In the prehistoric days before social media, job hunters would typically try to withhold the names and contact information of their references until as late in the hiring process as possible. And, even if they requested them earlier, employers would typically not contact them until just before making a job offer.
Then, along came LinkedIn and its Reference feature. Here, you can write something positive about any of your connections. It is forwarded to the person being recommended for approval, before being posted to his or her profile. If he or she would like you to modify what you've written, he or she can suggest alternative language. Anyone can block a reference about him or herself that might be considered unflattering. LinkedIn references count in a job hunt for two key reasons:
1. References are searchable. Recruiters, human resources staffing pros and hiring managers all scour them to find great candidates. Rather than assuring the hiring authority at the end of the process that they are making a good choice, a reference can now bring you to the attention of decision makers at the very beginning. The unspoken message becomes: "You ought to look at this person, because when you do this is what you will find..."
2. References say more than endorsements. In the last several months, the Reference feature has undergone twists and turns, especially since the introduction of the Endorsement feature. You now have the ability to add Skills to your profile, and your first-degree connections can endorse you for any of them with a simple click. Unlike references, there is no need to say anything about a person, or to obtain permission for an endorsement to show up on his or her profile.
LinkedIn actively encourages users to endorse connections, and people often abuse the feature by making unfounded endorsements. Given this behavior, it is no surprise that the value of endorsements is diminished, and many rue the day when they came into being.
Recommendations remain valuable for both giver and receiver. They demonstrate that the person who is making the recommendation cares enough to take the time to actually write one instead of just clicking "Endorse." A well-written reference can convey so much more about the person being recommended than an endorsement. By giving recommendations you show yourself to be a person interested in others and helping them as a part of their team, a key characteristic of any good hire. When you take the time to recommend someone, they are much more likely to be open to recommending you in return, as well as helping you in other ways in your job hunt. You thereby improve the quality of your own personal brand.
How to create a new reference. With LinkedIn's recent face-lift, the nine old main menu options: Home, Profile, Contacts, Groups, Jobs, Inbox, Companies, News and More have been changed and streamlined, with many features relocated. (More about this in next week's column.) While recommendations that people have made about you are now found easily on your Profile, placed under the relevant position you've held, it has become trickier to figure out how to actually recommend someone.
Here's how to do it: First you need to select "Edit Profile" in the Profile tab. From that screen, scroll down to the Recommendations section, which is toward the bottom. Click on the little pencil icon, located on the right-hand side, to edit that section, and then click on the "manage visibility" link, also on the right. On the next screen, you have to click on the "Given" tab at the top to give a new recommendation.
Finally you're able to select from your contacts or enter the name of the contact you want to recommend and then, after all that, you can finally write the recommendation and send it off to the person you are recommending. Whew!
Elements of a great recommendation. Of course, not all recommendations are equal. Writing simply, "Sally will be great at whatever she sets her mind to. She is a wonderful person and you should hire her" may prove more harmful than helpful. Instead, be specific. Tell: how you know the person, how long you have known him or her, what he or she has done that impressed you, and what value the person has brought to his or her team, department or employer.
We all like to hear about it when someone thinks we've done a good job. Taking the time to write a well-thought-out recommendation for someone you haven't seen in quite a while, but whose work you respect, can do wonders to rekindle the connection and can show that you are involved with your network to give as well as get. It is one more arrow in your quiver of job-hunting techniques, and when you employ it you can bring yourself closer to your own target of getting your next job.
Arnie Fertig is the head coach of JOBHUNTERCOACH.COM, where he utilizes his extensive background in HR Staffing and as owner of a recruiting company to help mid-career job-hunters land their next job. Arnie provides one-to-one coaching services to individuals throughout the U.S. in all aspects of the job hunt, including: resume writing, personal branding, utilizing social media, enhancing networking skills, preparing for interviews, and negotiating compensation.