When asked about recommendations in LinkedIn profile optimization, I always have to swallow first before feeling like walking on eggs. I mean, of course recommendations are a must for a solid and convincing profile on LinkedIn. There’s no questioning that (anyone who wants to argue is welcome to do so though). But there are two stones in my shoe (my poor foot). The first stone is called “You-recommend-me-so-I-recommend-you” and the second one “we-never-actually-really-worked-together-but-please-recommend-me”.
Seriously, how credible do you think this is when your LinkedIn profile proudly displays 5 recommendations from 5 people you have recommended yourself? Keep in mind that anyone in your network can see on your profile who you have recommended, and it takes a potential employer/client/partner seconds to connect the dots.
Careful. I am not saying to never recommend someone back. There are cases, particularly in a partnership/collaboration setting, when both parties can truly and sincerely recommend each other because they have truly and actually really worked together. In the translation industry for example, there’s nothing wrong with a PM recommending a translator and the translator recommending the PM – that is, of course, if parties truly had a fruitful and successful collaboration and really mean what they write on LinkedIn.
Ok, I’m aware that I’m probably throwing the cat in the pigeons once more, since ”Recommend Back” is widely and largely done and there seem to be no “set” rule on that. But come on people, use your common sense and be careful – all your recommendations should not be from people you recommended as well. I like to say that a reasonnable compromise is that 30 to 40% maximum of the recommendations on your profile are coming from people you recommended (this is arbitrary – just my personal guts feeling after visiting hundreds of profiles to recruit). Yep, less than half. Otherwise, I think that the risk of hurting your credibility is too high.
The LinkedIn etiquette might make you feel somehow uncomfortable about not recommending someone back, but if you have nothing to write (or had a bad experience with them of course in which case you don’t want to recommend this person to anyone), then just don’t do it. Seriously. Just because they recommended you does not mean you have to recommend them back. Particulary when you have nothing to say.
For example: you have been a speaker at a conference. It’s ok for attendees to recommend your work as a trainer/speaker if they liked your presentation – it’s good for your credibility as a speaker in your industry! – but about half of them will ask you to recommend them back. Just because they recommended you, they expect that from you. Er…. What could you possibly write about them (if you remember them at all, among the 200 something attendees – ah, that guy with the red tie?) “Mr X is a great attendee, he did not yawn and only scratched his nose once during my presentation”? Come on…
It is a tricky question. It is even more when you have a “Would you endorse me?” message sitting in your inbox for 3 weeks because you have no idea what you could possibly say about the person. And you don’t feel comfortable saying no because, after all, that person wrote a really nice recommendation about you.
Well in such cases I try, as diplomatically as possible, to explain that while I would LOVE to be able to write them an amazing recommendation, I actually have nothing to say. Tricky, tricky.
On the other hand, you can’t not recommend anyone at all. It just feels wrong. It gives the image that you just take and don’t give, which is exactly what networking in general (online or in-person) is not about. Tricky, tricky.
So at the end of the day, my best guess is that it’s all about juggling.
Here’s how I do it on my profile – not sure I’m doing it right, but then no-one really is as there is no set rule on that. I just feel like my way is the most appropriate one in light of my feeling, impressions, culture and goals. I have about 60 recommendations in total (one, including me, could also argue about the image that a high number of recommendations has on your online credibility, but that’s another matter). From those 60, about 20 are hidden – so for anyone looking at my profile, I have 40 something recommendations.
Why did I hide those? Because they came from people that I sincerely recommended first. I never, ever ask for a recommend-back after I recommended someone. Never.
Still, because I wrote one for them, they felt they HAD to recommend me back, without me asking anything. And many of those recommendations are actually… well…”emtpy”, because they had not really worked with me and had nothing to say. By hiding those “template” recommendations, I actually do all of us a favor. To them, because now my recommendations on their profiles are unique and one-way ones, which looks much more sincere and true (better credibility for them) And to me, for the same reason – and it shows on my profile that I am also a giver, not just a receiver. We’re talking here about “genuine giver”, not the “you-recommend-me-because-I-recommended-you kind of giver – just to make it clear.
The same situation happened with another colleague, but this time, after I had recommended her, she said “Ok, I’ll recommend you back. What should I write?” Wow.
In the same vein, I had a work colleague once who asked me to recommend him. Which I accepted with pleasure as I loved him and had many great things to tell about him. After he received my recommendation, he looked at me over his computer screen and said “Wow, thanks! I’ll recommend you back now.” My “No” totally caught him by surprise. Well he understood after I explained, but he certainly thought I was nuts.
Now, in light of all this (and more), how many LinkedIn recommendations do you think are genuine and sincere? I don’t know, I really have no idea. But I do think that while many are truthful, credible and sincere, there is a big part of them that are not, for all the reasons explained in this article.
So do yourself and your contacts a favor and don’t systematically ask to be recommended back. And don’t ask recommendations to people who can’t really recommend you – you’ll spare them this uncomfortable feeling of guilt that since you asked or since you recommended them, they have to do it while they can’t. You’ll do yourself a favor by displaying only true and genuine recommendations on your profile, and not “empty” generic ones that your contacts felt obliged to do – and believe me, to visitors to your profile, the difference is dead easy to spot…