4 Pieces of Social Proof You'll Only See From Top-Tier Candidates

In today's talent wars, we make decisions about a candidate's employability quickly. After a few seconds with their resume and cover letter and a cursory glance at their online presence, we send them to the "maybe" pile or the trash can.

What are we really looking for in such a short timespan? Are we being too subjective? Maybe even judgmental? Or are we looking for social proof that the candidate can do the job well and contribute positively to our company culture?

Finding social proof of qualifications, character, and personal culture must be our objective – or we may be setting ourselves up to make hiring mistakes.

We now live in what we call the "testimonial economy." What a candidate says about themselves, including in their resume and cover letter, has less influence on us than ever before. Today, it is the testimony of former managers, colleagues, vendors, and customers that carries the most weight. After all, who do you believe more: A job seeker with a clear sense of urgency and perhaps a penchant for exaggeration, or a previous boss or coworker with nothing to gain?

The best candidates know this, so they build social proof into their personal brands. They count on others to talk about their skill sets and work ethics. Even before a potential employer sets out to judge their ability to contribute, the best candidates ask others to tell compelling stories about them.

Why not seek out those top-tier candidates? Why not leverage their self-aware nature? Why wouldn't we make the presence (or lack) of social proof a primary factor when making that "maybe" or "no" decision about a fresh applicant?

Here are four ways the best candidates effectively build social proof into their resumes, cover letters, and online presences. If you find the candidates doing these things, you've likely found yourself a winner:

Recommendations on LinkedIn

With 93 percent of recruiters using LinkedIn, candidates know the world's largest professional networking site is the place to display personal recommendations – and not just one or two. They know the general rule is 2-3 compelling recommendations for each position listed on LinkedIn. The best candidates make sure the recommendations are not generic (e.g., "Mark is such a nice guy"). Instead, they feature recommendations that address specifically the work you, the hiring decision-maker, might value.

So the next time you pop into LinkedIn to check out a candidate, do some counting. How well-respected was this candidate at their last gig or two? Enough to warrant at least two recommendations per position?

Endorsements in Personal Marketing Documents

Once upon a time, many of us considered a testimonial on an applicant's cover letter (and certainly on a resume) a fatal mistake. Not anymore. Today, all but the most traditional employer sees value in a relevant endorsement in career-marketing materials. Of course, this aspect of social proof can be taken too far. Rather than get sucked into a series of over-the-top humblebrags, look for a short endorsement placed strategically and discreetly on a resume or cover letter.

That kind of social proof may indicate someone with enough emotional intelligence to fill your current role. A dominating paragraph or a 60-point font quote, however, should be considered a big, self-important red flag.

Impact Statements, Achievements, and Awards

We've all been there: bored to death by the never-ending list of tasks performed at an applicant's last job.

Reward the job seekers who take us to a much higher level of interest by demonstrating their real impact at previous jobs. Look for quantified statements like, "Achieved 132 percent of business development goals over three years." Also, look for relevant achievements and awards. After all, the best candidates know the best way to impress you, a potential employer, is to brag a little bit about the recognition received from their last employer.

Positive Reviews on Social Media and Personal Domains

Of course, LinkedIn and career collateral aren't the only places in-demand candidates strategically place testimonials and endorsements. To present as much social proof as possible, they make positive reviews of their work a cornerstone of their personal branding. That includes social media background images, an About.me profile, and personal domains.

By consistently using objective comments in their personal branding materials, candidates tell employers they can do the job. They deliberately show how people really enjoyed working with them. They share testimonials that show the quality of both their work and their character. They provide all that social proof because they know we recruiters, hiring managers, and HR pros know people rarely volunteer to write recommendations for colleagues they didn't like or respect.

Without a doubt, social proof has become a necessity in today's job market. It filters out the self-promoters and the unqualified. It helps the best candidates rise to the top – which is right where you want to find them.

Let your competition hire those candidates who talk in generic terms and buzzwords about themselves and their work. Let them wait for those canned referrals we all ask for right before we extend a job offer. Allow them to get sucked into yet another hiring mistake.

In the meantime, you'll intentionally seek out the top talent wise enough to provide objective testimonials, endorsements, and recommendations – well before you ask.

Do that, and you'll soon find you are winning the war for talent.

Mark Babbitt is CEO and founder of YouTern, a social resource for young professionals; president of the leadership community Switch and Shift; and cofounder of ForwardHeroes.org, a service for transitioning military veterans. He coauthored the best-seller A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive.