Tips for How to Give a Referral That Helps Both of You

You can still make a great referral, even if you have little to no status or influence. It’s all in the delivery.

Tristan Denyer
5 min readNov 6, 2023

Giving a referral, whether for a job, a service, or a personal recommendation, is a valuable way to help someone in your network. It reflects positively on you and can strengthen your professional and personal relationships.

Over the years, I would say that I’ve given over a hundred referrals, and have been referred almost as much in a number of situations beyond work. I remember the times when I heard “Oh! You know ______? She’s great!” And I also remember the times when I feel it hurt my chances.

Wait, What Does It Matter If a Referral Works or Not?

It matters greatly in a number of ways. One, and I feel the biggest one, is that it is karmic—it comes back around. When you give a thoughtful referral, that person will remember it, and in this world of hyper-connectivity, there is a good chance your name will cross their path again in some way.

Another important one is the receiver of the referral. I’ve had times where my referral put me in a good light. I happened to put in a good word for a designer that the hiring team loved, and ended up hiring. She went on to help them in a huge way, and the hiring manager never forgot my name. She even reached out to me a number of times thanking me for the referral and asked if I knew of anyone else that could they could hire! That’s how you want to be remembered!

Lastly, the person you refer does not have to get hired for the referral to ‘hit’ and be successful for both of you. The success is outlined below.

Here Are Some Tips on How to Give a Referral Effectively

You don’t have to hit all of these. Read through them to see where you can level up your referrals.

First, Consider the Delivery Method

Today, we have a number of ways to send a referral to someone. Email, text, phone, in-person, and even via social media channels. Consider the person you are contacting, and why you are connecting them. Depending on what this is for and where they work, certain ways and channels can come across as tone deaf, or get buried and lost, or be too forward.

Know the Person Well

Before giving a referral, make sure you know the individual well enough to vouch for their skills, character, or qualifications. A strong referral is based on a genuine understanding of the person’s abilities and attributes. Don’t speak to anything you don’t understand or know—you may be asked to clarify later, and you don’t want to stumble.

Ask for Permission

Typically you are being asked for a referral, but I’ve had there be times where I wanted to refer someone I felt should connect in some way. Always ask the person you’re referring if they are comfortable with you providing a referral. This ensures they’re open to the idea and gives them the opportunity to decline if they’re not interested.

Gather Relevant Information

Collect all the necessary information about the person you’re referring, including their resume, work samples, or any other documents that will help you provide a comprehensive and accurate referral. If someone is asking you to refer them, ask them to provide these details.

Specify the Purpose

Clearly understand the purpose of the referral. Is it for a job application, a business partnership, or a personal introduction? Tailor your referral to the specific context. Read the job description, and like you would for a cover letter (do they still do those?) or email, pepper in key words from the posting.

Highlight Strengths and Achievements

When giving a referral, emphasize the individual’s strengths, achievements, and qualities that make them stand out. Be specific and provide examples of their accomplishments. Again, you should be able to get these from them directly, and if you know them very well, conjure them up from memory.

Be Forthright

Honesty is essential when giving a referral. Don’t exaggerate or provide false information. It’s better to acknowledge areas where the person may have room for improvement.

Context Matters

Provide context for the referral by explaining how you know the person and under what circumstances you’ve observed their skills or qualities. This helps establish your credibility as a referrer. If you don’t know them at all, be forthright here, but downplay it a bit. “_____ reached out to me, and after careful review, I feel they would be someone to consider…

Use Professional Language

Maintain a professional tone and language in your referral. Be warm, but avoid overly casual or overly formal language, depending on the context.

Include Contact Information

If the recipient of the referral may want to get in touch with the individual you’re referring, include their contact information, such as email or phone number. Ask before you share this out for which contact information they would prefer you share.

Offer to Connect Personally

If you’re comfortable with it, let the person you’re referring know that you’re willing to connect them directly with the person or entity they’re seeking the referral for. I feel this is some good reinforcement behind your referring them as your additional time on the matter lends some weight to it.

Be Responsive to Inquiries

If someone reaches out to you for more information about the person you referred, respond promptly and provide helpful insights. Again, the added time you are investing in this adds weight behind the referral.

Respect Privacy

Respect the privacy and confidentiality of the person you’re referring. Don’t disclose any sensitive or personal information without their consent.

Thank You Note

If the referral leads to a positive outcome, consider sending a thank-you note to express your gratitude for the opportunity to provide a referral. Again, this is more for you than anything. A good referral will go a long way for you.

Stay in Touch

Stay connected with both the person you referred and the recipient. It’s an excellent way to maintain and strengthen your network.

Sometimes It’s Better to Not Send the Referral

Be careful with your referrals, and don’t just send them out freely. Your name is attached to these, and if someone or somewhere gets a barrage of these from you, it can backfire. Unless you are set up as a pipeline for referrals, keep it to a minimum and spread it around.

In Summary

Remember that giving a referral is a significant responsibility, and it’s a reflection of your judgment and credibility. Therefore, it’s essential to provide honest and well-considered referrals that genuinely benefit all parties involved.



Tristan Denyer

I am that unique blend of engineer and designer, leader and manager, team builder and bridge builder.