You must remember that during your executive job search, when people are meeting you for the first time, they are at a disadvantage. They haven’t had the pleasure of knowing you, your skills, your work habits, your strengths, and your history. When you meet with a potential employer you are, in effect, painting a picture with your marketing collateral—and it’s up to you how that picture looks to someone else. You want, of course, to quickly establish yourself as an executive leader.
References, endorsements, and testimonials most always have a greater impact than any other piece of information we can give a potential employer because it comes from a third party perspective, which legitimizes you and authenticates what you are probably communicating with them yourself. It builds trust very rapidly—more rapidly than any other way that I know. Suffice it to say—having a page of testimonials you can use as a “leave behind” or attach with a post-interview thank-you letter is one of THE WISEST moves you can make in your job search.
But you have to do it right.
You don’t want to attach letters of recommendation (too long). You do want to create one or two pages of short quotes from people who have worked with you in the recent past. Here are a few ways to do it:
Use LinkedIn to Get Endorsements
If you are a professional, I strongly recommend having a LinkedIn profile. You should invite to your list of connections (everyone connected to your career history with the exception of your current employer that is—if you want to keep your job search a secret).
Once you have invited your past bosses, vendors, clients, and associates to connect through LinkedIn, then begin to write them unsolicited endorsements. Your contacts will appreciate this and LinkedIn will automatically ask them if they wish to reciprocate—which many of them will. This is the quickest way to garner endorsements using LinkedIn.
Become a “Reference Collector”
From here on out, consider “collecting” references and testimonials well before you think you might need them, or to set a goal of obtaining two or three testimonials or references each year no matter what. You can accomplish this by simply telling your potential references that you are gathering testimonials as you go . . . as part of your long-term strategic career goals.
Widen Your Pool of Potential References
Do you know that many other people other than your immediate boss can be a highly compelling reference? You can get references from colleagues, people that work for you or with you, clients, vendors, and even co-members of associations or boards on which you serve. You can simply ask them to focus on giving a reference from their particular vantage point (how you are as a boss, what you are like to work with in a volunteer capacity, etc.)
Ask for a Written Reference
Why not ask for powerful, short performance statements in lieu of the more typical “letter of reference”? I put together a one to two page document for my clients filled with short statements from all sorts of credible references speaking from their unique vantage points.
The result is a reference page that reads like a list of 5-star book reviews! You simply ask your references for a short quote and share that you are looking for short, substantive information—how you solved a problem, helped a company grow, saved $ or increased productivity or profits.
You may even offer to write the reference FOR them and then simply get their OK. Though this can be a little uncomfortable at first you will end up with some very powerful reference statements that convey exactly the message you want to get across. References that say “Jim is a great guy—I would definitely refer him to others—is vague and unimpressive. If you get a reference like that, you might go back to your contact and ask if they wouldn’t mind inserting a little more detail . . . something like this:
“Jim helped us close a $140 million healthcare construction project that opened the door to a new industry segment for us. In addition, he also happens to be a positive influence and a great person to work with.”
Additional Ways to Help Your References Help You
You will do well to take an active role in developing a powerful reference topic or topics. Simply give potential references two or three things to focus on. Of course those two or three things should be in sync with the kind of position you are focused on. Let’s say in your next position you want to target a Senior VP Operations role. You could coach your references to comment on the following strengths:
- My abilities as a leader—taking a company global.
- My capabilities on the new technology integration task force.
- My abilities to analyze current operations and pioneer long-term growth plans.
Using these easy and powerful tips you will soon have an abundance of highly targeted and compelling references that will have potential employers taking notice!