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In the old days, people would arrive for interviews with printed copies of letters of recommendation. Resumes would state “references available upon request.”

Now, however, as a jobseeker you have a much better and more effective way to showcase your strengths. When someone submits a recommendation for your LinkedIn profile, that recommendation can be seen 24/7, without you having to “present” it to an interviewer. (This is especially important when the majority of hiring managers will check out your LinkedIn profile before making a decision to interview you.)

Are LinkedIn endorsements and recommendations the same?
Not even close.

LinkedIn endorsements are simply the result of people in your network being asked by the LinkedIn system if they think you’re good at a specific skill you’ve listed in the Skills section of your profile. Since most people are nice and want to be helpful, they click on “yes,” which results in their name/photo being shown next to that skill on your profile.

The well-known reality is that these kind souls may actually have zero knowledge of your ability to perform, say, genetic algorithms, so endorsements don’t really carry much weight as social proof.

A recommendation, on the other hand, is the result of someone who knows you (and is willing to go on record publically) taking the time to write about how terrific you are. In effect, they’re putting their professional reputation and credibility on the line for you. Consequently, any positive statements in an official profile recommendation  are likely to be given much more attention and importance. This is the essence of social proof. Ideally, you’d have a couple of recommendations from individuals who worked above you for each of your major jobs.

How LinkedIn recommendations work
Recommendations can come from two different directions: you can request that someone write an endorsement for you (which is done frequently) or you can simply decide to write a recommendation for someone.

Asking someone for a recommendation. If you want to ask someone to write a recommendation for you (a common practice, and not something to feel embarrassed about), here are the steps you’ll follow:

Go to the Profile tab at the top of every page, and choose ‘edit profile’ from the dropdown menu

Go to the ‘view profile as’ button and from the dropdown menu via the arrow just to the right, choose ‘ask to be recommended’; this will bring up the Recommendations page

On the Recommendations page, select ‘Ask for recommendations’ from the tabs under the Recommendations text. You’ll then be asked a series of questions, including:

  • What job in your work-history list you want the recommendation associated with (somewhat oddly titled ‘what do you want to be recommended for’)
  • Who do you want to ask (these have to be from your connections, and you can add up to three names)
  • The nature of your relationship (a series of options, for example, you reported directly to this person)
  • The individual’s position at the time (another series of options, based on that individual’s work history)

You’ll then have an opportunity to write a personalized request to the individual(s) you’ve listed. LinkedIn provides some default wording to use, but it’s much smarter to specify exactly what strengths you’d like your friend/colleague/boss to mention. This gives them something to work with, and lets you showcase the strengths you’d like people to associate with you.

Once you send the request, the individual will receive a notification and your message from LinkedIn, with a form to complete with their recommendation. When they’ve finished the recommendation, it will come back to you to approve. Once you’ve approved it, the recommendation will be visible and a permanent part of your LinkedIn profile.

Providing an unsolicited recommendation. Sometimes a colleague or staffer does such an amazing job or is so wonderful to work with, you just want to take the time to tell the world how terrific they are, even if not asked to do so.

In this case, you have two options. You can use the Recommendations page (go through your Profile page, as above) and select ‘Give Recommendations’ from the tabs under the Recommendations text. You’ll be asked the same set of questions, have an opportunity to write your recommendation, and then it will be sent for approval to the person you’re recommending.

The second option is to start with the individual’s profile page where, in the first box, you’ll see two buttons: a blue ‘Send a message’ and a gray ‘Endorse’ button. Click on the arrow to the right of the ‘Endorse’ button, and select ‘Recommend.’ This will bring up a similar but slightly different form for writing a recommendation. Once you’ve completed the form and recommendation, click ‘Send’ to speed it on its way to the person you’re recommending.

Requesting a recommendation
For most of us, requesting that someone do us a favor feels awkward if not downright uncomfortable. But in the LinkedIn universe, it’s a common and natural occurrence. That said, it can help if you have some sample language to use the first few times.

Here’s an approach to try, with some variables depending on your particular circumstances:

[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 our volunteer work together on the [name of project or organization]
  • based on my work as a student in your [title] class

If possible, you want to have recommendations from individuals who outranked you (especially faculty or previous bosses who love you) in the specific setting, but obviously that’s not always possible. So if you’re requesting a recommendation from a colleague or peer, it’s helpful if they can mention your collaborative approach, positive energy, team leadership skills, or similar strengths they may have had an opportunity to experience first-hand.

Also, if you’re a student, dazzling your internship or practicum field mentor is a great way to position yourself to be able to ask for a LinkedIn recommendation.

What if the individual doesn’t respond to your request?

Sometimes people may ignore a request, or agree to write one but then never follow up. In the former case, just let things drop. This person would likely not write an enthusiastic recommendation for you since they’re not even willing to take the time to respond to you.

In the latter situation, someone’s agreed to write you a recommendation but then they never get to it, it’s okay to ping them once a month for two or three months just to let them know how much you appreciate their willingness to help you out and asking whether there’s anything you can do to make it easier for them. If after a couple of reminders they still haven’t gotten to it, let it go.

One last – but important – consideration
LinkedIn recommendations can provide incredibly powerful indicators of how terrific you are, but in order to do them, the person doing the recommending has to have a LinkedIn account. These days, someone without a LinkedIn presence is pretty unusual, but it does happen.

In that case, don’t try to convince the individual to sign up for LinkedIn so they can write you a recommendation – that would be an inappropriate imposition. Perhaps, instead, they can be a killer reference for you once you land the interview.