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How to Name Drop in a Cover Letter

Have you met Ted?

Woman smiling at a sheet of paper
Photo courtesy of Alexander Suhorucov

Part of a great application package is an inspiring, well-written cover letter. According to a ResumeLab survey, 83 percent of recruiters think cover letters are still very important when making a hiring decision in 2021. They help candidates further demonstrate how they’re a great fit for the role and company and give a little glimpse into what a candidate might bring to the table, beyond a list of accomplishments.

So, we know cover letters are important. But in a competitive job market, how can you spice things up? One way to stand out is to talk about contacts or referrals. This takes tact, however, so use caution when name-dropping. There are effective ways to do it right.

What is name-dropping?

In a general sense, name-dropping is “the studied but seemingly casual mention of prominent persons as associates done to impress others,” according to Merriam-Webster. The practice often has negative connotations that can spark eye-rolls in social settings.

In a job search setting, however, name-dropping is mentioning employees or higher-ups at a company, or someone prominent in the industry, to draw attention to your network. It is usually a positive thing, since you’re showing that you have a connection to the company, role, or industry, and it gives hiring managers a bit more context.

However, be careful how you name drop in your cover letter. You don’t want to be over the top, and it needs to be a relevant connection. Let’s walk through when it’s acceptable and how to do it tastefully.

Read more: 7 Ways to Schmooze Your Network (the Right Way)

4 times when it’s okay to name drop

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t rely completely on name-dropping. It should be a simple way to bolster your application. Here are a few scenarios when it’s acceptable to name drop:

1. You were referred

If someone you know referred you to the job you’re applying for, you should usually mention them. It may be weirder if you don’t, since they probably talked to the hiring manager about you.

2. You have a professional connection at the company

Even if you weren’t referred, it’s okay to include a name of someone you know at the company. This could be someone you worked with (or for) previously or went to school with. Don’t go into much detail about your relationship. Just briefly mention how you know each other, and make sure it’s a relevant connection to the job.

3. You have a mutual contact

Sometimes the person you name drop doesn’t have to work at the company you’re applying to. Perhaps the hiring manager knows someone you work with now, or you have a mutual professional contact. You can mention this connection in your cover letter if, say, the mutual contact can speak to your experience.

4. You have been inspired by someone at the company

So, maybe you’ve never actually met the person you want to name drop. Sometimes (and be cautious) it may be okay for your cover letter. Perhaps you have followed the company founder’s career, and they inspired you to want to work in the industry. You can briefly say that you are familiar with their work and align with their values. This helps you connect to the company’s mission, aside from just name-dropping. Just make sure you don’t make it sound like you know them when you don’t.

How to name drop tastefully

Now, how do you name drop in a tasteful, professional way? Remember that you don’t want to overdo it, which can look insincere or even, let’s face it, a little desperate. 

Instead, follow these tips:

1. Keep it brief

Remember that your cover letter is about you, the candidate, and not about your connection. Mention it and move on.

2. Get permission

Make sure you ask whoever you’re going to name drop that it’s OK to mention them in your application. This won’t apply, of course, if you’re going to talk about someone who inspired you who you don’t know.

3. Don’t brag

Just like it can get old to hear about all the celebrities someone knows, if you’re over the top about your connection, even if it’s the CEO, it may sound like you’re arrogant or think that you’ll get the job because of that connection. All you have to do is mention it.

4. Make sure it’s relevant

You should only name drop when it’s relevant to the job you’re applying for. While in some contexts it may be okay to mention a personal connection that has nothing to do with work, be cautious about that approach. Make sure your connection could speak to your professional strengths.

5. Be honest

It may be tempting to exaggerate your relationship with someone at the company to look good. But, it will probably do the opposite when the hiring manager goes to ask that person about you, and they know little about you or contradict one of your claims.

Now, let’s go through some examples of how you can name drop. If you’re briefly mentioning a referral, try something like this:

“On the recommendation of NAME, the TITLE and COMPANY, I am applying to the technical writer position.”

You could also mention how you know this person: 

“We worked together at FORMER COMPANY for X years, collaborating on the monthly content calendar.”

Here’s another effective way to mention someone who works at the company now:

“In my past role at FORMER COMPANY, I worked under NAME who is now the TITLE at COMPANY. While in that position, I took on a variety of content projects, including blog posts, newsletters, and minor copyediting.”

Remember that no matter how you name drop, or who you’re name-dropping, keep the focus on you and your experience. Relate the connection directly to the role you’re applying to. The hiring manager should be able to see immediately why this connection matters, and you shouldn’t sound presumptuous, invasive, or arrogant.

Read more: ‘References Available Upon Request’ & 4 Other Things to Cut from Your Resume

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