How to Write a Pithy LinkedIn Recommendation

by on September 21st, 2010
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A guy called me to talk about his job search, and I jumped over to his LinkedIn profile while I had him on the phone. I fear that ten minutes into the call, I audibly gasped. “What’s wrong?” he asked, and I said “I’m sorry I gasped. I was startled. I’m reading through your LinkedIn recommendations…”

“Yes!” said my caller. “I have seven of them. Cool, right?”

“That’s the thing,” I said. “The recommendations are odd. They don’t say a lot about what you did as a sales manager. They almost seem to avoid talking about your sales management jobs, and that’s not a good thing when you’re looking to get hired as a sales manager.”

I was being polite. The poor fellow’s LinkedIn recommendations were atrocious. The gentleman on the phone with me had been a Sales Manager for eight years at the same company. He had managed a regional sales staff of eleven people, reporting to a VP. From our conversation, it was clear that he had done a good job — he had beat his sales targets six out of those eight years. Yet his LinkedIn recommendations said things like “Joel is punctual and reliable,” and “Joel always strives to do his best.”

“I am trying to understand these recommendations,” I said. “You had a very responsible job with all sorts of different facets. You managed a lot of people and millions of dollars of revenue. Why did all seven of your former colleagues write recommmendations that make you sound like a sixth-grader running for student council?”

“Well, that is a little weird,” said Joel. “That company is very political. No one wants to praise anyone else. Also, they’re very formal. The most anyone would say about me is ‘He came to work on time.’” I advised Joel to take the seven left-handed LinkedIn recommendations down from his profile. They actually hurt his credibility, because of what his endorsers didn’t say: things like “Joel is an amazing sales manager,” “I’ve never worked for a boss who took my professional development as seriously as Joel did,” and “Joel is an ace at closing big, complex channel deals.”

LinkedIn recommendations, also known as endorsements, matter a lot. When you’re the result of a people search that another LinkedIn user conducts on the LinkedIn database, the presence of recommendations on your profile actually vaults you up in the search rankings. Apart from that, when LinkedIn users see recommendations on your profile, your credibility can really improve, because whatever we say about ourselves pales in influence next to what other people say about us. After all, these aren’t anonymous “Attaboys” and “Attagirls.” The people who recommend us on LinkedIn are putting their names and reputations up next to ours — cobranding themselves with us, in a sense — presumably forever, or until the big server in the sky shuts down around the time the sun runs out of helium or hydrogen or whatever it’s running on.

LinkedIn endorsements help a LinkedIn user in four ways:

They help your search rankings, as we already mentioned. They bring you to life on the page for the benefit of someone who’s reading your profile and doesn’t already know you. We an almost see you in action, when a well-written LinkedIn recommendation brings your power across. They associate you with other credible people who have not only worked with you but who are comfortable telling the world, “Oh yes, Joel is a friend of mine and a highly-recommended one. I’d work with him again in a heartbeat!”
Lastly, LinkedIn endorsements show that you are connected with, associated with and used to working among smart and insightful people. How do your endorsements do this? When they’re well-written (specific and human) we see that the endorser him- or herself is smart and articulate. You are a friend or former colleague of this person. The ‘spillover’ credibility is huge, but only if your recommendations are written in a smart, articulate way themselves.

Let’s Rate Some Recommendations!

Let’s look at some LinkedIn endorsements to get a feel for what’s essential and what’s bad news in a LinkedIn recommendation. Here’s one:

John is a great co-worker with terrific skills.

This is a well-intended LinkedIn endorsement, but its presence on your LinkedIn profile is not going to galvanize John’s business prospects. Why not? It’s too general and too brief. We need to say more. Let’s look at another LinkedIn endorsement:

I worked with John at Acme Electronics when the company was growing from 100 to 600 people. Amy ran the front office, hired and trained about a dozen team members, kept the wheels on through our period of massive growth and juggled a dozen projects with humor and grace. Amy has an incredible air of calm and goodwill about her and is also as flexible and giving as a co-worker could possibly be.

This LinkedIn user only wrote three sentences, but he or she accomplished three wonderful things in his or her endorsement of Amy:

First, this endorsement makes it clear that the person endorsing Amy is smart and insightful him- or herself. Switched-on people know other switched-on people, most of the time. So well-written, human-voiced LinkedIn endorsements look good for the endorser AND the ‘endorsee.’ A thoughtful LinkedIn recommendation like the one above is specific. It tells us exactly why Amy is so impressive. It tells a little story to let readers know exactly why we think so highly of Amy. A careful endorsement with a human voice, like this one, tell us something about how Amy rolls, and not just the jobs she’s held (for instance, from this endorsement we learn that Amy is calm under pressure and helpful to her teammates).

Here’s our Wish List for an effective LinkedIn recommendation:
Your recommendation should say something about how you met or where you worked with the subject of your endorsement. It should tell a story about when you and your endorsee worked together. It should use a human voice. It should give us sense of how the endorser rolls, specifically: (not “Nathan is smart” but “Nathan is the guy we’d go to when no one could figure out how to make two of our internal systems play together”).

You can ask your first-degree LinkedIn connections to endorse you on LinkedIn, but you really don’t need to; the easiest way to get people to recommend you is just to recommend them, first. You can write an endorsement for any first-degree LinkedIn contact you’ve got.

Happy writing! If you can help your friends and colleagues increase their professional networking credibility and visibility through a pithy endorsement, why not?


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