We all know it’s easier to get a job if you have an “in” at the company.
Every single step of the process is more pleasant. Your resume gets read faster, you’re more likely to get invited for an interview, and your interviewer is likely already on your side before he or she even meets you—all good things.
But, while it’s great to have an internal advocate—a.k.a., a friend or close contact who works there—the process of getting an “in” is a bit more uncomfortable. How do you go about asking someone for a referral? What if your contact just started the position a month ago? How soon is too soon? Is it even appropriate to ask at all?
In short, it all depends. Here are three steps you can take to gauge whether it makes sense or not to lean on your friend while you’re applying for a job at his or her company.
1. Seek Advice
No matter how long this person has been working at the company, it’s always okay to reach out to get some advice about your job search. The answer might be “no” because he or she is busy, but it won’t be because it’s inappropriate. At the very least, getting an insider’s advice and asking about the application and interview process never hurts.
Follow standard informational interviewing protocol, and start with a warm up question about how your friend likes the job. Then, ask for some advice on your job search. It’s perfectly okay for you to say that you’re actually interested in applying for a position at the company. After all, you have to let people know what you’re seeking in order for them to help you.
2. Find a Contact and Gauge the Relationship
Now, unless your contact is also the hiring manager for the position that you want, what would be great to figure out is who the decision maker is for your target job. This is also something that’s fine to ask about. You’re not asking for a referral. You’re not asking for an introduction. You’re only asking if he or she happens to know who the hiring manager is for the position you’re applying for.
If the answer is “no,” then move on. If the answer is, “Oh, yeah, it’s John, the head of business development,” then your next step is to figure out how close your friend is to John, head of business development. No need to skirt around the issue. A simple, “Ah, that makes sense. Do you know him well?” will suffice.
3. Ask But Give an Out
It can be super awkward when someone asks for a referral, but you’re just not in a position to do that. In other words, if your friend really starts to emphasize how infrequently he or she interacts with John in biz dev, then let it go. Obviously, this is a huge sign that your pal isn’t in the right place to be able to help you beyond giving you advice.
However, if your contact starts talking about all the inside jokes he or she has with John (or at least isn’t actively trying to convince you how weak their connection is), then you might consider asking for some help. The key here is to offer a clear “out.” Something like, “How would you feel about forwarding my resume or putting in a good word for me? And, before you answer, I completely understand if that’s not the kind of relationship you have with John. Just thought I’d check.”
No matter what happens, you will have gotten advice from your friend about applying to his or her company, and that is invaluable. Be sure to voice your gratitude for that. If you’re lucky, you might have also gotten that precious “in”—but either way, your application is going to be stronger.
Oh, and you’re going to owe your friend big time.
Photo of friends talking courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author