As in every business situation, there’s a right way and a not-so-career-advancing way to ask for a reference or recommendation.
Employers looking at you will look at your LinkedIn profile. They will read your recommendations.
Let’s make sure that your recommendations favorably impress that future boss, or that HR exec, or that recruiter. Even your Mom.
A recommendation from someone higher up the ladder carries much more weight than one from someone further down the ladder (or the jungle gym, as author and Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg calls it).
A recommendation from someone who has worked directly with you is preferable to one from someone who knows you casually or outside of business circles.
A recommendation from someone who has known you a long time is far better than one from a new acquaintance.
Who and How to Ask
To further guide you in choosing people, let me make some suggestions.
Ask only people who are relevant to your goals. Believe it or not, a few flakey recommendations can harm your LinkedIn profile and your credibility. So, tailor your requests and choose individuals who will boost your image, and drive home your brand. Choosing people in the same profession as you (or an allied field) is one way to do this.
Another way is to make sure your recommendation-writer knows what your current goals are. Ask him to be specific when he gives you a rec. For example, you could say,
“Would you provide me with a recommendation based on the lunar landing project we worked together on, because that’s part of the job I am applying for.”
In fact, it’s always a good idea to give your contact some context for your request. Like this:
“I’m writing ask if you will give me a recommendation on LinkedIn. As you know, I’m looking to make a career change, and I believe a recommendation from you based on our work together on the JFK assassination investigation would be useful in highlighting my transferable skills.”
One of the ways I advise clients get good LinkedIn recommendations is to write them the recommendation themselves. Don’t be shy. Doing the writing makes it easier on the person submitting the recommendation. And it increases the likelihood that the recommendation will be specific and detailed, two important qualities.
Your request could look like this:
“I’m writing to request a recommendation based on our work together on the Academy Awards Ceremony that I can include on my LinkedIn profile. To make this easy for you, here’s a draft recommendation. Feel free to edit this or create your own.”
Here’s another tip: Before you ask anyone for a recommendation, go to the individual’s LinkedIn profile and see if she has written any other recommendations. Ask yourself if they are articulate and positive.
Also, see if all the recommendation she’s written say basically the same things. You want details that are unique to the person being recommended. If what she’s written isn’t very believable, strong, clear, or specific, you should consider providing the draft that you’ve written yourself about yourself.
Nitty Gritty of LinkedIn
You probably know that LinkedIn has a recommendation request form that guides you through the process. From your profile tab you can type “Request Recommendations” into the search box. You will be taken to a page that says “Ask your connections to recommend you.”
You’ll then fill in the form that asks what you want to be recommended for. You want to keep this updated as you apply for different positions, or else use a generic title for the positions you’ll be apply for – electrical engineer, dietitian, bank manager, chocolate tester…
LinkedIn provides a cookie-cutter message that you can use, beginning with the subject line. I suggest you type in, “Will you recommend me?” It’s a better question than “Can you recommend me?” because it’s accurate and more complimentary, more likely to get an affirmative answer. You know they can, but will they?
Then, you’ll want to customize the actual message.
So, under “Create your message,” replace the existing text with a personalized message. Gear it to the nature of your relationship – friendly and casual for a long-time friend, more formal if it’s going to the CEO of the last big company you worked for.
Although LinkedIn gives you the option of sending bulk recommendation requests, I suggest you don’t do that. If someone is going to take the time to recommend you, he deserves a personal note from you.
Your request might read,
“Thanks for agreeing to write a recommendation for me. I am hoping you can mention our mutual work with Royal Caribbean. I’m positioning myself as a cruise recreation director, so if you say something about my expanding the program to net an additional million dollars per cruise while reducing overhead 50%, that would be great.”
Up Close and Personal
An even better idea is to ask for a recommendation through more personal means — in person, on the phone, or by email.
In fact, one of the best ways to get a LinkedIn recommendation is to ask after someone gives you a compliment “in real life.” If a business or a social contact praises your work in an email, for example, you could respond with a message that thanks them and adds,
“Are you on LinkedIn? Would you mind if I sent you a request for a recommendation? It would mean a lot to me to have you say that on my profile.”
Reciprocation is another useful channel to acquire recommendations. Generally, if someone provides you with a recommendation, he will expect you to write one for him. So it’s a good idea to ask for recommendations only from people whom you’d be willing to recommend in the spirit of reciprocity.
Remember that the reverse is also true. If you are the one who initiates the exchange and writes an unsolicited recommendation for someone you know, that person is likely to return the favor and recommend you. Sometimes even these people take a little prodding, though.
The problem with swapping favors like this is that a reciprocal rec is less powerful than a rec that is given without strings attached. They are usually less convincing. To complicate things, visitors to your profile can see whom you have recommended and who has recommended you, and it’s likely they can spot any exchanges of support.
Social media has few secrets!
One final note is that if you don’t receive a response from someone after you request a recommendation, or if you don’t feel comfortable following up, consider whether you should be asking for a recommendation from that person in the first place.
I hope these tips can help you as you gather favorable and impressive recommendations for your LinkedIn profile. And remember, if you need help, I love doing LinkedIn makeovers for my clients!