Name Dropping In The Cover Letter

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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.

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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 .

A small reference in resume can sometimes generate high impact. And at the very least, a recognizable name or acronym can inspire questions and generate conversation during an interview. Keep these considerations in mind.

1. Lean on Your Connections

If you share any personal connections with the manager who may be reading your resume, mention them upfront. Don’t suggest these people are your best friends if that’s an exaggeration, but within the realm of tact and honesty, don’t fail to point out a connection that might help you. Some of your phrasing might sound like this:

“During my tenure with Qualco, I had the honor of working with Sally Johnson, who supported you during your participation in the Alpha Project.”

“I work closely with Sally Johnson, your former colleague, and she mentioned that you department is now searching for an experienced account manager.”

2. Include High Profile Previous Employers

If you once held a position with a high-profile or well-known employer in your industry, mention this, even if the details of the job don’t directly relate to the position at hand. By the same token, mention all large, notable, or high-profile clients and projects that you’re proud to associate with your name. Some of these references might sound like this:

“I gained early and important exposure during my first professional position with Hubbard and Turtletub, the firm that designed the two tallest high-rise structures in the Jacksonville metro area.”

“During my tenure with Qualco, I was honored to participate in the X project, providing essential support that helped the company land a 50 million dollar contract.”

3. Awards, Grants, and Special Forms of Recognition

Don’t fail to mention any proper nouns associated with an accomplishment your employers might recognize. If you won the Eddie Johnson Memorial essay contest in college, your potential corporate employer may have no familiarity with this award and may not be able to place this accomplishment in a context. But the opposite may also be true. Mention it just in case. Try phrasing that sounds like this:

“Received top honors in the Eddie Johnson Memorial Essay Contest, an annual statewide competition sponsored by X University. My essay on citizenship was selected from a pool of 5,000 competitors and resulted in a 500 dollar scholarship.”

4. Software Platforms & System Implementations

Your readers may not be familiar with your current company’s proprietary document management system, and they may not recognize the complex ERP implementation you supported in 2007. But mention it anyway. Consider language that sounds like this:

“Provided critical support during the hospital’s system-wide upgrade to ABXY, an integrated EMR system that allows all ancillary facilities to access a secure, unified data platform.”

Explain, Don’t Assume

Don’t miss a single opportunity to push your resume ahead of the competition, and keep in mind that a single recognizable word or phrase can have a powerful impact on both human readers and keyword scanners. For more information and guidelines that can help you make the most of your impressive background, explore the resources on LiveCareer. 


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