7.5 Dirty Little Secrets For Using References To Get Your Dream Job (written by Career Expert, Pete Leibman)
In one of my favorite books of all-time, Influence by Robert Cialdini, PhD, the author talks about the principle of social proof, which states that people often look to the opinions of others to form their own conclusions.
This has strong applications for job searches, as hiring persons are definitely influenced by the opinions of others when thinking about who to hire.
Here are 7.5 dirty little secrets for using references strategically in order to get your dream job:
- Use references who LOVE you. Sounds obvious, right? Well, I haven’t always done this, and you probably haven’t either. When I was in high school, we learned from one of the colleges that rejected me that one of my letters of recommendation had been a red flag and a factor in the rejection. (Don’t ask me how my Dad figured this out!) Apparently, my history professor wrote a paltry, 2-sentence letter on my behalf. We were surprised at his actions, but I should have known better. I had asked him for a letter because he was a brilliant writer, and I thought he would write a really good letter; he had not been one of my biggest advocates. Big mistake.
- Use references who are reliable. I once asked a former boss to serve as a reference. This guy was a big fan of mine, so I figured he’d be a great reference. However, the letter he gave me to submit had several typos and did not even include a standard header. It looked terrible! Luckily, I saw the letter before it went out. I should not have been surprised. He was one of the most disorganized people I knew. Make sure your references have their act together. If they aren’t normally reliable and thorough, they won’t suddenly become reliable and thorough when communicating with people on your behalf. If your references look bad, you will look bad. The opposite is also true…
- Use references who look like and/or know the people you want to impress. For example, if you are applying for a marketing job where you will report to a Director of Marketing, it would be much more impressive if you have several recommendations from people they know or from other marketing executives. A recommendation from your history professor won’t hold as much weight. Now, if you are starting your career or making a career change, this is not always possible, but try to use people who know and/or look like the people you are trying to impress. We are much more easily influenced by people we know or by people who look like we do.
- Tell your references what to say/write about you. This might sound sneaky or conniving, but most people have absolutely no idea what to write or say in a testimonial or letter of recommendation. As a result, most testimonials are the worthless, generic kind, like “John is a great guy. I highly recommend him.” Here’s a confession for you. Most of the best testimonials I have ever gotten are testimonials I have written myself and gotten permission to attribute to another person (with their permission). Many people actually thank me and tell me that even though they are more than happy to endorse me, they would have had no idea what to say. Use your judgment on this one. Some people are more comfortable with this than others.
- Tell your references what to say if/when asked about your weaknesses. Last year, one of my former colleagues asked me to serve as a reference for him. Given the work that I do, and since I am very thorough, I thought about how to respond if a hiring person asked me what my colleague’s greatest weakness was. Guess what the FIRST question was that I was asked when his future boss called me?! Luckily, I had a well-constructed comeback planned, which I conveniently sandwiched between a discussion of my colleague’s strengths. (Thank you…I know I’m good!) The chances of your references thinking about that in advance are close to zero. It’s your responsibility to prep them on what to say when asked about your deficiencies. If you don’t, they might step on a land-mine for you.
- Let your references know what to expect. Ask if you can use them as a reference before doing so (many people don’t do this!), and give them a heads-up on how their testimonial will be used, who might contact them, and so on.
- Get testimonials from your references on social media sites. Employers check these sites when considering you for a job, and social media sites rank high when someone “googles” you. You can also “re-purpose” a testimonial posted on a social media site. For example, by filming a video testimonial and posting it on You-Tube, or by getting a recommendation on LinkedIn, you can then take part or all of the testimonial and use it again somewhere else (i.e. as 1-2 sentences in a cover letter or as part of a 1-page testimonial sheet).
7.5 Take care of your references. When people put their reputation on the line by serving as recommendations, you owe it to them to make them look good. You must also send a thank you note and try to return the favor by helping them somehow. Also keep them posted on their progress; they want to know if they were involved in helping you get your dream job!
In summary, one of the best ways to get your dream job is to influence the hiring decision-maker with strategic testimonials and references. When you get the right people to brag on your behalf in the right way, you won’t have to do as much of the bragging yourself…
Like this post or got something to add? Please comment below!
-President of Idealize Enterprises
-Creator of The Dream Job College Tour
–Creator of The Washington Wizards’ Sports Careers Day
P.S. To learn more about my programs and availability for The 2011 Dream Job College Tour (or for individual career coaching), please send an email to Pete@IdealizeNow.com.