The internship series

It’s All About Who You Know

Tips on how to build up a strong group of referrers to help you land that dream job and learn about what it’s like to work in their industry.

Do you know friends or family who seem to effortlessly land their dream jobs? If so, they likely leveraged referrals from people they know. It seems unfair, but don’t worry—you can also build a network from scratch (that’s what we’re here for!) and use the people you already know and trust to help you, too. 

If you’re thinking, “I don’t know people who could refer me to a mentor or connect me with recruiters at my favorite companies,” we’re here to help! As a college student, you may not have a large group of people who can refer you just yet, but we’ll show you how to build up a strong group of referrers to help you land that dream job, learn about what it’s like to work in their career, and more.

Why do I need referrals?

The more people you know, the more referrals you can get—and the more referrals you have, the easier it is to get what you want: to start your career, find a mentor, or gain insights into what you want to do.

We understand that reaching out to people you don’t know and may not share a lot in common with can be intimidating, so we suggest starting with your university. You can chat directly with alumni at your university on Handshake to find people who work where you are interested in working. Alumni can even put you in touch with other people at the company who you may be interested in talking to.

But what if you found a specific role that appeals to you? Great! This is when you start leveraging those connections you’ve been talking with to get an interview (and hopefully the job). Not sure that a referral will really help you get the job? Check out these stats:

  • Employee referrals have the highest applicant-to-hire conversion rate: They make up 40% of all hires
  • Those hired from a referral start their job quicker than hires found on job boards or career sites

Let’s dive into how you can ask for that referral—either to a job or another person.

How do I get the referral?

Now that you’ve started building your network, you’ll want to begin leveraging your connections. Regardless of what you’re looking for—a new job, a mentor, insights—the people you know can likely help you get there. Here are a few ways you can get a referral.

  1. Start with who you know. Remember those alumni we mentioned earlier? Start with them and include friends, family, and any members of clubs you’re involved with. Ask them if they know anyone who works at your favorite company or if they could ask one of their connections in your desired field to talk with you. You’d be surprised by who your friends and family know!
  2. Meet new people. We understand that meeting new people can be intimidating, but it really is a great way to broaden your circle and start talking with people who could have a major impact on your career. Networking events, virtual career fairs, and even just talking to people while you wait in line for your coffee are all great ways to meet new people. Every interaction is an opportunity to build professional relationships.
  3. Leverage professional groups. Are you a member of any professional groups? Many such groups are made up of recent graduates and young professionals just starting out who may be in the same boat as you or may be a few steps ahead, ready to offer a helping hand. Try to find professional groups that interest you and actually attend the networking events. Nervous? Bring a friend!
  4. Stay in touch. Once you start meeting people, make sure you get their email or phone number so you can check in on each other, send a thank you note, or even ask for a referral. After you meet, it’s always a great idea to send a quick email thanking them. You’ll also want to follow through with any next steps you previously discussed.

    Tip: Don’t just reach out when you need something. Find ways to connect regularly, even if it’s just to say hello and ask how they’re doing. 

Start on Handshake

Now that you know how to expand your network and get a referral, why not practice on Handshake? Attend virtual career fairs and schedule virtual one-on-ones with employers, recruiters, and hiring managers to learn about current openings, ask questions about a career field, and build powerful relationships. 

Even if you’re not a fit for an employer’s current roles, they may enjoy your conversation and decide it’s worth referring you to someone they know who may be hiring or who can answer any questions you have.
Building these relationships gives you a huge leg up in the job search process, especially when you have dozens (or hundreds) of people who are happy to refer you to their professional contacts, people who work at awesome companies, or jobs at their company. So why not try it out? Handshake will help you get started.