If you have cultivated the belief that only the “lucky” people get the best jobs, please consider how much power you have given up and the amount of time you have wasted by believing that getting a good job is out of your control. I’m not disputing the fact that it may be more of a case of who you know than what you know, but believing that all you need is that “big break” is missing the mark. Even the best opportunities can result in a big goose egg if the people pursuing them take their relationships for granted or assume that an introduction is all that is needed.
Your connections may facilitate your leapfrogging over other candidates, but all of their praise will not substitute for your being able to articulate your value…
There is considerable work to be done, even when you do know the right people. It is still critical to make sure you show up as the most qualified, likely to fit with the team, excited and invested candidate an organization considers, regardless of how you get there. Your connections may facilitate your leapfrogging over other candidates, but all of their praise will not compensate for your being unable to articulate your value or live up to the hype that came before your meeting with the hiring team.
It is striking to me how many people still believe that all they need is “to get an interview,” with little thought of their need for preparation. The mindset that all a person needs is a fancy resume to get in front of someone and the rest of the interview process will be a wrap, sadly, still exists. To my frustration, I regularly receive after-hours emails with this request: “I have an interview tomorrow morning. Can you send me some tips?” This out-of-touch belief that getting in front of a hiring manager and ad-libbing your way through the interview process will work is as outdated as dial phones and decidedly less effective.
Maybe this analogy would help: You have always dreamed of travelling by car across country to visit historical sites. It’s the first of July and you’ve suddenly been granted three weeks of paid time off beginning the following week. Would you wait until after you start your 6,000-mile road trip to check your tires and oil, water and antifreeze levels? Would you leave without a map or a plan of what you want to see?
This may sound foolish, but not more so than accepting a referral to the hiring manager for your targeted position at your organization of choice without having prepared for the impending conversation. Regardless of how many praises were sung on your behalf, you will still be required to relate your knowledge of the organization and its mission, illustrate your value using examples of your relatable experience and explain why you left your last job or why you are changing industries/roles/directions, if that is the case. Conversations about all of these points require thoughtful preparation and are unlikely to be handled successfully if you’ve waited until the night before to think about them.
It could be your dream job, which you exactly match, leveraged by a referral from your best friend who is the brother/sister/cousin of the hiring manager — and all of this could become moot in minutes if you show up ill prepared. In addition to blowing the opportunity, you run the risk of harming the reputation of the person who referred you and burning a bridge with someone who may be very important to you. If you are wondering who would do that, I’m here to tell you that I see it every week and can only shake my head in disbelief. To avoid experiencing a less than favorable outcome, make sure you do the most you can to research, prepare and practice in advance of asking for a referral of any kind. Make sure you are ready to shine and are representing your contact well. Showing up as the “perfect fit” for the opportunity in question is a win-win for everyone.
There are professionals who match people to jobs or business opportunities and others who connect people with similar interests. Professional associations or academic institutions may match mentors with mentees. All around us are opportunities to link people with people, or people to information. The success of these referrals is typically predicated on how much the referring party knows about each of the others.
Everyone wants to benefit from a referral in some way. Whether it is to gain new information, meet a key influencer, identify a useful service or secure new business, there is always something to be gained through an exchange of information. The risk involved to the referring party is whether the referred person represents them well or leaves a trail of evidence that questions the association.
Referrals can go south pretty quickly when the referred party fails to follow up or isn’t prepared for the requested outcome. The following are tips to help you become the person people are happy to refer.
Be reliable. If you are asking for something from someone, make sure you have demonstrated that you can be counted on to follow through if they deliver. Show up on time for meetings and deliver what you promise, on time. Trust is built slowly with many people, and seeing is believing.
Show an interest in others. Ask questions to learn more about people’s interests. Be an active listener. Make an effort to stay in contact with others. Send reminders and plan time to communicate with people you may not interact with regularly.
Be helpful. Find reasons why you CAN do something and fewer reasons why you can’t. Go the extra mile to arrange a carpool for a group of people, drive someone to their door or make a phone call on someone’s behalf. If you are requesting a referral to someone, make sure you are ready to return the favor in some way.
Be responsive. Follow up quickly when others reach out to you. Make sure you are available to respond quickly when you have reached out to others. Manage your communication devices and use them to stay on top of things. Don’t let your email pile up and then use your full inbox as the reason you haven’t responded to someone sooner.
Prepare. If you are making a request for a referral, research the person you are asking to be referred to or the company you would like to learn more about. Plan questions for people that indicate you have done your homework. If you offer a service, prepare in advance and anticipate new business.
Walk the talk. Soft skills are hard to measure. If you are claiming to be a great communicator, project manager or meeting facilitator, make sure you are visibly illustrating those strengths. Volunteer or take the lead at events that will allow you to show people what you can do and how you do it.
If you are wondering why your phone isn’t ringing with opportunities on the other line, take a look at how much effort you are putting into helping others get what they need. If you can do more for others, it is very likely you will be positioning yourself for others to be comfortable doing something for you. Are you modeling behavior that allows people to confidently refer you?
For 15+ years, networking has been my first and foremost prescribed method for an effective job search. Most people understand that people want to work with those they already know and like. Employers would typically rather hire a candidate that comes recommended by a valued employee, with the expectation their employee would never recommend someone that was not a good fit with the organization. All that is well and good, except when it all goes very wrong. Problems can occur when:
- People think connecting to someone on Linked in now means they “know” someone.
- When an introduction is made by a trusted friend or colleague, and the person requesting the introduction is ill-prepared for the conversation.
- Introductions have been made, and the requesting party takes weeks to follow up.
- Once the introduction was made, the requesting party fails to follow up with their original contact to show their appreciation or advise them of the outcome.
- People without previous inside connections or insight about a company wait until a position has been posted to try to connect with anyone and everyone they can, just to get through to the hiring manager.
- A resume gets forwarded by a virtual stranger, with no introduction.
- The person introducing a candidate is asked by the hiring manager (or HR) what they can tell them about the person’s work experience, and it is discovered they hardly know them.
- People misrepresent their relationships with others when speaking with contacts currently at their targeted companies.
Networking can be very fun, and very productive when all parties are clear about their intentions, have taken the time to prepare and understand the expected outcomes. Both the requesting party and the person making a referral can take some fairly simple precautions to ensure things don’t go off in a ditch.
If you are the requesting party, then preparation is a mandatory prerequisite. Research the company and the person you wish to meet as thoroughly as you can in advance. Be clear about your expectations. Prepare thoughtful questions that will exhibit your sincere interest. If you are requesting an introduction to a hiring manager, be aware of your true value and marketability for the role you are pursuing. Using someone else’s reputation for a long shot can only turn out badly if it ends up wasting the hiring manager’s time.
If you are the referring party, you have every right to ask questions about the person’s preparation prior to sticking your neck out. Make sure to ask about their goal in speaking with/meeting your contact. Ask what questions they are prepared to ask and how they anticipate following up. If their request is in regard to a job opening, make an effort to be clear about their qualifications and understanding of the position prior to referring them.
If you can add some examples of good or bad referrals, please share your story.