2b. Referrals

2b. Referrals

Before reading this guide to referrals, it’s recommended you familiarize yourself with 👋2a. Sourcing 1st-degree connections. After all, leveraging referrals is about scaling many of the things you’ve done to engage with your own first-degree connections across your team.

If you’ve hired a few founding team members, leveraging their referrals can be a great way to expand your company’s network. You can also get referrals from friends, VCs, and advisors. The key is to put good processes in place to make it as easy as possible (and low-pressure) to source referrals, reach out, and follow-up.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to find, organize, and reach out to L1 and L2 referrals. In this guide, we’ll assume you’re using Gem because it has a lot of features to speed the process up. And if you’re not using Gem, you may want to check it out — it’s free for startups for you and your entire founding team for 2 years.

If you don’t want to use Gem, you can also use spreadsheets (e.g., Google Sheets), and many of the best practices will be the same. Be warned that spreadsheets can quickly get unwieldy, grow out-of-date, create a lot of manual work for the team, and be difficult to coordinate across multiple team members. This is why we built Gem ;)

Host a “referral party” to generate L1 and L2 referrals

Get your team excited and mentally prepared by explaining the importance of recruiting. Acknowledge it can be nerve-wracking to reach out to your friends about teaming up together but assure your team you’re going to make this as easy as possible and very low-pressure. Also, remind your team your startup could be an ideal opportunity for everyone’s referrals and could change the trajectory of their careers.

Explain L1 and L2 referrals:

  • L1 referrals - These are your “Gems”. The shortlist of ~10 people you’ve worked with closely and want to work with no matter what. This is where everyone should start.
  • L2 referrals - These are folks we suspect are good, but maybe we haven’t worked as closely together. L2 referrals can be classmates from schools, friends from previous internships, colleagues from former companies.

Make it clear it’s ok if people aren’t sure whether someone is actively looking for opportunities. It’s important to explain you’re trying to build a market map of the best talent in their network. It’s fine if they’re not actively looking for new opportunities — we still want to confirm this information to reach out when the timing makes more sense.

Consider using Gem to streamline this and organize your referrals in one place. Gem is free for your co-founders and founding team. Have everyone download the extension to make this easier and collect referrals in one central place.

  1. Have everyone download the Gem Chrome Extension, which makes it easy to build up their lists of referrals.
  2. Have each team member create two projects for their L1 and L2 referrals, e.g. “Nick’s L1 Referrals”, “Nick’s L2 Referrals”
  3. Have each team member search their Facebook & LinkedIn for 1st-degree connections:
    1. Have them use the Gem Chrome Extension to 1-click source each L1 referral to Gem from their LinkedIn profile.
    2. 1-click add the referral to the L1 Referrals project to stay organized.
    3. Gem will auto-populate name, company, title, school, and find you email / social media. If Gem doesn’t find a personal email, add it manually.
  4. Repeat steps 3a - 3c with different LinkedIn searches to gather L2 referrals:
    1. Undergraduate class-mates.
    2. Friends from previous internships.
    3. Former company (for experienced folks).
    4. You can even share an example search to make it really easy to get started.
See a 30 second video of how this works in Gem

Make it easy to reach out

The key to referrals is making it easy to reach out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve advised teams on running referral sessions only to see a majority of referrals never get contacted.

The two big reasons holding back your team from reaching out are:

  • Not knowing where to start - Just like you, many members on your team may have never sent a recruiting reach-out, so it’s hard to know where to start with messaging.
  • Anxiety about recruiting friends - Team members may be nervous about recruiting their friends and former-coworkers. For certain team members, you may want to offer to send the outreach yourself.

The key is to share several example templates for reaching out that range from direct to indirect and have different versions sent from you or your team member. Sharing these templates accomplishes two goals:

  • For folks who are comfortable reaching out, it gives them an easier way to get started.
  • It also makes it clear that there are low-pressure ways to reach out to referrals that won’t come across as “spammy”.

If you’re using Gem, create sequences that incorporate these templates and publish them to Gem, so your team can 1-click copy each sequence to their Gem and get started. If individuals on your team prefer the outreach to come from you but want to personalize the templates themselves, have them request SOBO access to send as you.

Here are 3 example templates to get you and your team started. Make sure to personalize these to your company by replacing bold/italicized sections with content specific to your company. Also, if you’re remote, consider suggesting catching up over call/video chat instead of a coffee. If you use Gem, tokens like {{first_name}}, {{company}}, and {{title}} will get auto-populated when the sequence is sent with fields from LinkedIn. You can create custom tokens in Gem such as {{referrer}}, {{previous_company}}, and {{reason}} to create deeper personalizing.

See a 30 second video of how this works in Gem

And of course, remember to follow standard best practices for reaching out, including two to three automated follow-ups.

Example template 1 — direct, from founder

Hey, {{first_name}}, I was wondering if you’d be up to grab a coffee? I was catching up with *EMPLOYEE* over lunch and *HE/SHE* mentioned you’re one of the best people *HE/SHE* ever worked with. Have you started thinking about what’s next after {{company}}? *[INSERT 1-2 SENTENCES PERSONALIZATION ABOUT YOUR COMPANY AND CTA TO GRAB COFFEE / LUNCH w. TEAM / HOP ON CALL / ETC.]* It’s been awesome working with *EMPLOYEE*, so the fact that they thought of you means a lot. Looking forward to chatting soon!

Example template 2 — direct, from employee

Hey, {{first_name}}, how’s it going? I recently left Uber and started a new job at Gem. Things are going super well and it’s been a blast. *[INSERT 1-2 SENTENCES PERSONALIZATION ABOUT YOUR COMPANY]* We were eating lunch the other day and Steve (our cofounder) was asking if I knew anyone great who was looking for their next thing. You immediately came to mind. Have you started thinking about what’s next after {{company}}? If so, let me know if you’d be up grabbing a coffee with Steve about Gem — it would be awesome to work together again :)

Example template 3 — indirect, from employee

Hey, {{first_name}}, it’s been a while — how’s it going? I recently left Uber and started a new job at Gem. We host happy hours every few weeks with board games/beer & wine. Very casual. Interested in swinging by and catching up?

Consider building templates for text / FB messenger

For L1 referrals, sending them a quick text / FB Messenger chat can feel more natural and higher-touch. These interactions can incorporate many of the same elements as your email outreach but should be shorter (and potentially spread out over two to three messages).

If you’re using Gem, manually log your outreach, so you have a complete history of every touchpoint to avoid stepping on each other’s toes.

Following up with referrals over time

Most referrals are going to be a long game, so following up is key. At Gem, most of our early hires were passive candidates we nurtured over three to nine months through 3-10+ touchpoints. It’s important to have a system in place to make sure you and the team are on top of them.

Once your team has built a list of referrals. Consider creating two company-wide shared projects, “Company L1 Referrals” & “Company L2 Referrals”. Ask your team to share links to their individual projects and bulk-add everyone’s referrals to the company projects once they’ve built their lists. You can add a custom field for the referrer or look at the “who added” column.

Create a reminder for yourself to check in on the status of your company referrals every one to two weeks to continue pushing them forward:

  • For folks that respond, use Gem notes, due dates, and owners to document context and track the next steps. @mention team members to get their help or nudge things forward.
  • Ensure that every L1 referral has a touchpoint from you or someone on your team at least every one to three months, and every L2 referral has a touchpoint every three to six months.
  • 💡
    Pro tip: you can sort by last activity to surface referrals that haven’t had a touchpoint in a while.
  • Gem will automatically sync any emails sent across your team. Log texts, calls, coffee chats, happy hour attendance to have a complete history of every touchpoint, to avoid stepping on each other’s toes.
See a 30 second video of how this works in Gem

We also recommend adding a standing meeting every week where you budget time for recruiting as a team. Use this time to unblock your team, help them follow up with their referrals, and source new referrals. Setting aside regular time will also reinforce the importance of recruiting across your team.

Use the same techniques in nurturing talent from your network to work with your team to think of creative touchpoints to nurture their referrals over time, e.g., inviting people to happy hours, game nights, lunches, coffee chats, etc.

Next Steps

Full Table of Contents
Back ← Back to home here ← 2. Finding & reaching out to candidates here
Next Up → 2c. Sourcing 2nd-degree connections here → Skip ahead to the initial sell conversation here → Skip ahead to nurturing passive talent here

Feedback? Suggestions? Ideas? Comment directly or email steve@gem.com