Making a professional referral is the trifecta of networking. The person you refer is a winner, the person who fills their vacant position is a winner, and you’re a winner. And just like a bet on the ponies, referrals can pose risk.
Providing a Professional Referral
Referring someone for a position you’re not 100% certain they can fill sets up what we might call a reverse trifecta. A referral mismatch disappoints all parties. It can set the referred person up for failure, which may reflect poorly on the person who hired them and can diminish your credibility with your network.
Seeking a Professional Referral
When you’re seeking a professional referral you increase your odds of success if you provide key information, including a careful definition of WHY you’re seeking the referral, clarity about WHAT you have to offer, WHICH company needs your offering, and WHO the decision maker is at your target company.
For example, let’s say you learn in your Linkedin feed that Smith Engines just won a multi-billion-dollar design and manufacturing subcontract for a defense contractor. Your company is in the business of providing aerospace design engineers and has had success augmenting the staff for several other defense contractors. You believe the decision maker at Smith Engines is the Vice President of Engineering. You could certainly figure out who that individual is and place a cold call … but so could every other engineering firm in your space. This is where you leverage your 500-connection network.
A reference is a testimonial of suitability to fill a specific organizational role. When tapped to provide a reference for a colleague who is interviewing for a position, we’re being asked for an honest assessment—a particular challenge if that person wasn’t a top performer when we worked with them.
We’d all like to believe we were top performers in every position we held. If we’re objectively honest, however, there are a multitude of reasons (some that may have been outside our control) this might not have been the case. The same holds true for everyone in our network; so it’s important to give them the same benefit of the doubt we’d like them to give us.
Making the effort to connect
people whose relationship may be mutually beneficial is a habit of all great networkers. The introductions you make add value for all
players—you build your own value to your colleagues and connections, and
simultaneously demonstrate positive regard for members of your network. Making introductions is like corporate
match-making. When we meet a person who
appears to have parallel interests with someone else in our network – we can
determine if each is interested in the connection, then make the
introduction. Our effort compliments both people, regardless of the
One important note: when a
colleague makes an introduction on your behalf, do acknowledge that compliment
by following up with an update. I only
learned how meaningful that update is when I didn’t receive one.
I’d met an accomplished
executive when I added her to my engagement team. She had a deep
background as a subject matter expert in a specific field. As I got to
know her, I realized how important being selected for additional engagements
was to her financially. With her permission, I introduced her to two former
colleagues of mine—one who owns her own firm and often has work she outsources,
and the other a highly sought-after consultant who is often in the position to
refer subject matter experts.
Imagine a “You Are Here” signpost on your career roadmap. You may be gainfully employed and on a clear career path or considering new options. You might be considering a new business start-up or an established business owner.
We’ve all experienced the feeling of hitting a brick wall. Those periods in our careers (or lives) when we no longer have the energy to take “it” down brick by brick, we can’t seem to get over “it”, and “it” is just too big to get around. Whatever “it” is seems insurmountable.