What’s the best way to respond if someone asks you to recommend them? Maybe you’re happy to do it, and you just don’t know where to start. Or maybe you don’t really know the person very well, or remember their work. What should you do?
Torrey Podmajersky has been a user-experience writer at Microsoft for five years, and she’s been asked to write a LinkedIn recommendation about 10 times. She usually says yes.
“Part of being a modern professional is helping people out. I’m a writer. If someone asks me to write a recommendation, I say OK,” Podmajersky says.
Since Podmajersky, 40, was a high school teacher prior to Microsoft, she got a lot of practice writing recommendations for students trying to get into college. She remembers getting a handwritten thank-you note from an admissions officer, letting her know that what she wrote helped a student not only get into the school, but land a scholarship. Podmajersky clearly knows what she’s doing.
But not all of us feel so confident when asked to endorse a friend or colleague, even if they’re wholly deserving of an enthusiastic thumbs up. “It’s hard to sum up a whole person, or years of experience in a recommendation,” says Seattle executive coach Kathryn Crawford Saxer.
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What’s the best way to respond if someone asks you to write one? Maybe you’re happy to do it, and you just don’t know where to start. Or maybe you don’t really know the person very well, or remember their work. What should you do?
You may have to say no
What you shouldn’t do is recommend someone that you don’t think highly of, says Saxer. It’s awkward to say no, but it’s important to remember that you’re putting your own reputation on the line when you write a recommendation. “You should only be writing recommendations for people you actually respect and can vouch for,” she says.
Josie Nutter, 37, is a software engineer who’s worked in the game industry for many years, and she’s been asked to write about 30 recommendations on LinkedIn. Sometimes, she has a good impression of the person, and it’s easy to recall key projects or specific skills.
Other times, Nutter doesn’t remember the person very well at all — except that she enjoyed working with them. She writes recommendations for those people, too, even if it’s pretty generic.
“It goes back to how small the (video game) industry is,” she says. “Especially if it’s someone that I think is kind of a name, or has the potential to go somewhere interesting. It’s a way to maintain that networking contact.”
If you can only speak to a few attributes of the requestor, focus on those, advises Saxer. “In a recommendation, you want to identify one or two skills that you have personal experience with. Tell a story [about] where you saw them use the skill, and the result.”
Focus on the specifics
Let’s say you’ve been asked to recommend someone who you think is fantastic. These are tricky, too. How to begin? How long should it be? And how do you make it sound authentic without overdoing it — or selling the person short?
Podmajersky always tries to think of something specific about the person. “I need to tell the anecdote of what I saw them do, whether that was over 10 years or 10 minutes, why that’s important and why that made me understand their character better,” she says.
Specificity is key for a successful recommendation, agrees LinkedIn’s career expert Catherine Fisher. “Your recommendation should include measurements whenever possible. If they helped land a deal, say it. Look at the person’s summary and see what they’re passionate about. If that matches your experience with them, you can build upon that.”
Keep it real
Other tips: Keep it short; no more than 300 words, says Saxer. Use unusual, memorable adjectives. “LinkedIn is a pretty dry place, and recommendations are a way to humanize it, and make the person a real person,” she says.
Above all, Saxer advises recommenders to just be authentic. “What did this person do? What was it really like to work with them? Leading with that will not overdo it, if it’s real.”