How to Write Better LinkedIn Recommendations

Helpful dos and don’ts to improve the recommendations you write.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #68

I was recently talking with listener John Fudala. I commented that I particularly liked one of his LinkedIn recommendations. He said, “That's interesting that you like that recommendation. He wrote something off the cuff and personable while all the others seem very professional. Maybe that’s where we are in this day and age of increased communication.”

How to Write Better LinkedIn Recommendations

If you are a regular reader or podcast listener, then you already know that I think today’s business communication should be more conversational, more transparent, and personal. In fact I did an episode recently on that. However, John continued and said, “You should do a podcast on how to write a LinkedIn referral.  I personally have searched this and didn't find anything. I want to write good things about everyone that I have worked with.”

I found his comment interesting. John wanted to write good things about his colleagues. I think that speaks directly to today’s reputation economy. From Amazon to eBay, to LinkedIn–other people’s reviews and opinions count. What we say matters. Recommendations matter.

See Also: How to Write Recommendation Letters

Don’t Write Generic Recommendations

Of course, they’re important for the person who receives one, but they also reflect on the people that write them. Recently, I received the following unsolicited recommendation.

"Great to be part of Lisa's trusted network! Always a pleasure to be professionally associated with a consummate professional of great caliber! Highly recommend to all others. Thank you."

When it showed up in my inbox, I just shook my head and mumbled something I can’t say on the podcast. Let’s just say my opinion of the sender decreased significantly. But then I thought, “Well, at least I can use this in the podcast as an example of what not to do.”

To me, it seems it would be immediately obvious to anyone reading that recommendation, that the person who wrote it didn’t know me very well. In my mind, it was the equivalent of saying, “Lisa’s nice.” Of course, “nice” doesn’t really say anything.

In fact, I had only exchanged a few emails with this person. We’ve never spoken to each other. We’ve never done business together. He’s never even listened to or attended any of my programs!

Here’s the thing, if you can’t be specific as to why a person is outstanding, then don’t write a recommendation!

So why did he write it? I believe he was counting on social reciprocity. He wanted me to return the favor and write one for him to add to his collection (he’s got over 1,000 recommendations on LinkedIn).

Write Genuine, Earnest, Specific And Descriptive Recommendations

Recommendations should be genuine and earnest, specific and descriptive.

Of course, you’ll never find that recommendation posted to my profile. I want recommendations from professionals that appreciate my work. (In fact, I usually respond to compliments by saying, “Hey thanks for the kind words! Would you be willing to write me a recommendation?”) I want recommendations that are genuine and earnest. I want recommendations that are specific and descriptive.

Genuine, earnest, specific, and descriptive: that’s what we all should want. I think it’s also important to write recommendations that support a person’s personal brand (or professional brand if they’re an entrepreneur).

So for business owners, it’s important to cover (at a minimum) what they do and what makes them different or the best. At times, if you may feel strongly enough also include a call to action. Here's an example.

An Example

"Alejandra is a gifted instructor. Because she has many years experience as both an English and Spanish teacher, she knows a variety of creative teaching methods to ensure you learn what you need to. Her calming personality makes you feel completely comfortable, even when you're making mistakes. She is always encouraging and positive. She is the best instructor I have ever had and I have had over a dozen. If you want to improve your language skills quickly, hire Alejandra." 

Notice how it is very specific and descriptive about what she does. She’s not just an instructor, she a gifted instructor with many years of experience. Then I use the rule of threes to say what makes her stand out: she teaches both English and Spanish, she's creative with her methods, and she's calming/encouraging. For this one I also added in the significance of her accomplishments and a call to action. I said, "She's the best of instructor I’ve had, hire her! 

See Also: LinkedIn Recommendation Example

Highlight Transferable Skills Using Details

When creating your recommendation think about including descriptive and specific statements that highlight transferable skills. Everyone wants to work with a professional who is a strong communicator; who is strong team builder and team member; who has strong interpersonal skills such as empathy, tact, and humor; who is intellectual and has strong analytical problem-solving skills; who is innovative, creative, or entrepreneurial; who takes personal responsibility (eg. good work habits, are flexible, and continually learn).

Again, you’ll want to highlight three transferable skills because you can’t and shouldn’t write about all ALL of the person’s skills and abilities. Choose to highlight areas that you have seen the person demonstrate and that are in alignment with that person’s personal branding messages.

For example, John is a sports marketing professional and who promotes that he is “ a versatile, high-energy, professional with a multi-faceted background.” A memorable recommendation would provide supports for those claims.

“John is Hilarious! He speaks multiple languages, does improv acting, and is an amazing skateboarder. He's full of ideas and has as an eye for art and entertainment. He always has a creative, positive outlook and he’s good at organizing and bringing people together. He is usually the first one up even if he was the last to hit the sack. (And he'll probably wake you with a coffee and a muffin). If there is a microphone around, put him on it and you’re sure to have a good time”.

Now that’s specific, descriptive, and memorable. (By the way, this is the recommendation I was talking to John about, the one that started this discussion.) He could have said, “John is a versatile, high-energy professional with a multi-faceted background.” But the words in the recommendation are so much stronger. Through the specific examples, we get a deeper understanding of his broader branding messages. The words help us to experience John’s personal brand.

Use Descriptive Adjectives Following Rule of Threes

Try to keep your recommendations 60-100 words. If possible, follow the rule of threes. When you group together in groups of threes, it makes it inherently more effective, more satisfying. Oh, and try to choose adjectives that are specific, interesting and somewhat unusual such as pioneering, illuminating, vibrant, vivacious, amazing—you get the idea.

So there you have it, some quick and dirty tips to help you write better LinkedIn recommendations. Don’t write generic recommendations. Make them genuine, earnest, specific, and descriptive. Focus on examples and details that highlight transferable skills that support the person’s personal branding. Finally I’d like to encourage you write a recommendation. Write at least one this week.

This is Lisa B. Marshall, passionate about communication; your success is my business. As always, I invite you to join my newsletter or visit the Facebook Page. I’d also like to invite you to join my networks on LinkedIn and Twitter.

If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.

How To Write LinkedIn Recommendations (Useful links that includes many examples)

Elements of a Good LinkedIn Recommendation

Learn more about this in Smart Talk – a comprehensive set of tools to help you build stronger relationships and overcome communication obstacles.  Free excerpt

About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.