Want to Live Long and Prosper? Ten Tips

screenshot from uscf.edu/news

screenshot from uscf.edu/news

This is a don't miss post from UCSF if you're interested in living long.

And happily!

On Monday, a dear friend and I spent five hours chatting at a Fremont Panera about our respective businesses 

It's an every-six-weeks-or-so habit we established nearly a decade agoalternating visits between San Francisco and Fremont, California.

She mentioned Dr. Ephraim Engleman, a 104-year-old rheumatologist, recently passed, who a few years ago recorded a video sharing his "secrets of longevity." I followed the link she sent and it's worthy of a gander if you hope to live long and prosper. And you appreciate centenarian wisdom and wry humor!

For those who don't care to watch the video, here's a distillation. My commentary is in italics.

  1. Select parents with the proper genes. (Where's my wincing emoji when I need it?)
  2. Choose the right spouse. Having children is optional.
  3. Enjoy your work, but don't retire voluntarily.
  4. Exercise is overrated, do a little but not too much. (Can't agree, but I haven't lived to 104 either! On second thought, maybe I fall into the "a little" camp....)
  5. Avoid diets, vitamins, organic foods, fish oils, and other so-called nutrients. Don't weigh yourself. (Guilty. Entirely. Again with the "not agreeing," but zero personal proof)
  6. Keep your mind active. Poker, checkers, music, crossword puzzles.
  7. Avoid travel by air. (Okay, he's definitely a comedian.)
  8. Do not fall.
  9. Avoid illnesses like heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and arthritis.
  10. Be happy, lucky, keep young, and keep breathing. 

For everyone else, the video is below. A stirring tribute to his humor and 104-year-earned wisdom.

Meanwhile, UCSF's post from September has delightful photos of Dr. Engleman's early years at Stanford and his wedding day, among others. 

I can't help thinking about Dr. Engleman would have big ol' chuckle at The Atlantic's mid-life slump article I highlighted in November.

Ah, life. 

 

I can do that job! Why won't they hire me?

A well-pedigreed client recently returned for a résumé and LinkedIn update. She's a lot of fun and exploring a new direction in her career. 

Big Job Small Job.jpg

Part of our conversation turned toward a set of fictionalized addenda that I use to inspire new ideas and draw focus.

Her response to the examples (edited for clarity):

"Looking at the scope of work performed [in these stories], I find it sort of crazy that the work is all the same. It's just the size of the budgets handled that make something seem more executive in function. The exact same talent is getting poured into different sized initiatives."

She's right, of course, that at least similar talent is poured into difference sized initiatives. But that, perhaps, is exactly the rub, and it's a reality check conversation I frequently have with clients.

Here was my response:

"It's interesting right? I know from [retained executive] search that a key differentiator between "exact same talent" and their tasks is the size and type of the institution (public, private, NPO, government, regulated, etc.) and then the scope of professional oversight (team size and geography, budget size and complexity, requirements, etc.). 

I've come to learn that [a big part is] the amount of risk and [how the ideal candidate's] expertise mitigates that risk. It's a big reason why recruiters usually stick to a sure thing when recruiting a high profile role, and why it's important for someone who's a ways into their career—but not at a level they'd like to be—to have an advocate on the inside. In other words, someone who's willing to stick their neck out and vouch for them."

Size matters.

Indeed, the management of a $20M regional budget is very different than managing a $350M global P&L. Managing a 12-member local team is very different from managing a 200-person team on four continents. 

Contacts matter.

Another differentiator I neglected to mention in my note to my client is the contacts that a very senior, high profile person brings to a new role. A very senior person from a very large company who is sought by one of the Big 4 accounting firms is going to need a major book of business. So while the activities s/he performs may be "exactly the same" as someone at a small to mid-sized company, the Big 4 firm is going to prioritize the contacts that come with someone from a very large company. 

I should note that this isn't a positive or a negative on its own. It's simply a career planning tool. Awareness is a critical step to making the right, realistic plans.  

Networks matter.

It's for these reasons that so many people in the career development world harp on the power of networking. (See my recent post, "Networking: Essential or Overrated?") And not only networking, but networking authentically. You know ... making and keeping friends in business.

It's too late to start networking when you suddenly need a job. 

Planning matters.

Also, when suddenly looking for a job, many people think they are going to be every recruiter's dream candidate. And why not? Recruiters find ideal candidates, right? I'm suddenly available, so of course they're going to pine over me! Who else would they turn to? 

Unfortunately, too many otherwise brilliant minds default to this line of thinking, and it really couldn't be farther from the truth. Legitimate recruiters are, in fact, all different (retained versus contingency) except in one way: recruiters are hired by companies to find ideal candidates. They are looking externally for a specific blend of skills, and it doesn't matter how perfect you might be, it's all about the blend of that perfection (experience and skills) compared to what is being sought.

At this level, they're not looking to take a chance on what is possible. They're looking for proven leadership.   

Nothing of note happens overnight. 

Whether it's fine wines, cheeses, or executives. It's all careful cultivation and months to years of nurturing. 

As such, my quick takeaways for executives interested in cultivating a long-term career strategy are:

  1. Learn what you're dealing with. What are the pros and cons in terms of where you are (who you are, what you offer) and where you want to go. I happen to have a "Job Description Analysis" tool for that. Just last night a client emailed me, saying this: "This was a very meaningful exercise. It gave me more clarity into how I see my career progressing.")
  2. Develop and cultivate your network authentically so when the time comes, your "ask" isn't only genuine, but also heard and cared about. 
  3. Take a long view and develop your LinkedIn profile so you're not only using it for business, but also visible when a search firm is retained to look for someone just like you. 

For more, check out my LinkedIn Post article 6 Career Positioning Metrics Every Management Professional Should Cite.

What Are You Doing This Sunday Morning?

Screenshot from HRGrapevine.com.

Screenshot from HRGrapevine.com.

HRGrapevine.com recently revealed the morning routines of successful leaders. Quick and easy read, whether you spring out of bed or linger.

Fast Company did a similar piece, saying: "These routines might inspire you to create your own."

Rather than creating a routine, I might suggest listening to and building around your natural biorhythms. 

But heck, it's Sunday, what am I talking about? Linger! Relax! Grab a second cup of coffee! As for me, I'm off to the gym. Again. That miserable place that makes the rest of my life so much better....

Why Job Boards Aren't the End All-Be All for Job Seekers

Except for the purpose of research (yes, I wrote a toolkit about that purpose), I've disdained and largely decried online job boards for years. But somehow, until last night, stumbling across Nick Corcodilos' 2013 CMO.com article "Fired! Job Boards Get Their Walking Papers," I hadn't really pieced together that online job boards are basically glorified job ads in the back pages of newspapers.

I'll admit that the last time I replied to a newspaper job ad was as a 17-year-old applying for a bank teller job in 1987.

Job ads in the back of the newspaper died in the late 90s, giving way to the promise of online job ads. Monster was among the first and biggest, but even as a recruiter in New York more than a decade ago, we eschewed the monster. We used niche job boards, and we had pretty good results.

Later, as a retained search recruiter in San Francisco, we didn't even advertise jobs. Our role was to research, identify, and convince the right people that the jobs we were recruiting were right for them.

In fact, we basically ignored inbound résumés because the résumé submitted by a person actively looking for work might mean there was something wrong. And retained search doesn't play with fire. Retained search plays with certainty. So it was far better to pursue than to be pursued. 

If you're thinking about uploading your résumé to a job board, don't. For oh-so-many reasons. If you're relying entirely on job boards, don't. If you want to know why, read Nick Corcodilos' insightful and convincing article. It's as good today as it was when it was uploaded in 2013.

How Important is P&L Management for Up-and-coming CEOs?

Imagine you've had a storied leadership career to date. You're hovering around the 18-22 year mark ... right at that point when a retained executive search firm approaches you about a great next step: successor CEO for a company where the founding CEO is participating in a search to replace him.

The stakes are high and you're interested.

After being vetted by the search firm, your first official meeting (don't call it an interview!) is dinner with the founding CEO. Skip to the front of the line! 

Before you order the first appetizer, he ask you this: "So how large of a P&L have you managed?"

You freeze. 

You've managed 400 people globally. You've managed budgets totaling 50 million dollars. You've mentored 12 high performers into senior leadership roles. You've driven several billions of dollars in annual revenue for crying out loud!

But you have to confess: "Well, I've never officially managed a P&L."

The founding CEO doesn't beat around the bush: "Well why the hell did they send you to me?!" 

Dinner is over early.

This is a compilation of two people in my experience; both of whom had careers that many might consider exceptional. They both continue doing impressive work in tech. They're game changers in their fields.

But the P&L hiccup held lessons for both. Three lessons, in fact. One, P&L management matters. Two, not all search firms are built equally (the firm should have done better). Three, the CEO in question might have been short-sighted by not exploring a bit further.

The important lessons are still there for all to see.

Note that both came from flat organizations and neither had previously realized the importance of P&L management experience, nor been handed P&L authority. Both were walked to the door when they should have been walking through it. Both are now looking for ways to get their hands around P&L management ASAP so the issue doesn't flare up again.

BlueSteps.com underscores the importance P&L management experience holds for senior executives.

BlueSteps.com underscores the importance P&L management experience holds for senior executives.

As an aside, I recently began researching how many CEOs in the Fortune 500 founded their own companies or firms in the early parts of their careers, and the percentage is becoming convincing. Guess what starting your own company or firm involves? P&L management.

BlueSteps.com's "5 Characteristics a Senior Executive Must Possess to Assume P&L Responsibility" 2010 article still resonates today. Important read for management professionals with an eye on the C-suite or senior executives with a gap or two to fill before reaching CEO.

Clear Writing is Hard Work

One of my favorite Facebook and Twitter memes is the Einstein photo with the quote overlay: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Alas, skeptics.stackexchange.com is only one site questioning the quote's veracity, offering this lively crowd-sourced discussion about the claim. 

Attributable or not to Einstein, the truth within the quote is worth embracing. 

As a young New Yorker in 2000/2001, I thought I was a pretty great writer. Turns out, I wasn't. Thankfully, the partner I worked for was not only a hard-ass, but apparently had the patience of Job, because she endured the several months it took me to relearn how to write for business.

Equally patient—ometime during those same years—was my dear friend Marquel. She spent one memorable hours-long session with me on the Barnes & Noble Lincoln Square floor surrounded by piles of business writing books. She also listened to my belly-aching about the struggle! Major points for Marquel.

Of the six books I bought that night, Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia O'Conner proved the most helpful. And the funniest. I could probably stand to read it again, come to think of it.

So that's the back story to the joy I felt upon reading Victoria Clayton's superb October 26, 2015 article in The Atlantic: The Needless Complexity of Academic Writing. 

I've been working with a lot of PhDs-to-be lately, and am happy to report that they write clearly, by and large. Their curiosity and intellect is obviously deep, but they also have a fresh sensibility about and interest in communicating with the world outside of academia. I haven't read their dissertations—most still in progress—but their résumés and cover letters are clear and straightforward.

If you struggle with hyperbole, sentence structure, overwriting, lack of clarity, and beyond, you'll find all of the links in this blog post to be helpful resources. And take it from the guy who once relearned how to write who now makes his living writing: it can be done. You just have to realize the problem, and then set your mind to it.

My One Word is Practical. What's Yours?

If you're looking for a personal challenge this morning, read Susan Chritton's recent LinkedIn post, "What is your One Word?" 

As a branding strategist and executive coach, Chritton opens with a challenge for readers: "If you could be known for one thing, what would it be?" She closes with, "You must be able to live up to your word." 

Reflecting on what might be my one word, I wanted it to be "strategic" or "insightful." Or even "creative." But at the end of the day, the word I hear most from others that resonates with me is "practical." 

"Practical" lights me up more than the others, because "practical" translates into "useful" and "actionable," and without action and usefulness everything else is imaginary. 

Time to start weaving "practical" into my brand. 

Good quick read if you're feeling self-reflective.

Fact or Fiction? The Midlife U-curve Slump

Leave it to The Atlantic to have a contributor who thinks this deeply. And it's science?

If you're over 40 and you've ever thought, "Is this all there is?" This article is for you. I've emailed it to 30% of my clients, and it resonates with all of them.

The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis, by Jonathan Rauch. Must read. Maybe even for young professionals before they've reached midlife. Good to know ahead of time!

 

How a Plate of Nachos Turned Into Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis

It's here! After blood, sweat, and tears, Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis is downloadable to the public! 

It's here! After blood, sweat, and tears, Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis is downloadable to the public! 

So, alright. I talk a lot on my blog about what other people and organizations are saying about career development.

I've watched a lot of colleagues and thought leaders publish important career development and awareness tools.

But today, it's my turn. I'm over-the-moon excited to share my first and only published resource to date: Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis.

The Job Description Analysis was born out of frustration, honestly. In 2009, a client gave me a spate of job descriptions for which he felt qualified, but they didn't hold a cogent through-line when I considered the entirety of his career. In fact, feelings rarely tell the whole story, nor lead to coherent decisions.

What did I do? I printed his materials and took them to a now-defunct neighborhood Mexican joint, of course! 

Which is where Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis was born. Over a plate of nachos, basically, and with a heaping sense of overwhelm.

Since then, the Job Description Analysis (called "the JDA" by many) has become a deceptively simple self-awareness tool for people with whom I work—baked into my one-on-work with clients.

Whether it's the head of mobile devices at a Silicon Valley consumer tech darling, one of the senior lever pullers at one of the nation's stock exchanges, or a scientist at one of the world's renowned medical device makers, the result is the same: "OMG! I had no idea!"

It's really a tool for everyone.

Basically, you look at your career through the proverbial windshield instead of the rear-view mirror to figure out whether the direction you intend to go is a suitable next step. Or maybe a few steps away. Some find that they've personally undersold themselves, while others find that they've over-shot their abilities. Or that there are a few technical gaps between where they are and where they want to go.

Either way, the scales are removed from their eyes and they learn a great deal about next steps in their careers. And/or they learn about the questions they need to ask to move forward. 

Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis is available, happily, to everyone as of October 29, 2015. The first 40 buyers can purchase the tool at $13.95 versus $24.95. I hope you'll find it helpful, and that you'll share your findings with me. I might want to publish them to this blog because we're all looking to move forward, and if I could tell your story, it might help someone else.

Let me know! 

If You're Looking to Brand Yourself or Your Business

Somewhere between 2009 and 2010, I was working with a team to develop a now defunct version of my website. 

In thinking about what I wanted to highlight on my new website, I realized that I wanted to reach people who cared about what *I* cared about. People who got it. People who were interested in uncovering the value they brought to the world.

Part of that work involved branding; a concept that has been increasingly appropriated by individuals who, instead of companies -- and perhaps rightly -- consider their personas as full-fledged, sale-able brands in the digital world. (Paris Hilton anyone? Kim Kardashian? But I digress.)

As part of that branding exploration -- for myself and on behalf of my clients -- I stumbled upon Simon Sinek's TedX Talk, "How great leaders inspire action," which fundamentally changed the development of my then website. Not surprisingly, Sinek's insights have made their way into the development of my new website (yet released), as I continue to tighten my brand in an effort to work with clients who are "just the right fit."

Why am I blathering on about this? 

If you're considering the development of your own brand, or merely thinking about how to become a better leader, I urge you to invest the 18 minutes and 4 seconds it takes to learn the science behind Simon Sinek's quintessential TedX Talk. 

There's a reason he ranks highly on Ted.com's most popular talks of all time. 

Are You a Multipotentialite? TedX Challenges Us Again

A colleague and dear friend emailed Emilie Wapnick's recent TedX Talk to me yesterday.

At age 65, my friend is an executive résumé writer and career coach with a more-than-interesting professional history.

Indeed, she began her résumé writing practice after at age 50 after stumbling into contingency recruiting three years earlier. 

Prior to that she earned a PhD and an MBA in unrelated fields, ostensibly for the joy of it, and before that, she grew up studying the organ! We bonded over J.S. Bach, love him or hate him, as I studied the piano for many years myself.

Like so many who spend their 75 to 90ish years on the this planet smearing together the humanities and the sciences, this TedX talk resonated with my dear friend. 

It's worth the 15 minutes you'll spend watching it and challenging yourself. 

Are you a multipotentialite? If so, what the hell are you doing about it? If not, are you giving room to those who are?

CTOs, CIOs, and CMOs - This One's for You

A European client who's frequently at the cutting edge of technology and marketing yesterday forwarded HBR's The Rise of the Chief Marketing Technologist article by Scott Brinker (CTO at Ion Interactive) and Laura McLellan (research vice president at Gartner). 

It's a must read for my senior technology and marketing clients (CTOs, CIOs, CMOs, etc.), as we've all seen the same blur between the disciplines in recent years. Just think about the tightly woven job descriptions for so many program or product managers. So why wouldn't be think about the top roles integrating just as tightly? 

Important read for my clients.  

Networking: Essential or Overrated?

A client recently asked early in her Career Planner / Changer Program whether I could point her to some good resources about how to begin networking for a new job.  

My question was: how quickly do you need to move? 

A major component of networking, as classically defined in the career development world, is realizing that networking is a long-term investmenta concept that Shauna Bryce speaks eloquently about in our joint Eye on the C-suite presentations.

Indeed, networking is about developing real and authentic (to overuse that word) relationships that don't hinge on the singular hope that those real and authentic relationships will necessarily lead to a new job.

I recently concluded a multi-year coaching, in fact, during which the client and I talked at least once a month, developing and executing an incremental networking plan based on each month's efforts. His real and authentic activities and relationships ultimately turned into a role that he and I couldn't have predicted. 

So networking as a concept has its champions, realists, skeptics, and naysayers, and I've been thinking about it a lot lately. As so often happens, when you find yourself thinking a lot about a topic, it's soon all you can see.

Two stood out recently, coming from pretty different perspectives, both of which I respect immensely.

First up, Nick Corcodilos, who publishes the only newsletter I read every time it shows up in my inbox. In his article, Please! Stop Networking!, Nick boils the networking conundrum down to its essence. Here's a screen snip of Nick's on-point thinking. Click through the article link for the whole article.

The second came from BlueSteps, which is a product (or is it a service?) of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC). Using the Twitter hashtag #ExecCareer, BlueSteps crowd sourced from executive search consultants the dos and dont's of networking. Here's a snippet, with the rest available in the article and presumably available by searching the #ExecCareer hashtag.

Here's what I think: 

Too many people come to the "I need to network" realization when they're recently or soon to be out of a job. This is perhaps a reason why networking gets such a bad rap, because networking should actually just be building and cultivating friendships, and you can't falsely build real friendships just because you need something from people. The friendships already have to exist. 

Odds are high that you'll switch jobs sometime in the next few years. Why not start building your network of friends now? 

 

The Surefire Way to Gamble With a Recruiter's Patience

As a former retained executive search recruiter—that is to say "one charged with finding needle in the haystack candidates for some of the world's largest companies"—I can't tell you how many times I had a simple problem.

I sat there with a golden ticket for someone. I had my target list of potential candidates, carefully assembled by our research team. And on that list, I would periodically come to names that I couldn't readily pronounce.

It's a quick business at that point, so asking others or searching for online pronunciation isn't feasible. So as I dialed, I would simultaneously sound out the name, hoping for the best. And by the best, I mean that the person will state their name upon answering.

RING!

Inner dialogue: "Oh dear good graces of the universe and beyond, please let them say it before I'm forced to stammer through it." 

RIIIING!

Then they say it.

Hello?"

More inner dialogue: "Doh!"

So I roll the dice and utter a series of syllables as sensibly can, but that really sound more like this:

Hi there ... may I speak with ... Bee-nolo-block-dee? It's Jared Redick calling from [Firm Name]." 

And then I'm corrected. I practice the name aloud a few times, and hopefully gain traction on a call that's awkward from the start.

There are at least two reasons to state your name when answering the phone:

  1. Pronunciation
  2. Privacy

Following are three ways to pave the way to an easier conversation.

1. Make a habit of answering, "Hello, this is [Your Name Here]."

I answer the phone this way if I don't recognize the caller, and my name is simple. Jared. (Although leave it to the Starbucks barista to muck it up.) At the very least, I want the caller to know they've reached the person they intended, even on my private cell phone.

2. Provide a phonetic spelling on your résumé.

If you're a job seeker, a helpful solution is to place an asterisk behind your name in your résumé's masthead, then a corresponding asterisk in the footer, where you can include a phonetic spelling.

The international phonetic alphabet (IPA) is a universal tool across many languages, but not recognizable by everyone, so this website might help in your effort to illustrate both vowel sounds and syllable stress.

3. Leave your name in your outgoing message.

If you're actively job searching, anticipating an active job search, or simply open to passive opportunities when recruiters find you on LinkedIn and call you—make sure your name is spoken aloud in your outgoing message.

Robo messages like, "I'm sorry. 5-5-5---5-5-5---5-5-5-5 is not answering. Please. Leave. A. Message." They just don't cut it.

Frankly, when I was still recruiting and got those messages, I dreamt about leaving this message: "7-7-7---7-7-7---7-7-7-7 has called with an interesting job opportunity and a possible fifty percent increase in income for 5-5-5---5-5-5---5-5-5-5. Alas, s/he was unreachable and this opportunity will go to someone else." (I jest, of course.)

Here's my suggestion for a simple outgoing message:

You've reached [Your Name Here] at [555-555-5555]." One beat pause. "Please leave a message and I will call you back." Wait two beats, then beep.

This may or may not come as news, but people know what to do when leaving a voice message. It's not 1984, so there's no need to instruct callers to "Leave your name, phone number, and a brief message." 

And yes, I realize that in today's world, they might not even listen to it! 

A note about privacy.

If you let robo-voice simply state your phone number in your outgoing message, your caller won't be guaranteed to have reached you. And if you simply say, "Hello?" your caller has the awkward task of verifying whether they've reached the right person.

Many hiring managers and recruiters are rightly cautious about leaving any details at all when they may have reached someone besides you. Your spouse? Your assistant? Or anyone else who might not know you're conducting a stealth job search?

The list is long as to why recruiters care about confidentiality. Don't make them leave a benign message because they're not sure the recipient is you; or worse,hang up without trying.

Takeaways.

I'll admit that I've come to the point where I don't care much for voicemail. I'd rather be texted. But voicemail communication is still a part of business.

Recruiters and other folks who may represent career opportunities still make phone calls. Don't give them a reason to avoid calling you or leave a message because of a simple thing like your name.

●●●●●

San Francisco-based corporate copywriter, executive résumé writer, and career transition coach, Jared Redick, works with senior leaders at Fortune 50 companies and beyond. He draws on early experience in retained executive search and nearly two decades of résumé writing to help stealth job seekers re-imagine the marketable intersection between their background, interests, audience expectations, and career goals.

Jared's strategic “purpose, content, design” approach to writing helps companies and executives understand their value, develop their unique professional brand, and position themselves online and on paper.

Reach him at info@theresumestudio.com or 415-397-6640. Follow @TheResumeStudio.

Yes, I Loathe the Term "Elevator Pitch"

Rajat Taneja's recent LinkedIn post, Rethinking the Elevator Pitch. Rajat is EVP of Technology at Visa, and his post illustrates what so many executives seem to think about the elevator pitch.

A highlight for me was this from Rajat: "I don't believe there is anything a candidate or even [an] existing employee can say in 60 seconds that would compel me to offer them a job or new position immediately."

Is it important to be able to talk about yourself at a high level? Yes. That's the purpose of developing an aggregate understanding about yourself and your career, which is really what an "elevator pitch" is. But that should lead to an in-depth conversation, in which you should be equally skilled. 

It's a short, worthwhile post, and it struck a chord. Look at all those likes and comments! Click the link above or the screen-snip below to read Rajat's original post.

The MBA: Overrated?

A July 2015 BusinessInsider.com article recycled through my Twitter feed last week, and I almost didn't catch it, but I'm glad I did. 

I work with MBAs all the time. Newly minted. Mid-career. Senior MBAs. They're all smart people, and pretty great to boot. But probably half struggle in the same ways the rest of us struggle, asking, "What's my value in the world?" and "What do I want to do next?" (It's not lost on me that this is partly because of the nature of my work. I will naturally meet people who are questioning.)

A big part of discovering an answer to those questions, though, involves stepping out from behind the numbers and being human, which is why "6 career moves that are worth more than an MBA" by BusinessInsider.com struck a chord with me. Really interesting, and seemingly random insights (all six of them) are all tied into a single article that actually makes a lot of sense. The "become a master storyteller" resonated with me, as you might imagine.

Above is a sneak peek. Click the photo to read the entire article.  

 

Giving Up On Writing a Friend's LinkedIn Recommendation? Try These Ideas First!

Let's face it. Writing a LinkedIn recommendation—even a really good one—isn't going to win you any literary awards. In fact, your beautifully crafted copy will these days be cemented to the absolute bottom of your subject's LinkedIn profile. No fame for you today.

So why try to write a great LinkedIn recommendation? Why not just dash off a few lines of well-trodden, risk-free copy used by so many others? Examples (stifle your yawns):

  • John is a proven leader who is passionate about his work."
  • Jane is a go-getter who gets things done."

Yeah. Basically, this kind of copy tells us zilch about John and Jane. 

Sure, a recommendation like the above bullets and their ilk will technically add one more recommendation to your subject's recommendation pile. LinkedIn likes high recommendation counts, according to a Bay Area LinkedIn pilot of which I'm a part right now.

In spite of the profile basement location of today's LinkedIn recommendation, I still think it's worth writing copy that feels more like a human being and less like a beaten up job description.

So, What to Do

Theoretically, writing a LinkedIn recommendation should be a simple enough task. More privilege than chore.

Unfortunately, many—myself included—struggle with uncertainty and utter blankness when finally sitting down to write one.

In this post, I try to unravel a few of my own approaches so the next Sunday morning you're sitting at your laptop wondering what the heck to say publicly about your nearest and dearest, you'll have a few ideas to jump start the effort. 

Start With Who They Are

Several of the (wonderful, amazing, worthy) people I've recommended show up in the below screenshot. Notice how each starts with a teaser, hopefully prompting the reader to click for more. But I like to think there's actually a bit more behind each opening line.

Have a gander....

What do you notice? Each leads with what the subject brings to the world, professionally.

I'll explain the trickiest as an example.

Victoria Ahlén and I went to school together. I’ve admired her work from afar, but since we've never officially worked together, I can’t speak directly about her work today.

However, I remember Victoria from school as a smart woman with deep core values. She cares intensely about things that matter to her. She's also a person of immense integrity. Born and raised in Gothenburg, Sweden, Victoria's international perspective helped me see beyond my own backyard all those years ago.

So it took time to develop a strategy for Victoria’s LinkedIn recommendation, but I finally led with “even before she was a branding guru,” which gets who she is out the gate fast. By framing it this way, I acknowledged her now, in a way that lets me speak authentically about Victoria as I knew her.

While closer chronologically to my life today than Victoria, you’ll notice the same approach when I wrote recommendations for my colleagues / friends, Shauna Bryce of Bryce Legal and Jennifer Quinton of Quinton Design Studio. In each example, the reader knows who the subject is without having to click for more.

And perhaps that approach breathes a bit of life into the reader experience. After all, professional writing doesn't mean stale writing.

Be Honest

There are two ideas under the honesty category.

First, be honest when asked to write a recommendation: 

  • If a friend or colleague asks you for a recommendation—and it’s easy to say yes—by all means, do it. If you’re less than eager, or uncomfortable, say it! Evaluate why and take a bit of care in explaining why you might not be the right person to make a recommendation. It can be especially tricky if the person has written a recommendation for you. But in this case, it doesn’t have to be quid pro quo. It must be genuine.
  • If you’re at all concerned, be resolute. Say no thank you now, nicely, before you write a recommendation out of obligation and proceed to live with something the world can read for the rest of time. Being honest with yourself and your contact—no matter how awkward—is always better in the long run.

Second, be honest when writing a recommendation:

  • Choose something you know for certain about your subject. Don’t invent anything and don't be vague. Don’t misrepresent anything because you’ll have to live with it.
  • Write something interesting and meaningful from your unique perspective as a friend or colleague. Be appropriate and make it interesting. It’s a recommendation after all, not an obituary. Nor is it a vapid job description. Put some joy into it!

Be Strategic

Go ahead and talk about strategy with your subject before you get started. It makes everyone’s job easier.

If there’s something your subject would like you to focus on, you’re in a unique position to write something s/he alone can’t say without sounding braggadocios or goofy.

For instance, a client recently said he stays calm amidst chaos and that he always sees the big picture. These are important things for me to know as an executive résumé writer. They’re important traits for most professional positions, in fact. Certainly executive roles. But they’re overused in résumé writing and can lose their impact. They begin feeling like filler unless backed up in some way.

But a third-party perspective can change everything. As a peer, former boss, employee, or board member, you can speak about calm-in-a-storm, big picture viewpoint and other over-arching strengths in a way that your subject can’t. Especially if you tie in a strong example or two.

Let’s say your friend wants to stress the international part of his or her career. Consider starting with something like, “John is no stranger to the international arena.” Get it out there. “John is a citizen of the world” is a great opener when it’s true, genuine, and written from a third party.

Say your friend wants to emphasize her start-up experience. How about, “Susan’s start-up growth strategies are unmatched,” and build from there.

Build a great recommendation from a strong strategy. Have fun with it!

Be Specific (And Genuine)

So many businesses and product lines enjoy success because they serve a niche audience. By definition, niching means that some people will be drawn in and others will walk away. That’s called being real about what you bring to the table. Borrow the niching concept when writing about your subject. Be specific. Your colleague or friend doesn’t have to be all things to all people, and your recommendation doesn’t have to be either.

You’re not obligated to write “Everything I ever knew about Jack.” Focus on one or two things you know about Jack and get it out there. Keep it short. A terse, genuine, lively, well-written recommendation stands a better chance of being read. A big, fat block of unfocused copy will be overlooked.

In all things, brevity.

Which is a great signal to wrap this article. What do you think about writing recommendations? Do you squirm a little? Do you excel? Have you struggled through them, but discovered a principle that might help others? Please, do share!

●●●●●

San Francisco-based corporate copywriter, executive résumé writer, and career transition coach, Jared Redick, works with senior leaders at Fortune 50 companies and beyond. He draws on early experience in retained executive search and nearly two decades of résumé writing to help stealth job seekers re-imagine the marketable intersection between their background, interests, audience expectations, and career goals.

Jared's strategic “purpose, content, design” approach to writing helps companies and executives understand their value, develop their unique professional brand, and position themselves online and on paper.

Reach him at info@theresumestudio.com or 415-397-6640. Follow @TheResumeStudio.

Graceful, Shrewd & "Deceptively Simple" Hiring Advice from Apple's Angela Ahrednts

Recently, I followed Angela Ahrendts on LinkedIn. As former CEO of Burberry and current senior vice president of retail and online stores at Apple (also #25 on Forbes' 2015 list of the most powerful women in the world), she clearly serves a role model for people wanting to become better leaders and hire better teams. 

Angela's three LinkedIn Pulse posts, as of today's date, reflect a professional who is in possession of her strengths. Her June 23, 2014 "Starting Anew" post is particularly reflective, as she offers insights into the first 30-90 days of her own new job at Apple. 

Then on September 2, 2015, LinkedIn's Talent Blog posted "What One of the World's Most Powerful (and Richest) Businesswomen Looks for When Hiring," featuring more insights into how Angela thinks about hiring. 

Photo of Angela Ahrendt from a Talent Blog post on LinkedIn by Paul Petrone.

Photo of Angela Ahrendt from a Talent Blog post on LinkedIn by Paul Petrone.

The simplicity is astounding, and perhaps deceptive, because in addition to being smart, experienced, and caring, she is also clearly shrewd. 

What lessons can today and tomorrow's leaders learn from Angela? Look her up on LinkedIn and follow her to get insights that will either confirm what you're already doing, or perhaps steer you in a new direction. 

Google, A Vexing & Thrilling Conundrum

I've had a number of clients interview and/or get hired at Google over the years. Not to mention several senior Googlers planning their careful and stealth departure.

Still, working at Google is rightfully coveted, and Business Insider's recent Here's what it's REALLY like to work at Google, the 'world's most attractive' employer article offers a glimpse into the life of a Googler.

Or Noogler?

Sure, it's different for senior folks, but the article offers an intriguing insider depiction and worthwhile read for anyone interviewing at Google, especially if they haven't already received Google's requisite pre-interview prep email.

Are CEOs Born or Molded?

Those considering the C-suite, and particularly the role of CEO, will do well to read Korn Ferry Institute's recent article, "Formative Experiences May Be Key for CEO Readiness." 

As an executive résumé writer and career coach who has long-worked with Fortune 50 executives, I've also long-noticed that CEOs—somewhere in their early careers—either founded a company and drove it to success, or in some other way faced a wall of professional accountability that might have crushed their peers. 

I've noticed and wondered about it so much, in fact, that I have a researcher looking at the backgrounds of current Fortune 500 CEOs to see if this hypothesis holds any merit. 

Meanwhile, Korn Ferry Institute may have shortcut my research. The article is worth a read for professionals with an Eye on the C-suite.  Here's a glimpse into the key takeaway.