The Importance of “Third Party Validation” in Job Search

By Ford R. Myers
President, Career Potential, LLC

When you’re conducting a job search, you need to “sell yourself.” You need to tell everyone who will listen how fabulous you are and how qualified you are. Right? Well, sort-of. Of course you have to “sell yourself,” but there is a better way to establish your desired impression or “brand.”

Let’s face it, you can go around all day telling others how qualified you are and how wonderful your work is. But this approach, if taken to an extreme, can actually backfire on you. It can make you seem conceited and self-centered. A better strategy is to develop and leverage “third party validation” in your search. This means getting lots of OTHER PEOPLE to say how great you are and how wonderful your work is.

Employers may not believe your own boasts and claims of excellence. But when many other people “sing your praises,” the message is much more believable. Third party validation, in other words, provides credibility and confirmation of your best qualities as a candidate.

There are many tools you can use to build your third party validation, including: Letters of Recommendation, List of Professional References, Testimonial Sheet, LinkedIn Recommendations, and more. The two PRIMARY documents for creating third party validation, however, are Letters of Recommendation and List of Professional References (phone references).

Below are guidelines to help you develop and use these two primary tools for third party validation.

Professional References and Letters of Recommendation

The recommended number of “phone reference people” is between four and six, and you should secure three to five solid letters of recommendation.

Most people already know that they need a list of phone references. But you might be asking, “Why do I need letters of recommendation at this point in my career?”

The answer is simple. When you find yourself in a competitive interviewing situation (and what interviewing situation is NOT competitive?), the letters of recommendation can really help “push you over the top.”

In other words, when two or more candidates are equally qualified, the one who provides strong letters of recommendation at the later stages of the interview process will usually get the offer! So why not have this “extra ammunition” in your arsenal?

Here’s how to get your “phone reference people” on board and generate your letters of recommendation.

  1. Make a list of all the people you want to ask (people who will support you, advocate for you and champion you). Think of peers, bosses, subordinates, clients, consultants, vendors, suppliers, etc.
  2. Separate them into two categories – one group to write letters of recommendation; the other to serve as phone references.
  3. Contact them and for their help, stating exactly what you want them to do, and soliciting their participation.
  4. Send them each a packet of information about your work, including these four items: Cover Letter, Professional Biography, Resume and Target Company List (your cover letter includes a bullet list of the specific attributes or experiences you want them to focus on in their letter or phone call). NOTE: the cover letter you send to the “letter writers” will be slightly different from the letter you send to the “phone reference people.”
  5. Follow-up to be sure they received everything and that they fully-understand your documents.
  6. Tell the phone reference people to inform you immediately when they receive any calls from prospective employers. (This information will be very valuable to you!)
  7. Tell the letter writers that you want to review their “rough draft” and “check the letter for accuracy.” Later, instruct them to print-out the final letter of recommendation on company letterhead (after you have edited the text, as needed).
  8. Offer to help each of these participants in a similar capacity, should the need ever arise.

Letter of Recommendation: Guidelines for the Writer

Provide these general tips to your letter writers:

  • Print the final letter of recommendation on your company letterhead. If your employer does not permit you to write such letters on company letterhead, then please use your personal letterhead or create a simple letterhead (name, address, phone, e-mail at the top of the sheet).
  • Do not date the letter, and do not include any salutation (there should be no “Dear _____”). Do not write, “To Whom it May Concern,” nor “Dear Sir or Madam.”
  • Keep the letter fairly brief, and never more than one page.

Letter Outline with Examples

Give the information below to the people who will be writing your letters of recommendation (adapted to your own situation/background):

  1. The 1st paragraph should say something like:
    “I am writing to you on behalf of my former colleague, Sally M. Smith. I had the privilege of working with her from (use dates) when she was the (title) of (company XYZ)” Use your own words.
  2. In the 2nd paragraph, mention some specifics that you recall about me:
    “As the (title/company), Sally directed the strategic planning process for our division and led the economic and market forecasting. Her forecasts were instrumental in a number of projects, including A, B and C. She actively contributed to the composites industry by doing (D, E and F). Sally consistently demonstrated (words such as leadership, problem-solving, communication, follow-through, analysis, organization are good to use). Throughout her tenure with company XYZ, she proved herself to be _______ and a _________ team player.” (Or something along those lines. Focus your attention on my contributions to the company as much as possible). Again, use your own words.
  3. For the 3rd paragraph, you may wish to mention some personal traits/values of mine:
    What was it like to work with me, how did I measure-up as a team member compared with others? What contributions was I known for? What was I particularly good at? What positive recollections of working with me do you have? Use whatever adjectives come to mind.
  4. The last paragraph should reiterate how you feel about me as a professional:
    “I feel strongly that Sally would bring A, B and C to any organization and prove to be a valuable, contributing member” (or something similar). End with a sentence that says something like, “I would be happy to talk with you if you have any questions about Sally,” or “Please feel free to contact me directly if you would like to know more about Sally’s work.” Use your own words.

Telephone References: Whom to Ask and How to Ask

Make a list of colleagues who would “sing your praises” if asked about you. These should be people who know you professionally (from any time in your career) – NOT friends and relatives!

Contact each of them, and get approval to use their names on your list of references. Be sure to provide these individuals with specific guidance about what to say when prospective employers call.

Also, ask these references to contact you immediately if any prospective employers call them.

On your list of professional references, include each person’s name, title, company, street address, phone number(s), e-mail address. Also be sure to include a statement after each reference indicating the context of your professional relationship. Here’s an example: “I reported directly to Sarah in my role as Regional Business Manager. She can attest to my leadership, P&L management and change management skills.” Also, always use the prefixes Mr., Ms., or Dr. before each person’s name.

Conclusion

Once you’re developed these third party validation channels, your job search will become much easier. You’ll feel confident and credible, and you won’t have to do all the self-promotion and “selling” by yourself. You’ll have “a small army” of trusted professionals supporting and facilitating your job search, which will obviously catapult you to a much higher level of productivity and success!

About the Author:
Ford R. Myers is an award-winning career coach and President of Career Potential, LLC. He is author of the best-seller, Get The Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring. Ford’s firm helps clients take charge of their careers, create the work they love, and earn what they deserve! He has held senior consulting positions at three of the nation’s largest career service firms. Ford’s articles and interviews have appeared in hundreds of magazines, newspapers, television and radio networks. He has also conducted presentations at many companies, associations and universities. Learn more at www.CareerPotential.com or contact Ford directly at 1-800-972-6588.

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