Networking and Referral Cover Letter Types

Networking letters are written to your personal and professional network of contacts and are one of the single most vital components of your search campaign. No matter who you are, what you do for a living, or where you do it, you have developed a network of contacts over time, whether deliberately or not. Networking is a natural process that you almost can’t avoid.

Now, you can use those network contacts to your advantage in identifying employment opportunities, getting interviews, and shortening your job search cycle.

Who are your networking contacts? They can be divided into several categories:

  • Professional network. This network includes coworkers, colleagues, supervisors, and managers from both past and current employers. If you are a senior executive, this network might also include bankers, investors, business partners, vendors, and others within your professional community.
  • Community network. Business professionals from your local community—bankers, lawyers, real estate brokers, and others you have some personal relationship with—can be an important part of your network.
  • College/university network. College alumni, professors, and administrators can be a priceless source of leads and contacts for your campaign.
  • Association network. Professional and community associations to which you belong are an extremely valuable networking source.
  • Personal network. This network includes friends, neighbours, and relatives.

Networking letters can often be the most imaginative missives you write. Because you are writing to individuals whom you know–either personally or professionally–you can “let your hair down” and develop a letter that is a bit more informal than you would write to a stranger. In turn, you can be more original in your presentation, tone, language, and style.

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The message you wish to transmit in your networking letter is, “I need your help.” You’re writing to these individuals for their assistance, guidance, referrals, and recommendations–not for a job. (If they happen to have a job opening themselves, however, they will probably mention it as a natural response to reading your letter.) If you approach your contacts in this manner, you’re very likely to receive a positive response. The key to successful networking is to ask only for what your contact can give you.

Everyone can give advice, and most people enjoy helping friends and associates.

But if you ask for a job, and it’s not in your contact’s power to give one to you, you’ll create a “dead end” with that networking contact.

Tip.- You want at least one of three things from each of your network contacts:

  • A recommendation or referral for a specific employment opportunity;
  • Information about specific companies;
  • Additional contacts you can add to your network. The whole trick to networking is to expand your contact base by getting new names from your existing network. Leverage their contacts to your advantage.
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Networking letters are characterized by the following:

  • Familiar tone. Because you are writing to individuals whom you know, your letters should be hard-hitting, powerful, and results-oriented, yet written in a less formal manner than you would write to a stranger.
  • Request for help and contact information. Remember, the two most valuable results of your networking efforts are (1) specific leads that you will receive from the network and (2) contact information for people and companies you can then add to your network.

Referral Cover Letters

When you are writing a referral letter, you are writing to a particular individual at a company or recruiting firm at the recommendation of someone else. These letters can be very similar in style and strategy to cold-call letters.

You’re not sure whether the company has a specific need for someone with your talents. You don’t necessarily know the company’s situation. Is it on a growth track? Is it downsizing? Does it have new products to introduce? Is it making money? Is it losing money? So, just as with the cold-call letter discussed earlier, these letters are often more “general” in his or her presentation and not necessarily focused on a particular position. As mentioned previously, you want to give your reader a broad-based introduction to who you are, what expertise and qualifications you have, and why you would be valuable to the organization.

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Tip.- For a referral letter to be effective, the person who referred you must be immediately recognizable to the reader because of name, company affiliation, or status within the business community or industry. There are no exceptions! If not, the impact of your letter is negated, and its value is nonexistent.

Referral letters can work for individuals at all levels. For the senior executive, a referral letter can highlight contributions to revenue and profit growth, strategic leadership, organizational development, turnaround, and other senior-level functions. For the college graduate, a referral letter can focus on academic performance, internships, leadership, enthusiasm, and interest in the organization. The message might change, but the strategy remains the same: “Sell” who you are in a broad-brush fashion in the hope that something within the breadth of your experience will capture your reader’s attention.


Referral letters are characterized by the following:

  • Introduction. All referral letters begin with an immediate reference to the person who referred you to that organization. This is the single distinguishing qualification of referral letters.
  • General in composition. Because you do not know whether the company is hiring, or for what types of positions, it is best to sell as much about yourself, your experience, and your career as possible.

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