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Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Referable

Long before you start looking for a job, develop the professional presence that makes people want to hire you.

From how you appear in online photos to how you talk about what you do, you are always making an impression. Polishing how you present yourself online and in person will help you build your professional network. And you’re likely going to need that network when you’re ready to find your next job.

Anyone can find themselves unemployed these days, thanks to a department’s restructuring or a corporate initiative to cut costs or automate. “It has absolutely nothing to do with performance,” says New York City executive consultant Stefanie Smith. “This is happening to very smart, competent people.”

The key to landing on your feet, she says, is making sure you have a strong professional presence before disaster strikes. Today, more companies are looking to their own employees to suggest candidates for jobs they need to fill. Studies show as many as 40% of new hires got their jobs after being referred.

4 Ways to Develop Your Professional Presence

Look the part. The person who sits next to you at a panel discussion or colleague who moves to a new company may very likely point you to your next job. But you’ll miss out if you don’t have the right attitude. You have to appear “referable” to them. You don’t have to be famously brusque or known to dress in the boardroom like you’re at Burning Man to get passed over. Sometimes, subtle oversights in how you present yourself can make people hesitant to refer you.

Create a great pitch about your work. Next time you get asked to describe what you do at an interdepartmental meeting or conference, don’t just share your title. Come prepared with a pitch–one line that tells people what is interesting about your work. “If you project what you do in a way that’s compelling or intriguing, people are drawn to you,” Smith says. Rehearsing your pitch periodically–and not just when you’re looking for a job– can make it feel more natural.

Re-examine your online presence. Make sure the themes that run through your career are clear on your LinkedIn page. Showcasing the theme of your career–not just listing jobs–is especially important if you’ve pivoted a bit. If a colleague mentions your name to a key contact who checks you out online, it should be clear what key assets you will contribute to any equation. “Portray the patterns of value you provide on an ongoing basis,” says Smith.

Take the selfie off your LinkedIn profile. Colleagues aren’t likely to tell you that a haphazard photo is keeping them from referring their best contacts to you, but if yours doesn’t look polished or is too casual, there’s a risk it’s happening. Hire professional photographer to take a great head shot if you don’t have one. “That’s the first impression you are making,” says Smith. “Take it seriously.”

About the Author

Elaine Pofeldt is an independent journalist who specializes in writing about entrepreneurship and careers. She was a senior editor for Fortune Small Business magazine, and her work has appeared in Fortune, Money,, Inc. and Crain's New York Business, among others.