LinkedIn Recommendations: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

Recently, there’s been some sniping at LinkedIn recommendations in the social channels, with naysayers comparing them to ‘60s love-ins.

Are these public accolades crucial for jobseekers? Are they mandatory for having a robust profile on LinkedIn? Do they help or hinder you when climbing the career ladder?

Why You Should 

LinkedIn offers recruiters a one-stop shop when searching for potential candidates and recommendations are an important tool for promoting yourself. On LinkedIn you can now list everything from your professional experience to skills, education, projects, associations, honors, and events you plan to attend in your industry. You have space to summarize your expertise in narrative form as well as capture the essential “you” in a headline. There’s nothing wrong with using the Recommendations feature to give your profile an extra boost when a headhunter reviews it – references are excellent objective, third-party endorsements of your skills and professional demeanor.

Note that last thought: Recommendations are about your professional self. You should ask only those you’ve worked with directly for LinkedIn recommendations – this list includes managers, team members, clients and business partners who’ve had real insight into your skills and approach to tackling big projects.

LinkedIn recommendations are perfect for contractors. If a client enjoyed working with you and was thrilled with the outcome of a project (a big chunk of work, not small stuff, like writing a press release), ask them right away if they’d be kind enough to share their thoughts on LinkedIn. It’s far more awkward to approach clients a year or two later – when they’ll be less likely to recall specifics. Positive references are a major part of business development for contractors.

Treat recommendations like every other feature on LinkedIn and make sure they include searchable key words. After all, if you want to move up the ladder, it helps recruiters to see that you have the experience they’re searching for. There’s nothing wrong with helping out a generous endorser by providing a little direction. After all, it’s hard for most folks to write a reference from scratch. So, when you ask for a recommendation, include suggestions in bullet point format and use key words that shine a bright light on both your skill set and your on-the-job behavior.

Why You Shouldn’t

Mom always thinks the best of you, but that doesn’t mean she should gush about you on LinkedIn. Unless you actually worked for your mom, cousin, fraternity brother, or other assorted relatives and BFFs (and here we’re talking a job in your profession, not babysitting or editing a buddy’s PoliSci paper), you should only ask those you’ve worked with directly for LinkedIn recommendations. This is where the grousing about recommendations is coming from. Glowing references from people who don’t have insight into your work may be great for the ego, but recruiters can spot them for the fluff they are from 100 miles away.

Recommendations are either too broad or too specific. When asking for references in the offline world, you’re expected to brief your former boss or colleague on the required job qualifications and remind them why you’re suitable for the open position. In the world of LinkedIn Recommendations, your endorser can only offer a reference related to the past work you’ve done for him or her, and guaranteed it will be too detailed about your previous work or too general to be helpful for future job searches. These types of recommendations become generic. When savvy professionals want to climb the corporate ladder, they customize everything – resume, cover letter, portfolio and appropriate references – for the next job. Whereas LinkedIn recommendations are all about the jobs you did in the past.

Tit-for-tat recommendations aren’t credible. Ever receive an email like this from a friend: “If you’ll write a recommendation for my LinkedIn, I’ll do one for yours”? A dear friend made this request and, unbidden, sent along the reference he’d already submitted to LinkedIn. To this day, it sits out there in the Ethernet, still unassigned. Why? Because I haven’t worked with this person in two decades. He has no experience with or perspective on my current professional life, nor I his. The recommendation discusses how gung-ho I was as a 19-year-old; it’s generous and charming, but in no way describes how I present myself professionally today. Glowing recommendations from friends are too obvious; recruiters discount them out of hand. Also, each reference must link to a specific job on your profile – that’s how LinkedIn organizes its Recommendations feature. Generic praise isn’t much help, and friends who aren’t colleagues rarely have more than this to offer regarding your capabilities. Awkward is the word for these situations. You don’t want to hurt or lose a friend over something like this. The best way to respond is to agree to write something for your friend and if your friend produces a recommendation that matches Point 1 and/or Point 2 above, then don’t assign it on your LinkedIn account (your friend is unlikely to notice). That way, you’ve responded with kindness and professionalism, offered your friend support when he or she needed it, and avoided making your profile look like it’s participating in a love-in.

Check out this related post for tips on being a savvy LinkedIn user:

The Social Full Monty: Are You Being Transparent on Purpose or by Accident?