How to message a stranger for a job referral without being annoying

We all know referrals are the best way to get jobs. If this is new information to you or if you don’t know what referrals are, read Actual messages you can send to get referred into a tech company.

As I’ve been working with more students going through the job search, I’ve collected more data points on what types of messages work well (or don’t) for getting referrals.

Let’s talk about the cold message, which is when you contact someone you don’t know who works at a company you’re interested in. This is the toughest message to send. You’re literally reaching out to a stranger who is probably busy and isn’t asking for random people to contact them for help to get a job. Not only that, you don’t want to come off as annoying and of course this leads to fear of ruining your chances at the company you’re most interested in.

But keep this mind: anyone who’s held a corporate job for more than a year and especially for those in the tech industry, they know that cold emails or LinkedIn messages asking to “set up a phone call to learn more about [Company X]” is normal. I guarantee they’ve done it themselves and might even be the way they got the job they have right now!

However, even if cold messages are normal and even expected, they can be annoying.

Use the following message template to avoid being annoying when reaching out to someone you don’t know with the intention of asking for a referral.

Cold message template

Hey [Name], 

My name is [Your name] and I saw this [name or role and insert link to the job posting] opening. I’m really interested in this role and all that is going on at [Company]. I read about [mention some positive news about the company from their blog or press article], it sounds like it’s an exciting time and there’s a lot going on! I’d love to chat with you more about [Company].

A little bit about me:

  • I’m currently a [your role at your company]. I’m responsible for [describe what you do]. *(See below if you’re currently in between jobs) 
  • Previously, I was a [role at previous company]. In my time there I [describe what you did]

I’ve attached my resume for detailed context.

Would you be for up for a phone call in the next couple of weeks? If so, I can send over a handful of time slots.

Thank you!

– Your name

This is a good cold message because it shows you’ve done research on the company, introduced yourself without overwhelming a stranger with your life story, and specified a request. As an added bonus, you’ve agreed to take on the hassle of coordinating times to chat.

The template is in email format, but you may not have someone’s email address for a cold message. If that’s the case, reach out with this message through LinkedIn. If you do, break up the template message into a few messages so you’re not sending a wall of text over LinkedIn.

If someone writes back to your cold message, they may or may not be willing to talk to you on the phone.

If they’re open to a call, send over a handful of time slots to try to make it easy for them to find a time that works for them. Make sure you do some research to ask good questions about the role and company before you get on the phone. After the call, send a follow up email to thank them for the call and ask for a referral.

Here’s a good way to craft the sentence to directly ask for a referral:

If you have time and are willing, can you help submit my resume for the [role – include link to job post]?

If after the first cold message you get a response, but a phone call doesn’t work for them, they may reply back with, “What questions can I answer for you?” If this happens, send over a few, specific questions over email. Once you get a response to your questions, send a follow up thank you email and ask directly for a referral.

*In the template above, I have a bullet point describing your current job. If you aren’t at a company right now, mention the productive things you are doing that’s relevant to the role you’re going after. This could be an online course you’re taking, volunteer/consulting work, side project, etc.

Don’t be afraid to ask, you’re only holding yourself back

If you’re getting gun shy about sending a cold email because you don’t want to come off as an intrusive nuisance, don’t be. Everyone who successfully finds a job in tech does this!

I’ve always been surprised by how helpful people who I don’t even know have been in my career. It all started out with a cold message. So don’t be afraid to take the first step to reach out to someone (but don’t be annoying!). You’re only getting in your own way of the job you want if you don’t ask.