How to Ask for a Referral From a Stranger on LinkedIn


First of all, can you ask for a referral from a stranger? LinkedIn is full of connections from people hoping to expand their network, especially with others in companies they hope to join.

Recently, a friend of a friend asked if he could list me as his referral for a job he’s applying for at my company.

I’m happy to help out friends, and friends of friends, in their job search. I’m also happy to help out people with even more distant connections. But if I don’t know anything about your work history or performance, and I’ve never met you, I can’t be listed as a referral.

To me, “referral” connotes more of a connection that we actually have, a reference that has no concrete basis.

I responded that he could say “A friend of Becky’s referred me to this job” and that would provide enough of a context and network connection to the hiring manager.

I have no problem connecting with people I don’t know, because you never know who they know, and in the process you might learn something that can help you with your career. You just have to proceed with common sense and caution when moving the relationship forward, and remember to look at things from their point of view, too.

How would you have responded to this request? What’s your interpretation of “referral”?

2 thoughts on “How to Ask for a Referral From a Stranger on LinkedIn

  1. Hello Becky,
    I am really in need of a serious reply for the problem regarding how can one approach to a stranger linkedin connection for a job reference?
    Any suggestion or book recommendation or any solution would really be a help in time where everything seems like a mirage to me in this desert of my problem.
    Thanks in advance.


    • Hi Raj!

      I’ll get the disclaimer out of the way first–I’m not an expert, and I’ve moved on from giving career advice awhile ago, so this is just my view. If you’d rather head off to right away, I understand. 🙂

      As I said in the post, I personally don’t recommend asking a stranger outright for a job reference.

      This is because you’re asking that person to put their own professional reputation at stake by referring you, a stranger, for a position that they have no idea if you can fill, or if you’d even be a good fit for the company.

      When that friend of a friend asked to list me as a referral, I said no, because “referral” should mean that I know at least two things: How you are to work with, and that I can recommend you as someone to consider for the position.

      But it was all right with me for this person to say that a mutual friend of ours saw this position and thought he’d be interested. For as we know, networking is the way things work.

      So 3rd party connections do count; you just have to be careful how you use them.

      Your best bet may be to find that mutual friend/colleague. Fortunately on LinkedIn, you can see who you know and who knows whom easily enough, though you might have to do some digging. This mutual friend is someone who knows you in some capacity–a personal connection may work, a professional connection is better–and who _also_ knows someone in the company you’re applying to, whether as another friend or as an actual coworker involved in the hiring process.

      Then ask that mutual friend if they’d be comfortable passing on your details to the hiring person. They may not be, and you have to be okay with this.

      Best of luck to you!


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