LinkedIn Recommendations – Ugh, Do I Have To?

“So, tell us Bill, what’s it like to work with you?”

It’s awesome. I’m super responsive, am an expert in my field, I always go above and beyond, and my work ethic is unmatched.

We’ve all been there. Okay, maybe not that conceited. No matter our profession (e.g., sales, attorney, commercial broker) and no matter the situation (e.g., sales pitch, interview, proposal review), we find ourselves in positions that constantly demand us to advocate for ourselves. But, many of us feel like frauds for doing so. “Won’t my work simply speak for itself? I feel like I’m on a first date telling someone I’m smart and funny…just wait and I’ll teach you something or make you laugh.” These are attributes that will (hopefully) be visible as a client begins to work with us, but until that engagement begins, we have to find ways to convince our audience that we’re the right person to hire.

Enter the glorious LinkedIn recommendation. A recommendation has the ability to speak on your behalf and detail what the experience of working with you is like. This is an opportunity to invoke testimonials from a wide spectrum of your network – former clients, peers, college and law school professors, internal cross-functional partners, current clients, graduate program research partners, clients who have purchased from you multiple times – you name it. These are individuals who know you professionally, who have likely learned about your personal side and who can be an advocate for your character and what it’s like to work alongside you.

If you do only three things on your LinkedIn profile, my recommendation is to invest time in your headline, your “About” section, and your recommendations. Many of your standard sections (profile picture, work history, education) are likely done, but the three aforementioned sections take time. You want to think about a buyer’s journey when they visit your LinkedIn profile. They’ll find you if you have a headline that specifically states the problem you can solve for them (Fail: Sales Director, Win: Helping Organizations Never Miss a Job Change Alert Again Fail: Partner, XYZ firm, Win: Attorney Helping Establish Early Stage Tech Companies in IP Law), they’ll want to learn more about you, and they’ll run down to your recommendations to see who has advocated for you and why.

So, how do we get started?

First, it’s important to call out that some professions (e.g., attorneys) have compliance considerations, but with a little mindfulness, you can easily remain compliant. Consider that your recommendation should be more experience-focused vs. superlative and opinion-focused. For example, noting, “Bill is the best lawyer in Florida” won’t fly as it’s unverifiable, but making notes like, “Bill offered sage advice on our matter, was extremely responsive to our communications, brought humor to our engagement and demonstrated knowledge about our industry” is perfectly acceptable.

Second, to get going on your recommendations, think about the list of individuals I named above and make a list of twenty of those that you believe would offer you a testimonial. Then, before the end of this week, ask three of them if they would be willing to participate and, in the meantime, add the next three people (and so forth) to your calendar, in six to eight week increments, so that you start to build a cadence and routine of asking for recommendations. By doing this, you’ll avoid the mistake that many make, which is to suddenly have a spike in random recommendations. This signals to the reader that you either are or were looking for a job and you temporarily got your LinkedIn act together but never followed through to keep the momentum going. Instead, demonstrate consistency and follow through by building this cadence, which will also allow people to see your true brand as reflected by consistent positive performance.

When I ask for a recommendation, this is my go-to. Feel free to copy/paste/make it your own:

Hi Sarah! I wanted to send you a quick note to ask if you wouldn’t mind writing me a recommendation on LinkedIn. We’ve worked together on so many projects over the course of these three years, and your insights would be really valuable as other buyers consider hiring me for this same line of work. No pressure whatsoever and I completely understand if it’s against company policy to do so, but appreciate your consideration nonetheless.

I’m doing two things in this ask – I’m giving logic for why I want her to write it (this isn’t for my ego), and I’m showing self-awareness by understanding that not everyone may want to write a recommendation and am offering her an easy opt-out, if she needs it.

Finally, what should go in a recommendation? When you writer responds with “I would be happy to write one! What would you like it to say?”, don’t take this as a negative, it’s actually a tremendous opportunity to help curate your write-up. Here are a few things you want to consider:

  1. Think about the accolades you’re required to voice when bidding for business and use the recommendation as a way to have your clients speak on your behalf. Do you tout responsiveness or being proactive or always meeting your deadlines? Whatever it is that sets you apart, if it’s been the experience that your client has had, then leverage that here.
  2. Has this individual hired you several times? If so, this should be at the top of the recommendation – don’t bury the lede! “I’ve had the chance to hire James on three occasions now over the course of four years and two companies.” This speaks volumes about your effective follow through in what you sold but also your service throughout the engagement.
  3. Is there anything you’ve done that goes above and beyond, consistently, that your buyers should know about? As an example, my friend Caroline had a long-time client whose daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. Caroline not only demonstrated empathy for the situation but also threw an event in the daughter’s honor as a way to raise money for research. These accolades speak volumes about your character and you as an individual.

Recommendations, built up over time, will enable you to give a different voice to what you bring to the table and will exponentially increase your chances of winning the work or being hired for the role. One of my favorite crutches in sales is, “This is what you can expect in working with me, but you might be better suited to read the testimonials from my clients and colleagues, which can be found on my LinkedIn page.” and now this can be one of yours, as well.