How to Mention a Referral in a Cover Letter (Or Name Drop Like a Pro)

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
You’ve found a job that’s a glove fit, and even better, you know someone who works at the company in question. Or you’ve done some digging on LinkedIn and found a friend of a friend or fellow alumna from your college who works at the employer. So, what next?
Having a referral can greatly improve your odds of getting an interview and ultimately receiving a job offer because you’re coming recommended by a trusted source. How do you highlight this contact on your application — and when should you do so? Here’s how to name drop in a cover letter and boost your candidacy in the hiring process.

What is a referral?

A referral is someone who informed you about the job’s existence. Sometimes, your referral source is not a person but a job board, job search site, ad or another resource.
Often, employees of a company will refer other people in their network for an open position at their company. In this case, it is appropriate to mention the referral source in your cover letter. Many job applications will ask you to name your referral source, but if you were referred by someone who works at the employer, you should also say so in your cover letter, because it may prompt the hiring manager or recruiter to examine your resume and application more closely; after all, you are presumably offering the reference of a trusted source.

What is an employee referral program?

Because performance and retention are often stronger when hires come recommended by current employees, many companies institute employee referral programs. These programs establish a process for employees to refer friends, former colleagues and other people in their network for open positions in their companies. If the referral is hired, the referring employee generally receives a reward, such as a monetary bonus or gift.

Examples of adding a referral to your cover letter

So, how do you mention someone's name in a cover letter? Here are two examples of how to name drop in a cover letter and grab the recruiter or hiring manager’s attention right off the bat. (Mention the contact early, in the first paragraph, so the hiring manager will know to keep reading.)

Example #1

When my former colleague Jane Doe told me about the marketing manager position at X company, I knew it was the perfect fit. Jane and I worked together at Y company and have kept in close contact over the years. Since she knows about my dedication to education and strong track record at X company, she thought Y company would benefit from my expertise.

Example #2

I was so excited to hear about the opening for a software engineer at X company from my former manager, Alex Smith. I worked as an intern for Alex in 2017, and she knows my strengths and interests well. We have kept in touch since my internship, and given how much I learned from and enjoyed working at X company, she thought I would fit in well there.

When you should and shouldn’t name drop

There are many circumstances when you should mention a referral in your cover letter, as well as some when you should not.
You should name drop when:
• A current or former employee mentioned the opening to you and suggested that you apply.
If someone in your network mentioned the opening to you and recommended that you apply, you should absolutely go for it, assuming that you’re interested in the job. This is the best context for name dropping in a cover letter since you didn’t even have to actively seek out the referral — it came to you without you having to ask.
• You saw a listing for the job and contacted someone in your network who works there, who said you could mention her by name in your application.
In many cases, you will see an opening at a company, and if you know someone who works there, it is a good idea to reach out to her to ask if you might be able to mention her in your application. If she says yes, then you can feel free to do so. She may also offer tips and advice on getting your application noticed.
• You reached out to someone who is not a contact on LinkedIn or via another resource, such as an alumni network, and she agreed that you could use her as a referral.
When you don’t know anyone who works at the company in question, do some research. Look up employees of the employer on LinkedIn, for example, and see if you have any mutual connections or any other networks in common; alumnae from your alma mater can be helpful, and even people in the industry may be willing to speak with you. Reach out to the contact directly, explaining how you’re connected, and politely ask if you can learn more about the position and whether she thinks you might be a good fit. You should take this initial step and give her a chance to get to know a little about you before immediately asking for a referral. 
You should not name drop when:
• You don’t have explicit permission from the contact to do so.
You should always ask for and receive permission from the referral source before using her name in your cover letter. It’s a huge favor for someone to vouch for you because she’s putting her reputation on the line. If the contact isn’t comfortable with it or isn’t aware that you’re using her as a referral, you shouldn’t do it.
• The contact isn’t in good standing with the employer.
If an employee left her employer on bad terms — if she was fired, for example — or is otherwise in poor standing with the company, it’s not a good idea to mention her as a referral in your cover letter. Her reputation will reflect on you in this case, and it won’t help you get hired; in fact, it may even hurt your application.

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