LinkedIn Recommendations: Five Ways to Make The Most of Them

By C.G. Lynch, CIO.com |  Career, LinkedIn, Social Networking

Within your LinkedIn profile, recommendations, which you must seek out and approve from contacts of your choosing, give employers a fuller view of you as a direct report, boss, colleague, or client. They make your LinkedIn profile more dynamic and personal than the fairly static information (where you worked, what you did) that appears in your general resume.

But you can also do more harm than good with a LinkedIn recommendation. If you don't pick the most appropriate people, or if you use too many people, it might scare off potential employers who might look at those recommendations as a red flag rather than a helpful vote of confidence.

CIO.com wants to help you avoid that problem, so we spoke with online career management experts to figure out the best way to get LinkedIn recommendations and make them an asset, instead of a hindrance, at job hunting time.

How to send a LinkedIn recommendation request.

1. After you log into your LinkedIn homepage, scroll your mouse over to the left navigation menu where it says "Profile." Click on the subsection that says, "Recommendations."

2. On the Recommendations page, click on the "request recommendations tab."

3. You'll be walked through a basic three step process. Name the job (among those listed in your resume) for which you want a recommendation, using the drop-down menu. Decide who you'll ask for a recommendation. And lastly, write a customized note, telling the person why you'd like them to recommend you.

1. Who to ask for a recommendation? Look above, below and sideways.

While you should have a recommendation in which your boss praises your abilities and how your work helped drive good business results, don't stop there, says Phil Rosenberg, president of reCareered (a career consultancy).

"If you want to demonstrate that you were a team player, having your peers say in a recommendation that you go the extra mile or help mentor people can help shape your image with a potential employer," Rosenberg says.

You also might want to look externally to clients and internally to your direct reports, says Kirsten Dixson, a reputation management and online identity expert.

"If you really want to show that you're an effective manger, you want to have endorsement from those people, not just the person above you saying so," Dixson says. "Recommendations should really be all the way around you: above, below, and sideways."

And while it seems obvious, make sure you know the person well before asking them for a recommendation. Not only will that ensure a recommendation with greater depth and detail, but also, you avoid putting someone in the awkward position of saying no.

2. Setting Expectations for a Recommendation

Like a recommendation written for the paper-based or e-mail world, a person recommending you on LinkedIn can benefit from some guidance on what thoughts and facts you're looking to present in their recommendation. As a result, it doesn't hurt to mention what aspects of your experience and relationship you're hoping to convey.

"Don't put words in their mouth. but ask them to accentuate one or two points of what it was like working with you," Rosenberg says. "That's better than leaving it up to chance about what they might want to write."

That said, you want to make sure you're not closing off a recommender from writing something about you that could bolster your image (and that you may not have even thought of), says Dixson. In the invitation to write the recommendation, she suggests that you shouldn't set overly specific guidelines, but mention that you'd be happy to offer them if they think it would be helpful.

"You might get a happy surprise if they create something that exceeds your expectations," Dixson says.

3. Length: Quality over Quantity

It doesn't hurt to give your recommender some guidance for how long the recommendation should be, and in this case, experts agree that quality should trump quantity.

For one thing, reader attention spans on the Web are known to be shorter, Dixson says. As a result, you don't want potential employers missing the overall message of a recommendation because they were unable to take several minutes to read it (time is always short).

Both Dixson and Rosenberg recommended something in the one paragraph region, with two paragraphs being an absolute max.

"Since the candidate should plan on a recommendation highlighting one or two strengths at most, more than two paragraphs is too much for a potential employer to read," Rosenberg says.

In some cases, recommendations with as few as three sentences communicate the most essential points about a person, Dixson says.

4. Number of Recommendations: Again, Quality Over Quantity

Some LinkedIn profiles look like infomercials if you overuse the recommendation feature. And you should not follow such a strategy, says Rosenberg.

"I've seen people have 300 recommendations," he says. "The problem is, it waters down the impact of any of those individual recommendations and you distract the reader. If you have five really important ones, they'd potentially need to get through 295 bad ones. It adds too much noise."

Rosenberg recommends no more than 10. While Dixson didn't set a hard and fast number, she said you should try to limit yourself to two to three per job.

5. Give Before You Get

It's a cliche to talk about the importance of building social capital and goodwill, but it's really unavoidable when it comes to LinkedIn recommendations. Before you can expect serious endorsements from people, it's best to go recommend some people yourself, experts say. This way, when you find yourself in need of a new job, you can rely on them returning the goodwill.

"LinkedIn is all about social karma," Rosenberg says. "So many people in their job search today will go to their Rolodex and say "gimme, gimme gimme.' But people really get tired of that. Try to give before you get, and you'll be much more likely to get results that way."

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