References and Recommendations (part 2)

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Does the thought of asking for recommendations make you feel a bit nervous, perhaps a bit selfish?

A few weeks ago someone contacted me out of the blue to discuss hiring me for a project. I asked how she got my information. She told me she had been searching for candidates on LinkedIn, and that’s where she found me. Then she said the reason she put me on her short list of people to interview is I have recent recommendations on LinkedIn.

Did you catch that? She not only read the recommendations others had written for me, but she noted how recently they had been written. Do you have a LinkedIn account? (If you not, I recommend you set one up asap (http://www.linkedin.com), and then add me as one of your connections.) Do you have recommendations? How recent are your recommendations?

Last week I talked about the importance of leveraging References and Recommendations as part of maintaining your career independence. I focused on References, and promised to follow up this week by talking about Recommendations.

References and Recommendations are different, so let’s review the definitions.

References are the people who are willing to be contacted to give positive feedback regarding your professional work (professional references) or your personal character (personal references).

Recommendations are a written version of the nice things people say about you, your work, and your character. The most common forms of recommendations for the job search are the written letter and the LinkedIn Recommendation.

In my experience, the LinkedIn Recommendation is far more powerful for today’s job market than a written letter of recommendation. Written letters of recommendation are useful when specifically requested. You can also show them to an interviewer during an interview.

But your LinkedIn profile and recommendations can be viewed before you even apply for a job (as in my story above). You can also print them out and bring them with you to an interview, or you can send them along with your resume. In addition, with a LinkedIn recommendation the reader can click a link and learn all about the individuals who wrote recommendations for you. And that can boost the value of your recommendations.

The biggest mistake I see people make in handling their Recommendations is that they Don’t Ask for them. All traditional lessons in humility teach us that we simply need to do a good job, and wait for people to recommend us. The truth is that many of our co-workers and managers would love to support us in our career, but they aren’t sure what to do. They are waiting to be asked.

Therefore, the most important thing you can do to successfully leverage your recommendations, is to ASK FOR THEM. So how do you do that effectively?

Here are three keys to asking for Recommendations to benefit both your job search and your career independence.

1. Know whom to ask

Just as with References, you should only ask people whom you trust and whom you know will say positive things about you to write a recommendation for you. This may sound obvious, but still worth saying.

Ask friends, coworkers (current and former), bosses (current and former), co-volunteers (current and former). Anyone you connect with on LinkedIn that has some direct knowledge of your work, your work style, or your work ethic makes a great candidate to ask for a Recommendation.

2. Know When to Ask

When you first connect with someone on LinkedIn is a good time to ask for a recommendation. I suggest you start by writing a recommendation for that person (provided you have the knowledge about their work and feel comfortable doing so). After you have written your recommendation, wait a week, and ask them to write one for you.

When you leave a job, make a point of exchanging contact information, connecting on LinkedIn, and asking appropriate individuals to recommend you and your work on LinkedIn. It’s a nice gesture to reciprocate, and write a recommendation for them as well.

Whenever you complete a successful project, consider asking your co-workers or boss to write a recommendation for you on LinkedIn. Do this for volunteer projects as well as projects at your current job. Few people think to do this, or fear their boss will think they are looking for work. I say this is good career management. It is good to have someone write a recommendation while they feel good about your work, and their impressions of you are fresh in mind. You can even bring these recommendations to your next performance review.

3. Know What to Ask (or how to ask)

Just as with references, it is very helpful if you tell people what project you’d like them to focus on, and which strengths and skills you would like them to highlight. People often want to help, but simply don’t know what to say. If you tell them, it takes the pressure off, and enables them to truly support you.

Keep in mind, the recommendation must be in their words, not yours. Don’t write it for them.

Are you keeping your recommendations current? Who do you need to ask for a recommendation? What steps will you take this week to ensure you are leveraging you Linked In recommendations? I invite you to commit to your action steps below, and then let me know how it goes.

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Client Stories

 I was looking to make large changes in my life, both job and city.  I was a happy midwestern resident for nearly 30 years but wanted to see what life on a coast was like and get a dream job.  This was a tall order and going into it I thought I would have to make large compromises on parts of my dreams to get any of it.  

I went to Lori to help me achieve these dreams.  It was the best decision I made.

She focused on two things right out of the gate:
  1. clarify my goals, both personal and professional
  2. get me to stop selling myself short

These twin achievements allowed me to approach my hunt with confidence, patience and focus.  My original dream job was to try and combine my technical joys with a personal one.  I enjoy large scale data processing with cutting edge tools, music and baseball.  Through the tools Lori taught me and helped me unearth in myself I got that gig that would have fallen into day dream territory before our work together.  

And yeah, there's platinum records on the walls of my lobby and I have tons of data to process.

Pat Christopher, Intelligence Engineer, Seattle, WA