social recommendationRecently a virus requesting reference help has been going around and it reminded me of how LinkedIn referrals used to be sort of controversial. When LinkedIn began offering the service and automating it to some extent, many recruiters (simply by virtue of their number of connections) were deluged with referral requests, many from people who had less than a peripheral connection. Here’s how to ask for a referral and how to give a good one:

The ask: Recruiters and HR professionals are used to asking people to do things, so this shouldn’t be too rough. But make sure that the person you are asking to recommend your work is someone who can speak truthfully to it. Using many of the LinkedIn qualifiers may help you. It may seem like common sense, but if you haven’t had a conversation (by phone or face to face), don’t ask someone to recommend your work.

Be specific: Like a designer’s portfolio, you should be able to pinpoint what specifically you want people to say. If every reference in your resume or LinkedIn profile follows a theme that’s okay, but if you worked on a spectacular project or managed a campaign or hire, mention that you’d appreciate it if they referenced that in their reference. Heh.

If you’re on the hunt for a new job, expect the hiring manager will look at your profile, including your recommendations. If your recommendations tell a specific story about you, and they come from a broad range of sources, they will help you.

Thank them. Once you’ve asked (in person) and given them a specific project or time of work to pinpoint in their reference, then thank them, either via email or by telephone. After some time, if you feel comfortable doing so, you may reciprocate.

Quick tip: Don’t ask for too many. More than a dozen recommendations is pushing it, over 20 makes you look like a show-off.

How to write one: Again, recruiters are asked for a lot of recommendations by virtue of the profession, but that doesn’t mean you have to say yes. Agree to write a recommendation if you have actually worked with the person in a consulting or employee relationship. Chris Brogan calls recommendations “social proof”:

Recommendations are social proof. They exist so that a third party will obtain a better perspective on your business colleague’s profile. Thus, your goal, ultimately, is to make sure that third party feels educated about your colleague. Make sense?

Once you’ve agreed to write one, the following should help:

Avoid too much emotion- While you may find yourself writing recommendations for people you consider friends, avoid “gushing” over your colleague’s personality. If you cannot resist, focus on how their personal traits affected the work they did.

Be specific- “It was great to work with Joe. We accomplished a lot together.” doesn’t really help Joe very much, now does it? However, specifying what was great about working with Joe and exactly what you accomplished will help him out a lot more.

Keep it short- Recommendations are useful but not if they aren’t well written and succinct. While it might seem like the longer your praises sound, the better the recommendation, it actually lessens the likelihood that it will get read. 3-5 sentences is an optimal length.

Proof and edit- No matter how it’s used, LinkedIn is a professional network so despite the casual nature that social media denotes, make sure that your recommendation is free of errors and easy to read. Catch any spelling errors or grammatical issues before sending it through to the (likely busy) recipient. In this case, errors reflect poorly on you and the recommendee.



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