Networks are everything. We spend our lives developing our circles of friendship and business connections. Having relationships with the right people can open doors that might have otherwise been closed. Sometimes, dropping an important name can get you a leg up, but be careful.
Several years ago, while trying to get into the executive search business, I was interviewing with a large firm and sought the counsel of an acquaintance and former employee of that company. He gave me great insights about the organization and the specific people on my pending interview schedule. He closed our conversation by telling me not to drop his name. He went on to explain that he’d had significant conflicts at that firm, and tried to steer me away from having guilt by association.
His great advice caused me to re-evaluate my connections, and make a concerted effort to tone down my stated affiliations before knowing the entire story. I developed hard and fast rules:
- Consult prior to name-dropping. If you have a good relationship, the best question to ask is: “Do you mind if I drop your name?” The answer could contain additional helpful instruction, such as “Yes, tell him that we know each other and that you’re looking for . . . .” or “No, don’t drop my name because . . . “
- Don’t overstate your affiliation with anyone. If you’re a casual acquaintance, don’t inflate the depth of your connection or friendship. Running into someone at the occasional business dinner or cocktail party is not the same as “He’s one of my best friends.” There’s a great potential for embarrassment and resulting bad reputation.
- Do your homework before you name drop, in the event that you don’t have the opportunity to follow rule #1. This is especially important if your connections are political. While the person in your network might be extremely prominent with an enviable list of accomplishments, bear in mind that there could be a large faction with whom they’ve butted heads in the past. Before you state your affiliation, know the history and carefully consider your audience.
- Understand the difference between social and business connections. You might know a person purely on a social level, without any knowledge of his/her business practices. While someone might be a good club buddy, he/she might be a terrible business leader. If asked, it’s better to be upfront about the nature of your relationship.
- If you don’t know ‘em, don’t vouch for ‘em. If someone asks for your opinion of a person who mentioned your name, they trust your judgment. With trust comes responsibility. Be honest without being slanderous.
Gina B. is an executive search consultant and President/Chief Alchemist of Naturals by Gina B. She can be reached at email@example.com.