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What is Networking: Use LinkedIn to Build Your Reference List

Do you keep an updated list of potential references? Based on our career consulting experience we find that the most common answer is "no." It can be difficult to keep in touch with past supervisors and colleagues and it only takes a few years for detailed specifics about your work at the organization to get a bit fuzzy or lost. As such, quality references can be difficult to get.

Additionally, many job seekers we've worked with -- particularly those that are currently employed -- have simply put "References Available Upon Request" at the bottom of their resume. Inevitably, when they get the follow-up request for the actual contacts, they end up scrambling to find 2-3 people available to speak about their work. Calling up an old colleague or boss out of the blue to ask for a reference can be a bit off-putting -- for both you and the potential referrer.

This is where LinkedIn comes in handy.
The best time to ask for a reference from a previous colleague or supervisor is when you don't actually need one; when you have 4-6 months to make initial contact with an old colleague, connect on LinkedIn and casually request a recommendation. The best part about LinkedIn is that you can do it all online.

How recommendations on LinkedIn work.
From a technical perspective, requesting recommendations on LinkedIn in quite easy. From the main navigation menu select "Profile" and then "Recommendations" from the drop down menu. On the next screen you will be presented with your past employment list. Select the relevant position and click "Ask to be endorsed." At this point, you'll be able to write a personalized message to request your recommendation. Once the referrer writes a recommendation, it will appear on your profile under the relevant job history line item.

Our top tips for requesting recommendations on LinkedIn

  1. Connect and chat with the referrer first. Don't send a recommendation request out of the blue. Send them a message, make some digital small talk and get your work achievements back on their mind.
  2. Send individual messages. While you can technically send out a mass email to large groups of people requesting recommendations, we strongly suggest sending them one at a time with a personalized message.
  3. Drive the conversation and the review. If you remember a particular project that you excelled at in a previous position be sure to mention it in your message. For example: "Hi John, it's been so nice to reconnect with you on LinkedIn. I'd appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to write a quick recommendation for me on my LinkedIn profile highlighting my work at Widget, Inc. I remember the great work we did together on the Super Duper Widget project and I think it's a great example of my creative thinking and problem solving skills. It's something I'd really love for potential new employers to know about when they view my LinkedIn profile. Take care and I appreciate your time."
  4. Be honest and specific. If you don't give potential recommenders guidance, you may end up with a generic "Bob is a great person to work with" recommendation. Nice, but it won't impress future employers. Let your contacts know that you are looking for a detailed, thoughtful paragraph about your work together.
  5. Ask if you can add their contact info to your official reference list. Now that they've referred you on LinkedIn, ask if you can have their phone number and email address for potential employers to use. This list makes it easy to provide potential employers with phone references right away.
  6. Ask if you can return the favor. Even if your contact isn't actively using recommendations on LinkedIn, ask if you can return the favor.

Promote your recommendations
Once you've collected a handful of solid recommendations on LinkedIn, make your entire profile public. Now, under "References" on your resume can you add  the web address for your LinkedIn profile and a line such as this: "Detailed references are available on my LinkedIn profile. Contact information for select references available upon request."

Making your reference reports public on LinkedIn tells a potential employer a lot about you: that your past colleagues liked you enough to keep in touch, that they remember your good work, and that you are proud of the work that you've done in the past.

This content originally appear on the Simply Hired blog, where we wrote it as a guest blog piece.

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