I have been thinking about this topic a lot recently, even though it has been something I have struggled with over time. The real impetus for writing this particular post stems from my recent trip to the Recreation Center. I have been working out again and playing soccer has always been a fun and entertaining way to stay in shape. So, I went to the Rec Center to kick around a ball a little bit and do some running. Before I started working out, I stopped upstairs to visit with the staff and say hi. I have gotten to know the staff pretty well during my first year, and they are always fun to joke around with. After a brief conversation, I headed downstairs to check out a soccer ball from the front desk. Well there weren’t any available. I remembered seeing a couple deflated balls upstairs and decided to ask to have one to use. The staff was cool with it and that was that. I was able to get the exercise that I wanted by knowing the right people and asking the question for some help.
It is funny that this happened so easily for me, but in my own career, I am so hesitant to ask for professional help. It is one thing to have someone as a reference. It is very different to name drop people for the sake of doing it to try and impress someone. I come from the school of wanting someone to hire me because of what I am capable of and not who I know. If I cannot convey to you my strengths via my resume and/or interview, then I am not the right person. It’s that simple. References should be used as support only. They can sometimes get your foot in the door, but your own skills and abilities should be what seals the deal.
I find it interesting how some people are very cavalier about dropping someone’s name without really understanding how that person may view them. Just because someone says that s/he is okay with you using them as a reference does not always mean that you should be dropping their name or using them as a reference, no matter his/her title and/or status. Ultimately, it all depends on the situation.
I really find it humorous that some people will list someone as a reference solely because of that person’s title/status. Why would you want someone talking about you who: (1) does not interact with you on a regular basis; (2) has a vague idea of what it is you do; and, (3) cannot speak to a potential employer about your strengths as an employee. This just baffles me. The person might be okay with you using them as a reference but does this really help in the long run? If it comes down to you and one other candidate, do you really want to waste a reference on someone who has limited scope of you as an employee? Just because s/he may be the VPSA or Dean of Students does not mean they are the best reference for YOU.
However, there is a benefit to knowing the right people. As I said before, they can really open up those doors for you. They can get you in contact with the right people or help a resume move from the bottom to the top of a pile. I have seen this more often within my professional organizations and how knowing the right people helps present great opportunities. The key is to know when to utilize these individuals, how to cultivate a relationship that is mutually beneficial, and not abuse the ability to mention that name when you think it could be helpful. Always let someone know if you are going to do it too. There is nothing worse than name dropping and then that person has no idea who you are. Talk about an awkward situation.
Use your own discretion and choose wisely. Student Affairs is a small field and lots of people know each other. Understand why you are dropping someone’s name or using them as a reference before you actually do it. You could really do a lot of damage to your own career by not comprehending political dynamics and/or climates of who your references are and how they view you as a person and a professional. You could get a soccer ball out if it, or you could be in for a really embarrassing situation.
Until next time…