- Professional networking and connections are critical elements of your business success
- Always look for the win-win in business referrals. Even if you aren’t initially one of the “wins”, people remember those who helped them.
- Honouring your network by switching ON- following up diligently when introduced- will lead to more open communication and beneficial referral networks
Business referrals are your reputation
“I know someone there” may be music to your ears if you’re looking to get your foot in the door of a new company; or checking out a prospective new employer. In today’s work world, it really is often about who you know to get that first break in a sea of similarly qualified talent. It’s a fact of life people make time for trusted referrals before a cold call, email, or CV.
“But what about my merits? My education, work history and professionalism?” you may ask. These are all critical to be sure, and combined with a strong professional network, this is an encouraging word for you to be both be a connector and someone who readily turns on their follow up switch when they’re referred professionally.
For years now, I have been instructing graduate and undergraduate business and, during this time, I have been fortunate to have exceptional cohorts and find the experiences quite rewarding. There are a few litmus tests I like to use when assessing my willingness to connect any student or professional contact to a someone I know. They’re pretty simple and relatively few. Actually there are only two:
1. Will this person represent me well? After all, this is my reputation I am entrusting to a person. Professional contacts are valuable and, before I just go on and give you the keys to open the door, I need to be relatively secure in the fact you will conduct yourself well and be a positive reflection of me to the person I introduce you to. It’s about trust.
One recent example of this causing some stress was when I had a student look through my Linkedin contacts and send me a list of 50 people they wanted me to introduce them to. First, let’s get some focus here. If you’re asking for help, the “throw it against any wall and see what sticks” approach is far from recommended. Certainly, I wasn’t about to refer anyone to 50 contacts straight away.
What made this especially delicate is the fact this person was a B- student at best. They were clearly not focused on the course, on participating, on their assignments, on helping others in class, and there was simply no way I was going to refer them to anyone, anytime soon. I let them know “you’re asking me to trust you with my reputation and introduce you to these professionals? At this time, I don’t have the confidence you would properly take care of my reputation, sorry”. It was an honest and certainly eye opening conversation.
2. Will this person actively follow up appropriately with intelligent communication with the person to whom they’re referred. See above of course as to why this is important; however, it’s a deeper issue. With all due respect to younger professionals and graduate school students who’ve worked a bit, if you are connected to a senior executive, someone with a far more senior role, and they make time to offer to meet you- drop everything within reason to accommodate their availability.
Admittedly, this is harder to read. Will someone, when given the change to meet an executive, make every effort to make it happen? This would seem like a no- brainer right?
You are offered a chance to meet a senior executive in their office when they return from overseas or regional business travel. You’d jump to make it happen right? Well this example went very differently and I must thank my brother, President of an advertising agency, for his patience.
Not too long ago, an excellent student of a respected colleague was recommended to me for assistance in their career planning. The student came to speak with me while I was guest lecturing at my Alma Mater. They presented themselves well, seemed focused, and asked me for an introduction to 3 specific people I was connected to via Linkedin. “Wow” I thought, “they have it together!” A quick check with my colleague validated their hard working nature and industriousness. As mentioned in point 1 above, my colleague trusted this person and their reputation to me.
As it were, one of the contacts with whom they wished to meet was my brother, who is also an alum. Now I reserve the holy grail of referrals, my brother, for one or two people annually. Not only does this referral carry the usual weight of professional contact, but I really don't want to hear how I wasted his time over Holiday dinner when I am looking to enjoy our family time.
To his credit, my brother took time from his extremely busy schedule to make a few attempts to connect before asking me if he could “cut them loose”, I concurred it was time to do so because his offer to meet this senior student 3 times was met with “that’s not a convenient time for me” FROM the student. I almost thought he was joking. Actually, after the second call from him, I did think he was gaming me. I was shocked.
My colleague and I were both embarrassed. This student carelessly jeopardized the reputation of their professor who in tern recommended the student to me and jeopardized my reputation. In an attempt to curtain such behavior in the future, I made a call to the student to let them know they would not be meeting my brother and to try and not make a habit of this again.
The bottom lines, look for the win-wins and how you can help people. And when someone offers you help, follow up like your reputation depends on it. Because it does.
Connect; switch on; and succeed.