The Jobseeker’s Guide to References

The Human Resources folks like to check job applicants’ references. Of American companies, 76% will contact the people on your list of references.

They do it because checking references is one way prospective employers can add to what they learn from your resume, LinkedIn profile, and interviews. These reference checks are just part of a comprehensive screening process, which might even include inquiries into immigration status, credit reports, drug screening, and criminal background checks.

What people who know you say about you can be the piece of the puzzle that paves the way to a job offer, or throws up a detour sign.  Let’s see how you can put your best foot forward.

Who’s Most Likely to Check References?

Not every company will bother to make those calls to people you list as references. But it’s best to be prepared and get your references list together.

If you apply for a position where you’ll have access to confidential information — like info on other employees or on the company’s clients – it’s probable that you’ll be subject to reference checks. If the job you want is in finance, information technology, or customer-facing positions, you can expect to have references checked.

The best time to start thinking about your references is when you’re putting together your resume, not when you’re submitting applications. Why wait until you’re getting called in for an interview to prepare something that can be a deal maker or deal breaker?

Select Your References

The advantage of preparing your references is that you can take the upper hand and identify your best reference people. Although there’s no guarantee human resources will contact references in the order you’d like to have them contacted (best first) you can still list them as though they were prizes – first place at the top of the list. Hiring people have the option to contact people who aren’t even on your list, but you don’t have much control over that.

You will want to select three to seven individuals to be your top tier references. These individuals may be current or former managers or supervisors, co-workers, peers, or team members, current or former customers of the company, vendors or suppliers, and people you have supervised.

Most employers will want at least two of your references to be former employers. If you don’t have recent work experience, you can list members of committees you volunteer with, or pro bono clients. If you have recent educational experience, you can also list professors, faculty members, and advisors.

The important thing is to select people who know your work well, who have seen you in action. It’s better to have people who can speak about your particular skills and accomplishments than it is to list a “big name” as a reference. If someone seems hesitant to serve as your reference, ask someone else.

Hiring managers also like to see some personal references, people who will vouch for you being dependable, honest, and have good judgment. A personal reference should know you well, and have known you for at least five years, but not be a relative. Good choices are a business acquaintance, teacher, coach, doctor, religious leader, neighbor, or a landlord.

Well-chosen personal references can go a long way towards tilting the decision to hire you in your favor because they give an added dimension to your personality and worth.

Make sure all your references are people who are relatively easy to contact.

Reach Out to Your References Early

It can take some time to track down and communicate with all your references. You’ll want to update them with what’s new in your career, and verify their contact information. You don’t want to try to do all that while you’re researching and preparing for a job interview.

If you’re also asking your references to give you LinkedIn recommendations, try to schedule them so all of your recommendations aren’t coming in on or around the same date. That looks a bit hokey – just one more reason why starting early pays off.

Ask Permission from Your References

Once you’ve decided who you would like to be your top tier references, contact them and ask if they are willing. It’s best to call each one directly instead of emailing. If possible, arrange for an in-person meeting. Make it convenient for them and offer to buy lunch or coffee. They are doing you a favor!

Keep in mind: Not everyone you’ve worked for — or worked with — will be a good reference for you. You want a reference that can be as enthusiastic about you as you are about getting the job. Not all potential references will be able to provide this kind of stellar recommendation. But some of your references may be hesitant to say no to you directly if you ask.

You can give them a way to let themselves off the hook, without turning you down directly. Instead of asking, “Will you be a reference for me?” Ask them, “Do you feel you know me well enough to serve as a reference for me?” Or ask, “Will you be a great reference for me?” If the answer is anything less than enthusiastic, you can collect their information, but not list them on your preferred reference list. It’s perfectly fine to ask a reference to support you, but then not include his name on your list.

The in-person meeting is a good time to ask someone for a LinkedIn recommendation. Check first to see if he is on LinkedIn, since he will need a LinkedIn account to recommend you.

Remember to update your contact with what you’ve been up to, especially if they knew you at a previous job. Let them know what you’re looking for in your next job. Filling them in makes it easy for them to be specific and betters your chance of a positive reference.

Once you’ve received the go-ahead, send a letter or email thanking each person for agreeing to be a reference. Send each a current copy of your resume, or promise to send them a copy if it’s not finalized. I offer fast turnaround on my resume service, so I won’t keep you or your references waiting.

You can help a hiring manager get a fuller picture of you by quickly and professionally providing good, reliable, positive references. Make his job easy and you look good. When you look good, you’re one giant step closer to that job offer.


Managing Your LinkedIn Recommendations 101

african-american-father-son14Even though we aren’t kids anymore, each of us still likes to hear someone tell us, “Good job!” A recommendation on LinkedIn is like that pat on the back. Only more important.

It’s common now for employers to visit your LinkedIn profile before they invite you in for an interview. It’s a sure thing they will read your recommendations. Let’s make sure they like what they see.

When someone recommends you on LinkedIn, you’ll receive a an email notification.

When you click on the link at the bottom of the email, you will be taken to the same message in your LinkedIn account. If you are not already signed into your LinkedIn account you will need to sign in. LinkedIn will ask if you want to “Show this Recommendation on my profile” or “Hide this Recommendation on my profile.” Choose one option and then click “Accept Recommendation.” Yes, you can accept and still hide. More about that in a minute.

After you click “Accept Recommendation,” you’ll receive a “Recommendation Confirmation.” This screen will also give you the opportunity to write a reciprocal recommendation. It’s always a good idea to reciprocate, and the sooner the better.

If you find an error in your recommendation, or it’s not specific enough, you can click the “Request Replacement” link and it will automatically generate a request for a change with an email to the individual who wrote the recommendation.

What if you get a recommendation you like except some of its facts are wrong? The best way to handle this situation is to ask for it to be changed. But instead of asking your contact to change the whole thing, you can make it easy — and at the same time show you appreciate their effort — by being specific with your request. Tell the person exactly what you would like changed. Here’s an example:

“I like what you’ve written, but I was wondering if you would correct the statement where you said I brought in $200,000 in revenue; my records from that time show that the figure was closer to $375,000.”

Replace the standard text in the message with your custom message. It’s simple to request a re-write for a recommendation you’ve previously received but that hasn’t become part of your profile. First, choose “Recommendations” from the Profile menu.

The default tab on the Recommendations page is “Received Recommendations.” At the top of the page, you will see what recommendations you’ve received that haven’t been published. The second section is “Manage Recommendations You’ve Received.”

In the section below that heading, you’ll see a list of your current positions and the recommendations you’ve received, associated with each job position you’ve listed in your profile.

If you click on the Manage link, you will see the recommendations you’ve received for that position. You can click the checkbox above the word “Show” and it will change that recommendation to hidden on your profile. When you click “Save Changes” at the bottom of the page, it will remove that recommendation from being visible on your profile.

This is the page where you can also request a new or revised recommendation.

You can also graciously refuse recommendations. When you receive a message notifying you of the recommendation, and you prefer that it not be part of your page, choose “Hide this Recommendation on my profile.”

Then, click “Accept Recommendation.” This will acknowledge receipt of the Recommendation, but it will not be visible on your LinkedIn profile. Most likely, the recommendation writer will never know you chose to ignore the rec he wrote. Being polite is an important business skill.

More Notes on LinkedIn Recommendations

Recommendations matter. But who writes them can be more important than what they write. A recommendation from a higher-level person makes more of an impact than one from a colleague who is on the same rung of the business ladder as you are. A prospective employer will judge any recommendation by the quality and status of the person writing it. That’s just business as usual.

Finally, don’t write or display any bad recommendations on your LinkedIn profile. What’s a “bad recommendation?” It’s one that is:

  • Generic
  • From a person who doesn’t have a clear understanding of you or your work
  • Written without context, such as how or when this person knows you or worked with you
  • Obviously out-of-date or has information that is irrelevant

For more LinkedIn tips and tricks to help you with your job search, be sure to download “Resume to Payday: Online Secrets to Find and Land Your Dream Job” today.

How to Respond to a LinkedIn Rec Request

1960s woman housewife washing dishes in kitchen sink looking at camera
Old-fashioned courtesy: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Someone you worked with for two weeks in 1992 sends you a  LinkedIn request for a recommendation.  A colleague whose work ethics leave you cold asks for a LinkedIn recommendation. A kid you hardly knew in high school wants you to recommend her. What to  do?

Here’s one of those many instances when what Mom told you was spot-on:  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Niceness abounds on LinkedIn. The reason you will rarely see a negative recommendation there is because the content is public. Anyone with a LinkedIn profile controls the content on the profile, including recommendations. No one is going to approve negative comments for public display.

Solutions to Problem Requests

Business etiquette says you can’t completely ignore requests for LinkedIn recommendations. But you don’t have to accept them either.  Here are your choices. Choose the one that best suits the situation.

Beg Off.
Respond that you don’t feel the person well enough to write a recommendation. The nice way to say this is, “I realize we’ve known each other for years, but I don’t know enough about your career and industry to be a credible reference.”

Put Them Off.
If you don’t have a history with this person, it’s acceptable to say something like, “Once we’ve worked together for a while, I’d be happy to write a recommendation for you.” This buys you time, lets the person know you take the recommendation seriously, and saves face for you both.

Blame LinkedIn
When you agree to recommend someone, LinkedIn offers a form that makes it difficult to be evasive. You’re required to specify how and where and in what capacity you know Joe. If you know Joe only from your weekly game of pick-up basketball or because his daughter is your children’s babysitter, you’re within bounds to respond with,  “Although we know each other socially, because LinkedIn attaches recommendations to specific jobs, I don’t feel I’m a good fit for you.”

Steps to Easy Rec Writing

If you do decide to write a recommendation, here are some ways to make the process simple.

Ask About the Goal
The first question you should ask is: “What is your objective?” Once you know the answer, you’ll provide better service. You should learn if the individual is job hunting, wants a promotion, is looking to land a certain client, or is in the midst of a career change.  Knowing the goal means you can tailor the recommendation to meet your contact’s specific needs.

Check Out the Profile
Look at the individual’s LinkedIn profile. Especially look at the job description of her position when you worked together, so you can align what you say to what she says, adding weight to her credibility and documentation.

Ask for a Draft
There’s no rule against asking a person to shoot you a few talking points. Heck, they may write the entire thing for you, making your task  a whole lot easier. Just be sure that you personally agree with what’s sent to you.

It makes good sense to consider the big picture when you’re dealing with LinkedIn. Your own profile there is an important piece of the puzzle that employers will put together when they are considering  you as a hire.  You don’t want your own profile to look fluffed up or watered down. I can help you fine tune your LinkedIn profile. Just contact me and we’ll go from there.

Remember that recommendations you write show up on your own profile, so excessive and indiscriminate  recommendations may come back to bite you.

And that sounds like something your mother would say.

How to Get Good LinkedIn Recommendations

Recommendations are the “thumbs up” of today.

As in every business situation, there’s a right way and a not-so-career-advancing way to ask for a reference or recommendation.

Employers looking at you will look at your LinkedIn profile. They will read your recommendations.

Let’s make sure that your recommendations favorably impress that future boss, or that HR exec, or that recruiter. Even your Mom.

A recommendation from someone higher up the ladder carries much more weight than one from someone further down the ladder (or the jungle gym, as author and Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg calls it).

A recommendation from someone who has worked directly with you is preferable to one from someone who knows you casually or outside of business circles.

A recommendation from someone who has known you a long time is far better than one from a new acquaintance.

Who and How to Ask

To further guide you in choosing people, let me make some suggestions.

Ask only people who are relevant to your goals. Believe it or not, a few flakey recommendations can harm your LinkedIn profile and your credibility. So, tailor your requests and choose individuals who will boost your image, and drive home your brand. Choosing people in the same profession as you (or an allied field) is one way to do this.

Another way is to make sure your recommendation-writer knows what your current goals are. Ask him to be specific when he gives you a rec. For example, you could say,

“Would you provide me with a recommendation based on the lunar landing project we worked together on, because that’s part of the job I am applying for.”

In fact, it’s always a good idea to give your contact some context for your request. Like this:

“I’m writing ask if you will give me a recommendation on LinkedIn. As you know, I’m looking to make a career change, and I believe a recommendation from you based on our work together on the JFK assassination investigation would be useful in highlighting my transferable skills.”

One of the ways I advise clients get good LinkedIn recommendations is to write them the recommendation themselves. Don’t be shy. Doing the writing makes it easier on the person submitting the recommendation.  And it increases the likelihood that the recommendation will be specific and detailed, two important qualities.

Your request could look like this:

“I’m writing to request a recommendation based on our work together on the Academy Awards Ceremony that I can include on my LinkedIn profile. To make this easy for you, here’s a draft recommendation. Feel free to edit this or create your own.” 

Here’s another tip: Before you ask anyone for a recommendation, go to the individual’s LinkedIn profile and see if she has written any other recommendations. Ask yourself if they are articulate and positive.

Also, see if all the recommendation she’s written say basically the same things. You want details that are unique to the person being recommended. If what she’s written isn’t very believable, strong, clear, or specific, you should consider providing the draft that you’ve written yourself about yourself.

Nitty Gritty of LinkedIn

You probably know that LinkedIn has a recommendation request form that guides you through the process. From your profile tab you can type “Request Recommendations” into the search box. You will be taken to a page that says “Ask your connections to recommend you.”

You’ll then fill in the form that asks what you want to be recommended for. You want to keep this updated as you apply for different positions, or else use a generic title for the positions you’ll be apply for – electrical engineer, dietitian, bank manager, chocolate tester…

LinkedIn provides a cookie-cutter message that you can use, beginning with the subject line. I suggest you type in, “Will you recommend me?” It’s a better question than “Can you recommend me?” because it’s accurate and more complimentary, more likely to get an affirmative answer. You know they can, but will they?

Then, you’ll want to customize the actual message.

So, under “Create your message,” replace the existing text with a personalized message. Gear it to the nature of your relationship – friendly and casual for a long-time friend, more formal if it’s going to the CEO of the last big company you worked for.

Although LinkedIn gives you the option of sending bulk recommendation requests, I suggest you don’t do that. If someone is going to take the time to recommend you, he deserves a personal note from you.

Your request might read,

“Thanks for agreeing to write a recommendation for me. I am hoping you can mention our mutual work with Royal Caribbean. I’m positioning myself as a cruise recreation director, so if you say something about my expanding the program to net an additional million dollars per cruise while reducing overhead 50%, that would be great.”   

Up Close and Personal

An even better idea is to ask for a recommendation through more personal means — in person, on the phone, or by email.

In fact, one of the best ways to get a LinkedIn recommendation is to ask after someone gives you a compliment “in real life.” If a business or a social contact praises your work in an email, for example, you could respond with a message that thanks them and adds,

“Are you on LinkedIn? Would you mind if I sent you a request for a recommendation? It would mean a lot to me to have you say that on my profile.”

Reciprocation is another useful channel to acquire recommendations. Generally, if someone provides you with a recommendation, he will expect you to write one for him. So it’s a good idea to ask for recommendations only from people whom you’d be willing to recommend in the spirit of reciprocity.

Remember that the reverse is also true. If you are the one who initiates the exchange and writes an unsolicited recommendation for someone you know, that person is likely to return the favor and recommend you. Sometimes even these people take a little prodding, though.

The problem with swapping favors like this is that a reciprocal rec is less powerful than a rec that is given without strings attached. They are usually less convincing. To complicate things, visitors to your profile can see whom you have recommended and who has recommended you, and it’s likely they can spot any exchanges of support.

Social media has few secrets!

One final note is that if you don’t receive a response from someone after you request a recommendation, or if you don’t feel comfortable following up, consider whether you should be asking for a recommendation from that person in the first place.

I hope these tips can help you as you gather favorable and impressive recommendations for your LinkedIn profile. And remember, if you need help, I love doing LinkedIn makeovers for my clients!

Four Reasons LinkedIn Recommendations Matter

With LinkedIn becoming increasingly important in the recruiting and hiring process, having Recommendations on your profile is important. Great Recommendations can be the difference in getting the job offer. In today’s blog post, I’m going to outline four main reasons you should be actively pursuing LinkedIn Recommendations.

1. You Can Get Endorsed

LinkedIn Recommendations are a natural evolution of references and letters of recommendation. However, they often are more credible than these traditional documents, because it is harder to fake a Recommendation on LinkedIn than it is to forge a letter. Since many companies are restricting reference checks to verification of title and dates of employment, a LinkedIn Recommendation from a supervisor — and/or coworkers — carries weight.

LinkedIn has been described as a “reputation engine.” That’s an apt description, because your reputation does precede you online — not just in your work history, but also in your LinkedIn Recommendations.

Someone looking at your Recommendations wants to know two things:

  • What are you like?
  • Are you good at what you do?

2. You Can Boost Your Visibility

Recommendations are also vital in increasing your visibility on LinkedIn. In order for your profile to be considered “complete,” LinkedIn also requires you to receive a minimum of three Recommendations. According to LinkedIn, “Users with Recommendations in their profiles are three times more likely to receive relevant offers and inquiries through searches on LinkedIn.”

3. You Can Sound Smart

In addition, you can enhance your own reputation by providing Recommendations, because people viewing your profile can see (and read) the Recommendations you make. (Go to the person’s profile on LinkedIn, and on the right-hand side of the page, you’ll see a box for “(Name) Recommends.”) You can see excerpts of their Recommendations, or click the link for “See all Recommendations.”

4. You Can Improve Your SEO Results

Recommendations can also provide Search Engine Optimization (SEO) results — meaning, they will help you get found — both on LinkedIn as well as on search engines. Use industry-specific terminology in your Recommendations. Keywords included in LinkedIn Recommendations also receive emphasis in search engine results — especially searches within LinkedIn. When conducting a keyword search, all the keywords in a profile are indexed, and profiles with a high match of relevant keywords come up higher in the results listings. Although LinkedIn’s specific algorithms are secret, some experts suggest that keywords in Recommendations receive double the rankings of keywords provided in the profile itself.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll blog about how to give a good LinkedIn Recommendation, I’ll show you how to actually make a Recommendation on LinkedIn, and I’ll explain how to request your own Recommendations on LinkedIn.

How Many LinkedIn Recommendations Should You Have?

My clients often ask me how many Recommendations they should have on their LinkedIn profile.  The simple answer is: At least three. After three Recommendations, LinkedIn considers this section of your profile “complete.”

The better answer, though, takes these considerations into account:

1. Connections-to-Recommendations Ratio

How many Recommendations you have really depends on how many contacts you have. A good guideline is 1-2 Recommendations for every 50 connections.

2. A Variety of Professional Relationships

Ideally, your LinkedIn Recommendations will be from a variety of individuals — not just supervisors, but co-workers, people you supervise, and clients/customers. Choose quality over quantity.

3. Inclusive of All Positions and Companies

Try to get a handful of Recommendations from each of the positions you’ve held and from people at each of the companies you’ve worked for. If all of your current Recommendations are from just one job or company, go through your connections and solicit Recommendations for those jobs/companies that are under-represented.