WorkWise: Demystifying the quest for referrals

culp@workwise.netApril 21, 2013 

(Color Classics Portrait Gallery Inc. ) Craig Ahlstrom, president/founder of Perfect World Search Inc., based in Morton, Ill., discusses scheduled interviews for candidates with Betsy Dubicki, project manager.

Craig Ahlstrom needed a potential construction manager for a Texas manufacturer of steel utility poles.

The founder and president of the executive recruiting firm Perfect World Search Inc. in Morton, Ill., he searched both his personal database and LinkedIn.

“I contacted the National Association of Tower Erectors and asked for a recommendation,” Ahlstrom says. “They suggested a person, who said he had a business colleague who’s very good at this. His home in the Northeast had been smothered by Sandy. He suggested a friend I’d worked with over the years as ‘perfect.’ He wouldn’t leave Seattle but knew a person in Oklahoma who, it turned out, had a non-compete with his last company. He suggested I call a person in Houston, who’s a friend of mine.”

Bingo. Ahlstrom recommends getting referrals from relationships you build by being “wholesome and helpful.”

“Referrals come from relationships,” concurs Tim Hart, founder and principal of San Francisco, Calif.’s Hart Communications. His business is more than 90 percent referral-based. If you’ve been deadheading at work and not building relationships, this is the time to start networking. He says that face-to-face networking brings the greatest rewards and that shyness shouldn’t hold you back. Take a friend to professional association and/or chambers of commerce meetings. Be open to conversations and ideas. Then watch doors open.

Ahlstrom suggests tapping into “the belief that you’re legitimately trying to help someone else and that goodness will come to the referral as a result.” He opens conversations with a compliment from the referral source followed by a reference to their being friends and a statement that “he trusts me enough to speak with you, because you’re a person of quality and he has respect for (us both).” Ahlstrom points out that doing so helps referrals see the value in speaking with him and that they’ve “fulfilled the expectation of their friend.”

If you don’t have an established network as Ahlstrom does, you can still get referrals. Jo Mangum, founder of Jamm Coaching and Training in Raleigh, N.C., recommends asking yourself questions as if you were selling a product. She offers these examples: “What are the benefits of this product? Why would a person want to (spend company money on me)?”

Danielle Cuomo, owner/manager of Virtual Assist USA LLC in Pittsburgh, Pa., relies heavily on referrals to keep her business growing. She offers an excellent tip from her business that you can adapt to your search.

“I broach the topic right after receiving a compliment or completing a successful project,” she explains. “I acknowledge the compliment and build on the story. ‘Because you were so satisfied with the project we just completed ... I was wondering who you may know that also may benefit from saving time and money with a virtual assistant?’"

Try her method by acknowledging a compliment the person gives you and using it to provide direction. Say something like this: “Thank you for noticing my (skill) or (personality trait). Do you know a person whose business would (improve its customer service) or (improve employee morale) from it?” Cuomo also sends a note or small gift to a person who gives a referral, even if no contract materializes.

If your job-hunting tool kit doesn’t contain people who can become referral sources, start building them now. Think about what you have to sell about yourself. Adopt a mentality of helpfulness. Call people you know and attend professional meetings where networking is lively. “Meet people with the idea of making new professional friends,” Hart advises. “Friends refer you for jobs.”

Dr. Mildred L. Culp welcomes your questions at culp@workwise.net. © 2013 Passage Media.

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