Think twice before name-dropping during an interview

Usually knowing someone at a company where you’re seeking employment is a good thing. But dropping their name without any tact could rub a human resources official the wrong way and it might even cost you the job.

“HR folks can sabotage a search if they feel one-upped,” said career coach Kelley Rexroad, a former human resources executive with more than 25 years of recruiting experience. “It is an ugly but true fact.”

Name-dropping is a technique that might seem smart during an interview, but experts say that most good hiring managers will see right through it and the ploy could backfire drastically.

“I have a saying given to me years ago by a friend: ‘You can’t unring a bell,’ ” Rexroad said. “Don’t name-drop until you need to. You could see the person you know in the hallway when you interview. If he (or) she speaks to you, you will get big points for not name-dropping.”

Chad Oakley, president and chief operating officer of the Charles Aris recruiting firm, has personally placed hundreds of people in 100K-plus jobs, but he says that some have missed out because of name-dropping. “If it’s done inappropriately, it can come across as egotistic and pretentious and can backfire,” he said.

However, in some fields your most valuable attribute could be who you know. In these cases, it’s not inappropriate to mention your contacts — just do it directly. “If you’re a salesperson and you have a world-class Rolodex, that’s an asset that should be discussed,” Oakley said. “If you want the person on the other side of the table to know that you know someone, you should just say it. Don’t name-drop it.”

The difference is in the delivery. Referencing an important contact needs to be communicated within the context of business, particularly as an example of how you would add value to a company. That’s what a hiring manger wants to hear. They don’t care if you’re golfing buddies with one of the vice presidents, so don’t mention something like that in passing. “There’s a fine line between that working well and that backfiring,” Oakley said. “You have to be a real good actor.”

Instead, he said, it’s better to just explain who your contacts are or what clients you’ve done business with in the past. “They could appreciate it or won’t care … but it won’t hurt you for trying to be sly about it,” Oakley said. “You won’t get penalized for trying to be cute.”

When preparing for an interview, it’s better to study up on the latest news regarding the organization, rather than thinking up ways to seem like an insider. Oakley said that demonstrating knowledge about the latest earnings reports or product lines will do more for your image than any kind of name-dropping. “Current events-dropping is extremely important to do,” Oakley said. “You’ve got to demonstrate interest to get the job. You have to show that you’ve done your homework. … Name-dropping is a different beast.”