One of the great pleasures in my professional life has been found through colleagues whose work I think is extraordinary. I’ve been fortunate: just about everywhere, my colleagues have been exceptional. These people are so good at their professions that the whole world deserves to know about them! And working alongside them has amounted to real gifts to me.
That’s why, as a matter of professional pride, I write LinkedIn recommendations for people who’ve really stood out without any prompting. I suppose you might say I give those people the gift of recommendations. For example, if a certain previous manager of mine called me out of the blue and said, “Ed, I need you to be within 24 hours on a plane to a city you’ve never been to before,” I’d start looking for an airline ticket and would start packing because that manager’s earned a high level of trust from me.
There’s an art to the LinkedIn recommendation. Recommendations you either receive yourself or write for others constitute a visible part of your LinkedIn presence, and therefore, the professional brands of both the recommender and the recommendee can be harmed by poor recommendations. You wouldn’t be impressed to be told your blind date is “nice” or “has a great personality,” right? Well, neither should a LinkedIn recommendation you write or receive offer such lukewarm wording.
I have a few thoughts about how to make the most of LinkedIn recommendations, whether you write or request them.
Writing a Recommendation
If asked for a recommendation—or if you’re offering one on an unsolicited basis—I urge you to consider whether you should ask or so offer. Can you credibly and authentically state that you witnessed the requester do something truly extraordinary? If not, perhaps someone else who has indeed witnessed such an accomplishment directly should make the endorsement.
But if you can, there’s no sense in doing things by halves. Go ahead and state your opinion powerfully. After all, the recipient is someone you’ve had good experiences with professionally, right? So, tell the world! To that end:
- Phrase the accomplishment in behavioral-interview (situation, action, result, or SAR) form, complete with a metric. Saying “Joe’s influencing skills are peerless” is good, but saying “Joe’s influencing skills ultimately reduced project costs by 20%, thereby allowing the organization’s bid to undercut that of our competitors and resulting in a $50-million contract” is superior because the precise extent of Joe’s contribution through his negotiation skills is given a clear and unambiguous context anybody can easily understand.
- Be sure to run your recommendation through both the spell check and grammar check of your favorite word processing application. You may be doing someone a great favor by giving the gift of your good word, but a typographical or grammatical error is tantamount to leaving the store’s price tag on.
- Ask about the strengths or traits the person is most seeking to communicate at this time and whether metrics can be associated with them—especially if you’re responding to a request for a recommendation. The person who did the work will likely remember clearly what the specifics were and be able to tell you so you can incorporate them in the wording. There’s no reason you should have to wrack your own brain trying to recall a situation that might have occurred several years before.
Requesting a Recommendation
If you’re the one requesting a recommendation, I urge you to consider whether you should do so. Can the person you’re asking indeed credibly and authentically state that he or she witnessed you do something truly extraordinary? If not, consider asking a direct witness.
If the person you ask can vouch, position that person to make such statements powerfully. To that end:
- Arm the person with information to make powerful statements about your skills. Writing a recommendation can be difficult or time-consuming. If you’re asking someone to do something difficult or time-consuming on your behalf, the least you can do is to make the process easier. Therefore, include an accomplishment in behavioral SAR form (see above) with a metric that speaks to a strength you’re seeking to underscore at this time. If you do this, include an out as well: something like “I felt during the time we worked together that I demonstrated [strength], which yielded [metric], but that’s just a suggestion.” But if you cannot offer this kind of guidance, reconsider whether you should request a recommendation from that person.
- Consider getting one or more recommendations from former reports if you were a manager. Direct reports can speak to your management style. Depending on your career level, your impact as an individual contributor may be overshadowed by your ability to lead a team to exceptional performance. And don’t rule out the utility of peer recommendation; a well-written peer recommendation can add value—provided clear metrics are included.
- Do not under any circumstance say, “I’m sure whatever you say will be fine.” If asked to provide guidelines about the kinds of skills or expertise you want extolled, an answer of that sort says, “I’m asking you to give me a gift, but I won’t give you any guidance by telling you the kinds of gifts I most appreciate.”
On LinkedIn, recommendations can be received or given only between first-degree connections: those with whom invitations to connect have been exchanged and accepted. Remember that each of us has accomplished much, as has each of our connections. LinkedIn recognizes that truth, enshrining it in the requirements that your profile contain at least three recommendations to be rated 100% complete. A complete profile is desirable because LinkedIn users with complete profiles appear higher in search results and therefore have greater visibility.
For the sake of your colleagues and yourself, please invest the time to make sure the recommendations you give and receive are powerful. So, if you’re going to give someone a gift, wouldn’t you want it to be one that the recipient will love? And in turn, if you’re the one on the receiving end, isn’t it better to receive a gift that you love?
I want to give people gifts they will cherish. Don’t you?
 There are a host of acronyms or abbreviations for this form: CAR, PAR, SAR, etc. Can we instead use BAR (blank, action, result) and be done with it?