At a recent workshop given by Scott Brown and me for the UCLA LIS students, one of the topics of highest interest was how to use LinkedIn, and for good reason: two of the most powerful strategies for building your professional presence on LinkedIn are linking to others on the site and having people recommend your work and/or your skills. But how you reach out to people for linking and recommendation requests can either help you establish a great professional relationship with them or give the impression of carelessness and laziness.
Requesting Links and Recommendations
Links are connections you establish with others on LinkedIn that enable you to share information, contacts, and updates in your careers and/or job status. Generally, you send link requests to people you know or have met or have something in common with.
Recommendations, on the other hand, show up on your profile next to the job entry they’re related to – in other words, if your supervisor at your previous employer writes a glowing recommendation for you, it will show up next to that company’s entry in your job history.
Don’t Default to the Defaults
LinkedIn has automatic defaults for both of these request types to make it easier for you to reach out and touch someone, but the smart move is to ignore the default requests and instead tailor your requests to each individual and his or her place in your life or career. So, for example, if requesting that someone “link” with you, you have this default message:
I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn
Instead, you want to send a request that notes what you have in common and why you’d like to connect and stay in touch, such as:
• [Name], I’ve just gotten started on LI and would like to connect with you so we can stay in touch now that we no longer work together – would you like to link?
• [Name], I really enjoyed meeting you at/during [event], and would like to stay connected – would you like to link?
• [Name], I really enjoyed the class I took with you and appreciated your support and interest in our success as students. I’d like to stay connected with you – would it be okay for us to Link?
• [Name], I’ve really enjoyed your posts in the [name of LinkedIn group] group; I’d like to connect with you if you’d like.
Note that you’re addressing the person by his or her name, which makes it clear that you’ve taken the time to personalize the message, and you’re not just blasting everyone in your Outlook address book with a mass invitation to link. It’s human nature: people appreciate feeling special. And you want the person you’re reaching out to to feel that your connection is important enough to you to make an extra effort.
Recommendations work the same way. Here’s the LinkedIn default message:
I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.
Instead, address the person by name, and always format your requests for a favor as a reciprocal relationship – this is what makes it okay to ask for a favor. Also, be specific, if you can, about what strengths you’d like them to mention (and when you do a recommendation for them, be equally specific).
Some possible language:
• Name], I’m working on building my LinkedIn presence, and wondered if you’d be willing to write me a brief recommendation based on our work together at [project, organization, company]. Specifically, if you feel comfortable doing so, could you comment on my [strengths]? I’d be happy to write a recommendation for you as well; if so, is there any area of expertise you’d particularly like me to comment on?
• …based on my work for you at [project, organization, company]
• …based on my work as a student in your [title] class
Your goal with the recommendations you’re requesting is to continue to position yourself as a professional others would want to work with, and to provide evidence of why you should be hired.
Reach Out and Touch Someone
Not sure who to link to or request recommendations from? For links, think as broadly as possible: former colleagues, friends, people who you know through volunteer work, members you’ve gotten to know through professional associations, classmates, former classmates, teachers, administrators who you’ve gotten to know in college, and others whose paths you’ve crossed and liked enough to want to stay connected with.
For recommendations, you’ll want to be a bit more selective – a positive recommendation from a co-worker is always great to have, but a glowing recommendation from a boss or company executive tends to carry the most weight with prospective employers. Best case: you’ll have at least one or two positive recommendations from someone who can speak highly of your skills and/or expertise for each job listed in your LinkedIn profile.
Although it takes a bit more time to personalize your request for a link or recommendation, the payoff in terms of professional impression is well worth the effort.