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How To Get A Job Referral After An Industry Networking Event

how to get a job referral| Cheeky Scientist | networking events tips

Written By Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

It is not what you know, but who you know.

It is a well-known mantra of the corporate world, but something I never took seriously in academia.

I did not have a large social circle, but I did know every scientist who worked in my specialty.

All 10 of them.

Unfortunately, when it came to finding a job outside of academia, these people were useless.

What’s more, I wanted a job outside of research altogether.

I needed help searching for alternative career paths and finding people who could vouch for me, despite my lack of industry experience.

I turned to LinkedIn as a source for contacts.

Surely, I knew one person that could help me get an industry interview, right?

Ugh. I only had a pitiful 25 LinkedIn connections.

The majority of which were also academics with connections to other academics.

I had pinned myself into a corner.

I was nearly done my PhD and I had spent zero time networking with industry professionals.

I wanted to transition out of academia immediately, but had no idea how to do it.

I had spent time crafting my industry resume and applying through online job sites, but I never heard a response.

It felt as hopeless as approaching complete strangers and asking them for job referrals.

I finally had a breakthrough.

I joined professional organizations and started attending networking events.

I overhauled my LinkedIn profile and started to set up informational interviews with employees at companies I was interested in working for.

I invested time in fostering these relationships and slowly, my network outside of academia began to grow.

Then, when a position opened up in a company I was interested in working for, I had a connection in my network who would give me a referral.

A connection I had met earlier at a networking event.

It was not an unfounded favor because I had made the effort to build a professional relationship with this person.

As a result, my resume was quickly separated from the thousands of others that had applied through the online job site.

Within days, the hiring manager called me in for an interview and I got the job.

Why You Have To Start Getting Industry Job Referrals 

You will never get a job if you just blindly upload resumes to job sites.

A press release by JobVite stated that employee referrals have a 55% advantage of getting hired over job candidates who are merely uploading resumes to career sites.

That’s not all…

Hiring managers rate employee referrals as the number one source for quality hires.

In total, 44% to 60% of new hires at top firms come from employee referrals.

A Harvard University review concluded that job seekers without social connections are at a significant disadvantage in the labor market.

According to a research study by Glassdoor, a recruitment referral increases your chance of a successful job placement by more than 5%, and an in-person referral, such as meeting an industry professional at a networking event, increases it by 4% across the board.

Gaining even a 1% advantage over other job candidates can dramatically improve your chances of getting hired.

Consider this…

On average, online job postings for top biotechnology and pharmaceutical positions each receive over 2,000 applications.

1% of 2,000 is 20.

4% of 2,000 is 80.

Would you be willing to go to a networking event, connect with someone, and send them a few emails or LinkedIn messages to get a referral and instantly move ahead of 80 other job candidates?


The answer is yes.

how to ask for a job referral | Cheeky Scientist | industry networking events

How To Get A Job Referral After A Networking Event

The time to start getting job referrals is now.

If you know you want to transition out of academia, do not wait until it’s too late to network.

Instead, start attending networking events now.

Start following up with your connections.

Realize that connecting is what happens at an event, but networking is what happens during the follow-up process after the event.

If you want to get a referral, you build a relationships with the professionals you meet at networking events.

No one will refer you for a job after talking with you once.

No one.

Referrals take time and effort.

The good news is that this initial time and effort is offset by the immense amount of time and effort you’ll save on the back-end by meeting a hiring manager directly instead of blindly uploading a resume online and hoping that it gets into a hiring manager’s hands.

The fastest way to get hired into an industry position is through a job referral.

Here are 5 strategies for getting a job referral after a networking event…

1. Reconnect with your current network. 

There is someone in your network right now who can get you a job in industry.

That’s right.

You don’t need anyone else.

But if you’ve buried yourself in your work in academia, you might have forgotten you even have a network.

At best, any network you have has grown cold.

Your first step towards getting a referral for an industry job is to reconnect with your existing network and start casting a wider net to expand it.

Start by making a list of people you know: including people you work with now, people you’ve worked with in the past, family, friends, and acquaintances.

Use social media to grow your list, including connections from LinkedIn, Facebook, and Alumni pages.

Highlight anyone in your network that works for, or is connected to, companies that interest you.

Creating the list is easy, but actually contacting people you have lost touch with or don’t know well can be awkward.

Start formulating a plan to reconnect and get over it.

Here’s what NOT to do…

Don’t immediately send mass emails to your list telling them you’re desperate for a job and need their help.

Don’t immediately ask for help in general.

You’re an educated, skilled professional. Act like one and approach your list with confidence.

Start by establishing a mutual bond.

Revisit something you have in common.

Admit that you’ve lost touch, without making excuses for it.

People can see through phony attempts of friendship and resent people that only show up when they want something.

Respectfully ask for advice.

Appeal to their expertise without asking for favors.

Focus on building relationships and not just immediate gain. This takes time and effort – like any investment.

Establish a plan to follow up and be disciplined in continuing to invest in and grow your network.

2. Understand and leverage “Employer Referral Programs.” 

Do you have a clear idea of what kinds of positions you want?

Do you know what companies you might want to work for?

Start researching what industry positions you might be interested in and make a list of companies you want to work for.

From this list, start doing some digging to see if any of these companies have an Employer Referral Program.

Employer Referral Programs are a win-win for everyone.

Businesses benefit with increased employee retention and satisfaction rates. You benefit from a new job. The employee that referred you gets a financial reward.

The financial reward can vary, but the long-term benefits of positive rapport and workplace culture make this a valuable avenue to investigate.

Every company’s Employer Referral Program will differ.

Knowing the company’s policy for the position you’re interested in will help you customize your suitability for the job.

You want to know what benefit a referral has for the employee in advance.

Here’s what you should know in advance…

Does the job you want qualify for the referral program?

When does the referral occur – before or after you apply?

How big is the reward for the employee who does the referral?

Some employers make this information public so it is good practice to be familiar with their policies when connecting with industry professionals so you can leverage this incentive when connecting with this referral source.

3. Join professional organizations and go to their networking events. 

Limiting yourself to online resources in your quest for industry referrals narrows your options.

One way to meet with targeted industry professionals is by joining professional organizations that align with your career goals and start attending networking events.

There are associations for nearly every profession or area of interest and most have national, state, and regional chapters that are open for new members.

You might have thought networking events were a waste of time.

The truth is, most people dread going to them because they haven’t learned how to network effectively.

Getting in front of people in person is the best way to make an impression and engage in meaningful ways that make you memorable to decision-makers and key contacts.

This separates you from the pile of faceless, anonymous resumes.

If you can learn to network effectively, professional associations and events will not only enhance your network and provide valuable career resources, but they will also give you the necessary practice and confidence to present yourself competently and professionally for an industry interview.

Belonging to a group of like-minded people brings a sense of security and trust.

Members can support you, help you reach your professional goals, and keep you accountable.

By joining a professional organization, you can build credibility for future job referrals, establish expertise by sharing ideas, and provide value as you build relationships.

Use these organizations as a platform to engage by participating in forums and discussion boards.

Add value by volunteering to organize an event, coordinate an invited speaker, or head a committee.  

Giving back to the organization will yield reciprocal generosity and engagement that will grow your network and increase your referral potential.

Don’t be passive.

Just joining a group isn’t enough.

No one is going to go out of their way to pursue you and hand you an opportunity.

You need to be pro-active, valuable, and memorable.

4. Follow up within 24 hours to set up an informational interview. 

Once you’ve made a connection through your network at a company you want to work for, be disciplined in your follow-up.

Re-connect within 24 hours to set up an informational interview.

An informational interview is a fast way to build personal connections with professionals while shedding light on life in the corporate world outside of the competitiveness of an actual job interview.

Asking an employee at a target company for a coffee meeting to discuss their career path shows your motivation to work for that company and willingness to learn.

It also helps you determine if you’re a fit for this company.

These are pivotal traits to convince an employee to refer you for a job.

Keep it conversational but be professional.

Prepare for an informational interview as you would a job interview: dress professionally, formulate questions, and do your homework about the interviewee and the company.

At the informational interview, keep the tone light and conversational.

While you want to gain information about the company and the position, your main goal is to leave a positive imprint as an ideal candidate for future positions.

Show that you are someone who would make an ideal colleague.

Once you establish a professional connection, promote the relationship with continued follow-up by regularly sending information of interest and value.

Never drop the connection if it does not immediately produce job leads.

5. Ask for referrals with etiquette. 

Once you have made connections, targeted companies, and honed your networking prowess, you’re ready to ask for a referral.

When a job listing that catches your attention and fits your interests and experience appears, you need to be bold enough to ask for the referral you’ve been cultivating.

If you have been diligent in growing your network and nurturing these connections, you might be lucky enough to get a referral handed to you.

But don’t count on it.

When asking for referrals, use appropriate etiquette.

Start here…

Evaluate your relationship with the person.

An email to your close friend for a referral will be far different from asking a member of your professional network.

Be concise and direct, but always be respectful.

Personalize your approach based on the connection you have established.

Ask in a way that does not place the person under pressure or obligation.

Always leave it in their hands on how to proceed, but do NOT assume that they will proceed.

You may have to follow up the following week, and potentially the week after that and the week after that.

When following up after asking for a referral – NEVER remind the other person about the request.

Don’t write something that could be misconstrued as passive aggressive like “Just following up to see if you got my last message…”

They got it.

They know.

So instead, just keep adding value.

Follow up by bringing up something you were discussing earlier, or something new to discuss.

Here’s an example of an initial request…

Hi [Referrer],

[Personalized greeting to revive a memory from your last meeting or pass on great news you heard about them or that will be of interest to them].

I am reaching out to you because I am extremely interested in [name of position] at [company].  I think I would be a great fit for the company based on [insert skills or experience that you think are important to the company] and I was hoping you might be able to pass my resume along to the right contacts internally.

Thanks so much for your help!

Best regards,


If you want an industry interview, stop blindly applying through online job sites and start making connections.

Building your network will increase your chances of landing a referral and that is your best chance of transitioning out of academia.

A referral will separate you from thousands of other applicants and all of the resume scanning software that’s making you invisible online. PhDs have the intelligence and transferable skills to do any job they want. Start getting focused and create a plan to establish and expand your network so you can get in front of employees and key people at companies that interest you. The work you do to develop your professional network will prepare you for the next time a job that aligns with your goals is posted by increasing your chances of getting a direct referral that lands your industry resume directly on the hiring manager’s desk.

To learn more about transitioning into industry, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

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Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

Cathy has a PhD in Medical Life Science and Technology and is COO of the Cheeky Scientist Association. Cathy is passionate about science communication including translating science to lay audiences and helping PhDs transition into industry positions. She is Chair of Cambridge AWiSE, a regional network for women in science, engineering and technology. She has also been selected to take part in Homeward Bound 2018, an all-female voyage to Antarctica aimed to heighten the influence of women in leadership positions and bring awareness to climate change.
Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.
  • Willow Sampson

    Wow, Cathy, thank you! This is such a hot topic. And so hard to nail down. Thanks so much. When do you know it’s the right time to set up an informational interview and how do you approach it? That’s what worries me the most. (Plus being a little shy.)

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Thanks Willow! I would never hesitate to try and set up an informational interview – if you have a shared connection on LinkedIn you can ask for an introduction or simply write to them on your own. Compliment them on their work or mention a shared interest and keep the email brief (less than 100 words). At the end of the email ask whether they would be willing to spare 5min to chat over coffee (your treat!). Check out the information interview article I wrote for help:

  • Carlie Stevenson, PhD

    Before I got my first job in industry, I was absolutely terrified to approach anyone. I did, but I sure went through the horrors of posting CV after CV online to no avail. Anyway, I’m much more confident now, and reading things like this help me know I’m still on the right track. I really appreciate your efforts, Cathy! You’ve got it all broken down in a way I wish I’d had a few years ago! 🙂

    • Cathy Sorbara

      You’re welcome Carlie! I started off the same way as you did so I am happy that you are turning the corner now 🙂

  • Julian Holst

    Okay, I can see you’ve got to jump on those informational interviews right away. I thought you had to give it a lot more lead time than that, maybe wait until you’ve seen them at about 3-4 mixers first. But then – maybe you’ll never see them at any more if you don’t reach out in a timely manner.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Exactly Julian – sometimes you have to grab the opportunity when you see it. Asking for a 5min chat is simple and if you treat them to a coffee and give them times to choose from then you are making it easy for them to say yes 🙂

  • Marvin D’Esprit

    Hey, I love it! This is really good, practical knowledge and now I can see how it’s possible to start networking before you even defend your PhD. Way to go.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Thanks Marvin 😀

  • Madeline Rosemary

    I love the way you broke down the stats around recruitment referrals vs. uploading an online resume with no referrals. It makes so much sense. What’s more, it seems like such a more pleasurable way to approach job hunts. Relationships are fun – why not use your people skills to find a place where you’ll really fit in?

  • Sonja Luther

    I like these ideas. I always got the connection between networking and getting referrals, but the article makes it really clear that there’s a measurable benefit. The other thing I appreciate is that I can now see that maintaining these relationships long term can help over the long haul. I might have a great position, but you never know when one of my contacts comes across something for me that might be even better and vice-versa. I can help them, too.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Exactly Sonja – thank you for you comment. I am happy the article has put these pieces together 🙂

  • Matthew Smithson PhD

    I never thought of utilizing Employer Referral Programs before. It makes sense to be aware of these often-overlooked benefits. I can also imagine that being aware of the programs and making others aware of them will make the whole process more interesting.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Definitely Matthew – its a win-win situation for both parties so if you can find a company that offers the program, it is a good place to start networking 🙂

  • Kathy Azalea

    The whole point of etiquette is really important to me. I’m glad you pointed out where following up could be a breach if you use the wrong wording. I don’t want to alienate anyone I’m networking with, and I think that unless I saw your article, I would definitely have committed that exact faux pas.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Happy to hear that you have taken away that important point. It is definitely something that is easily overlooked. Best of luck with your future networking 🙂

  • Harvey Delano

    I really appreciate what you’re saying about having a pitifully small range of contacts. I think that as a scientific person, I always tended to think that what I knew was of more value than who I knew. I’ve been trying to reach out and develop more engagement recently, and it’s going well. But I also look forward to the time when I’m done with academia and I realize I’m going to have to do a lot more. You’ve done a really awesome job of giving me a good handle on the situation. Thanks so much for being so honest about what you went through and the steps you took to find the awesome position you have now. Wish me luck, okay? 🙂

    • Cathy Sorbara

      LOL – Best of luck Harvey! If I can do it, then you can too! Thanks for the message 🙂

  • Theo

    It’s so helpful to have the specific template of reaching out. That transforms it from theory to reality. The idea of getting a great position after academia really appeals to me, and I appreciate getting the practical tools.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Great to hear Theo! Thanks for positive feedback!

  • Genevieve David

    Thank you Cathy for this really great article. I have learned many of these intuitively or out of awkward mistakes over time. But you writing them explicitly confirmed my realizations particularly when it comes to asking for referral and maintaining the network. Great job. You are helping a lot of people out there!

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Thank you Genevieve! It means a lot to hear you say that!