The Value of a Personal Recommendation

I admit it; much as I love social media, especially LinkedIn, I have trouble asking for recommendations. Recruiters tell me that they look closely at the number and quality of recommendations on a person’s profile. They consider them to be reliable third party endorsements of your skills. I’m not so sure of that; to me, they seem to be in the same class as letters of recommendation or references. Has anyone ever offered as a reference someone who didn’t love and adore them?

One of the reasons I find it hard to ask for recommendations is that I sometimes get asked for one by people I don’t know well. I take my reputation very seriously, and giving a personal endorsement to someone is for me, a very big deal. After all, your reputation hangs on this person’s future performance. If the person turns out not to be competent, your judgment is questioned. If the person does something bad, your character is in question. That’s why I only recommend people I know well, and who I consider very likely to succeed.

Based on my experience, here are some signals that you can ask for a recommendation or endorsement without making the person you’re asking uncomfortable.

The person has seen you perform over time. Unless you’ve delivered a life changing, show stopping performance, asking someone to endorse you after one interaction is probably too soon. Give them a chance to be able to add terms like “always,” “consistently,” and “never less than excellent” to their recommendation. Consistency over time is one of the ways people measure quality, and they feel comfortable talking about it.

The person has reached out to you to give feedback. If someone has sent you a personal note or an email, they really value what you’ve done. People are busy, and almost no one will take the time to give you feedback. If they do, you’ve made an impression. Plus, they have already told you what they think; it’s a short step to ask if you can use their words for another audience or purpose.

Before you ask for a recommendation, try asking for advice. A friend recently asked me for help with her daughter’s internship this summer. The key factors were in place; I knew the girl, her work and study habits, and had seen her in action on the job. I knew she’d been successful in a similar position last summer. And the mom asked me for advice on how to apply, rather than a direct connection. As it turns out, I had a direct connection and felt comfortable recommending the daughter.

If you do ask for a recommendation, consider that source when you make a decision about the job or the gig. Do your best work; you’re not the only one whose reputation rests on your performance.

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