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LinkedIn Recommendations: The Pros And Cons Of Referring Business Contacts



One of the key talking points to emerge from an insightful and engaging workshop in Cork (Ireland) delivered by LinkedIn expert and evangelist Derek Reilly, in association with Junior Chamber International (JCI) Cork, was the usefulness, or otherwise, of writing and receiving profile recommendations on the word’s most well-known business network LinkedIn.


LinkedIn Recommendations

For those not in the know, recommendations are:

  • Like their ‘old school’ paper counterparts — essentially publicly view-able references which users can post to their LinkedIn profiles, or write about others.
  • frequently touted as one of the key functions of LinkedIn, and one of the profile features which, if neglected, will prevent you from reaching that magical 100% profile completeness score indicating that your LinkedIn profile is now as ‘full’ as it should be.

Related: How To Network Effectively On LinkedIn

Usefulness?

Derek Reilly, the workshop’s facilitator, was clearly a fan: his own profile sports no less than one hundred such recommendations, spanning kind words from business colleagues and friends to thumbs-ups from passing acquaintances who’ve attended one of his workshops, but others, such as a headhunter in the room as well as this writer, are not so easily convinced of the usefulness of posting glowing appraisals of yourself or your company for all and sundry to see.

By the time the question had been opened to the floor, and participants were free to discuss the merits, or otherwise, of the referring system amongst themselves, a somewhat more divided picture had emerged of whether or not recommendation-harvesting was in fact beneficial for your ‘online CV’ or whether it was in fact likely to damage the sincerity and credibility of the image of yourself you were seeking to project.

An example of a consensus reached between myself and Mike McGrath of Supply.ie, my seating neighbour for the one hour event, was that references to company pages were likely to read more credibly than those written to your personal profile, but one didn’t have to travel very far down the room to find users, both newbies and LinkedIn veterans alike, who shared Reilly’s heartfelt fervour for collecting as many references onto your profile as possible.

The cut and thrust of the arguments advanced for and against recommendations could perhaps be summarized something like this.

Related: TweakYourBiz TV Talks With Mike McGrath Of Supply.ie

Against: Credibility

Being a natural skeptic when it comes to all things technical and job-seeking — particularly when it comes to combining the two — let me offer my reason for choosing to conduct all my reference-displaying via the private confines of email rather than on my public LinkedIn or Xing profiles; it was the same reason offered by many against the notion of ratcheting up your recommendation count as quickly as possible.

In one word: credibility.

There are many reasons why a profile recommendation on LinkedIn invites more natural skepticism than its paper analogue, the humble letter-headed recommendation of yesteryear, but chief among them is the fact that it’s simply too easy and tempting to write glowing recommendations for others with little care as to what their real-world performance is actually like.

LinkedIn recommendations are a dime a dozen, and can be written by anybody with only the faintest idea of what it is that you actually do — and are supposed to do capably well.

  • In fact often a person’s LinkedIn profile is all the creative impetus that is needed to conjure up the most lavishly effusive ‘recommendation’ of that person’s role within a particular organization, or even their own — yet this doesn’t necessarily equate with the kind of sterling belief in that person’s abilities that the system was originally designed to be reserved for.
  • The ever-changing lexicon of LinkedIn recommendation jargon also provides ample phrases and buzz-words to match with brief nuggets of information about that person’s job, such that matching the two together is often all that is needed to create truly impressive soundbites about that individual’s professional work without ever coming near the goal of reference writing which is to express honest-held beliefs about that person’s positive potential to do a job within a business organization.
  • The prevalence of wholly unfounded recommendations is also, of course, a problem inherent in the traditional reference system as well, but the added ease and convenience of technology makes the decision that much easier when the reference writing is being conducted through digital means rather than on paper.
  • But while the relative ease with which generic-sounding recommendations can be written may be an advantage for those wishing to populate their profile with them fast, the flip side is that the more recommendations that are written for the same pool of job applicants, and the more prominent and public those recommendations become, the less value those recommendations have for each person writing or receiving them.

Another opinion expressed by a colleague at the workshop, and one which I also share, is that any recommendations authored by users that could conceivably be within the boundaries of your immediate social circle are likely to automatically raise suspicions as to their veracity.

Thus recommendations written by classmates could conceivably be dismissed as helping hands from drinking friends; referrals from current colleagues carry with them a similar obvious bias of friendship and requested assistance; and two-way references — whereby a reference from one user is met in turn with another — are unlikely to be seen as anything other than digital barter, necessitated reciprocation, or a pre-mediated decision to scratch each other’s backs.

Related: 10 Reasons You’re LinkedIn, But Still Not Tuned In!

For: validity!

Yet notwithstanding the points above, and the comparatively greater space afforded to them, even the recommendation-skeptics in the room were willing to admit that embellishing your profile with a few words of approbation from business colleagues and the like does have some kind of lasting value for the job applicant or position-seeking LinkedIn user.

The reason advanced by Reilly was that they add a third party seal of approval to what you’ve already set out in the body of your profile, and — depending on the prominence of the referee

  • can also add greatly to your ‘standing’ if the person writing the reference is a well-known or influential figure within the industry you’re seeking to establish or further yourself in.
  • And as the same headhunter mentioned earlier in this post was also quick to add: recruiters, headhunters, and hiring decision-makers do in fact read them.

Perhaps the answer to the recommendations dilemma is to take a somewhat more nuanced view than either the rejectionist view of “recommendations = implausability”, or the “more the merrier” methodology of unquestioningly piling up of dozens of recommendations onto your page.

Perhaps recommendations can really be valuable, but if so, maybe the skeptics’ suggested ground-rules, such as not accepting recommendations from your close friends, those who you’ve recommended, etc, would be of use in deciding which words of commendation should feature on your job-seeking ‘window shop’ and which should not. Maybe than what recommendations you have will add value, without detracting from the overall impression which your profile gives.

Related: Successful Fundraising Using LinkedIn – Goshido Case Study Of “Crowd-Funding”

But if only one thing’s for certain, it’s that whether or not to accept recommendations, and how many of them if so, is an open debate, but one worth thinking about before deciding to embark on either course of action. What do you think?

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Image: Linkedin/Adam Parker



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The Author:

Daniel Rosehill is a graduate of University College Cork, (law) and City University London (political journalism) and the communications and marketing manager at community engagement startup, Vconnecta. He is also a former editor and founder of and college and university news portals StudentNews.ie and CorkStudentNews.com. For more, see DanielRosehill.com http://www.danielrosehill.com

Add Your Comment

  • Peter Cleary

    Good piece Daniel. I’d agree, do recommendations you’ve asked for (begged for !) actually count? I think the whole recommendations bit is getting to close to the ‘likes’ on Facebook or the ‘thanks’ you see on online forums.

    Personally I’d like for LinkedIn to seperate the recommendations into ‘asked for’ and ‘offered’ sections. It won’t happen but if the person  is really all they say they then surely they’ll be offered a genuine recommendation.

  • http://www.bloggertone.com Niall Devitt

    Hi Daniel, this is a great piece! I think you have identified that there are pretty much two types of people when it comes to considering LI recommendations. Those that are more skeptical and those that are not so skeptical. I think you’re suggestion around getting recommendations from 
    well-known or influential figures within your industry has a lot of merit, in that these recommendations are less likely to be seen as so constructed.   

  • Mary Crowley

    Hi Daniel,

     I was also at that seminar last week and definitely agree with you that having too many recommendations can look unreal on someones profile. I think it’s an attitude that BNI tend to promote as part of their ‘Givers Gain’ theory. Yes, it’s nice to be recommended by someone, but I’d prefer it to be less of a popularity contest and a more genuine practice.

  • Daniel O’Carroll

    Hi Mary,
    Sorry that I didn’t get to meet you there.
    I actually really enjoyed the workshop (for the most part), but this (the recommendations aspect) is just a practice that I sort of take issue with — so thought I’d air my thoughts!
    I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with recommendations per se (if there is, couldn’t we say the same about paper recommendations, referrals, etc?), but as I’ve tried to explain above (maybe not very clearly) the ease with which LinkedIn operates, and the fact that so many of your friends, occasional business contacts, etc, are likely to be on the network, makes it particularly vulnerable to abuse. Thanks for your comment.

  • Daniel O’Carroll

    Thanks, Niall.
    Yes, some people are naturally more skeptical than others, but I think that it’s also unfair to tar all ‘recommenders’ with the same brush.
    Some people’s profiles strike me as very genuine – and there’s nothing wrong with exhibiting a recommendation if it’s been fairly earned.
    I was just questioning whether the ‘grab as many as you can’ approach was really the one to take.
    Thanks for the comment and reading the post.

  • Daniel O’Carroll

    Cheers, Peter.
    Bear in mind that regular references often have to be ‘asked for’ (ie not necessarily volunteered) as well, but it’s a bit more underhand when it’s online isn’t it? Especially considering that what the referrer receives is a semi-automatically generated message from LinkedIN rather than a personal request.
    Your recommendation would be a good idea, but I wonder how many people would be happy with having ‘asked for’ plastered over their recommendations section.

  • DonnaGilliland

    What an interesting post and a host of varied perspectives on the value or lack of value of Recommendations on one’s LinkedIn Profile. 

    An ethical person will not request friends and/or colleagues to write ingenious recommendations for them, nor will the ethical person do so for another. For those who follow this practice, it will become evident over time and result in a damaged reputation. If the person is not what they appear to be,
    then you will know it when you do business with them for the first or second time.

    I don’t start with skepticism, although some recommendations are easy to read between the lines and detect insincerity.

    It is my belief that recommendations (like testimonials on your website) are valuable. If you know
    that you are truly good at what you do and others concur, reach out to those who you have done business with for a while and have built a reputation with and ask for a recommendation.

    When I look at the profiles of business connections on LinkedIn, I do want to read their recommendations. I want to know what others think of their work. I know of a few in my own network who do have around 100 recommendations. I also know their professional reputation for quality and know these recommendations are sincere.  

    My closing suggestions are: 1) dismiss the worry of obtaining recommendations because of the skeptical nature of others; 2) Do the right thing and the right things will come your way; 3) never give a
    recommendation of anyone’s work if you have not witnessed their work first hand. I have had to decline giving recommendations because I didn’t know anything about the person’s work in order to do so.

    To your continued success,

    ~ Donna

  • Daniel O’Carroll

    Donna,
    Thanks for the comment — you’ve the beginnings of a post of you’re own there!

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve said above — I know a lot of fantastic business contacts too, including some who post on this website, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be construed as objecting to them, or others, having recommendations on their pages!

    I’ve also had a few recommendation requests myself, and was only too happy to write them for people.I think what I was trying to object to above (re-reading the post I think I could have made this a lot clearer) was people writing references for each other, etc, as a kind of business favour.

    Besides the fact that this is misleading, as you’ve said, it’s also a disservice to the many others who have garnered deserved references the hard way – the system loses out as a whole.

    Thanks again for commenting; I hope to write another post on LI here soon,
    ~ D

  • http://www.garybembridge.com/ Gary Bembridge

    Interesting thoughts and analysis. I have have always come more from the sceptical side of the argument as I ahem found that in almost all cases the recommendation on any profile is matched by them writing an equally glowing recommendation on the person that recommended them. So it always feels to me to be doubtful. Saying that, I do like the glowing recommendations on my profile – but they come at the cost of writing one for them usually. So have generally ignored requests from people I did not rate – as think also you reduce your credibility. 

  • DonnaGilliland

    Daniel, see what happens when I am passionate about something – it results in a lengthy post instead of a comment. I probably need to work on that :)). 

    I enjoyed reading your post Daniel and you make very valid points for people to think about. I look forward to reading your next LI post. 

    ~ Donna

  • DonnaGilliland

    Greetings Gary, my experience has been the reverse. :)).

    In my case, I absolutely will not return a recommendation if; 1) I don’t know what your work is like and 2) I know what it is like and cannot recommend you. However, the latter has not occurred for me yet.

  • Greg Canty

    like every other reference(ignore the platform) you have to read them carefully and decipher the “language” and content. Its clear only references you are happy with are displayed and often on LinkedIn they behave in a reciprocal manner.

    As a means of using LinkedIn it makes total sense to ask credible sources to recommend your work. If they are authentic you should be able to spot them.

    I have heard of business being conducted as a result of positive recommendations (in one case the person reading knew the person who gave the recommendation & verified it by phone – clever)

    Great topic

  • DanOCarroll

    Greg,

    It’s great to hear your viewpoint given your background in communications, and a nice idea about verifying references to be sure they’re legit.

  • Mary

    Hi Daniel,

     you’re dead right. It’s just a case of sussing out the genuine recommendations from the not so genuine ones. And just like written ones, we all like to get them ourselves, so we must keep an open mind I suppose!

     Mary.

  • http://twitter.com/jasonogle Jason Ogle

    It’s interesting to think more deeply about how LinkedIn works and will continue to work. Sure those recommendations are real, but great opportunity is afforded to be disingenuous. Who is going to always publicly tell the whole truth about a former or current colleague for that matter. I highly recommend [ahem] an exciting startup called http://Recmnd.Me. The smart folks over there have created a revolutionary algorithm that allows you to conduct a recommendation in less than five seconds. Much more fun and efficient than LinkedIn. It’s where the rubber hits the road and what separates the fluff…from the right stuff!

  • http://twitter.com/ElishBulGodley Elish Bul-Godley

    Thanks for the comment Niall! The Design and Creative Sector not to mention fledgling arts Orgs in the cultural sector have embraced social media and are indeed very savvy users armed with natural creativity. They have no large marketing budgets but are high on ideas and adept at creating a buzz from the community in their locale. Watching some of them do their promotional work using no high cost websites and free online platforms can be good case studies for SMEs and startups.

  • http://twitter.com/ElishBulGodley Elish Bul-Godley

    Thanks Elaine! Perhaps its time to talk about the things that stand in the way – the fear of sharing too much info, begrudgery,  the fear of taking the risk of depending on others and the desire to be sole owners of our ventures. Definitely no way to be if you are a start up! Hmm another blog idea?

  • Janine Gilmour

    I gravitate to the money-back model more strongly that a few of your other options. While I liked them, maybe you have some data to back up the effectiveness of each approach?