Career | How to Ask for Referrals Non-awkwardly?

Athena Xiao
10 min readSep 12, 2020

I often joke that asking for referral is a lot like initiating a sex conversation with your new partner.

You need a consent, but you don’t want to sound pushy. Are you two close enough? Maybe you should wait. But what if the other person is willing? Then it’s a shame to pass this on. You are torn with back-and-forth. You know what I am talking about.

It feels awkward to ask for referral from people you aren’t close to and vulnerable for fear of rejection. I know this struggle too well because when I was looking for Product Manager jobs, I literally had only one PM in my entire network and very few contacts in my target companies, so I had to build up my network on the fly. It wasn’t easy nor comfortable, but incredibly rewarding. I am glad I went through it and have some interesting insights to help others.

A stand that says “For Hire”
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Note: I was a new grad candidate when looking for full-time jobs in big tech companies, so my experience may not be the same as those of experienced candidates, but general principles should still be relevant.

Understanding Referral

Before we talk about how, let’s take a step back to think about what and why.

What is a Referral?

Referral is an internal recommendation system that allows employees to recommend potential job candidates to the company. Employees can recommend someone to a specific role at a specific team, or just to the general talent pool. These candidates have higher chance of getting an interview because their resumes are more likely to be reviewed by recruiters and hiring managers. And if the candidate is hired, the referrer will get cash reward.

Why Companies Offer Referral System?

Because hiring is expensive and noisy. A big tech company spends tens of thousands of dollars to fill one position. Yet even with those resources, the company could still hire the wrong candidate. A hiring mistake hurts team momentum, affects morale, and wastes HR resources. So companies would rather hire right than hire fast.

Employees also know company culture, team dynamics, and hiring bar well, so their referred candidates are more likely to be a good fit than…