LinkedIn Redesign— New Job Referral Experience 👩🏻‍💼👨🏻‍💻

LinkedIn Design Challenge 2020 — New Job Referral Experience 👨🏼‍💼👩🏻‍💼

By Jason Zhou, Product Designer

Design tools used: Adobe XD, Adobe Photoshop
Project Duration: 1 week

Redesign Brief 💼

Introduction: LinkedIn is a place where people can connect to people they know, in order to share professional experience and opportunities. Professional networking can begin at any point, even in school. Increasingly, students are relying on their mobile address book, and not their email address book, to manage their contacts.

Prompt: Design a new job referral experience for LinkedIn members, that help job seekers easy to get a referral from organization employee, also improve the employee referring process to make it easy for them build the meaningful connection with the job seekers.

Design Process 👀

Research 🕵🏼‍♂️

LinkedIn is always a place for me to seek professional networking. If you’ve had your eye on a specific role or have always wanted to work for a particular company, referrals are one of the best ways to get your foot in the door. In fact, the #1 way that job seekers have reported first discovering a job, was through someone they knew. Not that surprising as nearly 50% of recruiters say referrals are the leading source of quality hires. And once you’ve asked for one and applied for the job, you’re 4X more likely to hear back from a recruiter at that company. Long story short — it’s important to seek a referral in your application process.

In this project, I will focus on creating a meaningful referral experience for LinkedIn users to help them build meaningful connections and provide them with more chances to get their dream position.LinkedIn is always a place for me to seek professional networking.

  • What is the referral?
  • What does the current LinkedIn referral experience look like? Good or bad experience?
  • How does the employee react to people who ask for referrals on LinkedIn? Are they willing to help? Why or why not do they want to help?

Understand LinkedIn referral experience

I start some research about the Linkedin referral experience. I found that LinkedIn launched the LinkedIn referral feature in 2018. When job seekers decide to apply for a job, they can easily ask for their connection through the ask for a referral feature. However, I notice that “ask for a referral” is not always there when you decided to apply for a job.

I start finding the answer through LinkedIn help and realized this feature is gradually being rolled out and may not be available to some of the users. In some situations, it’s only available for the 1st-degree connection. For the 1st degree connection, the referral experience is straightforward, users will get an email from LinkedIn after a job application to encourage them to ask for a referral. When users tap on the referral button, LinkedIn will load a preset referral message for users to send to the people who may willing to refer.

I understand why LinkedIn decided to gradually roll out this feature because, base on my research, ask for a referral feature is just like sending an inMall message. Users can send a message to their connection the way they used to. The only difference is with and without a referral message templet. The redundancy experience will decrease the overall user experience.

  • Ask for referral feature is gradually being rolled out and may not be available all the time.
  • The current ask for referral feature is only available for 1st connections. If job seekers don’t have any 1st connection work on their applied organization, asking for a referral is not available.
  • The referral experience is just sent messages, which is redundant with the messaging experience.
  • Understand how job seekers ask for referrals.
  • Understand how employees handle the referral situation.
  • What is the pain point when they are facing the referral situation?
  • What is the users’ expectation for a good referral experience?
  • What do users expect from a useful LinkedIn referral feature?

In deep interview 📝

In order to understand all my confusion regard as a LinkedIn referral. I conducted interviews with four current university students seeking a full-time job or internship and three company employees to get a deeper understanding of how they view job referral.

  • Based on the interview, college students don’t like to use LinkedIn to reach out to people. Most students use email or ask for their close relationships as a reference or some they already know, such as a professor or past manager. ( If I have more time, I will learn more about the people of the college )
  • Most students believe to ask for a referral will bring lots of benefits to them; they are willing to ask for a referral.
  • Most students believe LinkedIn can make a referral experience better, to help people build trust without just sending a cold message.
  • Most students don’t feel comfortable asking a stranger for a referral on LinkedIn. They know that company employees may not be willing to help them for a variety of reasons.

Ok, it's time to learn about employees’ attitudes, what do they think about asking for a referral?

  • What makes an employee want to refer to a person? What doesn’t?
  • What do they expect a successful referral process would be?
  • How do they expect LinkedIn to enhance the referral experience?

In deep interview 2 📝

After some great insight into the job seeker’s experience, I decided to know about employees’ attitudes to understand their referral experience and how they believe a good referral process should be. I interviewed three employees who had referral experience and were willing to share their thought about it.

  • People don’t have time to read long referral messages, and they believe this is not their responsibility to refer someone they don’t trust.
  • People wish LinkedIn has a preference option to make job seekers know if employees want to help with referrals.
  • People don’t like the cold message; they need to understand their experience and skill to decide quickly.
  • People expect a quality referral process, which can help employees and job seekers build trust.
  • LinkedIn spam messages unlink people’s trust.

Quick Survey 📌

In order to understand more user’s perspectives about LinkedIn referrals, I designed a quick online survey to seek more general attitudes and opinions related to the job referral.

There is two significant discovery that I found that match the interview result. First, just like the people I interviewed, most people don’t feel very comfortable to direct messaging a person on LinkedIn.

Second, If they want to reach out to an employee for a referral, most people plan to take it to step by step, which shows the opposite expectation compare to the employee. (Employee doesn’t like step by step, they want job seekers to get to the point !)

  • Interview Synthesis
  • Maybe a potential design opportunity

Affinity Diagram:✏️

Based on my interview results, I drew an affinity diagram to summarize and visualize the important discoveries. I listed all their pain point about the referral experience and their benefit and expectation about the job referral experience. This affinity diagram aims to help me find the potential solution and learn more insight about the job referral experience.

  • Job seekers and employees both influence each other’s experiences. The cold message will result in a low chance of reply and a decreasing user experience. However, overwriting will also result in less response.
  • Messaging is not welcome by people to ask for a referral because it’s hard to move forward. People expect more than just sending a message.
  • Both job seekers and employees want to build a meaningful connection with each other. They hope LinkedIn can help them make the experience better.
  • Surprise. I found lots of resonance between job seekers and employees. I believe the breakthrough will get closer.
  • Gain more insight into their LinkedIn experience.
  • In-depth analysis of users’ behavior when asking for a referral.
  • In-depth analysis of employees’ behavior when receiving a message.

User Journey map 👨🏻‍💻

I gained so much more insight from both job seekers and employees through the interview process. Now it’s time to move forward to find a design opportunity. To do that, I created a user journey map based on their personal user experience to understand how their experience when facing the referral situation, and potential breakthrough point.

  • Two key turning points significantly affect job seekers’ experience.
  • Users who have LinkedIn premium can send InMail that easier to achieve their goal, but control is still in employee’s hands
  • Users without LinkedIn premium need to find an employee who opens the inMail feature or have to make a connection first or use the limit word to express their referral request ( This will take extra time waiting for the employee to connect if no response there is no chance to get a referral on LinkedIn at all )
  • Message quality is the huge factor that influences if a job seeker will get a response or not ( Too long: Time-consuming Too short: attitude problem )

For this part, I am trying to understand what was employee reaction and attitudes toward job seekers.

  • There are multiple factors that influence whether employees get a reply or not: Message length, job seeker’s attitude, Time availability, position fit, job seeker’s skill, message type, etc.
  • There are too many uncertain factors that will affect the overall experience.
  • Messaging is not the best way to approach referral
  • It’s not easy for people to ask for a referral without a meaningful connection.
  • Job seekers tend to go step by step, but employees want to get to the point.

Brainstorming 🧠

Alight, It’s time to think about the potential solution. I conducted a quick whiteboard exercise to organize everything that I have so far, including a summary of a key user persona, initial assumption, problem space, and design opportunity.

Design Opportunity 📐

By synthesizing all the data gathered, I realized those job seekers and employees were essentially facing the same challenges when getting involved in the referral experience.

  1. They want to take the step to step to approach the referral process.
  2. They don’t feel comfortable messaging a person they don’t know on LinkedIn.
  3. Long message, employees may don’t want to read. Short message, it’s hard to express their goal.
  1. They don’t have time to take a step to step to build a connection with them.
  2. If they wish to get to the point, let them know the goal.
  3. They also don’t have time to read LinkedIn messages. If they want to refer to a person, they need to know their skill and experience.
  4. The cold message doesn’t work, the coffee chat wasted time, and don’t want to get bothered if you are not interested in the referral.

…All the key takeaways helped me hone in on the problem spaces I wanted to focus on.

At this point, I was brimming with ideas, but I knew I couldn’t do everything that came to mind. Identifying these key problem spaces from my data synthesis helped me select ideas to move forward with. With each idea, I asked myself;

  • Does it address one of these key problem spaces?
  • What is the best way to approach those problem spaces?
  • How risky is it? Is it worth the investment?
  • Will this design change or decrease the current user experience?

1 How might we create a more pleasant and straightforward job referral experience for both job seekers and employees?

Ok, It’s time for something new and meaningful. I need to create a unique referral experience for both employees and job seekers. Where should I get to start? First, I realize it’s important to study the user flow. What LinkedIn did do in the past? What was the mistake they made?

Did you still remember that I mentioned the old LinkedIn referral feature? Yes. Linkedin designed a referral experience, but it wasn’t a successful experience. — This is the breakthrough

I analyzed the current flow, hoping to find something useful for me.

  • First, users only can ask for a referral through their connection. If users don’t know anyone within their organization, they can’t ask for referrals.
  • Second, the referral message just a referral template that won’t make any meaningful connection.
  • Third, If users don’t have a connection, they need to make the connection first; the time is uncertain, and they may not respond.

2 How might we help job seekers get more chances to ask for a referral?

After analyzing the old and current LinkedIn referral experience and knowing the pain point, I created the new user flow based on all the previous Synthesis. I carefully designed every step to make sure users won’t get stuck or at a dead end.

  1. Connections won’t be a necessary condition anymore: Users can see all available referrals even if they are not connected with this person.
  2. Employees will indicate to job seekers if they want to make a referral or not. Job seekers only see people who are willing to help them. No time waste for both employees and job seekers
  3. The referral request includes all necessary information for the employee to quickly know the job seeker's experience including the message, referral question, job seeker’s experience, resume, etc
  4. There will be a status indicator to show users their request status.
  5. If the employee didn’t accept the request, users could continue to request a referral for other employees who is willing to help and save huge time for job seekers.
  6. Job seekers can start building a meaningful connection with the employee, and if they haven’t connected yet, this is a good time for connecting. ( Connect with appreciation )

3 How might we save employee time and help them to make the quality referral they want

The next step is to take care of the employee’s experience because they control the whole experience. The primary task for designing the employee referral flow is to solve their pain point and improve referral efficiency.

  1. There will be a referral page to let users manage the referral status.
  2. Users can send messages to let job seekers know the reason not to refer (humanization)
  3. If users believe these job seekers will be good candidates, they can start a deeper conversation with job seekers even if they are not connected.
  4. Employees can get a quick view of job seekers’ experience and all the information they need from job seekers without viewing job seekers’ full profiles.
  5. Keep in touch with job seekers to get feedback from their interview experience, etc

4 How might we make the new experience fit the current experience without changing or decreasing the current user experience?

Ok, so the only thing that I don’t want to do is make LinkedIn unLinkedIn. I need to study and understand the current LinkedIn user experience to ensure the whole system’s referral flow fits.

I spent time studying LinkedIn’s brand, noting the colors, language, and typography to ensure the experience I was proposing fit seamlessly with the current experience. During this, I start to create the user flow that might fit the current experience.

I noticed that LinkedIn had organized every user’s personal experience in the sidebar. Through the sidebar, users enter their profile and discover more features, which is a great entry point for building a referral page.

After much thought, I decided to create a referral menu that includes three taps: My referral, request, and approval. Users can easily manage their referrals, and other users’ requests, and view their referral history. This idea matches what I have in my user flow button, so the next step is to sketch and wireframe my idea.

Wireframe and Prototyping 👨🏼‍🎨

I began with wireframing to develop a high-fidelity prototype. I sketched out some of the following concepts keeping in mind the user persona:

  1. Simple and Straightforward — The user interface and experience should be clear and get straightforward
  2. Ask for a referral — create a referral process to make it easy to ask for a referral.
  3. New referral menu — allow users to view and manage the referral.
  4. Referral setting — Users should be able to customize the referral preference.

After some quick sketches, I started to create the Lo-Fi prototyping. I tried my best to design all the possible solutions base on the LinkedIn design system and user experience. Due to space limitations, I couldn’t list all my Lo-Fi prototyping, but the overall experience was great. After multiple testing and feedback collection, I made all my initial design idea come true and form up the final user flow. The next step for me is to conduct the usability test and get as much feedback as possible.


LinkedIn’s new and improved job referral experience! 👏

New referral experience for Job Seekers 👨🏼‍💼

Julian is a Senior student who studies UX design and wants to apply for the Product Designer role at LinkedIn. His goal is to get a referral from the LinkedIn employee for this position.

Our goal is to ensure that he has a great referral experience on LinkedIn and make a meaningful connection with his reference.

The first step for Julian is to find a position he wants to apply for. He wants to see if there is any open product design position on LinkedIn, so he began to search for a LinkedIn product design position. After he found the position matched his experience, he decided to find a reference who can speak his skill.

The new referral features allow users to filter the best person who works in the same industry and has similar skills. This design allows users to get more chances to get a referral, and also potentially build a meaningful connection with their reference.

Next, request a referral

This step is the most important step in the whole referral process. Julian’s first step is to fill out all his necessary information, including phone number, email address, etc.

Second, he needs to answer some referral questions to help their reference know his experience quickly. Here, he can describe his experience and goal, which is a great opportunity to speak about his skill.

Third, upload the relevant files. These steps allow users to upload relevant files such as resumes, portfolios, Github, etc.

Final steps, review all the information and submit the request. After submission, users can view their referral request status to wait for their reference response.

  1. Save users time for finding the referral.
  2. Allow users to make a meaningful connections with their referral.
  3. Allow users to provide relevant information to their references to prove their ability.
  4. Allow users to track their referral status.

Some Key Design

The new referral button allows users to quickly discover the available referral

New Referral Process. Allow users to provide some necessary information to their reference in order to start a meaningful connection.

The new referral menu allows users to manage and track their referral status.

New Referral Experience for Employee

Mark is a senior product designer at LinkedIn. One day he gets a referral request from a student who studies UX design at Syracuse University. He is a nice and warm guy and willing to help this student.

Our goal is to ensure that he has a great referral experience on LinkedIn and make a meaningful connection with his referral.

Accept the Referral

The first step for Mark is to navigate to the referral menu. In there, Mark can view all the referral requests. When he taps the “view the request” button, he will get all the relevant information and some quick view about the job seeker’s experience to help him make the referral judgment.

When Mark decides to accept the request, he has two options: First, he can accept Julian’s request before messaging Julian. Second, he can message Julian before accepting the referral request. This design is to make sure that Mark, as a reference, gets enough information from Julian, also. If he decided not to give a referral, he could still send a message to explain the reason.

Finally, it’s time to make a meaningful connection with each other. The new referral design removes the limitation of asking for referrals only within the connections, allowing users to have the opportunity to achieve their goals before they start a meaningful connection. In this situation, Julian can request Mark to keep in touch with him or send any updates about his application process. I believe this design will make the connection stronger than ever.

  • Employees will get all their necessary information to learn job seeker’s experience
  • Employee know what exactly job seekers want, which save both of time for the entire process
  • This process will create a meaningful connection between job seekers and their references.

Customize the referral setting

I learned a lot from users during the interview process. The most important request is to be able to control the referral process. For example, let job seekers know if I open a referral or not, what type of position I would be willing to refer, etc. So, I reimagine a referral setting to make users fully control the referral process.

Still, Mark, if he wants to change the referral setting, can make changes easily at his profile setting. He can add the specific job title he wants to refer to; he can choose who he wants to refer to. He can also customize the refer question for the job seeker to know more about their experience. All of this change is to make sure of the quality referral.

Some key design

Open for Referral will display on the user profile for better discovery.

The new customization menu allows users to select refer to alumni

Share #openforreferral to your connection to help other job seekers to get a job.

Usability test ( Feedback and improvement)

I conduct a quick user testing with four users to gather feedback about the new referral experience. The goal is to understand how they think about the new process for job referral and if the new referral experience meets their expectations.

Overall review:

Kevin: “Wow, I like the new referral experience. It makes the process so simple and straightforward.”

Ryan: “The new employee refer experience is impressive; I really like how I can change the referral setting. I think the new process will benefit lots of LinkedIn members.”

Adrianna: “It looks great, and I really like how the referral menu works to make user easy to track and manage their referral.”

Oliver: “Look great. I think this process will save lots of people time and make people willing to express their skills and needs.”

Some change base on the user feedback

Users said some companies require job seekers to apply for the position before they ask for a referral. In this case, I designed the two prototypes to indicate to users they need to apply before asking for a referral. In the beginning, the status shows “referral unavailable,” which led users to believe the referral is unavailable forever. I made the change to “Referral available after applying.” This change provides users with clear feedback.

2 Referral request format redesign

The first version of the requesting format is based on the message flow. When users tap the referral button, users will get to the page with everything they need to fill out. After getting some feedback, I understood users might feel overwhelmed and hard to focus on the content info, so I decided to separate the page info and make everything clear for users in each step.

Reflection & Future Considerations 🙇‍♂️

I believe this is a significant design challenge that I learned so much during the entire design process. LinkedIn is my favorite professional social media platform, and I hope I can provide an effort to make people connect in a meaningful way. I am glad that I will be able to take advantage of empathy to solve some challenging problems for LinkedIn members, and I wish LinkedIn will continue to provide a great user experience.

If I had more time, I would…

I believe the current user flow can be better, and I hope to gain more insight from users to learn more about improvement.

In this project, I only focus on the experience between employees and job seekers; I believe the more efficient way is to create a meaningful connection between employees and recruiters. I wish to spend more time digging in a little bit more to get more insight into it.

I was only able to focus on the mobile experience this time. If I have more time, I would be willing to design the website experience too.

Thanks for reading! 🙏

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out at

Check out my website



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Jason Zhou

Jason Zhou

I am a product designer building human-centered experiences✏️ to positively impact people’s lives.