In job interviews, there is a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance. One behavior that can rub interviewers the wrong way and backfire is name-dropping — the practice of mentioning important people during a conversation as a means of impressing others. In a world of hyper-connectivity thanks to social media, broadening one's social circles seems easier then ever. Although it might seem like a good idea, you want to really think twice before sharing a mutual connection during conversations with recruiters.
According to recruiters, dropping names without any tact can come across as egoistic and pretentious. Candidates who excessively name-drop may also be perceived as insecure. This approach leads to trouble when:
Who you know or met is shared in an impulsive and unsolicited fashion (e.g., "One of my golfing buddies is the VP of strategic sourcing initiatives"; "I know Josh, who leads your sales and trading team . . .").
An interviewer perceives such attempts as a ploy or feels one-upped by sharing such names.
The savvy job seeker recognizes that knowing someone at a hiring company is a good thing. So how do you convey such connections in a positive way? Below are some tips for success:
Be discreet. Wait to share names until you've created sufficient rapport and you can name-drop in response to a question. For instance, if asked how you heard about a job, talk about how you spoke with person X at a recent networking event and his/her willingness to share career advice really made a good impression on you.
Remember that context matters. In my role as assistant dean of corporate relations and managing director of the office of career services at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, I have the opportunity to interview many top business leaders during fireside chats with students or networking events. One of the leaders who I have spoken with on multiple occasions is Al Carey, chief executive of PepsiCo Americas Beverages and a Smith School alumnus. Bringing up his name with students or alumni in reference to alumni engagement or collaborative leadership is appropriate. On the other hand, bragging about Carey with the guy stocking Pepsi products at my local grocery store crosses the line from confidence to arrogance.
Keep it believable. If you go too far, people may think that you're a narcissist — excessively preoccupied with power or prestige.
Use sparingly. Dropping too many names may convey that you're a network fanatic. You also really risk coming off as arrogant.
Demonstrate forethought. If you plan on mentioning a mutual connection, let him or her know ahead of time in case the interviewer decides to contact the individual. Any name that you mention becomes an easy reference check. Also, keep in mind that you have no clue how an interviewer will perceive your mutual connection. If the interviewer thinks favorably of the name you dropped, it could increase your chances of making a good impression. Conversely, the interviewer might be put off by your contact. Ask yourself if broadcasting the name is worth the risk.
Do your homework. Remember that demonstrating knowledge about a company's latest earning reports or key strategic initiatives will do more for your image than broadcasting who you know in the firm.
We've all heard the saying, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." Name-dropping, if carefully deployed can lead to positive results. On the other hand, too much bravado can cross the fine line between confidence and arrogance and derail career aspirations. Whether you're participating in a job interview or professional networking event, remember the formula for success includes keeping your ego in check, being conservative, and maneuvering delicately.
Kudisch is managing director of the Office of Career Services at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and a faculty expert in leadership, negotiations and human capital management.