Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Developing a career out of gigs and short-term work 7: understanding and expanding workplace and new career-developing options 5

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on August 13, 2014

This is my seventh installment to a series on job search and career development, when you at least start out from a position where your only options seem to be ad hoc and more an ongoing effort to simply find here-and-now work (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 368 and following for Parts 1-6.)

I focused on networking, and particularly on informational networking in Part 5 and Part 6. And at the end of Part 6 I stated that I would turn here to consider the issues of references and recommendations.

I have received and read a great many proffered reference and recommendation letters and emails over the years, so I will focus on them from the recipient’s perspective. And I begin by noting what should be an obvious point. Most of the time at least, people only ask for supportive, positive letters of recommendation and referral. So if I see a letter that takes a less than fully positive approach, that catches my attention as an exception.

The one circumstance that comes immediately to mind for me, where that can and does happen is when a job seeker feels compelled to ask for a recommendation from a former supervisor, and simply because they were their more recent work supervisor – and that manager either felt compelled to give a “fair and balanced” accounting, or they actually had issues with the person requesting this recommendation. So when I see negatives and even faint negatives in a recommendation I take note – but I do not simply, automatically discount or discard the candidate from consideration. I look over their fuller record and at least briefly try figuring out where this came from. In that regard, I have to note that any prospective job candidate who I am reading recommendations from has already passed at least one significant candidate screening and they may even be a finalist candidate who I have considered bringing in for face to face interviews. So I would be curious, if nothing else, as to where a less than fully positive recommendation letter came from.

Setting that aside, let’s consider the vast majority of recommendations – and here I focus on letters per se, which might arrive hard copy or in email form, leaving networking referrals and related for later. The vast majority are all beginning-to-end positive. That, in and of itself, does not necessarily tell me anything at all.

I find myself reading a standard, positively framed recommendation letter. Setting aside the question as to whether I know the writer or not and whether I come to this knowing a priori something about their approach and judgment:

• How specific is this recommendation? Is it so generally written that it could even be a stock, boiler plate recommendation that this sender uses for pretty much every recommendation letter they write, or does it seem to have been written with this candidate in mind? Even if the later of these possibilities seems to hold, is this very generally written or does it reflect the letter writer having read a description of the job applied for? Does this have any specific evaluation information in it that would apply to this candidate as they are applying to this specific job?
• The best recommendations go beyond simply offering vague and general platitudes; they indicate that the writer knows this candidate and knows what they are applying for. And it seeks to indicate why this individual would be a good candidate for this specific job opportunity.

I am not suggesting telling a reference what to write when I raise these points. I am strongly suggesting meeting with the people you would seek recommendations from and bringing them up to speed and on both what you are doing and on what you seek to do next.

• Give them a briefly stated outline of the job you seek, focusing on the types of skills and experience that they would best be able to address in your recommendation letter and on the points that would resonate with their own experience with you.
• If this sought after job would be a real career path change for you, then this means discussing your transferable skills with them, and how your earlier training and experience would hold you in good stead for this new, next position too.
• But give the people you seek recommendations from, the informational tools that they would need for writing effectively for you in their recommendations. And pick who you would approach for recommendations with care and with their expected audience in mind.

This much addresses the issues of recommendations. Your goal here is to find and secure letters or emails, or phone assurances from people who know you and your work, who would offer a measure of credibility and reliability as sources of insight for helping to evaluate you as a job candidate. When you seek referrals – and here let’s focus on networking referrals as a case in point, look for people who you know or who you can at least meet and get to know, who can help you meet people who you do not know yet. This is about who these people know and who they in turn know.

• Network to meet with the people you can connect with now, and even more importantly long-term, network to help you to identify who you would be best off meeting, and network towards meeting them too.
• And always network generously, seeking to offer at least as much value to others as you yourself seek to gain from this. Network with at least one ongoing collateral goal of becoming known as a reliable and generous networker who is ready to help as well as to receive value and help.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment by in effect circling back to its beginning, and to the postings and series that I began citing as background references in Part 1. And my goal will be to discuss moving beyond gig work as a matter of learning to live and even thrive in the midst of uncertainty – a goal that certainly presents itself as being easier to say than it is to do. But increasingly that is a skill that everyone who seeks to be actively engaged in the workforce needs to develop. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.


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