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Advice / Job Search / Networking

Here's How to Name Drop When You're Trying to Get a Job (Without Sounding Pretentious)

You know that friend or acquaintance who can’t seem to get a sentence out without mentioning some Instagram-famous person he knows? Or the founder/CEO/owner of the current hot company? The incessant name-dropper doesn’t know when to call it quits.

Name dropping isn’t all bad though, especially when you’re on the hunt for a new job. In fact, it can actually be a deciding factor in helping you get an interview and then, if your skills and experience match up, an offer.

Much like having a solid connection at a company you’re dying to work for, doing this can give you an edge and set you apart from the rest—if you go about it the right way.

Jenny Foss, Muse Master Coach and columnist, has some smart advice for how you can navigate the murky situation when it comes to applying for a position that catches your eye.

If your connection is “lukewarm,” meaning the person doesn’t have a direct tie to the department you’re interested in and/or you’re not close pals, here’s what you do: “Strike up a conversation and, at the end, ask the person this question: ‘I noticed that you guys are looking for a new [name of position you want]. Do you know who I might contact to get a few more details about the job?’”

If you get a name, then you’re ready to do the drop. Foss advises that you reach out to the person your contact mentioned (fingers crossed it’s the hiring manager) and say the following:

“I was talking to [name of the lukewarm connection]. He said you may be able to provide me with a bit more information about the [position you want]—may I ask you a couple of quick questions?”

At this point, you’ve accomplished your goal, indicating that “you know someone on the inside of the company, which may be quite advantageous. And you’ve done so without blatantly (or dishonestly) suggesting that he’s endorsing you or referring you for the job,” concludes Foss.

Because hiring managers field hundreds or even thousands of resumes, being contacted by a candidate who knows an employee on the inside can be the thing that makes you stand out. And, as Foss says “the nice part about this strategy is that it makes it look like your lukewarm contact is vouching for you.”

Just note that it’s important you don’t come across as ostentatious. Lynn Berger a NYC-based career coach, stresses the importance of “mutual interest.” If, for example, you’re applying to a job where your connection isn’t even lukewarm (say, you’ve never met the person, but you admire his or her work and follow his industry moves to a T), you can still bring him up, you just need to do so carefully. In an early conversation with a hiring manager, if there’s a way to mention the person in a way that would help you connect with the recruiter or the role you’re interested in, then go for it.

You might say something like this:

“I was recently at a lecture [be specific and say where you were] and had the opportunity to hear [name of person] speak, and it left such an impression on me.”

The key is to not simply rattle off a bunch of names unless there’s clear relevance. Making mention of one person at the company and stating your admiration is an appropriate way to name drop.

One final note: You obviously wouldn’t want to mention somebody who you’re not sure remembers meeting you (unless you specifically state that), or who might potentially be uncomfortable learning that you used him as leverage to get your foot in the door. When in doubt, reach out to the person first and ask if it’s OK if you mention his or her name. People generally appreciate a heads-up when it comes to these things.

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to do it! Just be smart about your approach. Oh, and make sure it’s not the only thing you’ve got going for you (i.e., you need to be qualified for the job).

Photo of woman at work courtesy of Shutterstock.

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