What LinkedIn Users Ought to Know about Job References
Job references still matter. Eight out of 10 HR executives consistently contact references for professional (89 percent), executive (85 percent), administrative (84 percent), and technical (81 percent) positions, according to a SHRM survey. However, these formal reference-check conversations are getting less helpful in clarifying if someone is truly fit for the job. Specifically, a referral who works for a Fortune 500 company is no longer able to formally convey subjective yet rich data on a job candidate’s employability. Instead, references employed by these big firms are now limited to sharing facts (such as dates) around a candidate’s work history. Legal implications have caused this shift.
Meanwhile, smaller (or scrappier) organizations need opinions—i.e., richer data—from trusted sources. They need to know way more than a candidate’s years of employment. They need to know about a person’s employability and personality. Otherwise, a bad hire can result in a cultural misfit—and a poor cultural fit is harder to absorb in smaller firms as per an HR leader at Pinterest.
So what does this mean for smaller organizations that need richer data? These firms are deformalizing the reference-check process, looking beyond your list of references and creating their own contact list to call upon for sincere information about your candidacy. Many are turning to your social media channels as their job reference database, specifically LinkedIn.
While this challenge to uncover who will be called can be rather intimidating for someone with 500-plus connects, I have through my coaching engagements been able to figure out patterns that will take the guessing out of this process. See below how to identify the three connections that are fair game to be called upon and what you should do to proactively prepare them for that phone call.
Start by typing into the LinkedIn search field the
company name of the firm that is interviewing you, then
1. Are you connected to ANY current company employee? Imagine that you graduated from a top-tier business school two years ago, secured a role in a top consulting firm, and you want to transition from consulting in a big organization to working for a startup. Completely hypothetical, right? You progress through a nine-person interview process, none of which involves a business case, yet was trying to get down to how you would help the firm grow. You rock the conversations. Then the firm asks you for a couple of references. Both are called. However, to your surprise, so is your former colleague, Dr. Mac, a current silent investor of this startup. It turns out that you are connected to Dr. Mac via LinkedIn. Lesson: yes, provide the prerequisite references, but thoroughly check to see who you are connected to in a target organization. Approach these contacts. Preparing them will help you regain control on who can speak on your behalf during the employment process. Alternatively, if you are connected to individuals who you don’t think would speak favorably, then perhaps you should disconnect from them temporarily via LinkedIn—this is one way to protect your candidacy.
2. Who recommended you on LinkedIn? Anyone who has publicly recommended you on LinkedIn is now eligible to serve as one of your references for two reasons. First, they have already written on your behalf, and second, many say in their comments that they are open to providing more details around their recommendation. I was coaching a medical school student working on securing a residency in anesthesiology. While assembling recommendations for an inaugural leadership program, she garnered 46 LinkedIn recommendations. She submitted three to the program officially, yet four individuals were called to learn more about her intentions and dedication to leadership in the medical field. While I do not recommend that you secure 46 LinkedIn recommendations, I do suggest that you strategically think about whom to ask for a LinkedIn recommendation. Reengage them before you start to submit job applications anywhere. Share your recent résumé, a sample cover letter, and a prospective job description. Give them a heads-up that they could be contacted because of their LinkedIn recommendation.
3. Are you connected to any interviewer via LinkedIn? If you know who is interviewing you, see if you have any mutual connections. It does not matter if they are current employees of the firm for which you are interviewing. It’s likely that this recruiter or manager will call the connection simply to get a sense of your character. As a result, it’s wise to research anyone in the decision-making process or even an influencer on LinkedIn to see if those connections sprout up. Another way to truly leave no stone unturned is by checking Facebook to see if you have any mutual friends. Take Stanley. He was gunning for an engineering opportunity in a midsize firm in North Carolina. He thought he had the job in the bag. The founders of this company witnessed his work. They called him to better understand his capabilities. However, the founders did their homework on Stanley. They noticed two of his LinkedIn connections. Both were their personal friends. So after their conversation with Stanley, they called both for candid references because they were trusted sources. One of them had no viewpoint on Stanley; the other had a mixed viewpoint on Stanley’s level of sophistication in creating Java-based solutions. Despite the great interview with Stanley, both founders withdrew their interest in him following the lukewarm recommendation from a personal friend of theirs.
The beauty of LinkedIn is its transparency—this, however, is also its flaw for a job seeker. If you are not proactively using LinkedIn throughout the job-hunt process, then you are diminishing your chances of getting an attractive job. Meanwhile, when it comes to job references, LinkedIn is exposing your network. If you had to invest in an employee and knew that you could ask an old friend about their performance, wouldn’t you? Or would you solely rely on calling a stranger’s self-selected references? What if your reputation relied on that new employee’s success? Leave your comments below.