One of the best ways to make your PRISM profile stand out is to make sure it includes recent, high-quality referrals from people who can truthfully testify to your work and achievements. A targeted recommendation from the right recommender might just put you over the top in what is an increasingly competitive marketplace. While a generic, off-topic endorsement can easily strike a potential employer or colleague as background noise or, worse, as profile-padding.
Given their importance, you shouldn’t wait for recommendations or referrals to accrue on their own, and should instead seek them out proactively. Before you solicit that first rave, though, here are some things to consider.
Ask yourself: What do you really need potential employers and colleagues to know about you?
Every step along your PRISM journey is different, as is every professional relationship. The recommendations and referrals you solicit should reflect those differences.
Before you reflexively reach out to your most recent manager for a recommendation, ask yourself exactly what it is you need to be communicated and for what purpose. Are you looking for a new job? Are you making a significant career change or moving to the next rung on an established trajectory? Maybe you’re not looking for a new job just yet but are trying to attract new colleagues for networking?
If you're looking for a new gig, it might be useful to get a recommendation that fleshes out a relevant, exemplary achievement referenced in your resume. But if you're looking for new people to connect with, a recommendation detailing your positive impact on a colleague’s life or work could strike a chord with another professional looking to expand their network. Either way, your goal is to ensure that there is a good fit between the recommendation and your overarching goals.
Once you know what you want to be communicated, figure out who would best communicate it
Your recommender should be someone who knows you and can offer first-hand testimony to something specific about you. If you’re having trouble deciding who to ask, here are some general parameters:
- Aim for someone you worked with for at least six months or on multiple projects.
- Your recommender should be someone in good standing in your sector and whose own record of achievement can be easily verified by the reader. A former manager is obviously helpful, but you basically want anyone who can meaningfully testify to your work - a colleague, teacher, mentor, client, or customer.
- Does the recommender actually like you? This may seem like a strange thing to wonder about, but large organizations and push-button digital connections sometimes create pro forma relationships. Give a referrer or recommender an easy, non-confrontational out upfront: “I think you’d write a great reference, but I understand if you’re busy."
- Is your recommender a strong writer? The choice of referrer or recommender can reflect on you in unexpected ways. A positive - but poorly crafted - recommendation sends a mixed signal and can raise questions about your judgment.
Referrals - which is to say, introductions - add another wrinkle in that a referrer is really an intermediary between you and another person. This referrer should be someone who can not only speak accurately and persuasively to your work and good qualities, but someone whose assessments your intended audience will actually credit. A referral from someone with only a tenuous relationship to your target is of little value. Do your research ahead of time and make sure you’ve found the right person for the task of connecting you.
By some estimates, employers check around three references during most hires, so set yourself a goal of finding three references or recommendations to get your PRISM profile off to a strong start.
Ask for exactly what you want
Once you have identified what you want to say and who you want to say it, make sure you close the loop by explicitly asking your recommender or referrer for exactly what you want communicated. It’s in some ways a given that your endorser thinks you’re very nice, hardworking, and will make a great addition to any team. But, if you’ve chosen a referrer or recommender because they can speak to, say, the great work you did together on your school’s committee on campus climate, make sure they know that's what you had in mind when you reached out.
To generate a properly customized recommendation, you should courteously prime the person you're asking with specifics. Don’t be shy about this. There is nothing wrong with asking for what you need. A clear, respectful prompt might look like this:
"I think we did really great work together on the committee on campus climate last year. I am applying for a position that will involve that sort of work, and was hoping you could write me a recommendation that shared a bit about that project, our collaboration, and the results."
If the above feels like an imposition, it might be a sign that you’re asking the wrong person to speak on your behalf. If there are additional specifics that you’d like elaborated, share those as well. It's also useful to include a general sense of how long the recommendation should be, as well as some information about the job or institution you’re considering. The fewer details a referrer or recommender has to worry about, the more they can focus on helping you. Lastly, make sure you bake in enough time into this process. Your referrers and recommenders are doing you a favor; don’t rush them!