How to Name Drop in a Cover Letter (Without Sounding Pretentious!)

A 2024, recruiter-backed guide on name-dropping in your cover letter to enhance your job application, build credibility, and open doors— all without sounding pretentious!

2 months ago   •   7 min read

By Rohan Mahtani
Table of contents

You're right there, hovering over your keyboard, contemplating whether to include that notable name in your cover letter.

You wonder: "Will this give me an edge.. Or just seem boastful?"

We’ve all been there. And the good news is, there’s a pretty straightforward answer!

Generally speaking, you should name drop in a cover letter if that will help you get your foot in the door (make sure you have their permission first, of course!).

In order to avoid sounding arrogant, though, remember that name dropping isn’t about flaunting your connections. It's just one tool that you have for showing how your range of skills, experience, and accomplishments make you a great fit for the job.

In 2024, when hiring managers have to sift through a deluge of applications for every open position, your professional network is more than just a rolodex of contacts. It's a bridge to potential opportunities. Name-dropping, when done well, can help open doors that might otherwise be closed.

In this guide, we'll talk about what name-dropping really means in a cover letter and why it can be a powerful tool if used wisely. You'll learn how to build trust and credibility, create connections, and highlight your experiences through name dropping without sounding like a know-it-all.

Quick reference on how to effectively name drop in a cover letter
Quick reference on how to effectively name drop in a cover letter

Let’s get started!

What is name dropping?

Name dropping is when you mention an influential person you know in your cover letter. The idea is that the fact that you know this person will put you in a better light, too.

If you know someone at the company you’re applying for or had a chance to work with someone who is well-known in your field, it’s usually a good idea to name drop in your cover letter.

Of course, you need to do it without sounding like you’re full of yourself! (No worries, the rest of this article will help!)

How to name drop in a cover letter

Get permission

Before you name drop in your cover letter, make sure the person you're mentioning approves. Double-checking that it’s okay not only shows respect for the individual's privacy but also adds authenticity to your reference.

For example, after double-checking you might be able to write, “My mentor, John Smith, a Senior Developer at your firm, encouraged me to apply. He piqued my interest in this job when he described the team's innovative approach to software development.”

Integrate name-drops into your story

Instead of bluntly stating your acquaintance with an influential person, integrate this information into your story in a way that feels natural and relevant. This method of name dropping in a cover letter ties your experience to the influential person, without being in-your-face. It also provides context for the connection and demonstrates that you’re a team player.

For example, instead of saying, “I know John Smith, your VP of Marketing,” try, “During my tenure at MarketingMinds, I collaborated with John Smith on a successful brand repositioning project.”

Use name-dropping to demonstrate your skills or experience

Instead of focusing on the connection itself, focus on what you have achieved or learned through the relationship. This way, instead of sounding snobby when you mention who you know, it sounds like you’re (rightfully) thankful for the opportunities you’ve had and you’re ready to make the most of what you’ve learned.

For example, a statement like, “Working alongside Sarah Johnson, a renowned data analyst, helped me develop a deep understanding of predictive analytics,” shifts the emphasis to your skills and the value you gained from the experience.

Showcase achievements first

Highlight your achievements before mentioning your connections. This way, your skills and successes remain the focal point.

For instance, you could say something like “I led a team that increased sales by 30%,” and then provide context, “under the guidance of industry expert Jane Doe.”

Use name-dropping as support, not the lead

Treat name-dropping as a nice little sideshow to your qualifications, not the main attraction. Your experiences, skills, and achievements should always take center stage in your cover letter. After all, waltzing into an interview and assuming you’ll be hired based on who you know is a quick way to make enemies.

Avoid sounding pretentious

Even if you don’t mean to sound full of yourself, be aware of your tone. Speaking humbly reflects respect and gratitude for the opportunity, rather than self-importance.

Boastful statements like “I was handpicked by the CEO for this project” might sound confident, but they’ll also can be perceived as arrogant. Opt for a humbler approach, such as, “I had the privilege of working closely with the CEO on X project.”

Before you send that cover letter, make sure your resume is ready for the hiring manager! Score My Resume gives you detailed feedback on how to improve your resume so that your skills and experience shine!

Example: Name dropping in a cover letter

Here’s an example of name dropping in a cover letter that showcases achievements first, integrates the name-drops into the applicant’s story, and uses the name drop as support, not the lead.

It also demonstrates that this applicant knows what they’re talking about when it comes to the company they’re applying at:

A great example of how to name drop in a cover letter
A great example of how to name drop in a cover letter

Why name drop?

There are several reasons you should name drop in your cover letter, if you can do so honestly and humbly! Here are a few:

Build trust and credibility

When done with tact, name dropping can significantly enhance your professional image. It implies that respected industry figures acknowledge your skills and potential. Think of it as a subtle endorsement of your capabilities— one that took your colleagues zero extra time to write.

Create connection

Name dropping can foster a sense of shared network or community, which is particularly effective in referral cover letters. If the hiring manager knows or respects the individual you mention, it can create an instant connection, giving your application a personal touch.

Highlight your experience

After all the advice we’ve given on how not to sound arrogant when name dropping, you may think that’s the primary danger with it. However, when it’s done right, name dropping can subtly underscore your experiences and the professional circles you've been a part of— without making you seem braggadocious.

This can hint at your exposure to certain high-level professional environments, adding depth to your application.

Open doors for yourself

In certain situations, mentioning a well-regarded connection can unlock opportunities that might otherwise be hard to reach. It's a way to gently nudge open the door to new possibilities, making your application stand out.

When is name dropping a good idea for a cover letter?

Name dropping can be a powerful tool if you use it in the right ways. Let’s explore what those are:

When you have a direct and positive relationship

It's crucial to only mention individuals with whom you have a positive professional relationship. This could be a former boss, a mentor, or a colleague who has directly influenced your career path.

It probably should go without saying, but please don’t mention someone you don’t get along with. The hiring manager might ask the person you mentioned about you and then... Well, you can probably say goodbye to an advantages dropping their name would’ve given you in the first place.

When you have a referral from a respected colleague or mentor

If someone influential in your industry or within the company you're applying to has referred you to the position, it's a good idea to mention it. Referral cover letters often carry more weight, since they come with an implicit endorsement.

When you have collaborated on significant projects together

This is especially relevant when you've worked on projects that are related to the job you're applying for.

For example, “During my time at GreenTech, I collaborated with John Adams, an expert in sustainable technologies, on developing eco-friendly housing solutions.”

This not only shows your experience but also connects you with a known figure in the field.

When you have an endorsement or recommendation

If a well-respected figure in your field has formally endorsed your work or recommended you for your expertise, mentioning this can add credibility to your application.

For example, “My recent project was commended by Sarah Johnson, a pioneer in educational technology, for its innovative approach to digital learning.”

When they have given you mentorship or guidance

If a recognized professional has significantly contributed to your career development, highlighting this relationship can be beneficial.

Here’s an example: “Under the mentorship of David Park, a renowned marketing strategist, I gained deep insights into consumer behavior analytics, which I believe will greatly benefit my role in your marketing team.”

When you have shared professional achievements

If you and the individual you're naming have achieved notable successes together, it's worth mentioning.

An example could be, “Working alongside Emily White at CloudTech, we co-authored a paper on cloud security innovations that was recognized at the International Tech Conference last year.”

When is name dropping is a bad idea for your cover letter?

Here are situations where name dropping could backfire:

When there’s no real connection

Don’t name drop if you don't have a meaningful or direct relationship with the person.

For instance, it's not a good idea to mention a high-profile individual you met briefly at a conference without any significant interaction or professional relationship. Most hiring managers can see through that and won’t think better of you for it.

When there’s controversy or negative publicity around the person

You should skip mentioning individuals who are currently embroiled in controversies or have a negative reputation in the industry. Associating yourself with people who have a bad reputation could reflect poorly on your judgment.

For example, if the person is known for a recent scandal, mentioning them might do more harm than good.

When the person is irrelevant to the position or the company

Name-dropping is inappropriate if the person has no relevant connection to the job or company you're applying to. Mentioning a renowned scientist when applying for a marketing role in an unrelated industry might come across as irrelevant or like you’re trying to impress rather than inform.

When mentioning them will overshadow your own qualifications

Don’t let name-dropping overshadow your achievements and skills. Focus on what you've accomplished rather than relying heavily on your connections to make a case for your suitability for the role. After all, they’re hiring you, not your connections

When you don’t have permission

If a contact or mentor has specifically requested not to be named in your job applications or public documents, it's important to respect their privacy and discretion. Ignoring their wishes could damage your relationship with them and your professional reputation.

Spread the word

Keep reading