Career Change & Personal BrandingBlog

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A few weeks ago, I hosted a personal branding workshop for some executives, and I was asked a few questions about LinkedIn recommendations:

  • Do LinkedIn recommendations even matter?
  • How many LinkedIn recommendations do I need?
  • Can you have too many LinkedIn recommendations?

In short, yes, LinkedIn recommendations can make a positive difference to your online reputation and have a positive impact on your prospects as a job candidate. However, the effectiveness and weight those recommendations carry depends on the quality of those recommendations and who writes them.

Before we go any further, let’s differentiate between LinkedIn recommendations and LinkedIn endorsements. While LinkedIn recommendations can be useful to have on your profile, LinkedIn endorsements–at least in their current form at the time of me writing this post in late 2017–carry little to no weight. Endorsements can be given by any of your connections, including people who have never worked with you. That’s the problem. And experienced recruiters and hiring managers know this. Those I’ve spoken to pay absolutely no attention to endorsements for this reason. That’s why endorsements are pretty much meaningless.

In 2016, LinkedIn tried to address this flaw by differentiating between endorsements made by 1st degree connections vs other contacts. This makes little material difference because you might have a 1st degree connection endorse you even if you’ve never worked with them. Until LinkedIn completely limits the option to endorse only those contacts you’ve directly worked with (not sure how this would be done) endorsements won’t carry much weight.

For now, I wouldn’t even bother with endorsements. Personally, I don’t bother giving them, I don’t ask for them, and I don’t even have them visible on my own LinkedIn profile. You can opt out of endorsements if you wish following these instructions.

On the other hand, LinkedIn recommendations are those that you either have to specifically request, or specifically accept from someone. They are about as close as you can get to a “reference,” and although it’s not the same as calling up a former manager and asking for his or her opinions, the LinkedIn recommendation can provide a reasonable proxy for someone’s performance.

Here’s my guidance on how many LinkedIn recommendations you should have, and who should write them for you.

Ideal: at least 1 for each role from your direct manager

pexels-photo-288477Your direct manager is likely the person in your organization who has the greatest visibility and awareness of your contributions and accomplishments in your role. Hiring managers and recruiters know this. Therefore, the best-in-class approach would be to have at least one recommendation from each of the managers you’ve had for each of your roles.

  • If you have had multiple roles/titles within the same organization, try to get a recommendation from each manager you have had for those individual roles.
  • If you have had multiple managers on the same role, getting one from the manager who knows your work the best can suffice.

Sometimes I get asked whether it carries more weight to get a recommendation from someone higher up in the organization, for example, your manager’s manager. Not necessarily. While that can look impressive if that person knows your work well, the principle is to find someone who can speak very precisely about the exact contributions you have made to the organization. If you feel like someone higher up is also well placed to do this, there’s nothing wrong with that. But avoid simply trying to get someone with a fancy title to write your recommendation if it comes at the expense of the recommendation’s quality and precision.

Next best: at least 1 recommendation for each role from close team member

pexels-photo-416405If you are not able to get the recommendation from your direct manager for whatever reason, the next best option would be to get a recommendation for each role from a team member who has worked very close with you. This could be:

  • A lateral cross functional team member
  • A project manager or lead
  • Anyone with day-to-day experience with how you approach your work and results

Sometimes I get asked whether a direct report can write a recommendation for you. This can actually be useful if you are trying to highlight your people-management or leadership skills. So there’s nothing wrong with this. However, they generally don’t carry quite as much weight as a recommendation from a supervisor who has overseen your work. I’ve spoken with some hiring managers and recruiters who sometimes question the precision and validity of recommendations written by direct reports given the power dynamic that exists. You could imagine that writing a recommendation for your manager comes with some pressure, and you may not feel at full liberty to say what you really think 😉 However, I think this issue is a subtle one, and if you have a direct report to has been really happy with your managerial style, go ahead and get a recommendation from them in case you ever want to highlight this skill area on your profile.

At the very least: 1 recommendation from team member per organization

pexels-photo-296883If you are not able to secure a recommendation from someone for each of your individual roles, try to at least get a single recommendation to cover each of the organizations you’ve worked for. For example, if you’ve had three roles within one organization, and you’re NOT able to get a recommendation to cover each of those three roles, try to get a single one to cover your time at that company or organization, ideally one that speaks to your contributions during your most recent, most senior role.

Can I have too many LinkedIn recommendations?

linkedin-911794_1920Yes, having too many LinkedIn recommendations could dilute the power of each one. Quality is more important than quantity. Part of this has to do with the nature of how these LinkedIn recommendations are shown on your profile. Depending on the device you’re on, sometimes only the most recent ones are immediately visible anyway. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t always click-to-reveal extended lists. Think about your own Google search behaviour. How often do you go to page 2 of your search results?

The other issue has to do with the nature of information overload. Whenever you overwhelm someone with too much information, they often get lost in the details and don’t walk away with clear takeaways.

One final issue is more of a subconscious one. Sometimes, if I see too many recommendations, I start to wonder if that person has really solicited recommendations from people who matter. After all, you typically only have one supervisor per role. So if I see 10 recommendations under one role, it can sometimes make me wonder if this person is just loading up their profile with recommendations from anyone, even individuals who aren’t really familiar with that person’s work.

My recommended approach

pexels-photo-296886With all this in mind, I generally recommend to my clients and audiences to follow this approach:

  1. Immediately upon finishing a specific role, ask for recommendations via LinkedIn from your manager and/or any close team members who can comment positively about your concrete contributions and accomplishments to the organization.
  2. Be selective about which recommendations are visible on your profile.
  3. Ensure that your managers’ recommendations are visible on your profile.
  4. Include any high-quality recommendations from team members that speak to skills and accomplishments that reinforce those specific elements of your personal brand you feel are relevant to your target audience.

If you’re having a hard time deciding which recommendations to feature, remember these 3 “S”s when it comes to creating a strong personal brand using your recommendations as a whole:

  1. Be specific- Highlight precise skills
  2. Be selective– Showcase key skills
  3. Be suitable– Communicate relevant skills

Ask for those LinkedIn Recommendations

StockSnap_QDVFA3RNAD.jpgIf you haven’t gotten around to asking for recommendations from your former managers and colleagues, don’t procrastinate. Ask now. Every day that goes by is another day their memories of your contributions may start to decay and negatively affect their ability to write you an effective recommendation.

When used strategically and selectively, LinkedIn recommendations can help boost your credibility with the hiring manager and signal that you have had strong relationships throughout your professional career. So make sure you invest this time to reinforce your professional reputation. Ask for recommendations. And don’t forget to return the favor if you have an opportunity!

Watch my video on LinkedIn Recommendations to learn more

Over to you

What approach has worked well for you when asking for and displaying LinkedIn Recommendations? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!

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About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu is a Career & Personal Branding Strategist with a passion for helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to pursue truly meaningful careers. Having gone through three major career changes himself, he now shares insights from building & relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals and business owners to build & relaunch their personal brands. At JOSEPHPLIU.COM, he shares resources and tools for people who aspire to make a career change

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