Dear [insert name here], I’d really like to tell you about someone you should know…
This was the opening line of a form-letter attachment sent to me courtesy of a job seeker I’ve never met. Yet, he wanted me to send a glowing letter of introduction on his behalf to everyone on my contact list.
I’ll give the guy credit: he’s got guts. But for all his gutsiness, he’s not going to get anywhere with me for several reasons.
First there is the obvious: I don’t know who this is. Second, there is the line in his suggested introductory letter that I would be “happy to give you more background on him.” Umm, how would that be possible given the first reason? And no, having a copy of his resume doesn’t help me do that.
Third, and most important of all, I can’t — ethically. Even if this person really is a “savvy professional” with experience in multiple industries, I can’t vouch for him. To do so would be a violation of trust.
Vouching for someone is almost sacred. It’s nothing less than putting your own reputation on the line for someone else. When you recommend someone, that person is forever connected to you—for good or bad. If it works out, you’re the hero for both parties, the person you recommended and the employer who hired him/her. If it doesn’t work out, your word just lost its value.
Yes, it is helpful to get someone to vouch for you. But you need to do it legitimately; otherwise, your “warm introduction” request is going get cold—fast.
Here are five dos and don’ts for getting someone to vouch for you:
Do understand the value of validation: You’re a Harvard graduate, a West Point graduate, a Navy SEAL, or a professional athlete. Congratulations! In the words of Don Corleone, you’ve been “made.” But these instant validations distinguish a very small minority of people seeking employment. As you build and nurture your network, you must also build relationships with people who will validate you. Often, these contacts are bosses and colleagues who have worked and interacted with you. When they attest to your skills, accomplishments, and contribution as a team member or team leader, their words carry real weight.
Don’t try to cold call your way into a warm introduction: Just because you can find someone on LinkedIn or discover their email address doesn’t give you permission to reach out. Don’t be a stalker, pouncing on people in person with your resume in hand (an anesthesiologist once did this to me after a minor procedure—I kid you not!) or online by blasting emails. A true connection is forged with a bond that has meaning. Otherwise, you’re like that vacuum cleaner salesperson from forty years ago, who nobody wanted to see at the door.
Do network your way to “go”: Getting in touch with someone you don’t know well is like playing a board game: you have to move the correct number of spaces to get to the goal. Trust me; at any level, someone you know will know someone who knows somebody who knows the person you want to reach. It might take a while, but the doors will open through the genuine care and nurturing of your network.
Don’t drop names: Chances are you are not Bill Gates’ best friend, nor do you hang out with Warren Buffett. Dropping names of people you don’t know is the career equivalent of “fake news”—manipulative and incompetent. Don’t try to impress your network that you move in a high circle of important people you “know”; lead with your authentic self.
Do build your reputation: As you network, you’re building your reputation. Take the time to nurture each connection along the way. Engage with others, ask questions, build relationships, and enhance your reputation. Use every contact as an opportunity to showcase your expertise and the impact you make. Trust me, when others are genuinely impressed by what you’ve done, they’ll be more than happy to tell others about you.
When your reputation and your accomplishments speak for themselves, you won’t have to ask for a warm introduction. Doors will be opening for you.
And that’s a much better use of your time than playing LinkedIn roulette.
A version of this article appears at Forbes.com.