The use of online recommendations/references (I will use these terms interchangeably) on Linkedin.com makes the importance of soliciting, influencing and managing your references all the more critical. Now what others say about you online has as much or more bearing and influence well in advance of interviewing you.
At the minimum, references/recommendations provide a testimonial to your credentials, reputation, and accomplishments. Most of the time, we stop there with our references. However, the strategic use of references can assist in moving an executive up to a new challenge, across business sectors, and even a more dramatic career change.
Let’s look at some ideas for determining your best references and the tactics to pursue acquire and deploy them. Keep in mind more is better when it comes to references nowadays especially on Linkedin. Fifty would not be too many for someone at the peak of their career.
Search consultants and hiring managers will go far beyond the references you provide to find out information about your background. They will pursue other people who may have known you using online search tools. Make it easy for them to find people to talk to while doing as much as you possibly can to control the access and the messages they receive.
- Compile a list of all the potential people who could speak to your qualifications over the course of your work, and professional life. References are no longer limited to people you have worked for and those who have worked for you. They expand to include all your circles of influence. Some of your best references may be individuals that you have indirectly worked with.
- Evaluate and categorize your list by companies, organizations, and professional connections. Include individuals that you know through your professional participation on boards, associations, and other professional groups.
- Within those categories determine the strength of the reference in terms of their knowledge of you, their status, and, most importantly, their relevance to your current search or career goals.
- Finally, sort them by the level. This relates back to status as you will want a mix of high profile/high ranking individuals as well as individual contributors.
- Determine a final list in rank order of best potentials in groups of ten, prioritizing each group. Yes, you will want to have as many references as possible beyond the core top ten. Remember, your references will no longer a list of people you provide to a search firm or hiring entity. It now includes everything mentioned about you online that are within your purview to control.
Pursuing and Acquiring References Online and Offline
- Using your compiled lists pursue the low hanging fruit first regardless of how high a ranking they have. They are quick and easy to get and will quickly co-operate with any request you make of them including writing up a letter of reference, speaking to your abilities, and making a recommendation on linkedin.
- If you have been out of touch for awhile, make your approach gradually regardless of their affinity for you. They have a snapshot of you in time that has not changed, but you have. It important to reintroduce yourself in a way that enables them to apply their previous experience of you as relevant to your current situation.
- Use all avenues, especially Linkedin.com to identify and find people. Linkedin actually has a references tab in their Find People section. It allows you to search people by companies in their database by a range of dates. This helps jog your memory for people you may have forgotten.
- Access your network to inquire about connections that may have slipped your mind and, therefore, your list.
- Approach your potential references with an abbreviated elevator pitch targeted to your current job focus. Bring them update on your career goals and current employment status.
- Listen to their reactions and ensure that you have implanted an accurate and positive image of your status. This starts a process with especially the top ten of getting them speak to your qualifications exactly the way you want.
- Ask them directly to be a reference being specific as to what part of your experience you would like them to speak about. Whether you plan to use them or not as a top ten core reference you will want a long list of testimonials. For those individuals in the lower ranked lists immediately enlist a recommendation on Linkedin.com.
- To help coerce or encourage Linkedin.com connections to write recommendation, write one for them first. Linkedin.com will help guilt them into responding with a reference for you in return.
- An advanced avenue to capture indirect references online is the complimentary comments that are written to your blog postings.
- For difficult and undependable references, it is crucial to get their thoughts in writing or on Linkedin. If someone does contact them in person, their written words will have preceded them which they will have difficulty negating or refuting.
- Never take a less then optimum reference in your top ten. It will do you no good and may certainly be to your detriment regardless of their status, their importance in your reporting to them, or relevance to your career goals. This is way you should have a list of at least 25 references primed and ready to go.
Deploying Your Recommendations
- The best thing to do with references and recommendations is to cross pollinate them across all platforms. The more views that people have of the comments about you the better.
- Put your linkedin.com address on the top of your resume to enable easy access to a view of all your recommendations.
- Add your linkedin.com address to your professional business card as well. This enables potential employers to view not just your credentials but what others are saying about you...your references.
- Copy Linkedin.com recommendations to your executive website. Without going into an argument for the need for a website, needless to say excerpts and quotes that testify to your thought leadership and accomplishments are a given category on your site.
- The same goes for the About page on your blog where you can embellish your biography with extracts from longer recommendations.
It is critically important to alert all references both online and on paper that they may be contacted. If you have a specific position in mind, be sure and send the top ten the job description as well. Give all references, as appropriate, a copy of your most current resume for their review. It would be helpful to walk through it with the top ten list.
When you have successfully made you job change, let them all know of the good news with your profuse thank you. Be sure and keep in touch periodically with all your references as they are your core network. When you need them next time, it will be easier to activate their support and assistance. Assimilate new references into your lists, your linkedin profile, your website and blog ongoing.