January 12, 2015

Does Name Dropping Help or Hinder Your Job Hunt?

DiceResearch tells us that that word of mouth is still the most effective way to get a job: according to this CareerXroads study, around 20 percent of jobs are filled via employee referrals.

study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York further underlines this point by revealing that referred candidates were twice as likely to be called to interview and had a 40 percent greater chance of being hired than candidates who were not referred.

That’s great, but at some stage in the process you have to go through the process of dropping the name of your inside contact to the employer. Some companies have made it easy to name-drop by asking you to provide details of current inside contacts in some part of the application, but as you probably know, it doesn’t always happen this way. Often, you are left with having to do a potentially awkward name-drop in your cover letter or during the interview.

Name-dropping, as you may know, is a treacherous activity: if done badly, it can make you appear arrogant or presumptuous; if done very tactlessly, it can even come across as threatening — e.g., “By the way, I play golf with Frank. Frank Jones, you know, your manager…”

However, I do think that it is possible to name-drop effectively. For example, I believe one of the main objections to name-dropping is the expectation that the person doing the name-dropping somehow expects to jump the queue or be done a favor. This violates many people’s sense of fair play. So, it’s vital that you get the message across very quickly that you are not name-dropping with an expectation of an easy ride, but mentioning a witness who can attest to your skills in a particular area. So, if you mention that you know person X or socialize on the golf range with person Y without explaining why this is relevant to your role here, your name-drop is likely to be perceived as an arrogant and presumptuous attempt to jump the queue .

If you are to mention a name in your cover letter or interview, make sure that your contact is relevant or known to the interviewer. Explain your association with the named contact and the specific skill/behavior/achievement they have witnessed. For example, “I worked under X at Browns Limited on the Y project, and he will testify to how effective I was at meeting deadlines.”

The referral or person you name-drop doesn’t have to be a direct contact of the person. It’s perfectly acceptable to mention a well-known professional or personality in the industry (as long as you actually know them yourself!) who the interviewer is familiar with. Once again, it’s important that you are specific about your association with the named person and which skills of yours they can verify.

Now, when during the process should you mention the name? Ideally, you should wait until a point in your cover letter or during the interview when you are talking about a specific skill or achievement that the referral has witnessed. Then, you can drop the name: “I worked with X on this particular project and they can confirm that I was excellent in dealing with the change process.”

So you can see that, if done well, name-dropping respected inside or industry contacts who can confirm your competency in a particular area can be a very effective way to reinforce your application.

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Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.