Leveraging Our Network: Professional Referrals

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.  

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Leveraging Our Network: References

Reference Philosophy

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.

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Leveraging Our Network: Introductions Etiquette

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 outcome.        

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.

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