Do You Give Good Recommendations?

If you have asked for more than one or two recommendations on LinkedIn you have probably realized there is going to be a wide disparity in the product returned. This is not a post regretting the loss of English language skills, nor will there be an analysis of how to insure that people do right by you every time you ask. Instead, I want to offer a few examples of recommendations I have written for other people on LinkedIn, because I have been told I do it well. And seeing that most of what I read is nowhere close, I am going to step out in faith that these will be received in the spirit they are offered: to help others see the value of spending a little more time making sure their recommendation has impact.

To start, here are a few comparisons for someone else’s recommendation versus mine for the same person. You tell me which you’d rather receive and which one is more helpful if you were considering this person as a potential hire or partner:

A: “Michael is a true silicon valley entrepreneur. He is very bright and well networked and has both a business and technical perspective.”

B: “As others have noted, Michael is a consummate networker. If you need to analyze a group of unknown people in a boardroom for potential investment partners, set him loose and he will come back having had deep, substantive discussions with each and an assessment of exactly who to focus on in less time than it would take to do the research online. He is remarkable in that skill!

But even more valuable, Michael is a non-lateral thinker. Sitting in a team meeting listening to the progress of the discussion on approaches to a business challenge, he will be engaged, yet thinking of many more possible solutions than those being discussed. When appropriate he will then suggest the top three he has come up with and the reasons they are improvements on everything else that has been discussed. You have to see this happen to believe it. Absolutely invaluable skill!

His training as an architect fostered in him an innate sense of structure from foundation to capstone for every business strategy and product marketing plan he has created. As a result, there are rarely surprises when his ideas are implemented.

Michael is on my “dream team” of people I’d like to build a company with. Until I am ready, I would take advantage of the opportunity and put him on yours right now.”

It’s your call, would you lean toward A or B? Which offers actionable insights? Here is another example:

A: “I would highly recommend Jim. He is a very detailed and very organized person.”

B: “Jim was, and continues to be, a remarkable asset to me and to the businesses I have created. His tax accounting expertise has been invaluable, his business sense broad and deep, and his counsel calm and reasoned. I would be quite at a loss if he was suddenly not available to me. And he is always available, even though he serves many, many clients. That in itself is a testament to his management skills and commitment to providing excellent service. I highly recommend him!”

Let me be clear here: I am not making any of these up. Trite superlatives are rarely used and only if they can be backed up by examples. The substantive material I look for in my memory as I write, and for some I have not worked with them for years—even decades for a few, are the memorable differentiators. Why were they so good? What was behind their confidence, their prowess, their success? Moments, scenes, and exchanges come to mind; I have a visual memory. I then think about what those moments meant to me, and why I am able to recall them so clearly.

This mental recreation of recalling the experience of working with this individual produces the detail of the recommendations. Then it’s the influence of one man many years ago that helps me embroider these memories into a compelling tale. The US Army taught me how to write performance reviews—a lot of them! But a man I worked for taught me the importance of writing them well. When it comes to reviews, résumés, and recommendations, I owe much of my writing skill to Major José Pereles, wherever he may be.

A few quick examples in hopes they give you some ideas:

“Experiencing Chuck Goetschel speak as a member of his audience is a process of alignment, affirmation, and confirmation that culminates in excitement and deep learning. For those who have heard some (or many) speakers, you know that consistent results in a speaker is hard to find, almost unreasonable to expect, unless you want to hear the same thing over and over. I have had the pleasure of hearing Chuck at least a half-dozen times, speaking to crowds from one thousand to 20 thousand, always on differing topics or delivering completely unique perspectives on a similar topic. I looked forward to each with great anticipation and was never disappointed.

Another rarity in public speakers, Chuck conveys proven methods, first introduced as concepts or theories, so that his audience leaves with actionable ideas and steps they can employ for their own lives or business. Taking a break in my own copious note taking, I have often observed fellow audience members expressing their surprise at how much they are hearing that is worth writing down.

If you are searching for a speaker to inspire, motivate, and direct your audience, you need look no farther than Chuck Goetschel. Booking him repeatedly will only increase your attendance and the respect of your audience for your ability to serve them.”

“Bill is a man of focus. Never having done something before never seemed to slow him down. Enthusiasm for meeting new people, strength under pressure, determined to win – these are the qualities that I remember about Bill Tobin. It stemmed from a deep-seated belief in his product and service and his own ability to help people with those as his tools. Bill has a creative side that allows him to have fun and keeps him thinking. He has confidence in himself that allows him to share his ideas with those around him.

Bill is a great team player, but he readily took the lead when that was needed of him. I relied on Bill and he never let me down. I am sure he has only improved with age and experience.”

One last point, specific to LinkedIn. How many recommendations have you written? And how many recommendations have you received? LinkedIn has it wrong to ask you to recommend someone after they recommend you. The concept of “Givers Gain” says you need to go out and provide recommendations to those you know. It’s a high form of gratitude, and it will reap you rewards, some in the form of recommendations on LinkedIn (and good ones when you lead with a great recommendation), as well as heightened respect and esteem from the people you initiate a recommendation exchange with.

6 Replies to “Do You Give Good Recommendations?”

  1. As a recruiter and executive search consultant, I am always seeking third party recommendations and referrals on candidates. However, I take these with a grain of salt. In my experience, it has been extremely rare that anyone ever provided a reference that wasn’t glowing at best or neutral at worst.

    I do find that LinkedIn recommendations can be a good start on drawing a picture of a prospective candidate, particularly when they go into very specific details as you have illustrated in this post. Usually when someone is willing to take the time to give examples and provide a thoughtful, in-depth look at the candidate, then the information can be very useful. Standard, trite, or gratuitous comments come across as shallow and add no value to the process.

    In recruiting, candidate recommendations, whether direct or on LinkedIn provide additional data points for consideration, but I believe they must be taken in context with everything else you have learned about the person.


  2. Stephen,

    I whole-heartedly agree with you. But unfortunately as a recruiter, LinkedIn recommendations are rarely present. But if they are present, and really good, I include them in my submission email of a candidate. This is also kind of a permission for a hiring manager to contact a recommender as well for a back door check.

    And the fact they are rare, makes them very compelling for those that have them.

    I talk about some best practices and how to get thm in my upcoming book New Job Now! to be published in 2011.

    In my opinion, Jim Krieger is the King of LinkedIn Recommendations and he’s benefited greatly from an expedited fast-tracked interview process because of them.


  3. On the topic of recommendations, I also suggest being extremely selective about who you recommend. I typically don’t recommend people I haven’t had a lot of time to work with because unlike a network connection, a recommendation is an explicit endorsement. Give, but give wisely, as your name and credibility are on the table as well.


  4. Many thanks for the perspectives, gentlemen. The prevailing themes of “value if written for depth,” and “best taken with a grain of salt” make sense. I do wonder why they are as rare as Marsh says. Could it be that not enough people know to ask for them? Or is the process seen as of little value? Or are people just not willing to devote the time to recalling the essence of what it was like to work with the person they are recommending?

    Regardless, there is opportunity in both the giving and the receiving. Do NOT pass it up!


  5. As someone who has received one of your LinkedIn recommendations, I must say that your effort and level of detail is certainly appreciated. You are a true professional! Thanks.


  6. You are most welcome, Chuck. Your experiences inspired and motivated me once when I needed it the most. I am glad to be able to return the favor in some small way!


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