The Best Grad Gift: Career Contacts

Anita,

I’m graduating soon, and I’m nervous about finding a full-time job in my chosen field before all the gift money runs out! Can you help?

Dear “3.57 (that’s contacts, not GPA),”

Graduate introductionYou may have heard the networking theory “six degrees of separation” – you can be connected to anyone in the world through a chain of six acquaintances. Facebook crunched the numbers and determined the new normal in our social media age is only 3.57 connections.

It’s time career contacts rise above cash as the prized graduation gift. Parents, aunts, uncles, family friends, listen up! The best start you can give a grad is to introduce them to someone who can help their career. Don’t limit contacts to someone you know has an job opening. A seasoned professional in the same industry may be happy to meet with a recent graduate for 30 minutes to answer neophyte questions. A useful contact may not be able to offer actual employment, but could be the second link of the 3.57 connections needed to land a position.

Here are two ways to introduce your LinkedIn contacts to one another. A personal telephone call on behalf of a high-achieving young person you feel comfortable vouching for may be more effective than an e-introduction.

Back to you, graduates. It’s important you do your part. First, make sure you have a great résumé. Check out my blog post, Creating a Résumé from Scratch. Print on quality paper stock from a professional printer (pay for them if you must with some of those graduation gift checks) and always have copies ready for networking opportunities. Provide an electronic PDF version for any “angels” who may wish to forward it to their contacts via email.

Create a LinkedIn profile with a business-appropriate photo – no duckface! Check out Social Media Today’s blog, How to Use LinkedIn for New Graduates, to build a killer profile. Savvy networkers use the Alumni Tool on LinkedIn to widen their contacts further.

Whether communicating on LinkedIn, by email, or via telephone, explain why you’ve reached out to the connection (“My uncle, NAME, suggested you would be a good contact in the ____ industry. I’m interested in getting into the field and was wondering if you would have time to offer some advice?”). Most workforce veterans will be flattered and willing to help.

After any conversation – virtual or in-person – always thank the person for their time, even if the meet-and-greet didn’t didn’t result in a job offer or even what you may consider useful advice. You never know who your benefactor may know!

Readers: When you were fresh out of school, how did a contact or introduction from friends or family further your career? 

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Responding to Reference Check Requests

Hi, Anita:

I received a call from a company requesting a reference for a former employee on my team. What am I allowed to say and what information should I keep confidential?  I want to be as professional as possible while being honest. Thanks.

Dear, Reference Check Responder:

More and more companies are requiring that reference checks be performed before bringing on new employees. It is a great way to get the inside scoop on an employee that you are interested in hiring and serves as a great second opinion that you are making the right or the wrong choice.

Many employees/job seekers are under the impression that it is illegal for their previous employer to disclose anything besides the dates of employment, salary information, and job title. Though it may be your current company’s policy to disclose nothing more than dates, pay, and title, there are no current federal laws in place that prevent additional employment information from being disclosed to potential employers. Each state’s laws are different so it is best to check the Department of Labor for your state to make sure you are within the protections of the law.

reference

Keep in mind that there are laws against defamation of character (slander and libel) or invasion of privacy that you must be very careful not to break. It is important that you give an accurate description of the employee in question but an exaggerated and personally charged negative reference should be avoided. Not only can it open the door for potential lawsuits, but it may also damage your credibility and professional image to peers outside of your company.

Some simple guidelines that will help you:

  • If you feel a question is too invasive, you can politely say that you are not at liberty to discuss this topic due to your current company’s policy.
  • Give responses only to questions that you feel comfortable answering.
  • If the employee left the company on bad terms, I would refer the call to your Human Resources department. These colleagues are trained to handle these situations properly.
  • Avoid giving detailed information of an employee’s negative performance.
  • Only comment on your direct observations of the current or former employee’s performance. Hearsay should not be relied on or involved in your description.
  • Medical conditions and other personal health information should never be discussed.
  • For your protection, keep a log of all reference inquiries that show the date, name of employee, name of reference requestor, and name of prospective employer company. This document should be placed in the former employee’s folder and be made available upon request.

In any situation, personal or professional, always use your best judgment. Never feel like you have to divulge more information than you feel comfortable giving. Each company is different and may have a standard procedure for handling reference requests. Always consult your supervisor or Human Resources department for additional information.

Good luck!

Anita

Readers:  What are the most difficult questions that you have been asked by a reference requestor? Have you ever had a former employee ask for a reference that you felt you should not offer?

Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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