necessarily more skilled or smarter than other applicants. But researchers found that the referral hiring advantage exists across a big range of industries, in this case trucking, call centers, and technology.

A recent story on the phenomenon at The New York Times (paywall) found that at EY (formerly Ernst & Young) 45% of non-entry placements are referrals after an aggressive move to increase them. The figure from Deloitte is 49%. At Sodexo, referrals are 10 times more likely to be hired, reflecting research finding that lower skilled jobs tend to be even more referral-dependent.

Employees are frequently incentivized with bonuses to refer people, usually with some tie to retention so they’re not passing along people who aren’t very good. It’s usually in the $1,000-$3,000 range. But the technology industry has taken things to extremes, offering upwards of $10,000. Some 70% of firms have formal programs to encourage referrals.

There’s a reason companies prefer to hire people who are referred. Such applicants have been shown repeatedly in studies (pdf) to be significantly more likely to stay at a firm for longer, and to be more productive (pdf). This might be because the workers are better matches, or because they have a pre-existing mentor or monitor in the person that helped hire them.

Referrals also come pre-vetted—to a certain extent—and cost less to find.

Of course, there are down sides to the referral obsession. People overwhelmingly tend to refer those who are like themselves. A significant majority of referrals tend to be people of the same gender and race, and of a similar educational and socio-economic background. That can lead to a great deal of homogeneity in the workplace.

Perhaps the biggest current real-world example is Silicon Valley. Referrals are much more common in strong labor markets, and tech certainly qualifies. That has helped contribute to a workforce where some 80 plus percent of employees employees are men at the industry’s leading companies, and almost all white or Asian.

Referrals have a diversity cost. But companies will generally take the easier path that’s cheaper and more productive.

For those without the inclination to network, this can be tough news to hear. But the data is clear: making connections pays off more than another dozen online applications.

Photo via Jessica Kim

by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.

When it comes to cover letters, have you got writer’s block? Do you feel that if you could just start the letter, you’d be OK? Help is here.

We have a collection of customizable opening paragraphs for cover letters. Remember Mad Libs, the fill-in-the-blank game that resulted in wacky stories? This collection is a little like Mad Libs, except that the intended result is not wacky, but serious, effective openers for cover letters.

Following each customizable opening paragraph, you’ll find a sample paragraph with the blanks filled in. This set of 20 customizable opening paragraphs is for “referral letters,” which are the product of networking, the most effective method of job-hunting. In its simplest form, networking involves requesting (and giving in return) advice, support, job leads, and referrals with the goal of finding a new job. A referral letter prominently displays the name of a person your addressee knows.

Referral letters can come about from a variety of (networking) sources. You might talk with someone at a meeting of a trade association in your field who will tell you of an opening she knows of. An acquaintance at a party might tell you of someone he knows whose company could use an employee with your experience. A friend might tell you about a job she saw through her company’s internal job-posting.

The value of the referral letter is in its name-dropping. If you can grab the potential employer’s attention by mentioning someone he or she knows and respects in the first line of the letter, you will have gained a terrific advantage over the competition. A special kind of referral letter is the “self-referral” based not on a mutual acquaintance who knows the letter’s recipient, but based on a meeting or conversation you have had with the recipient.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #1:

[name of person from whom you learned of this job] suggested I contact you about the [name of position] position you currently have open. My fresh and innovative [type of skills] skills, along with total [type of proficiency] proficiency make me the [name of position] you’ve been looking for.

Check out this sample customized paragraph based on above.

JD McCoy suggested I contact you about the graphic artist position you currently have open. My fresh and innovative design skills, along with total Macintosh and PC proficiency make me the graphic artist you’ve been looking for.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #2:

[name of person from whom you learned of this job] and I have been talking about how my skills might fit at [name of employer]. He said he’d discussed [content of discussion between recipient and referral person], so I wanted to introduce myself, and tell you a little of what I’ve done since working with [name of person from whom you learned of this job] at [name of employer].

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above.

Your colleague Jack Southerly and I have been talking about how my skills might fit at IBM. He said he’d discussed with you the possibility that I might assist you with some projects, so I wanted to introduce myself, and tell you a little of what I’ve done since working with Jack at Harris InfoSource.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #3:

[name of person from whom you learned of this job] [reminder of how the recipient knows the referral person] suggested I contact you about the [name of position] position you currently have open. My solid experience in [field] would enable me to make a significant contribution to your organization in a [name of position] capacity. My background in several [types of positions] positions further bolsters my qualifications in that I am extremely adept at providing business services of all kinds and functioning as a productive team member.

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above.

Guerline Fede of your data-entry department suggested I contact you about the Customer Support Specialist position you currently have open. My solid experience in customer service would enable me to make a significant contribution to your organization in a Customer Support Specialist capacity. My background in several “people-oriented” positions further bolsters my qualifications in that I am extremely adept at providing business services of all kinds and functioning as a productive team member.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #4:

[Name of person from whom you learned of this job] tells me that you are looking for a [characteristic] employee for the job of [name of position]. I offer the background and the personality to excel in this position.

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

Tyra Collette tells me that you are looking for a motivated employee for the job of Customer Service Representative. I offer the background and the personality to excel in this position.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #5:

Our mutual acquaintance [name of person from whom you learned of this job], [circumstances under which you know referral person], suggested I contact you to describe the contribution I might make in [job function] at your organization.

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

Our mutual acquaintance, Dr. Tammy Taylor, with whom I am working as a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Management Science, suggested I contact you to describe the contribution I might make in research and development at your organization.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #6:

I’m writing to follow up on a phone conversation you had with [title and name of referral person] about the [name of position] position you expect to have available in [timeframe]. I’ve developed a strong foundation in [field], I am highly [characteristic], and I stand poised to bring my skills to your fine organization.

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above.

I’m writing to follow up on a phone conversation you had with Rutgers University Assistant Director of Career Services Lylah Garrity about the retail management-trainee position you expect to have available in May 2010. I’ve developed a strong foundation in retail, I am highly customer-service oriented, and I stand poised to bring my skills to your fine organization.

Self-Referral Cover Letter Openers

Customizable Opening Paragraph #7:

I very much enjoyed talking with you [timeframe] about your need to fill your firm’s [name of position] position. My [number of years] years of experience as [name of position] at a [description of former employer] and as a(n) [name of position] qualify me well for this position.

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

I very much enjoyed talking with you last Tuesday about your need to fill your firm’s architectural and interior-designer position. My seven years of experience as associate-in-charge of the interiors group at a New York architectural firm and as an architectural designer qualify me well for this position.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #8:

You’ll find that my proven track record in [field] and [field] makes me the ideal candidate for the [name of position] position we discussed in [where you talked with recipient].

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

You’ll find that my proven track record in sales and marketing makes me the ideal candidate for the sales position we discussed in your regional sales office in Tampa.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #9:

I very much enjoyed talking with you [timeframe] and appreciate your time. [Sentence that reflects recipient’s critique of your resume]. My solid experience in [job function] and [job function] would enable me to make a significant contribution to the [name of position] position we discussed. My [education or other credential] further bolsters my qualifications.

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

I very much enjoyed talking with you last Tuesday and appreciate your time. As you requested, I’m submitting a revised resume that more accurately reflects my communication, people, and office skills. My solid experience in customer service and administration would enable me to make a significant contribution to the Administrative Specialist II/Customer Service position we discussed. My college degree further bolsters my qualifications.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #10:

When I spoke with you at [occasion], I thought about what an interesting person you would be to work for. I was very excited when [name of person from whom you learned of this job] suggested that I apply for the position you have available in the [name of department] department. It would be wonderful to work for your prestigious company, and I am ready to make outstanding contributions to your workforce.

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

When I spoke with you at Frank and Mary Sue Rawlinson’s Fourth of July cookout, I thought about what an interesting person you would be to work for. I was very excited when Frank suggested that I apply for the position you have available in the public relations department. It would be wonderful to work for your prestigious company, and I am ready to make outstanding contributions to your workforce.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #11:

I enjoyed meeting you in [timeframe] when [circumstances under which you met recipient]. I am now approaching graduation and actively seeking a job such as the [type of position] position you are advertising.

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

I enjoyed meeting you in early March when I conducted an informational interview with your fiscal director Kim Tilbury. I am now approaching graduation and actively seeking a job such as the accounting position you are advertising.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #12:

I’m so glad I met you at the [name, location] career fair [timeframe]. Because I know that you plan to fill the [name of position] position quickly, I am e-mailing my resume immediately.

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

I’m so glad I met you at the Trinity University career fair on Monday. Because I know that you plan to fill the IT position quickly, I am e-mailing my resume immediately.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #13:

After speaking with you [describe method] [timeframe], I am clearly interested in the opportunity as a(n) [name of position].

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

After speaking with you on the phone yesterday, I am clearly interested in the opportunity as an actuarial clerk.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #14:

When we met [timeframe] ago [circumstances under which you met recipient], I was amazed how well you orchestrated the event. Now, after [describe experience], I am interested in applying for a position with your firm.

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

When we met two years ago at the Miami Boat Show, I was amazed how well you orchestrated the event. Now, after producing successful trade shows myself, I am interested in applying for a position with your firm.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #15:

Thank you for spending time on the phone with me [timeframe]. I am definitely enthusiastic about your upcoming opening in [name of position]. I am enclosing my resume and [other relevant materials].Sample customized paragraph based on above:

Thank you for spending time on the phone with me this afternoon. I am definitely enthusiastic about your upcoming opening in marketing. I am enclosing my resume and writing samples.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #16:

It was wonderful meeting you at [event]. I would never have guessed that we have so much in common, nor would I have imagined that a conversation with you would spark a career change for me.

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

It was wonderful meeting you at International Storytelling Weekend. I would never have guessed that we have so much in common, nor would I have imagined that a conversation with you would spark a career change for me.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #17:

Back in [timeframe], I wrote to you about the possibility of employment with your dynamic [type of employer]. [Description of recipient’s response]. I have just learned [vacancy you’ve learned of]. I’m writing to ask you to consider interviewing me as her possible replacement.

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

Back in January, I wrote to you about the possibility of employment with your dynamic publication. You wrote me back an extremely nice letter. You said that with my qualifications, I should have no difficulty finding a job here. I have just learned that your arts writer is no longer with you. I’m writing to ask you to consider interviewing me as her possible replacement.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #18:

I am following up our telephone conversation of [date] to reinforce to you how well my background aligns with the [name of position].

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

I am following up our telephone conversation of November 20 to reinforce to you how well my background aligns with the graduate-assistant position you have open for a nontraditional student coordinator.

Customizable Opening Paragraph #19:

It was truly delightful to meet you at [circumstance under which you met recipient] on [timeframe]. [Sentence that flatters recipient]. I’d like to [execute an action relevant to the targeted position]. You mentioned at the [circumstance under which you met recipient] that the time has come to hire a [name of position]. I’m convinced I could make a significant contribution in that position.

Check out our sample customized paragraph based on above:

It was truly delightful to meet you at Senator Frost’s brunch on Saturday. Your sense of humor is infectious, and I’m sure it goes a long way in helping you cope with your massive workload. I’d like to help make your workload and that of your staff lighter. You mentioned at the brunch that the time has come to hire a communications manager and I know that I am the best person for the job.

Master the basics of resume and cover letter writing by visiting these helpful pages