A recruiter once told me that he always has two stacks of resumes on his desk: one super tall stack of resumes he receives unsolicited from the Internet and one very short stack of resumes that have been passed along from people he knows and trusts.

InMap

Not surprisingly, when this recruiter has a job to fill, he reaches for the smaller stack of referred applicants first. It’s simply more efficient and effective to check out candidates who come with a recommendation from a trusted friend or colleague.

So, how do you get your resume into the coveted short stack? Here are some tips:

1. Put people first.

Instead of starting your job search with job postings, start with the people you know. Where do they work? Where did they used to work? Who do they know? What advice and introductions can they provide?

The new LinkedIn Jobs makes this easy by showing you all of the companies (that are currently hiring) where you have LinkedIn connections. Just scroll down the main Jobs page to “Jobs in Your Network” and start browsing opportunities. You can also visit the LinkedIn Company Pages of the organizations on your prospect list and view anyone in your network who currently works or used to work there.

2. Gather information and build relationships.

Now it’s time to reach out. Before you apply for any position, try to speak with or have an email exchange with someone who has worked or currently works for the employer — in other words, conduct informational interviews. Your goal in these conversations is not to ask for a job or even to ask for your resume to be passed along. Not yet. Your objective at this point is to gather information that will help to: 1) give you an edge when you do apply for a position, and 2) build a relationship with the person providing the information so that in the future this person will make a referral.

Here is what you might say in an outreach email to an existing connection:

Hi Rachel,

I hope all is well – I loved the recent article you posted on LinkedIn about the new iPhone. As you may know, I am in the midst of a job search and I was wondering if you would be willing to provide a bit of guidance. I am very interested in a position in IT support at Nike and I know that you worked there for several years. Would you be open to a brief phone chat or to answer a few questions by email to provide some insight into how Nike hires and what they look for? I would be so grateful for your time and very happy to return the favor.

Thanks,

Lindsey

Here is what you might say in an outreach email to a friend-of-a-friend (second degree connection):

Hi Roger,

I hope all is well. As you may know, I am in the midst of a job search for a senior communications position and I’m in the process of researching potential employers. I saw on LinkedIn that you are connected to Joan Harris, who works for Red Hat, a company I deeply admire and would love to work for. Joan is very active on LinkedIn and posts great content about the company, so I’m hoping she might be open to a chat with a potential applicant. Would you be willing to make an introduction? I would be grateful for your help and of course happy to help you in any way I can.

Thanks,

Lindsey

You’ll want to send as many emails like this as possible to increase your chances of gathering good information. Notice how important it is to review each person’s LinkedIn profile before reaching out so you can customize your request and prepare yourself for any conversation the person agrees to.

When people do agree to speak with you, here are some questions you might ask current or former employees of your prospect companies:

  • May I tell you a bit about my background [if you don’t know the person well] and why I think this position and company would be a good fit? (It’s important that the person knows about you and your goal so you can focus the conversation.)
  • How did you land your position at the company?
  • Would you share any tips about how to stand out in the application or hiring process? (For example, what to include/not include on my resume or LinkedIn profile, what to say in my cover letter, when and how to follow up)
  • Would you be willing to review my resume or LinkedIn profile and provide any feedback? After I make any of your suggested changes, would you consider passing my information along to the recruiter or [if the person no longer works at the organization] to someone you know at the company who might be willing to pass it along?
  • Is there anything I can do to help you?

If your contact agrees to refer you or your information to a recruiter, you will want to send an immediate thank you message. Then be sure to keep this person in the loop as your candidacy progresses by providing occasional updates on the process and, of course, another thank you note if you land the job.

If your contact is not willing to pass along your resume or LinkedIn profile, that might be a sign to you that 1) your credentials are not a good fit for the organization, 2) this person may not yet know you well enough to make a referral, or 3) this person is just not that helpful (hey – it happens). No matter the reason, go ahead and move on to other prospects.

3. Maintain your connections.

Since no single conversation or referral is guaranteed to lead to a job, you’ll need to continue this process of reaching out to contacts, asking for advice and keeping people posted on your progress. One great new way to keep all of your relationships active and strong is to use LinkedIn’s new Mentions feature.

Mentions makes it quick and easy to have brief conversations with the people in your network by allowing you to directly reference a contact in your LinkedIn status updates on the homepage. The person you mention will receive a real-time notification, which will keep you on his or her radar screen and promote ongoing discussion – which could lead to an opportunity.

You might use mentions to call attention to an article that would interest one of your recent informational interviewees, congratulate a connection on a new job or promote a company’s status update that celebrates an achievement by one of your connections.

The goal of using mentions in this situation is to keep in touch with your connections without being overly aggressive. And, as always, remember that the more you help and support people in your network, the more likely they are to want to help you in return. That’s what it means to tap the referral network.