This is a relatively common job interview question, frequently asked in other variations like, “How did you hear about this job?” and “How did you learn about this job?”
Employers have many reasons for asking this question, and most of those reasons are not threatening to job seekers.
Although it sounds simple, do not assume that this question is unimportant to the employer. If it really was unimportant to them, interviewers would not consistently ask it.
And definitely do not assume that you cannot fumble it badly, ruining an opportunity. As usual, be prepared and be careful.
Avoid This VERY Bad Answer for “How Were You Referred to Us?”
The worst answer you can give is —
“I don’t remember.”
Yikes! When that’s your answer, you look disorganized and, possibly, desperate — applying for every job you find, leaving the employer with the impression you are not particularly interested in them or in this job.
Do NOT fib. “I applied on LinkedIn” is not a good answer if they did not post it on LinkedIn. Your lie (and lack of memory or interest in being truthful) will kill the opportunity for you.
Best strategy: Keep track of the jobs you have applied for. Hopefully, you are not applying for hundreds of jobs a week, so this will not be a big task for you.
Create a list or a spreadsheet that shows the source of the job posting (Indeed, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, the employer’s website, Facebook, or ??), the date you applied, the employer’s name, the job title, and any other identifier like a job posting number or URL. Ultimately, this can be useful information for you, too — the sources, jobs, and employers best for you.
Then, check the list and note the source before you head out for the interview.
Why Do They Ask “How Were You Referred to Us?”
Your answer to this question can provide two important pieces of information about you and the job.
1. Your interest in them and the job.
Often, the primary reason they ask this question is to gauge how interested you are in the job and in working for them.
Be prepared with an answer that demonstrates you didn’t just stumble over a job posting on Indeed or LinkedIn. That is NOT an impressive sign of your interest in the job.
The employer usually rewards employees for referring good job candidates if the candidates are hired and work successfully for a specific number of days or months, depending on the employer. For the employee making the referral, that reward, on average, ranges between $1,000 and $5,000, depending on the job and the employer (source).
This question might be asked as part of that ERP qualification process, confirming and/or documenting the referral.
2. Their most effective recruiting method.
Often this question is asked so that the employer can understand which recruiting method or platform being used is the most effective. When the employer understands what is working vs. what isn’t, they can adjust and change to use the most effective method for their recruiting.
Should they focus on promoting their ERP to employees, increasing the internal visibility of job opportunities so that current employees see opportunities to advance their career within the organization, or making job postings visible on LInkedIn (or another platform). They have many options, and need to choose the most effective.
Sample Answers “How Were You Referred to Us?”
Even if a question is not particularly challenging or complex on the surface, take care with your answer. In general, being honest is the best strategy, but be careful with how you respond to this question. With your answer, do your best to express your enthusiasm for the employer and the job.
As much as possible, avoid fibbing. Once you have answered the question, stop talking. Then, ask a question of your own, if you have one that is related, or wait for a follow on from the interviewer.
1. If you were you referred by an employee.
Employee referrals are the quickest and most efficient way to get hired. Employers prefer job candidates who have been referred by an employee because, typically, referred candidates become “good hires” They do their job well, stay in the job longer than average, and refer other good job candidates.
According to Dr. John Sullivan, who has researched the process extensively, your chances of being hired increase 300% if you are referred by an employee. So, be sure to tell them you were referred in accordance with the rules of the employer’s program (who can refer you, when, and how).
However, in some situations, it may not be appropriate for the employee to have referred someone, for example if the employee is the hiring manager or, perhaps, in the HR or talent acquisition parts of the organization.
The employee who plans to give you the referral should know the “rules” to the employer’s referral program or be able to find them.
If an employee gave you the lead, be sure to ask the employee if it’s OK to give their name as the answer to this question. If it is OK with them, give their name and, in a large organization, their department and location, perhaps even an employee identification number if one is used.
The employee may qualify for a bonus from the employer for referring you, but most employee referral programs have rules about when an employee does or does not qualify. If someone has referred you appropriately, you want them to receive the award. The referral will usually help your candidacy, too. Definitely a win/win situation!
When I decided to consider changing employers, I reached out to my network looking for recommendations of good local employers. [Employee name, job title, and organization] who I know through [previous employer, school, local professional organization, neighbor, etc.] reached out. He knew of this job being open and thought it could be a good fit for me. He speaks very highly of this organization. When I checked out the job and looked at more information about you, I agreed. So I applied enthusiastically through your employee referral program.
For more information about successfully navigating the employee referral process, which is not as simple as it once was, read How to Make Employee Referral Programs Work for You.
2. If you targeted this employer.
You can make points here for your interest in the employer.
Reference your pre-application (or, at least, pre-interview) research that created or increased your interest in this employer.
This demonstrates your interest in this specific employer. It also addresses their concern that you just clicked the “Apply” button on a job board because you found a job posting.
Perhaps, this employer is one you have always wanted to work for. Be prepared to explain what, why, and/or how you became interested in the employer. However, if your sole interest is that they have a reputation for paying very well, find another reason you can share with the employer.
If appropriate, mention colleagues, friends, and/or family members who are employees or who have worked happily for the organization. They may qualify for compensation (see # 1 above).
If you follow the company page on LinkedIn and found the job in association with the company’s LinkedIn Profile, share that information with them. Be sure to check their company page on LinkedIn before you head out for your interview to demonstrate your interest..
Or, describe the research you’ve done on top employers, the industry, an article you read, or perhaps you or your family have been customers/clients/fans of the employer.
I have been interested in [this industry] for quite a while, and [company name] is a leader with a reputation as a great place to work. Since [company name] products and services are highly regarded both inside and outside of the industry, I decided that working here would represent a great opportunity to learn and to grow.
For more on researching employers, read The Winning Difference: Pre-Interview Preparation and Smart Google Research for Successful Job Interviews. Also see how to answer the related job interview question, “What do you know about us?”
3. If you found the job posting without targeting the employer?
If this is how you found the job, be very careful in your response.
Don’t leave the impression that you have applied for every job you found. You do not want to sound desperate or careless.
If possible, share the name of job board, date, and whether or not the job was “featured” or in a sponsored ad made more visible than the other jobs listed.
If you found the job posted in social media, like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, provide as many details as possible — date and source.
Make it clear how and why the posting stood out to you, and why you applied for the job. Then, add how you did research to discover that you would be interested in working for this employer based on the positive information you found. If possible, refer to that information in your response.
I was very pleased to see this job on LinkedIn. Your company is very interesting, particularly [mention a product or service]. When I checked your LinkedIn Company page, I discovered that I am connected with several employees on LinkedIn. Since I’m not closely connected to them, I didn’t feel comfortable asking for a referral. When checked out their LinkedIn profiles. I noticed that they have all been here for several years, which I view as very good sign that this is an excellent place to work.
4. Did a recruiter refer you?
With most recruiters, they will make the introduction, so it is unlikely that you will be asked this if a recruiter referred you.
If you are asked this question, provide the recruiter’s name, hopefully confirming what the employer already knows.
The Bottom Line on Answering “How Were You Referred to Us?”
Prepare your answer to this question for every job interview. Not every interviewer will ask the question, but many will, and you will, most likely, answer it best when you are prepared.
More About Employee Referrals
- Finding Jobs Through Employee Referral Programs
- Shortcut to a New Job: Tap an Insider
- Sample Thank You Note for a Referral
Answering the Common Job Interview Questions:
Questions About You:
- What Is Your Greatest Achievement or Accomplishment?
- Tell Me/Us About Yourself
- Why Should We Hire You?
- What Do You Want?
- Why Do You Want THIS Job?
- What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
- What Is Your Greatest Strength?
- Why Do You Want to Leave Your Current Job?
- What Is Your Current Salary?
- What Are Your Salary Expectations?
- When Can You Start?
- Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?
- Smart Strategies to Answer to Behavioral Interview Questions
Handling Special Career Situations:
- Why Did You Quit Your Last Job
- After a Layoff: Why Did You Leave Your Job?
- After Being Fired: Why Did You Leave Your Job?
- Explain Your Gap in Employment
Questions About Them:
Questions for You to Ask Them:
- Do You Have Any Questions? — choose from 50+ good questions to ask them
- 5 Absolute Must-Ask Questions for the End of Your Next Interview
- The Second Interview: 5 Key Questions to Ask
- 45 Questions You Should NOT to Ask in Job Interviews
- 3 Steps to Interview Success: Build Your Interview Checklist
- The Winning Difference: Pre-Interview Preparation
About the author…
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.
More about this author…
Don't forget to share this article with friends!