I Accidentally Connected with My Boss on LinkedIn. Should I Disconnect?

Photo by  Patrick Perkins  on  Unsplash

I can't tell you the number of times clients have asked me a variation of this question:

Jared,

I'm not sure how it happened, but it appears that my [current boss] is a first-degree connection on LinkedIn. I usually don't accept connections from people I'm currently working with. Let alone, my boss!

Is there a way to remove him without any notice?

Jane

Here was my email response to this tricky matter; edited for confidentiality.

Hi Jane,

Ah, the conundrum of removing a connection, and what it all means. Let's think it out.

As a member of the C-suite, yourself, what's the harm? Does it really hurt to be connected to your CEO? Here's a somewhat long-winded reason why it might not matter.

For starters, remember to always think of LinkedIn as a tool for business, not an online résumé. Even though LinkedIn fancies itself as just that—an online résumé (and then wonders why more people don't engage)—executives should not treat LinkedIn as an online résumé. This fundamental misconception will continue to dog LinkedIn until they realize the inherent problems with people, especially senior professionals, treating their profiles as online résumés. Too many potential serious pitfalls.

That said, I'm increasingly writing LinkedIn profiles for executive suites—meaning the entire C-suite contracts me to write profiles that complement each other, while demonstrating the collective credibility to customers, stakeholders, and other key external audiences.

While a simple 4-6 paragraph executive bio on a company's website is common and perfectly fine, a LinkedIn profile—perfectly conceived in concert with other members of a team—is like an executive bio on steroids.

"LinkedIn for Business" profiles can outline company priorities and initiatives (so long as they're okay to share publicly), champion a workforce, reinforce a company's culture and values, and a host of other beneficial non-self-serving purposes. (Because if they were self-serving, we'd expect that the profile owner was looking for a job, no?) 

"LinkedIn for Business" profiles can also help unify employees around their leadership, which has become critically important in a social-sharing age when employees can anonymously champion or anonymously trash their employer with a few keystrokes.

Keep in mind that we wrote your profile so it "champions the business and demonstrates your credibility at [Company Name]." Right? But remember that there's a byproduct to that approach, especially as you're looking to conduct a stealth job search.

It just so happens that retained search firms—the ones who hold the keys to the best and most interesting executive leadership roles—love that kind of approach because they want to imagine that they're "finding and plucking happy people" into roles that those people might see as a good next step in their career. (Also, they won't likely realize your "LinkedIn for Business" profile was written with them in mind, even though we wrote it to appear as if you are happy at CompanyX.)

You might even suggest that you take it a step further and truly change the way you think about and use LinkedIn, so it actually becomes a tool for business. This might mean, then, that you'd connect with other senior leadership—and even champion the "LinkedIn for Business" idea to peer leaders. (Just omit the "positioning for recruiters" idea. They don't need to now that part, and the profiles will still serve everyone very well.) 

Maybe the whole leadership team models their profiles after yours and creates a complementary story? It's where I see LinkedIn going, whether LinkedIn knows it or not. They'll figure it out someday.

If you still want to remove the connection.

So, if you're still intent on severing the connection, here's LinkedIn's help page. (Better to let them do the talking.)

There, LinkedIn states that removing a connection won't notify that person that they've been removed. However, circling back to the technical glitch issue, you just never know. A client experienced a pretty miserable event in 2007, and when he reached out to LinkedIn their response was "technical glitch." Alas, that "technical glitch" caused all sorts of awkwardness for him. Ever since I've used LinkedIn as if something could go awry at any moment.

Which all makes me wonder. What if your CEO already knows that you're connected, and then somehow notices that you've severed the connection. Would that plant a seed of doubt? Or open up more of an awkward conversation than if you left it alone?

Final thoughts.

Only you can make the decision, but I hope these ideas will help you work through the pros and cons. As for the C-suites starting to use LinkedIn as a credibility builder / tool for business, they're looking at what their profiles say to all of the audiences I discuss in my various tutorials. How will regulators view the material? Will the press find it helpful? Will analysts read between lines and make predictions? Are any of the profile accidentally giving away competitive information? How will the many potential readers regard a leadership team's profiles as a set? You remember all of my many warnings, no doubt.

Take care!

Jared 

Can You Introduce Me to Your Recruiter Friends?

From time to time, clients ask if I would consider introducing them to my friends who are still recruiting. 

It's a logical question because we've usually just spent a solid 1-4 months aiming for an upcoming job search, whether imminent or a year from now—which may involve recruiters.

There's nothing I'd rather do than make those connections, but I've never made one that I can remember. Even when I was still in retained executive search and moonlighting as a résumé writer, I never crossed the two audiences.

Here's why.

My connections are in the retained executive search world, which means they are looking externally for ideal candidates. They generally don't announce positions, and if they do, it's usually after an exhaustive search has already been conducted and come up empty. They also don't list the client name. Retained executive search firms are hired to find people through their own sophisticated research and outbound headhunting efforts.

Retained executive search:

Retained executive search consultants are looking for people who are happy in their current positions, and for whom something new might be of interest. In fact, those happy potential candidates are often so happy where they are, that they're not expecting the call, and the art of recruiting becomes essential in engaging them in the first place. As the retained search recruiter, you have to demonstrate the match because your candidate is likely not looking to move.

Retained executive search represents a fairly narrow band of recruiters, and frankly they're in a unique world. Their databases often contain their own research, that research is often generated anew for each search, and the engagements are exclusive with a premium client company for a very senior, well-pedigreed, and sometimes hard-to-find candidate.

Imagine filling the shoes of someone like Richard Branson, Janet Yellen, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Sergey Brin, Angela Ahrendts, Larry Page, Bill Gates, or Anna Wintour when they decide to move.

Who's going to replace them? 

Those searches are complex, take a long time to complete, are often part of a known succession plan, and frequently require a highly specific blend of education, experience, and skills. You can imagine why it's unlikely that simple job postings would suffice in identifying the right candidate. 

You can also move the lesson to lesser-known, but equally important leadership roles across the Fortune 500, and you see my point. 

From there, it's helpful to know that by definition, an inbound résumé—no matter where it comes from and no matter how senior or experienced the person—represents someone who is potentially unhappy, and thus, not an ideal candidate.

Why? Because it's an overt expression of someone wanting a change, which means there could be a pain point somewhere and you (the search firm) don't know if that pain is coming from the company or the candidate, and in any event, you can't risk placing the wrong person. 

The inbound résumé might not even be entered in the database. (This is changing slightly in recent years. Stay tuned.)

From every angle, an inbound executive résumé can have diminishing returns with the retained search firm colleagues I know.

Contingency recruiting:

But there's another side to the recruiting world called contingency recruiting. (Wikipedia has a great page on distinctions you'll want to know about.)

Contingency recruiting is a bit more knock-about by nature. It's faster. It's usually not exclusive, meaning that a company needing to find an employee can hire multiple contingency recruiters or firms to conduct a search. The firm that presents the right candidate gets the fee.

Real estate agent comes to mind as a good example of how this works. They don't get paid unless they sell the house, so they're trying to beat every other agent in making a match.

This means that contingency recruiters may be more willing to have a peek at your unsolicited résumé. Even if they simply add you to their database, at least you're there.

How to distinguish retained executive search from contingency recruiting firms:

Retained search will often use the phrase "retained search" in their communications. Visit the firm's website. If it says "retained search," or some variation of the word "retained" and you'll know.

Contingency firms, however, won't generally mention the distinction, which may indicate that they're contingency, which means that they may be more open to receiving your inbound résumé.

I highly recommend subscribing to Nick Corcodilos' "Ask The Headhunter" newsletter. His straightforward style and insights about working with recruiters is superb, not only in his e-newsletter, but also in his book: "How to Work With Headhunters." (I don't know Nick, I'm just a fan.) Some time back, ExecuNet interviewed Nick and published this timeline advice: "Whose Side of the Table is the Recruiter On?"

As with everything, there are exceptions to the rule, and norms are ever-changing.

Take LinkedIn, for instance.

LinkedIn has become an ideal way to get on the radar of both retained and contingency search firms.

Build your LinkedIn summary (heck, the entire profile) around the keywords and phrases that a recruiter might input to find you, and you'll have a much better chance of being found passively. Present material as if you're happy where you are—in fact, use your profile to truly do business—and recruiters of all stripes should be able to translate and still view you as a possible target of acquisition. (They usually need only a handful of questions answered to decide if they should keep talking, so be flexible and kind, and avoid feeling like you're being used or not respected. They have a job to do, and there's little chance that you'll know or could even surmise the details of the spec or the motivations of the company, so don't try.)

Side note: some recruiters will be abrupt, some recruiters will ask why you haven't "placed your accomplishments" on your LinkedIn profile. Those folks don't understand that LinkedIn profiles might give away trade secrets, so don't try reasoning with them. Trust your decision not to place competitive information online and let them move on.

Never before has such a virtuous cycle existed: you put yourself there, you have a stronger chance that the right people will find you. If you look like a possible fit, they may reach out. Now, or in ten years. I've had more than one "purple squirrel" client who was found via LinkedIn, precisely because of the odd blend of education, experience, and skills they possessed. (And those stories were all told within the framework of their current jobs, so we didn't tip off their boards, bosses, employees, partners, etc.)

LinkedIn is among the best ways right now to be found passively by a recruiter. There are also a host of other important, career-related uses. These two concepts along represent the reason I've shifted from LinkedIn-phobic to cautious LinkedIn champion. 

Retained executive search firms:

For our purposes here, it's helpful to know that most of the big search firms, and many of the smaller ones, have a Twitter presence.

Here are a few you might start with:

Twitter

I can't believe I'm writing this, since I was so Twitter-phobic for so long, but there are entire Twitter accounts dedicated to specific industries, their standards, and best practices, niche pockets of intelligence, and areas where you can get or give targeted advice. I follow several through my own Twitter account, @TheResumeStudio, and I'm amazed at how many opportunities (and how much good intelligence) flow through my Twitter feed.

Research and find your own opportunities, and develop careful strategies to reach your long-term goals. It takes some elbow grease. You'll also gain tremendous insights simply because you paid attention.

Should You Call Yourself a "Thought Leader" on LinkedIn?

Imagine that Miss USA had a LinkedIn profile. Now imagine that somewhere in that profile she included the phrase, "I’m beautiful." Why? Because she believed it was a keyword or phrase by which others would find a beauty queen.

Now imagine that the late Steve Jobs had a LinkedIn profile, and somewhere in his profile he said, "I'm an innovator." Why? Because he had a hunch that someone might enter “innovator” into LinkedIn’s Advanced Search tool to find someone like him.

Do either of the above scenarios sound right? 

These people simply are those things, and to say so—out loud or in writing—might leave the reader to conclude that person's arrogance or question their professional judgement. The reader might even rightfully question the claim’s veracity.

I even raise an eyebrow when someone in finance makes a point of saying they are ethical. Really? The fact that one is explicitly stating such a hopefully obvious point makes me question its truth. Especially if one is a CFA or a CPA or has a FINRA license. The notion of ethics is embedded in the very make up of those designations.

I mention it because a phrase my clients frequently want layered into their stories has increasingly become some form of:"I am a thought leader."

When clients ask me about its inclusion, I share with them the examples above and then we decide how we can "show" instead of "tell" the reader that they are thought leaders.

The challenges with explicitly saying you are a thought leader:

  • If you have to say it, then you probably aren't. (It's never too late to start.)
  • If you say it, you might come across in a way that contradicts your carefully curated brand.
  • If you say it, you may one day have to defend the claim.

Ways to frame thought leadership when you are a thought leader:

  • Through another lens. For instance, you can discuss your team's thought leadership, which then shines favorably back onto you.
  • Through the eyes of others. Ask others to explicitly use/discuss/mention the phrase in a LinkedIn Recommendation. Only if you are truly a thought leader, of course. No need to make your friend squirm. (This LinkedIn post will help them with the task of writing your LinkedIn Recommendation.)
  • Through various LinkedIn profile sections. LinkedIn offers a way to present yourself as a thought leader via  "Publications," "Projects," "Patents," and other credibility-confirming sections.

More showing. Less telling.

Read These Entertaining Tech Company Reports with a Heavy Dose of Skepticism

Screenshot from Fast Company's article, "Where Google, Apples, and Amazon Employees Want to Work Next."

Screenshot from Fast Company's article, "Where Google, Apples, and Amazon Employees Want to Work Next."

I love articles like Fast Company's "Where Google, Apple, and Amazon Employees Want to Work Next." 

They're hard not to click on. I seriously can't resist Fast Company and INC.com's headlines. Someone poach those headline writers, they're the best!

But while the article referenced above is quite interesting, there are a few reasons to read it with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The reports and surveys cited are blended ... perhaps advantageously

Paragraph one references a Fast Company report, paragraph two references a PayScale survey, and paragraph three references a Dice survey of 1,600 technology professionals in the U.S.

I love the collective insight, but when you think about the sources, they're kind of apples and oranges, so you can't look at the findings as a single harmonious conclusion. 

The numbers might be deceiving

Statista.com says that "Apple reached more than 80,000 employees as of 2013."

So do those "1,600 technology professionals in the U.S." offer an authoritative enough sampling to represent all or even many technology professionals? Even within just one of the companies cited, the numbers polled represent a fraction of actual employees.

Each with his and her own very real employee experience and story.

The respondents' pain points might be magnified

Since those surveyed are apparently on job seeking / posting platforms (Dice, Anthology/formerly Poachable, which was a great name, but I can see why it was abandoned), the odds are probably high that those cited are somehow dissatisfied with their careers. You know, because they're poking around to see what's next in their career, not because they're entirely satisfied. 

This isn't a bad thing. Seriously. Poke around! It's just a lens through which we need to examine the article's broader assumptions.

There are insights to glean

My naysayer ideas aside—and remember, I'm a fan of these publications—there are kernels along the way that I recognize. In my work with stealth job seekers (inbound and outbound) at Google, Apple, and Amazon, I offer the following anecdotal and collective observations from my own practice. 

  1. Program management roles can indeed be akin to mini-CEO roles. Pushing a product (much less multiple products) from inception to ship is big work. But to move into a CEO role from a program manager role ... you probably need to (a) have a well-known name or (b) launch your own start-up and proclaim yourself the CEO. In other words, you need to either have an advocate in your corner (i.e., people saying you can do the job) or you will likely have to take the risk of assuming a new skill. What is that skill? P&L management. It has to be somewhere in the mix of a career to move into a CEO role. None of the program managers with whom I have worked at Google, Apple, and Amazon have P&L experience. Massive budgets? Yes. P&L? No. Much to their chagrin. (Even very senior clients from Oracle and IBM haven't had P&L ownership, much less exposure.) If you're looking to move into the C-suite, you need to reverse engineer how you're going to fill in the P&L blank within your current job, so start looking now for exposure. Otherwise, you need to found and build a start-up of your own, which inherently involves P&L. A move like that is all about the risk involved. Where you find the rare person who went from product manager to CEO, you'll probably find a person who took the risk and succeeded. 
  2. People at Google, Apple, and Amazon—and most other large companies—have preferences about the kinds of companies and cultures for which they will leave. Some want to spring from one public company to another, while others want to quietly leave one of the "not traditional, but no longer terrifically disruptive" tech giants like Google, Apple, and Amazon to blaze into a well-funded startup. Trouble is, they don't always get what they want because the right corporate culture doesn't suddenly open just because they are ready to move on. It's for this and many other reasons that stealth job seekers—or passive job finders like those Anthology serves—need to plan and wait. Get your ducks in a row and be ready to compete when the right opportunity and culture comes along.   

Oh, and following up on another of the article's tenets: Amazon's recent headlines seem to be uncomfortable for most, if not all of the corporate employees still on the inside.  

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! 

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?

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.

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. 


More News for Humanities Graduates Exploring Tech

Hot on the heels of yesterday's news that Silicon Valley might be welcoming to humanities graduates comes this earlier published Forbes article: The 'Useless' Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech's Hottest Ticket. 

As a musician, myself, this would have been awesome news fifteen years ago. For today's humanities graduates, especially those with advanced degrees, it's a watershed moment. 

If you're a recent or about to graduate humanities student, read the whole article, top to bottom. Then, if you're interested, start doing the research and the networking to make it happen. The way you think is valuable. 

Screenshot of Stewart Butterfield, Slack's CEO, in George Anders' recent Forbes.com article. Photo credit: Carlo Ricci.

Screenshot of Stewart Butterfield, Slack's CEO, in George Anders' recent Forbes.com article. Photo credit: Carlo Ricci.


Humanities Students & Graduates: You're Needed in Silicon Valley

Now here's a not-to-miss data report from LinkedIn for the PhD and MA students with whom I've been working at the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI). 

Turns out, the LinkedIn deep diving and keyword searching we discussed in San Diego might just pay off. And certainly Alice Ma's LinkedIn blog post, You Don't Need to Know How to Code to Make it in Silicon Valley, offers a glimpse into some of the job titles you'll want to consider. 

Important quote: "Liberal arts majors take on a wide range of roles." Of interest, fourth on the list is folks in project managers. When I reflect on the swath of project management professionals with whom I work up and down the west coast, a lot of them have degrees in the humanities. 

Article screenshot depicting Jared from the HBO series Silicon Valley from Alice Ma's recent LinkedIn blog post. 

When an MBA Isn't Enough: Learning From the Masters

My Twitter feed served up a great INC.com tweet yesterday: 19 CEOs That (sic) Will Teach You How to Run the World. 

From Ben Horowitz' "the hard thing about hard things is that they don't have a formula" to Jason Fried's coauthored startup book, 'Rework.' (If you missed it, be sure to catch my recent mention of Jason Fried's not-to-be-missed December 2012 blog post about the role mistakes play in our lives.)

Check out a snippet of INC's article below, then click over to read the full story. I just ordered two of the books and clipped the page to Evernote for future reading.

Article screenshot of INC.com's "19 Books by CEOs That Will Teach You How to Run the World."

Article screenshot of INC.com's "19 Books by CEOs That Will Teach You How to Run the World."

New York Times Reports on LinkedIn Development for Tomorrow's Leaders

If eighty percent of jobs are found through one's network—and we recently saw that even board seats follow the same 80/20 rule—then it stands to reason that one should start thinking about networking early.

For tomorrow's leaders still in school, it's not too soon to build a great LinkedIn profile, and the July 31 New York Times article Finding a Career in LinkedIn Profiles is a good start.

I can only imagine how rich and deep those networks will be in 10-20 years. Many of my own friends cite their college relationships as being the foundation for many of the career moves they've made over the past 20 years. 

A screenshot of LinkedIn.edu. Massive content and data.

A screenshot of LinkedIn.edu. Massive content and data.