Perhaps at one time it was enough to ask a neighbor to "put in a good word for me."
Today, with hundreds of candidates applying for a single position, recruiters who work on dozens of positions at once, and technology that dictates the recruiting process, simple word of mouth isn't enough. You are going to have to put in Herculean effort in order to get someone to refer you successfully. Some steps you may want to take:
- Ensure that everyone has your correct contact information. Check your resume, your social networking profiles (especially Linkedin), your email signature, your business cards, your blog, to ensure that the info is correct and consistent. Email signature is especially important. Ensure that your phone number and email address appears in every email you send, even it is a reply, a reply all, or an email sent to someone you know very well. You never know when your contact might forward your mail to someone influential, or to HR.
- Does everyone know what you do, know your expertise? Be able to succinctly describe your career history, professional achievements and specialty verbally. For example, if asked, I would describe myself as having more than 15 years of corporate recruiting and recruiting management experience at Fortune 500 companies. Notice that my description is only one sentence long.
- Expand your "outer ring" contacts. These are professional colleagues, friends of friends, online contacts. Not exactly friends, but folks who might be happy to help or do a favor. If you have met someone at a conference, or have a link to someone through someone else, or perhaps regularly comment on a blog, these people are part of your network. It may take a bit of time and effort to strengthen these relationships. The end result, however, is an increased number of contacts who might refer you for an open position at their company. Before asking an outer ring contact to refer you, make sure you have taken steps to deepen the relationship. Share valuable information, collaborate on a project, support online/social media activities, write a guest blog post, meet for coffee, attend a professional meeting together, support a cause. Once the person is comfortable enough to call you a friend, they're ready to refer you.