The 5 Elements of a Compelling Job Recommendation

You might typically think that a recommendation comes at the end of a job search, and is something others say about you. In this USNews & World Report article I show how your references on LinkedIn can be most valuable at the beginning of the search, and why it is important for you to think about people whose work you admire and proactively write a recommendation for them as well. When you give solid recommendations to those for whom you have genuine admiration creates value both for that person and yourself.

The 5 Elements of a Compelling Job Recommendation

by Arnie Fertig

A simple Google search for “consumer reviews of” yields millions of hits.

In this social age, we have all become reviewers. Both professional critics and everyone else can offer an opinion and give a rating for just about any product or service.

Popular examples include: Rotten Tomatoes for movies; Yelp, OpenTable and Chowhound for dining; and CNET, PCMag and Macworld for electronics and technology.

Giving a recommendation someone says a lot about you!

If you take the time to read the reviews, you can discern a bit about what’s being reviewed and the individual who’s commenting. A balanced, thoughtful review of a dining experience can whet your palate, while a review that simply says “great food” doesn’t reveal much about the communications skills of the reviewer or present a compelling reason to make a dinner reservation.

When you stop and think, employment reference checks for job seekers are simply reviews. The employer (buyer) wants to know what others (reviewers) have to say about the product/service (candidate).

In the old days the standard procedure was to write “References available upon request” at the bottom of your résumé. And even if a hiring manager requested the references early in the process, chances were good he or she wouldn’t waste time checking until he or she was pretty certain a given candidate was about to get an offer. It is only a part of we-gotta-do-this-before-we-hire due diligence.

Wise job seekers don’t want to burn through the goodwill of people who are willing to recommend them by offering them up to numerous calls from multiple employers. Yet, hiding them until the end of the process blunts the positive effect that the validation of your worth from others can bring to bear.

Today, you can post a reference for anyone with whom you’re connected on LinkedIn, and it’s searchable. It’s easy for a recruiter or employer to see what people have to say about you, and what you have to say about others. When viewed at the beginning of the process, a positive reference for your knowledge, skills, attitude and successes can bring an employer to you.

When you take the time to proactively recommend someone on LinkedIn, you accomplish multiple things: First, you demonstrate a relationship to the individual and what you have done as well, thereby fleshing out information that might be found in different form on your résumé or LinkedIn profile. Second, you demonstrate that you go out of your way to be a team player and praise quality co-workers. Most importantly, you rekindle/build your relationships with your network.

Conversely, when you ask others for a reference, it is important to help them understand what they might say that would be of value to you. For example, you might say: “Joe, I’d really appreciate if you could write a reference for me about our time together eight years ago at such-and-such company. You told me at the time you were quite pleased with how I did XXX, and how it turned out. If you could speak about what it took for me to get those results it would be great!”

Whether you’re asking someone to vouch for you, or are putting yourself out there for them, be sure to include these five elements:

1. Context of your relationship. How long have you known each other? At which company? What were your respective roles? Does the relationship extend beyond the workplace?

Sample: “XX and I first met at ABC Corp eight years ago when I hired her to make great widgets as part of our production process. She has directly reported to me throughout her employment here.”

2. Technical competence. What are the skills required and technical aspects of the role, and how well were they mastered?

Sample: “Widget-making is a complex process, requiring knowledge of AAA software, and the tightly defined procedures that are required in our highly regulated industry. XX’s mastery of these aspects of the job is exemplary, and she willingly mentors others to bring them up to speed as well.”

3. Communications skills. This can cover a wide swath: ability to understand what is asked, persuade/sell a viewpoint in a team or to a customer, document and compile written reports and much more.

Sample: “XX is a great communicator. She has made numerous presentations to our group, and when dealing with senior management she always brings at least one or two possible solutions to their attention when presenting a problem. She gets the attention and respect of everyone who hears her.”

4. Timeliness and accuracy. No one wants to hire someone who doesn’t show up on time, get work done on time or who makes errors that can cost time or money to remedy.

Sample: “XX is the consummate professional. She consistently meets or beats demanding deadlines. There have been numerous times when she put in extra hours at the beginning or the end of the day to make certain that her job is done, done right and done under budget.”

5. Greatest strength. It’s a good idea to figure out what one is good at and what one is good at that will be most valued by a prospective employer.

Sample: “XX relishes working in a field that is constantly changing. She loves the opportunity to continually learn new software and add to her skill set, and continually looks for ways to get X done with lower cost and greater efficiencies.”

When taken together, these parts of a reference are sure to make a positive impression on a perspective employer.

Happy hunting!



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