While there certainly is no “silver bullet” for finding a job in today’s challenging job market, one approach that works about three out of ten times is finding an internal sponsor at a company that has an opening you would be interested in and a job for which you would be fully qualified. Today, that’s how 28 percent of all jobs are filled—by referrals from existing employees.

Well, you may be asking yourself, how do I get referred for a job at a company where I don’t even know anyone?! Fair question. Here is the answer: PUTT! That is, “Pick Up The Telephone.” How do I know the telephone approach actually works? Because I use this approach each and every business day as a “headhunter.” I am constantly calling in to companies with which I have absolutely no working relationship and know absolutely no one. Yet I am able to talk to key people, gather useful information, get leads, etc. It’s an approach we “headhunters” refer to as “seeing who’s who in the zoo.”

As a job hunter you, too, can effectively use the telephone to get where you want to be—in a new job. But be forewarned: This approach is not for the faint-hearted! This approach takes courage, excellent networking skills and the demonstrated ability to effectively brand yourself as being a candidate who is worthy of being referred by an existing employee. The payoff? It can literally turbo-charge your odds of getting hired!

Now, let me pause here to issue a “disclaimer.” The overwhelming majority of job candidates to whom I have outlined—and recommended—this approach have this initial response/reaction:

“Skip, you have got to be crazy! I would/could NEVER do something like this!”

And, you know what? Most in fact will NOT even try this approach! But for those who do . . . well, suffice it to say that they can quickly become “true believers” in the approach.

Many companies offer a “referral bonus” to their employees. That is, if an employee recommends someone who ends up actually getting hired at the company, that employee is paid a bonus, which can range from $500 to $3,000, depending upon the level of the open position. So, employees at these companies definitely are motivated to consider recommending and/or “sponsoring” potential employees.

How the Approach Works

Essentially, there are THREE steps to follow when using this approach:

STEP 1 – Find a position online that you would be interested in—and fully qualified to perform. Usually, you will find a company’s available positions featured on its career web page(s).

STEP 2 – Using LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) or Jigsaw (www.jigsaw.com), locate the names of salespeople within the company. Why sales? Typically, men and women who are in sales positions are highly money-motivated and are far more likely than other employees within the company to consider sponsoring you. Plus, salespeople are used to talking to people they don’t know and are generally more open to considering things that most other employees will not, for a whole variety of reasons.

STEP 3 – Call up these people and use the following telephone script (Tip: Don’t “improvise,” “wing it” or otherwise try to “improve” this script! Use it exactly as shown below):


“Valerie (one of the company’s salespeople), this is (your name). I know your time is very valuable and this will only take three minutes. Do you have three minutes, or should we schedule a time to speak?”


“I have three minutes but that’s it. What is this about?”


“I noticed that your company has an opening for a mechanical engineer at its Chicago facility. Now, I know that, since the position is posted, I either need to go to HR or apply online. However, I have one important question for you. Many large companies like yours have employee referral programs, where if someone is referred and hired, the referring employee gets paid a couple of thousand dollars.

“Valerie, if I were to send you my résumé, and indeed you felt that I was ‘MNO Company quality material,’ would you be willing to introduce me into the company? The value of your doing so ensures that I get reviewed by a real person and not a computer, and the value to you is that you might get the referral fee. Would you be open to me sending my information to you for review?”

How to Deal with Rejection!

That’s it! That’s the entire approach! It really is that quick and simple! So, why, then, are most candidates so reluctant, so extremely hesitant, to even try this approach? Having been in field sales, as well as in sales management positions, during my early business career, I actually know the reasons. For a salesperson, the applicable term is “call reluctance.” “Call reluctance” usually results from fears such as the following on the part of the salesperson:

  • That they will be rejected by the person on the other end of the telephone.
  • That they will look like (or sound like) a “fool.”
  • That the person they are calling will get angry or irritated by the call and perhaps even hang up on them!

You know what new salespeople are advised if they happen to have these fears (and most do, at least initially) and actually encounter such responses (or similar ones) while telephone prospecting? They are ask

ed, “So what?” “Who cares?” They are advised to get back on the telephone immediately and make the next call!

To be sure, you, too, will quite likely get one (or all!) of these responses if you try the sponsorship approach outlined in this blog. To you, then, I say: “So what?” “Who cares?” “Get on the phone and make the next call!” Remember, the person you contact on the next call has no idea whatsoever that you just got rejected on the previous phone call! Nor would they even care if they did know!

As a matter of fact, experience has shown that about half the people you contact using this approach will indeed talk to you and seriously consider your request, which of course also means that about half will either not talk to you or even consider your approach. Still, any way you look at it, these are pretty good odds, don’t you agree?

Follow-up Steps

Once you have found an internal sponsor, do NOT also apply online! Let me repeat that, in the strongest possible terms: Do NOT also apply online! Why? Because once you do that the sponsor’s “referral bonus” will become “null and void”! You see, once Human Resources has captured your information in its system from an online application, and if you ultimately get hired, they will advise the presumed sponsor that the company already “had” you! Now, wouldn’t that be embarrassing for all involved?!

From time to time make sure to update your sponsor on your progress during the overall hiring process with his/her company. Not only is this good “PR,” it can also provide you with a valuable, ongoing source of internal information that could prove to be quite helpful in your job quest. Chances are, for example, your sponsor will be aware of anything that happens within the company that could positively (or negatively) affect your candidacy, and he/she can then keep you updated, allowing you to make any necessary adjustments to your overall approach, etc.

Are you now sufficiently motivated to suspend your disbelief, to hold your pre-conceived notions at least in temporary abeyance about the “right” way to get a job in today’s job market? Are you willing to set aside any “call reluctance” you might have and at least give the sponsorship approach an honest try? For those of you who are, I think you will be very pleasantly surprised and pleased! I’d also love to hear your success stories!


Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.