Why Don’t Your Recruiters Ask For Referrals?

We all know how valuable referrals are to recruiters, yet many fail to solicit them. Let’s look at some of the reasons why this might be. 


The best recruiters get to know their candidates well – so much so that many become friends for life! That is one of the greatest perks of the job in fact, and the more quality relationships a recruiter has, the more people they can count on for assistance on searches in future.

“if you don’t ask, you don’t get”

Unfortunately some recruiters don’t put the time or effort into relationship and trust building, which not only means candidates are less likely to provide assistance, but the recruiter themselves may lack the confidence to ask. They simply won’t feel comfortable because the relationship is not sufficiently developed.

Among the great advice I was given when learning my craft, the maxim “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” holds true for referrals as much as anything else. Every recruiter should be asking for referrals, even if it means facing “rejection”*. For this to be effective though, all recruiters should take the time to really get to know their candidates. Having a significant  degree of mutual trust is the key to success and avoiding rejection. 

Let’s not get carried away about “rejection” either. Worst case you simply don’t get much help, so you accept that and move on knowing you need to build the relationship in order to get the help you hope for.

Best Practices

Whether it is a lack the time management or lack of good habits in setting calendar time to identify who may be able to help them find talent for a search, many agency recruiters lack “best practices”. All too often recruiters simply roll into a search by hammering their CRM for known candidates and then hammering LinkedIn for new prospects. The typical approach is often a case of working hard with a sense of urgency, but not necessarily working smart.

The fun part of recruitment comes when you are meeting and working with high performing people. Working hard should be the default setting and what we really need to figure out is how to do more of this. That requires process.

referrals should just be a recognised part of a relationship where both parties benefit professionally

The point is that whether an active introduction (“Hi Jack, meet Jill!”) or a passive recommendation (“Hey Jack, Jill would be great for that job”), soliciting referrals should be part of the smart recruiters playbook. 


Obviously the easiest time to do the asking is when the relationship is most beneficial to the candidate, i.e. while there is a natural sense of partnership or even mutual obligation to support each other. Usually this is when communication is at its highest over interviews, the offer stage, or even as part of post-hire celebrations.

Though it depends on the strength of relationships, the response rate to referral requests tends to be lower when the candidate is in no need of recruiting services, and certainly worse when a recruiter has not been in contact for long periods. As a remedy for this, every recruiter should maintain relationships so that asking candidates for referrals is not a matter of “timing”; referrals should just be a recognised part of a relationship where both parties benefit professionally. 

Passive Requests

Even when we do ask, most referral requests made by recruiters are ‘passive’ in nature and this is a major reason why they can be ineffective.  When it comes to human memory, recognition is easier than recall, and this is why every in-house recruiter proactively lines up colleagues to identify talent from LinkedIn project folders or spreadsheets. If you list up and share a few targeted names with a potential referrer (“do you think Jack or Jill could be good for this role?”), you are likely to get a better result than if you somewhat passively ask “could you recommend anyone for this role?”. 

Such a targeted referral request makes life easy for the referrer by providing cues to aide memory. Targeting allows the referrer the chance to quickly recognise names on a list and respond, rather than stop what they are doing, retrieve names from their memory and solve the recruiters problem for them. Targeting also gives the referrer a benchmark against which they can consider other prospects, all of which makes the process of “recall” much easier.


In terms of how to deliver the request, face to face is obviously best and chatting through Messenger or WhatsApp may work for a few names, but dragging your collaborator into a meeting to go over a LinkedIn project folder or spreadsheet is just not going to work for everyone – least of all your alpha sales reps who value their time.

Recruiters need a tool to make collaboration smooth and effective for the referrer providing the help, and the reality is that no ATS or CRM is designed for this purpose. Some referral management platforms provide a means to collaborate around 1st degree LinkedIn contacts, but few provide the ability to proactively target and collaborate beyond this. Your recruiters need the right tools and not having a fit for purpose platform makes it hard to generate targeted referrals at scale.

Lessons Learned

Making the referral solicitation process quick and easy for all is the exact reason why Referable was developed. When running an RPO business I would often ask our onsite recruiters to map the talent to the client employees so that they could get assistance to identify the candidates worth pursuing. Sadly it never worked, and while I kind of blamed the recruiters, in fact it was a case where I should have blamed the tools as they were not fit for purpose.

I learned this the hard way, but it was what led us to develop a solution for recruiters who want to be proactive about referral generation. We all know how valuable referrals are and with targeted solutions recruiters can deliver high probability outcomes to their clients, generating better earnings and profitability to the business. 

Referable has been developed to make referrals easy. Built by a team with experience in executive search, RPO, in-house recruiting and HR tech, the Referable app helps both in-house and agency recruiters to target talent and solicit more referrals faster than ever. If you would like to learn more, drop us a line at hello(at)referable.ai

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