What is a “targeted” referral?

As Referable is all about targeted referrals, let’s start out by explaining a few of the ways various recruiters solicit referrals and how define a “targeted” referral as compared to other types of referral. 

How We Ask, Counts!

There are a few ways a recruiter can ask for a referral so let’s look at a couple. Maybe readers recognise how they do it themselves, and maybe there are other ways, which people can mention in the comments.

1. Open Prompt

What I refer to when I say “open” is that the question has no limitations. It fails to give the recipient (aka the referrer) any context or cues that help them to help you. 

An open prompt might be as simple as:

“Hi Jack, do you know anyone who might be suitable for XYZ job?”

Let’s be honest: this is the lazy way out. We’ve all done it of course, but we should have a bit more tact if we want good results. Chances are that with this kind of open approach the people referred or recommended will be more “top of mind” than those who may actually fit the role (i.e. the type an agency recruiter would get paid on). Similarly, no corporate recruiter can survive long by living off these types of request as they don’t make for smooth collaboration.

2. Targeted Prompt

In a previous article I talked a little about human psychology and the fact that recognition is easier than recall, which underpins the core value of a targeted prompt. The whole idea behind Referable is that by taking a proactive and targeted approach, referrers can recognise “high probability” candidates quickly and effectively, without disrupting their daily work.

Essentially a targeted prompt narrows the options down by making it a Yes/No or Either/Or response. Rather than require the referrer to rack their memory banks, put context into place and “recall” a name for you, they can simply verify whether your suggestions are valid. Easy peasy!

A closed prompt could be as simple as:

“Hi Jill, do you think Jack might be suitable for XYZ job?”


“Hi Jack, do you think either Jill or Jen could be a fit for XYZ job?” 

Targeted Referrals

Providing a platform for targeted prompts to be made at scale is a core function of Referable. This referral request technique is widely used by corporate recruiters using LinkedIn project folders or spreadsheets, but less so by agency recruiters who pitch referral requests to candidate/friends rather than colleagues. In my experience it is also not well utilised by RPO recruiters, which presents an opportunity.

Enormous value comes from having intelligence on who the high achieving talent is within your space and this is what recruiters should be developing. Regardless of the industry or sector, market intelligence is what recruiters get paid the big bucks for. As such, it has never been more important as a recruiter to invest your time into the relationships that will help you and your clients succeed.

Proceed with Ethics!

It is important to note that this type of referral solicitation happens before any application process. Targeting is done in the prospecting phase and not with what we would normally consider actual “candidates” or “applicants”. In many countries if this kind of verification (aka a “back door check”) was to be done on an actual applicant there could be not only ethical issues, but legal ones as well. Recruiters need to know the difference between a “prospect”, a “candidate” and an “applicant”.

We know of one very high profile tech company that built their own quick and dirty version of what we have at Referable, but misused it. They allegedly ran into trouble with authorities in Japan as an applicant filed a complaint. The lesson for all is that we need to be ethical! 

Challenges With Targeting

Among the issues that hold true for targeted referral gathering is the time and inconvenience involved for the referrers. Consider a 100 person office where each member is invited to meet the recruiter for up to 60 minutes to go over lists created in LinkedIn or on a spreadsheet. It is likely that they will have to join multiple meetings through the year as the hiring plans evolve, but just for a single meeting that is 100 hours of productivity loss for the business. Some won’t mind, while some will, but intuition suggests that it will be very hard to get your alpha sales people to take part and if they do, they may do it once out of courtesy but not as an ongoing habit. 

The tools are simply not fit for the task. The time investment required of collaboration is a major challenge for busy people. Further, if the recruiter leaves the company these tools tend not to be used ever again, as the replacement recruiter largely starts from scratch with their own workflow.  

Some companies have developed their own solutions that work for them, and we know of one especially famous Fortune 100 technology company that developed a tool very similar to Referable. Our mission at Referable is to take this type of solution to everyone who may not be in a position to develop their own. Our goal is for our users to successfully drive their referral programs and hire the best talent possible. 


Using open ended prompts doesn’t normally produce so many high quality referrals. By contrast, making referral requests targeted on specific prospects are a better approach. By providing cues we make it much easier for our collaborators to help us, as it is much faster to recognise something than to recall it.

Referable helps referrers to provide rapid feedback to recruiters (or hiring managers) so they can build highly prized market intelligence on where the top talent is. 

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 corporate 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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