An important part of being perceived as credible (particularly as you interview for a job) and building your personal brand is creating a narrative for how you want to be known and making sure others understand that narrative. You want to be sure that when someone introduces or refers you, they are able to highlight the specific values, qualities, skills and attributes you want to be known for. As I've written about many times before, you can't be positioned as an “expert” in everything. You have to be specific. As you transition to a civilian career, it is important to work on that narrative when you ask for recommendations, introductions, referrals or testimonials.
Whether you are asking for recommendations online or in person, here are some things to remember:
1. Make it easy for the person giving you the recommendation. When you ask for a recommendation, offer to provide clear talking points for them to address. This is particularly important as you translate your military resume and experience into civilian terms. Specify the key words for them to use (i.e. for a job in information technology project management, you can ask the recommender to use the phrase "IT specialist" and "IT project management" instead of "technology guru" to help your chances for the job).
2. Consider the format. On social networking sites like LinkedIn, for instance, recommendations can only be provided by someone with a LinkedIn profile. Be sure you ask colleagues or supervisors who are able to give recommendations (some companies prohibit recommendations and endorsements as company policy). You will have the opportunity to review the recommendation and offer changes to a it before it is posted on your LinkedIn account.
When someone offers you a written or phone recommendation, it is possible to be more descriptive and detailed. For this reason, you want to give your recommender as much guidance as possible. Translate your military terminology and jargon into a language that civilian hiring managers will understand. Again, your key points and desired positioning will be important. Don't go overboard with pages of notes and suggestions for the recommender, but it will be appreciated if you can outline the talking points you'd like highlighted.
3. Consider the source. Asking former coworkers and service men/women to give recommendations may carry different weight and importance than if you ask your former or current supervisor or even the president/CEO of the company. Consider which person would be seen as more credible and influential to the recipient of the recommendation. That said, remember that certain companies and professionals do not allow recommendations as they can be seen as endorsements (and can bring legal and human resources implications).
You might also consider recommendations and testimonials from community members, professionals you have collaborated with on projects and people you know in business who can vouch for your skills, character, work ethic and talents.
4. Be prepared for them to say "no". Just because you ask for a recommendation or testimonial does not mean the person is comfortable offering one. They might not feel that they have had enough experience with you, or maybe they have not been too happy with your work (and didn't tell you). Or, as mentioned above, they may not be able to offer you one because of company policy. When someone recommends you on a public platform, like LinkedIn, it shows on their profile as well, and that might make some people uncomfortable.
5. Say thank you! Be sure to follow up with a handwritten note for a recommendation or testimonial. The person who offered to vouch for you took the time and made the effort and it should be recognized. They also leveraged their own credibility to support you. Be sure to keep them posted on the opportunity you were recommended for, particularly if it was a job or client opportunity.
Offering recommendations are a wonderful way to celebrate people you've served or worked with, sharing their talents with others. Be mindful of those recommendations you give because you are leveraging your own reputation in vouching for others. And, reputation is everything!
Lida Citroën, a branding expert based in Denver, has made a career of helping people and companies create new or enhanced identities. She is donating her time, expertise and effort to help returning war veterans learn how to compete in a civilian, particularly corporate, career. Lida works closely with Philadelphia-based, Wall Street Warfighters Foundation, is a volunteer member of ESGR, and has produced numerous programs and materials to help military veterans with reputation management after service. If you have a transition question Lida can help answer, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also the author of the best selling book, "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition," available at www.YourNextMissionBook.com and on Amazon.