Giving Up On Writing a Friend's LinkedIn Recommendation? Try These Ideas First!

Let's face it. Writing a LinkedIn recommendation—even a really good one—isn't going to win you any literary awards. In fact, your beautifully crafted copy will these days be cemented to the absolute bottom of your subject's LinkedIn profile. No fame for you today.

So why try to write a great LinkedIn recommendation? Why not just dash off a few lines of well-trodden, risk-free copy used by so many others? Examples (stifle your yawns):

  • John is a proven leader who is passionate about his work."
  • Jane is a go-getter who gets things done."

Yeah. Basically, this kind of copy tells us zilch about John and Jane. 

Sure, a recommendation like the above bullets and their ilk will technically add one more recommendation to your subject's recommendation pile. LinkedIn likes high recommendation counts, according to a Bay Area LinkedIn pilot of which I'm a part right now.

In spite of the profile basement location of today's LinkedIn recommendation, I still think it's worth writing copy that feels more like a human being and less like a beaten up job description.

So, What to Do

Theoretically, writing a LinkedIn recommendation should be a simple enough task. More privilege than chore.

Unfortunately, many—myself included—struggle with uncertainty and utter blankness when finally sitting down to write one.

In this post, I try to unravel a few of my own approaches so the next Sunday morning you're sitting at your laptop wondering what the heck to say publicly about your nearest and dearest, you'll have a few ideas to jump start the effort. 

Start With Who They Are

Several of the (wonderful, amazing, worthy) people I've recommended show up in the below screenshot. Notice how each starts with a teaser, hopefully prompting the reader to click for more. But I like to think there's actually a bit more behind each opening line.

Have a gander....

What do you notice? Each leads with what the subject brings to the world, professionally.

I'll explain the trickiest as an example.

Victoria Ahlén and I went to school together. I’ve admired her work from afar, but since we've never officially worked together, I can’t speak directly about her work today.

However, I remember Victoria from school as a smart woman with deep core values. She cares intensely about things that matter to her. She's also a person of immense integrity. Born and raised in Gothenburg, Sweden, Victoria's international perspective helped me see beyond my own backyard all those years ago.

So it took time to develop a strategy for Victoria’s LinkedIn recommendation, but I finally led with “even before she was a branding guru,” which gets who she is out the gate fast. By framing it this way, I acknowledged her now, in a way that lets me speak authentically about Victoria as I knew her.

While closer chronologically to my life today than Victoria, you’ll notice the same approach when I wrote recommendations for my colleagues / friends, Shauna Bryce of Bryce Legal and Jennifer Quinton of Quinton Design Studio. In each example, the reader knows who the subject is without having to click for more.

And perhaps that approach breathes a bit of life into the reader experience. After all, professional writing doesn't mean stale writing.

Be Honest

There are two ideas under the honesty category.

First, be honest when asked to write a recommendation: 

  • If a friend or colleague asks you for a recommendation—and it’s easy to say yes—by all means, do it. If you’re less than eager, or uncomfortable, say it! Evaluate why and take a bit of care in explaining why you might not be the right person to make a recommendation. It can be especially tricky if the person has written a recommendation for you. But in this case, it doesn’t have to be quid pro quo. It must be genuine.
  • If you’re at all concerned, be resolute. Say no thank you now, nicely, before you write a recommendation out of obligation and proceed to live with something the world can read for the rest of time. Being honest with yourself and your contact—no matter how awkward—is always better in the long run.

Second, be honest when writing a recommendation:

  • Choose something you know for certain about your subject. Don’t invent anything and don't be vague. Don’t misrepresent anything because you’ll have to live with it.
  • Write something interesting and meaningful from your unique perspective as a friend or colleague. Be appropriate and make it interesting. It’s a recommendation after all, not an obituary. Nor is it a vapid job description. Put some joy into it!

Be Strategic

Go ahead and talk about strategy with your subject before you get started. It makes everyone’s job easier.

If there’s something your subject would like you to focus on, you’re in a unique position to write something s/he alone can’t say without sounding braggadocios or goofy.

For instance, a client recently said he stays calm amidst chaos and that he always sees the big picture. These are important things for me to know as an executive résumé writer. They’re important traits for most professional positions, in fact. Certainly executive roles. But they’re overused in résumé writing and can lose their impact. They begin feeling like filler unless backed up in some way.

But a third-party perspective can change everything. As a peer, former boss, employee, or board member, you can speak about calm-in-a-storm, big picture viewpoint and other over-arching strengths in a way that your subject can’t. Especially if you tie in a strong example or two.

Let’s say your friend wants to stress the international part of his or her career. Consider starting with something like, “John is no stranger to the international arena.” Get it out there. “John is a citizen of the world” is a great opener when it’s true, genuine, and written from a third party.

Say your friend wants to emphasize her start-up experience. How about, “Susan’s start-up growth strategies are unmatched,” and build from there.

Build a great recommendation from a strong strategy. Have fun with it!

Be Specific (And Genuine)

So many businesses and product lines enjoy success because they serve a niche audience. By definition, niching means that some people will be drawn in and others will walk away. That’s called being real about what you bring to the table. Borrow the niching concept when writing about your subject. Be specific. Your colleague or friend doesn’t have to be all things to all people, and your recommendation doesn’t have to be either.

You’re not obligated to write “Everything I ever knew about Jack.” Focus on one or two things you know about Jack and get it out there. Keep it short. A terse, genuine, lively, well-written recommendation stands a better chance of being read. A big, fat block of unfocused copy will be overlooked.

In all things, brevity.

Which is a great signal to wrap this article. What do you think about writing recommendations? Do you squirm a little? Do you excel? Have you struggled through them, but discovered a principle that might help others? Please, do share!

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San Francisco-based corporate copywriter, executive résumé writer, and career transition coach, Jared Redick, works with senior leaders at Fortune 50 companies and beyond. He draws on early experience in retained executive search and nearly two decades of résumé writing to help stealth job seekers re-imagine the marketable intersection between their background, interests, audience expectations, and career goals.

Jared's strategic “purpose, content, design” approach to writing helps companies and executives understand their value, develop their unique professional brand, and position themselves online and on paper.

Reach him at info@theresumestudio.com or 415-397-6640. Follow @TheResumeStudio.