You’ll Get More Referrals If You Prime the Pump This Way

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Mar 1, 2013

Here’s a technique I’ve found to be helpful, especially when I’m in search or sourcing mode and I want to stimulate referral activity.

The conventional wisdom when making a recruiting or sourcing call is to ask for the names of people who either have the background you’re looking for, or for people who might be in a position to make a referral.

So, if you’re describing a job to a prospective candidate, you ask the question, “Who do you know who can do the job?” or “Is there anyone you can think of who might have an interest in this sort of opportunity?”

Naturally, the more colorful your description of the job, or the more “sizzle” associated with the company, the more likely it is to get a referral. Unfortunately, some candidates are either tight-lipped by nature or develop a brain freeze when thrown a question they might not have anticipated.

So, to prime the pump, I’ll do a little research in advance of my call. Let’s suppose I found the candidate I plan on talking to on LinkedIn. I’ll take a quick moment before I pick up the phone and find similar candidates who also work for the same company. If, during my call, I ask the “Who do you know?” question and the person can’t refer someone, I’ll say, “I wonder if you could comment on a couple of people you work with. Tell me: Do you think John Smith would be a good person for this job?”

The Power of Suggestion

Most people can’t resist the temptation to share their personal insights, especially when they concern someone else. If the candidate feels John Smith would be right for the job, or might be an appropriate referral source, I’ll ask, “Would it be okay to use your name when I talk to him?” If John Smith is not a good fit, I’ll ask why, then move on to the next person; “Well, how about Susan Jones?”

You can’t automatically assume that the information is correct, but at the very least you’ll stimulate the conversation and build more reference points. Once the ice is broken with John and Susan, you can ask, “Well, who else would you recommend?” And the candidate will start to open up with more referrals.

A variation on this technique is to include the names of people the candidate may have worked with at a previous job. So, the question you’d ask would be, “I see on your profile that you used to work at Argo Technologies. I was planning on talking to Roger Brown, who I think was in your group a few years ago. Tell me: What’s your take on Roger, and do you think he’d have the right background for the job I’ve described?”

Obviously, there are many ways to stimulate referrals and build your pipeline. You can post jobs, send emails, and develop a reputation for good work.

But whenever you talk to candidates in the hopes of sourcing for names, it’s always best to include specifics and avoid abstractions. By doing so, your candidates — consciously or unconsciously — will likely return the favor.

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