Lesson from the Wolf Pack #2 How to Get Referrals from Candidates

Lessons from the Wolf Pack is an ongoing series of recruitment advice articles taken from, or inspired by, situations and events observed during our phone coaching sessions with recruitment consultants making real, live calls to win business and find candidates. This is advice directly from the recruitment front lines!

Lesson from the Wolf Pack #2

How to Get Referrals from Candidates

This week on Advice from the Wolf Pack I’m going to talk about a vital, yet often undervalued, part of the recruitment process – asking candidates for referrals to other candidates.

It seems like a simple thing asking a candidate for references; at the end of an interview simply ask the candidate who they know who would be good for one or other of your roles.

But it’s exactly at that point that most consultants slip up which is a real shame if you consider that a referral is very often to an individual who is not active on the job market, but can be persuaded to consider their options and thus becomes a unique candidate to you … recruitment gold dust in other words!

So let’s take a look at the art of asking for a referral from a candidate:

Tip One - Invest some time

Think about your interview. How long does it take you to go through your qualification process with your candidates – 15/20/30 minutes or longer? And how long do you spend asking for referrals?

Having timed this recently I can tell you that across a range of consultants, across a range of recruitment companies, interviewing candidates in the mid management range in various locations across the globe consultants were spending on average one minute on asking for referrals. And this was with an average interview time of 26 minutes.

Surely something as important as locating unique candidates who are not registered on any job boards is worth spending a little longer on?

So if you really want to get referrals from candidates spend longer asking for them.

That tip alone will get you more names.

Tip Two – Very Specifically What Not To Say

Let me keep this simple; never, ever use the following phrases when asking for referrals. I’m serious, NOT EVER – and in case you are wondering these are THE most common ways I hear consultants ask for referrals:

“Do you have any friends or family who are looking for work?”

or the almost as common and almost as bad

"Do you know any x people who are looking for work?"

They are both right out of the ‘I’m a rubbish recruiter handbook'. They are awful on so many levels. And let me illustrate why they are so awful by asking you two questions – please think of your answers to each question prior to moving on:

How many good recruiters do you know who are looking for work?

I’m guessing the answer is around the one or two number at most and probably zero.

Now try this one:

How many good recruiters do you know?

Did you get a bigger number? Indeed I’m willing to absolutely bet that you got a bigger number.

The point is that knowing people with a certain skill set is easy. Knowing that people are looking for work is an ENTIRELY different matter.

Think about it – you only know they are looking if they have confided in you that they are looking. The number of people who confide in you is always going to be small. So by asking the referral question in that way you guarantee yourself a small, or even non-existent, candidate pool.

And I’d like to pay my regards to the London based recruitment trainer Mike Warmsley on the above point. I’m fairly certain that I heard him use that example to illustrate the point to me many years ago when I was a rookie consultant and to this day I can’t think of a better way to illustrate the point.

Tip Three – Ask specifics to get specifics

So if the above is what not to say then what do we replace it with?

Well I believe that by asking specific questions we get specific answers (it has a certain logic I’m sure you will agree).

So how about asking:

“Who do you know who’s a good x?”

Where X is a specific job title – Production Manager, Geologist, Java Developer etc.

For a further twist you could add a location:

“Who do you know who’s a good x in y location?”

That’s going to narrow the field even more but where you must have someone in a specific area maybe that’s the question to lead with. You can always drop back to the first one if they draw a blank in your preferred location.

And that last point links back to the first tip about taking longer to get the information you want. Plan on having a real conversation rather than simply throwing out one question and move on.

The downside of asking specific questions is that it will limit the number of names you will get but this time I want that. I want you to get referrals to individuals who might actually be of use to you and thus they need to be in the discipline that you are recruiting in.

Tip Four – It’s about networking not headhunting

Candidates will often assume that you are only looking to talk to people who are looking to move so will say things like;

“I don’t know anyone who’s looking.”

Your point to them should be that you aren’t looking to headhunt the person they refer you to but rather you are looking to network with their referred individual.

Make the point that it might be someone three or four referrals down the chain that you actually find is interested in new opportunities. All you are looking for is the opportunity to start the process off by talking with someone they know (who is good at X skill).

The more clearly you make that point the more you will find candidates relaxing and giving you names.

I’m in two minds whether to recommend that you make that last point clear prior to asking for a reference or as a method of objection handling after asking. It’s been my experience that if you explain it beforehand you often have to repeat the point later anyway so it might be as well to make a point of mentioning it beforehand just to start the ball rolling.

I’d be interested to learn which way round tends to work best for you.


I had foolishly thought that I could comprehensively cover this topic in one blog but it’s already pretty long so let me come back to the topic in future and if you’d like further guidance in the meantime feel free to get in touch.

Equally I’m always interested in learning from other recruitment professionals so any and all feedback and comments on this topic are welcome. I’d be particularly interested in learning what methods of getting referrals have worked for you.

More recruitment advice next week

That's all the Lessons from the Wolf Pack this week - tune in next Wednesday for more advice from the recruitment front lines.

Until next time; be successful!

Stephen Hart

Consulting and Training

We blog to be helpful but consult and train for a living so if you like our style and feel we might be able to help you or your organisation more formally then do get in touch via phone or email and we can discuss your situation.

We look forward to hearing from you.



Development Specialists  ♦  0333 121 4212  ♦  enquiries@edenchanges.com

Based in the UK and working world wide


Recruitment  ♦  Sales  ♦  Management  ♦  Communication  ♦  LinkedIn

Views: 816


You need to be a member of RecruitingBlogs to add comments!

Join RecruitingBlogs


All the recruiting news you see here, delivered straight to your inbox.

Just enter your e-mail address below


RecruitingBlogs on Twitter

© 2023   All Rights Reserved   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Service