A friend of mine once told me that the most important thing you bring to any job is your credibility, and that by doing consistently good work, you build your credibility bank by the willingness of people to give you references.
That may have made a lot of sense twenty years ago, when people kept their jobs for years at a time. But with job-hopping and increasingly, freelancing, becoming far more common, how do you track down someone who said nice things about your work even two or three years ago? They’re already on to their second or third job. Linkedin.com and Spoke.com are ways to stay in touch, along with the ubiquitous Facebook and MySpace pages. But if you’re going to use them to your best benefit, you have to set up a credibility bank.
Someone I know recently lost her job at a small advertising agency, where she’d been an account supervisor for a decade. All of her clients loved her work on their behalf, and sent her email to that effect. I told her to immediately take her account on Linkedin and get these emails onto them. She immediately called all of the people back and they all said yes, so onto both Linkedin and Spoke they went. When she redid her resume, she added links to both Web sites. Since so many applications are electronic today, prospective employers were able to jump to the sites to read the recommendations.
You can go even farther. Each time you get a kudo, record it if you can. I carry around one of those little electronic voice recorders, since I’m always talking to people and making notes for future use. When a contractor or anyone you are doing work for pays you a compliment, get it down immediately. People are rarely offended if you ask, and if they don’t want to do it, they will rarely refuse to put it in writing.
After a while, you will have a bank of voice clips and emails. You creatives can easily edit those voice clips and emails together into a snappy commercial for yourself that will generate more work. Your work is, after all, always your best advertisement, but praise for your work isn’t so bad, either.
In fact, if you really want to have some fun, get a couple of recordable greeting cards and take out the chips and attach them to pieces in your portfolio. Now record the compliment that came along with it, and a small reminder of the metric the work generated, and suddenly you have created a powerful marketing tool that speaks volumes about you and your creative skills.
How far can you take this? With enough time and money there are no limits, but you are not attempting to compete with, say, an agency reel and a big credentials box. You want your material to stand out and be your proxy when it is sitting there with fifteen other pizza bags filled with portfolios, or when yours is one of a stack of resumes. Your credentials will get you through the door, but it’s your credibility in the eyes of the people for whom you work that will nail the job.