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Getting Referrals from Powerful People (We All Know Someone)

Harrison Barnes
By Jun 26,2024
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A recommendation from a powerful person can make a huge difference in your job search; a reference from an influential person makes a tremendous difference to a prospective employer, and thus can be a major advantage for you. When an important person whom the company trusts recommends you, you instantly qualify for positions that may previously have been unattainable. Make the absolute most of your connections with the powerful people in your life, because doing so can instantaneously change your career and life.

When I was practicing law at a major Los Angeles law firm several years ago, something happened that was difficult for me to believe. The firm where I worked employed some of the top law school graduates in the United States. For example, in the year before I joined, they had hired three of the top five ranked graduates out of Harvard Law School. Most of the attorneys were students from the top of their class at either Harvard, Stanford, or Yale, and the ones who were not, were often first in their class from the top ten or twenty law schools. This firm had fewer than fifty attorneys when I joined, and had the reputation at that time for being called upon to handle very sophisticated litigation cases.

One day, the firm hired an attorney who graduated in the middle of his class from one of the worst law schools in the United States. He was brought in for a round of interviews and lunch with younger attorneys, none of whom had any idea what was going on. Here former editors of the Harvard Law Review and so forth, who were conducting the interview, were probably scratching their heads wondering precisely what was going on with this guy and why they were interviewing him: the guy was one or two years out of law school at the time and had bounced around between three or four jobs with small, unknown law firms during that time. It made no sense.

To the astonishment of the associates that had interviewed him, this guy was hired and was set up in his own office. An important partner in the law firm was moved down the hall and stationed in an office next to him. All day long, every day, the partner could be heard talking to the new associate in his office about this matter or that. After some time, word got out that the new associate the firm had hired was having a difficult time understanding fact patterns and basic legal concepts. The partner had been stationed next to the associate’s office so he could “get him up to speed” and turn him into an excellent attorney.

Something did not add up about this situation. If someone was not intelligent enough, or did not have natural legal skills, any high-profile law firm would usually reject this attorney like a virus–and fast.

  • Law firms do not move partners down a floor so they can sit in the office next to an associate and coach the person, explaining elementary methods of the law. They typically just fire the associate who does not make the grade.
  • Law firms that have lots of really gifted attorneys do not hire people from fourth-tier law schools who finished in the middle of their class and cannot find a job. Gifted attorneys attract other gifted attorneys, and once the law firm has a decent number of them, they can hire graduates of the best law schools all day. They do not need to hire people from fourth-tier law schools.

After some time, word started getting around that the partner was completely frustrated having to work with the associate. The associate did not have good legal abilities and was having a very difficult time understanding basic concepts of the law. In addition, others who were working with this attorney were catching all sorts of catastrophic errors he was making, and a buzz developed within the firm that something was wrong with the guy.

The attorney who worked in the office close to me was my friend and was also good friends with the partner who had been responsible for coaching this new associate attorney each day.

“How did this guy get hired? Did the head of the law firm hire him as a favor?” he would ask the partner.

The partner somehow always avoided answering the question.

Late one evening, after several months, the partner confessed to my friend that the associate had been hired as a referral from one of the firm’s most important clients. I never learned who the client was, or anything else for that matter, but I learned right then and there the power of a good referral.

Someone who is referred to a company or organization by an influential person has a major advantage in his or her job search and career. When someone is referred for a job by someone who has strong, influential ties to an organization, major and important things can happen.

Probably the easiest way of all to get a job is through referrals from important people. A referral from an important person is no ordinary referral. When you are referred to a job from an important person, many things are different:

  • When you are recommended by an important person for a job, the company that interviews you is likely to trust you more in the interview.
  • When you are recommended by an important person for a job, the company that interviews you is likely to negotiate with you less about your salary, benefits, and so forth.
  • When you are recommended by an important person for a job, the company that interviews you is likely to be more up front with you about their expectations of you on the job.
  • When you are recommended by an important person for a job, you are more likely to be promoted once you are hired.

There are numerous benefits to being referred to a company or job by an important person that the company or organization trusts. In fact, you often become instantly qualified for jobs you might not otherwise have had any chance of obtaining. Having an in with someone the company trusts is an incredible benefit.

Several years ago, my ex-wife was working for a woman who was arguably the most famous landscape designer in the United States. My ex-wife was very talented and the woman she worked for was based in New York City. The designer wanted my ex-wife to work for her in New York, and she knew that the biggest impediment to our moving to New York was my having a job in Los Angeles.

This woman was a high society type, and she was extremely well connected with the most important attorneys in New York. In fact, she knew the founding partners at several of the largest and most prestigious law firms in New York City–the sort of law firms that were incredibly hard to join, even if you were at the top of your class at a Harvard Law School, for example.

On a weekly basis, she told my wife that she had spoken to the founding partner of this law firm or that law firm, and that the partner had agreed to hire me to work out of their New York City offices. This seemed unbelievable to me at the time, but it was true. All I needed to do to get a job at one of the most prestigious law firms in the United States was pack my bag and (presumably at the firm’s expense) move across the country to take a job that I had never even interviewed for.

Things work this way everywhere. I have hired people in our company based on a request for a favor from a powerful individual. People get hired this way all the time. It is more common than you might think.

When I was growing up, I did not have any powerful connections and, for the most part, my family did not have any important connections either. I saw all sorts of kids getting jobs and doing this or that based on who their parents knew, or some sort of other connection. It always made me a tad jealous and it made me resent people who got jobs this way because I did not have the same connections. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that a lot of my career has been based on trying to help people like myself who did not have prior connections.

  • I have started and now run job search sites that show people all the available job opportunities, so they can seek and obtain jobs without having prior connections;
  • I have started targeted mailing services, which introduce people to prospective employers, so they can seek and obtain jobs without having prior connections;
  • I have started recruiting firms that do an incredible job of marketing candidates to various employers, so the candidates can seek and obtain jobs without having prior connections.

However, despite my successful efforts with all of these companies, I cannot ignore the fact that a recommendation for a job from someone in a position of power is a real game changer in many instances. Getting a recommendation from a powerful person for a job can make a gigantic difference and can even get you the job. Websites, mass mailings, and talented recruiters are very powerful tools; however, there is nothing more powerful than a recommendation from a person of influence.

Most people know someone important or have a connection to someone important. Your connection with important people is something that you need to nurture and take seriously. It could be an uncle, a friend of a parent, a parent of a friend, a friend of a friend. Whoever the person is, you need to make the absolute most of your connections with powerful and influential people. There are powerful and influential people everywhere, all around you, and your connection with them can change your life and your employment situation in an instant. Sometimes one phone call or one e-mail from the right person is all it takes to completely change your situation.

One of the most interesting things about interviewing people is asking for recommendations. When you ask someone if there is someone you can talk to about his performance in his previous job, you learn a tremendous amount. Many people sort of squirm and begin to look uncomfortable when they are asked for a recommendation. This is quite telling. When someone does not believe that she is going to get a good recommendation from her previous employer, or the employer before that, this is always a warning sign. When people believe that they are going to get good recommendations from previous employers, they typically are very quick to offer the names of numerous people that they know.

Regardless of what you do, the community of people in your profession is probably quite small. You need to be someone who “comes highly recommended” and there are few things more important in a job search than being recommended by someone for a job. Even more impressive is being referred for a job by an important reference.

Never burn any bridges. Make sure that people are always in a position where they are willing to refer you to someone important in the future.

Industry Leaders. Who are the leaders in your business or profession? Do they know you? Why not? You need to work on getting their attention. Contact them. You can refer to them in articles. You can let them know that you admire them and send them short notes. You can let them know that you respect their opinion. In addition, if you tell them that you are following them and are doing many things a certain way because of them, they cannot help but like and respect you, as long as you are genuine. How effective would it be if an industry leader referred you for a given job?

People Who Are Also Involved in a Professional Association, Church, and So Forth. Sharing a religious affiliation or some other association can also be extremely important in terms of getting references. Churches and homeowners’ association meetings are often very good places to strike up relationships, because the people you meet there know your personality and can vouch for you.

Relatives, Friends, and Neighbors. These people all know people, and some of them are likely to know important people. In addition, some of these people may be very important people themselves. Many of these people will want to see you do well and will be more than happy to recommend you to someone in order to help you get a job.

Competitors. If you conduct yourself in a good way in your business and impress your competitors, they can also be a very good source of referrals as well. I have seen numerous people get jobs by being recommended by a competitor.

Regardless of how you locate and develop these relationships, it is always important that you put yourself in a position to get recommendations from powerful individuals. A recommendation from a powerful person can make a major difference in your job search. If you are unemployed and you know someone in power, or know someone who knows someone in power, reach out to him or her. It could change your life.



A recommendation from a powerful person can make a huge difference in your job search; a reference from an influential person makes a tremendous difference to a prospective employer, and thus can be a major advantage for you. When an important person whom the company trusts recommends you, you instantly qualify for positions that may previously have been unattainable. Make the absolute most of your connections with the powerful people in your life, because doing so can instantaneously change your career and life.


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About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is the Founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter himself. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in a search and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive that gets results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities that its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit

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7 Responses to “ Getting Referrals from Powerful People (We All Know Someone)”
  1. Avatar ian wru says:

    Not every graduate of a 4th tier law school is a 4th tier lawyer. Sometimes choice of school is a matter of economics. That law firms presume competence or lack there of based on school is illogical, lazy, and very much like lemmings.

  2. Avatar Dina Staple says:

    The article, “Getting Referrals from Powerful People (We All Know Someone)”, provides alternative means for acquiring jobs. However, it is unrealistic, particularly for those who are not privileged to know or have access to highly powerful people. Moreover, the article, by emphasizing the failing associate’s educational background and law school ranking, sends the erroneous message that graduates of lower ranked law schools do not have the ability to practice law. I have encountered many practicing attorneys who graduated from a variety of local NY, non-Ivy League institutions. These attorneys are outstanding practitioners who get excellent results, some of whom are AV rated.

  3. Avatar MaryBeth says:

    The old adage “it isn’t what you know but who you know or who knows you” is a truism. The more connected you are, the easier it will be for you to get a job. This has been true for generations, and it is no different now.

    I do disagree with the implication that graduates of 4th tier law schools are dumb and/or incompetent. Not everyone who goes to law school can attend one of the Ivies or one of the 1st tier law schools in the midwest or west coast. Admission to law school is still very competitive, even for people who went to “good” schools for their bachelors’ degrees and who did well academically. Harvard, Yale, the University of Chicago, Stanford, and other 1st tier law schools simply receive far more applications for admission than they can possibly admit. Excellent students are denied admission to these schools all the time, and if they’re serious about becoming lawyers and don’t want to wait another year to re-apply, many opt to attend a 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th tier law school. Still others may decide to attend a 4th tier law school due to finances–they may decide that the amount of debt they would have to incur to attend a 1st tier school isn’t worth it. Still others may have to work and attend school part time, and many of the 1st tier law schools do not offer part time evening programs. Like any program, but particularly in law school, you get out of it what you put into it, and in law school you do a lot of the “teaching” yourself.

    Obviously, in this article, the young associate was struggling, but there is another matter Mr. Barnes did not address–law school does not teach you how to practice law. You learn the law, but when you get out, you have likely never written a will or a trust, written a complaint, a deposition, interogatory, a contract, or any other legal document. You learn how to practice law in your jobs, assuming that the attorney(s) are willing to show you the ropes. Stuggling with basic legal concepts is one matter, but if the young, well-connected associate was struggling because he didn’t know how to prepare for a trial, that is entirely another matter. Law school would have taught him (or he would have taught himself) the former, but not the latter.

  4. Avatar Len says:

    I liked your article. I agree that it is often with who you know that can get you hired.
    What can you do if you have been self employed for 16 years in the real estate and mortgage industry and are seeking a base plus commission job? I ask this because I have applied to over 200 jobs. My coursework is heavy, as is my work history. I have great references and my education is strong. I am humble and focus on what is at hand.

    I just thought I would throw these ideas at you at 5:45 in the morning. :)

  5. Avatar Jeff says:

    I agree totally, my first job after getting out of the Navy was because a classmate of mine, liked the fact that I was going to school at night to further my education. He took my information, and I was called a few days later by a company that had already turned me down. I arrived for the interview, the manager informed me that the wrong person had looked at my resume and that they wanted to offer me a job. I accepted and it was a while before I ran into my classmate at work and could thank him. Flash forward several years later, I’m working as a network tech for the phone company. 911 happened and I was called back to active duty along with several of my o-workers for a tour in Afghanistan. When we returned we had a Veteran’s Day Cermony and we were all in our Desert Uniforms. The CEO was present and so were alot of other important people. I had dragged my children to the event, and introduced them to everyone. Then a year later when I needed to get my daughter a real job, I was able to make some phone calls and get her hired into a department that had a waiting list to get in from both inside and outside the company. She went from working part time in a deli to working full time with benefits including a 401k and nice salary. Soon she was bringing home more in her pay then her mother and my new wife, who had both worked in nice jobs for several years. One for an accounting firm and the other for the hospital. It all came down ‘knowing the right people” and helping them out when they needed it, as in fixing customer troubles whenever called, so when I needed a favor it was granted with pleasure. I’m a firm believer that you need an inside man to break into most companies these days. Being top of the class while an honor in itself, does not open the doors it used to open anymore. Have a nice day everyone and network, network, network.

  6. Avatar Floyd Burgoz says:

    Correct on all counts!

  7. Avatar dr haleema sadia says:

    I completely disagree with the writer .Such articles are going to promote favoritism and neglect true talent.
    Believe in your capabilities and talents ,jobs will fall naturally.

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