The third in this series of LinkedIn Tips is to Give Useful Recommendations.

The Recommendations feature is one of the distinctive elements of LinkedIn, whereby members can provide comments on one another’s capabilities, experience of working together and so on. It is a free-form system with just one field where your “recommender” can write a short or long set of notes about you.

LinkedIn logoAnd you can do the same for others. The recommendation, once accepted by the “recommendee”, is uploaded automatically to his or her LinkedIn profile page.

If you read around the blogosphere on a search term such as “LinkedIn recommendations” you’ll find some variety of opinion on the usefulness or otherwise of LinkedIn recommendations. Certainly on the downside I’ve found in reading some recommendations that they add little or nothing to my sense of whether the person being recommended is someone I would like to work with or could trust to be a reliable business partner.

At such times I wonder whether people who write these uninspiring recommendations are just doing so as a not really thought-through favor for a friend or former colleague, or just because they have been asked but are not really wanting to say much that is “real” about the person.

If so, that’s a shame, because writing one of these recommendations could help a person get a dream job or a brilliant business opportunity – or have the opposite effect, making them look less interesting and less capable than they really are.

Say if I put myself in the situation of, a recruiter, or an entrepreneur looking for a potential business partner, and I read a set of “recommendations” that are essentially bland, non-communicative notes that tell me little about the person’s work ethic, or creativity, or ability to see a job through, or to get on with others, isn’t there a good chance that I will just move on to the next search result?

I believe there is a perception, even among a lot of people who are “on” LinkedIn, that a profile there is not actually very relevant to their career or business.

In fact, someone once asked me rather incredulously, when I suggested in as friendly a way as I could, that he update his LinkedIn profile, “Do people read those things?”

“Well yes”, I said, “people do”.

Not everyone, but people who are looking for someone to fill a position, people who are about to go to a business meeting and want to know something about the people they are going to meet and possibly do business with, people who are checking out the executives in your company to see if you are the kind of people they want to work with.

And some people, especially recruiters, read a lot of profiles. It’s in their interest to develop quickly the skill to sort the interesting, helpful recommendations from the bland and non-committal.

For example, one recruiter interviewed for LinkedIn for Recruiting, Dave Perry, told of how he used LinkedIn to find a product manager. He said:

“I probably started about 6 in the morning and didn’t bring my head up until about 5 o’clock at night, but I ended up with an exhaustive list of people that I wanted to talk to. I probably went through about 1,100 profiles.”

Now if I imagine a colleague of mine was one of those 1,100 and by writing a really useful recommendation I could have potentially helped tip the scales for him or her to move from the “big pile” to the short list, then I would have wanted to do the best job I could for that colleague. I would want the recruiter, even if he did not reach that profile till late in the day, to have that profile so to speak jump out and say, “look, aren’t I interesting and can you see how my colleagues believe I have these talents, these skills as a product manager, so you have to interview me, don’t you?”

By the same token, if I’m wanting someone who needs coaching on, say a specialty of mine, social media in business, I would hope they could find a recommendation on my LinkedIn profile that told them I was worth at least an exploratory conversation.

So, a bit reluctantly but to help illustrate the point, from the recommendations on my site I provide the following as an example of a recommendation that I find really useful, not so much because it says nice things about me but because it is a recommendation which is very business-focused and in my naturally biased opinion could help a potential client narrow down their search to include me.

“Over 10 years and many projects I have witnessed how Des works to make the pie bigger. He is driven by rare collaborative motivations, broad-ranging knowledge, business process skills (eg in research, writing, IT and communication), and bringing these in touch with opportunities and people. Des makes the pie bigger for his clients, collaborators and friends to have a larger slice.” April 21, 2005

Noric Dilanchian

Key points are that the recommendation shows the frame of reference (over 10 years and many projects), includes reference not just to specific skills, “research, writing, IT and communication”, but to values and motivations. It is also specific about my keenness and ability to help people grow their businesses.  I love the bit about making the pie bigger, because that is one of my dominant aims, although I don’t recall I had ever said that to Noric.

So are there some guides on how to write a good recommendation?

Yes, there are. Here are two.

First, well known social media expert Chris Brogan has an excellent, typically thoughtful post on the elements of a good recommendation on LinkedIn. As someone who is inclined to procrastinate on requests for such recommendations, because I’m not sure what to say about a particular person, I found Chris’ opening comment on “What to Say” helpful:

Recommendations are social proof. They exist so that a third party will obtain a better perspective on your business colleague’s profile. Thus, your goal, ultimately, is to make sure that third party feels educated about your colleague.

Second, Naina Raidhu, a consummate networker, has a very interesting post, in which she provides examples of recommendations given for her and graded by her in terms of effectiveness, from Most Effective to Not a Recommendation. This effectiveness measure is a good way to categorize LinkedIn recommendations, given that LinkedIn is intended to be a professional network, rather than a more “social” platform. Naina offers the following on how to write a recommendation on LinkedIn:

Talk about specifics : imagine you are reading someone’s recommendation and figure out what you would want to know about them as a prospective client / prospective business partner / prospective employer / prospective employee and then write your recommendation.

A Google search will turn up blog posts here and there which give advice on how to ask for LinkedIn recommendations. As I say, I’m not inclined to do that, although I would not rule it out. My focus in this post has been on writing recommendations for others. I do believe that if we do that well, the gift will be reciprocated, although no doubt not in every case.

If you do choose to ask for recommendations, my suggestion is to tell the person how you feel that could help you, say in your career or a business venture. Personally I would be wary of asking them to talk about particular skills or talents, only because that might inhibit people from writing a really useful recommendation.

Do you have a favorite LinkedIn recommendation someone has written for you? If you would like to copy it here by way of a comment, with a link to your LinkedIn profile, please share.

Other LinkedIn Tips in this series:

Tip #1: Review Your Profile Regularly

Tip #2: Take Time to Link Strategically

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).