Almost three years ago someone on this blog wrote a post titled How to Pick Good References. It’s a great post, timeless as most everything written still applies (some of the stuff written, such as providing references on a job applications, will likely depend on what level you are applying for). Someone recently asked a question as a followup to that post:
What if you have spent the last 10 years in the same company and all of the good professional references are within this company but you cant let anyone in your company know you are looking for a job?
I think it depends on how time-sensitive your needs are. Obviously you could ask some very key, close contacts for letters of recommendation, stressing they please respect the confidentiality. I know I have some professional contacts who would have respected that request, partially because we have great (strong) relationships, and partially because we all know that at any time we might be the one asking for a confidential recommendation!
Here’s another idea, though, which might mitigate any negative backlash, or associate you with a job seeker (or, in a serious job hunt): what if you work on collecting and strengthening your LinkedIn recommendations? Here’s why:
LinkedIn is not just for job seekers. There are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of professionals who use LinkedIn for professional relationship stuff that is completely outside of a job search. They work on their own recommendations, which are essentially third-party endorsements… not a declaration of “I’m in a job search.”
Asking for a recommendation on LinkedIn is not the same as asking for a letter of recommendation. If I ask for a letter of recommendation I’m clearly saying “someone is asking for it, probably a potential employer.” If I ask for a LinkedIn recommendation, I’m simply saying “we’ve had a great working relationship, would you mind endorsing me… in about one paragraph?”
A potential employer can view all of your recommendations and get a feel for the overall value you bring. If you have a lot of recommendations (let’s go out on a limb and say “a lot” is…. 10 or more), from different companies or jobs, they should paint a picture of a well-rounded professional. In my recommendations I see common themes, which is kind of cool that different contacts that I knew in different capacities see the same strengths. I get the benefit of having multiple strengths pointed out, as well as multiple people reinforcing the same strengths.
A potential employer can see who the recommender is, and even follow up with them. An employer can check out the recommender’s profile, see what stature they have (in the post about getting letters of recommendation almost three years ago, the author suggests having recommendations from people who are supervisors or above), and even contact them, without me knowing it. The very same thing can happen in a non-job-search situation.
If there are certain recommendations you like, from certain people you like, it will be that much easier to ask them for a full letter of recommendation. Now you can just approach them and say “I have a recommendation from you on LinkedIn, and I need one for a company that is looking at me… could you please incorporate that into a longer, more specific recommendation? Also, please focus on (your attributes here)…” This gives you the opportunity to drive the brand that is being conveyed.
You’ll have these recommendations available and viewable for a long time, which could come in handy when you least expect it. Once you land, you don’t have to hide the recommendations, and future employees, partners, vendors, customers, prospects, etc. might happen upon your profile and make decisions based on your LinkedIn recommendations.
Understand, I’m kind of biased about LinkedIn, and LinkedIn recommendations, as I wrote the LinkedIn book called I’m on LinkedIn — Now What??? Perhaps there are other ways of doing what you need to do, but for me, I consider this a must-do, low-hanging-fruit activity for your job search.