The Problem with Name Dropping

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One of the principal tenets of legal questioning is to only ask questions to which you know the answers (or at least this is what I have gleaned from watching countless hours of Law and Order!). In The HAMMER Letter this past April, we talked about a topic sharing a similar vein: Name Dropping. But in this instance, you need to be aware of what the people whose names you drop will say about YOU.

Just this past week, I had a software sales executive interviewing with a client. He was a great fit for the organization given his track record of success and his vertical knowledge. But, in the midst of the conversation, he decided to start verbalizing his rolodex.

A few of those names rang familiar with the Sales Engineer involved in the interviews, so he did the next most logical thing: He made a call to the customer whose name was dropped who he happens to know quite well. As the story was relayed to me, this customer whose name was dropped was described as very "even keeled and mild mannered." This customer's response regarding the software sales executive candidate, who dropped his name rather confidently, was that the next time he saw him he would "like to pin him to the wall." The visceral nature of this back channel reference completely scuttled this candidate's chances with the company.

There is another facet to hap-hazard named dropping as well: knowing what the person you are talking to thinks about the person whose name you are dropping. On more than one occasion, I have had a candidate interview with a client and they find a common link. Any better than average sales professional is highly networked, so the degrees of separation are few. The problem becomes when the interviewee starts getting comfortable, lets his/her guard down and comments on this person they now know to share in common.

Even an innocuous comment made tongue in cheek can be taken badly when you don't know the baseline or history behind the other person's relationship with this shared contact. Again, just like in legal questioning, you should not question (or in this case, comment) when you do not know all the facts (the context and substance of the relationship).

Establishing commonalities in the interview process is important, so here is how I would advise going about it:

1) Keep it simple and professional. No need to comment on someone personally, regardless of how comfortable you are feeling in the interview

2) Like Mom said, "If you do not have anything nice, do not say anything at all."

3) If you are on the fence about what a name you are about to drop might say about you, do not let it leave your mouth.

Social and Professional networking sites are great places to see if there might be a link between you and your interviewer BEFORE you meet. As you find those links and are doing your due diligence beforehand (makings calls, getting background, etc.) a good vetting mechanism for determining "to drop or not to drop" is this: If the person in question is willing to make a call on your behalf before the meeting - it is probably safe to drop the name. If not, think twice about the risk versus reward.

Kevin Kermes is the Managing Partner of Hammer Consulting and CEO of Kevin Kermes Inc., a company devoted to empowering professionals with the vital tools and information necessary to find the job they want and build the successful career they deserve.  Sign up for his free e-zine - for insider tips on how to do just that! For more information please visit www.hammerconsulting.net.

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