5 ways to write a horrible LinkedIn recommendation

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Good LinkedIn recommendations do more than just tell prospective hiring managers and recruiters that you know your stuff – they might help those folks find your profile in the first place, by boosting your results in LinkedIn's search rankings. Bad LinkedIn recommendations, on the other hand, are worse than nothing at all. Think about it like you would any reference during a job interview process: if the person you've chosen to recommend you for a job doesn't have much good stuff to say about you, what does that mean about your skills and abilities?

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But, we're not here to talk about what you should be looking for in the recommendations others write for you – no, this is about the ones you write for other people. Although, when you're writing a recommendation for a former or present colleague, it is important to keep in mind what you'd want to see on your own profile. It's the Golden Rule of LinkedIn: recommend others as you would like to be recommended.

That goes beyond just making yourself available during a busy week to craft a recommendation for someone who requests one. It also means avoiding the pitfalls in the process.

Here's what you should never do, when you're writing LinkedIn recommendations:

1. Write one for anyone who asks.

Former colleague from 10 years ago, whose name you barely remember? No problem. Intern from another department? You saw them in the cafeteria once; it'll be fine. Former boss who made your life a living hell? Well, you better, right?

Wrong. If you can't genuinely say something nice about someone, it's better not to say anything at all. If you're worried about looking less than helpful, there are ways to graciously decline a request – this article from Harvard Business Review offers several, as does this thread on The Workplace Stack Exchange.

2. Skip asking what your colleague wants the recommendation to express.

You worked together at a steakhouse, but now he's hoping to score a gig at a vegan restaurant. If you don't ask what he wants the recommendation to tell a hiring manager, you might wind up focusing on his perfectly grilled steaks, and not his positive attitude and ability to multitask, and cost him the gig.

Even if the situation isn't as stark as all that, keywords are important, both from a search perspective and a human engagement perspective. Knowing which skills and attributes your colleague wants to highlight will help you write a recommendation that helps, not hurts.

3. Don't bother with craftsmanship.

Who needs a killer opening line or elegantly composed paragraphs or even accurate spelling and grammar? You're in a hurry!

Remember that your good word only counts if you seem like someone who delivers quality work for your own projects. Send in a recommendation with half-formed thoughts and sloppy writing, and you'll hardly boost your friend's career prospects.

4. Start with "To Whom It May Concern."

A LinkedIn recommendation is not a cover letter. (We can argue about whether that's still a good salutation for a cover letter in this day and age some other time, but trust that it's not appropriate here, regardless.)

Take a look at other LinkedIn recommendations before you compose your own. There's a tone, style, and format to this type of writing, and you'll want to emulate that in your recommendation.

5. Don't be specific.

Your old boss was "nice." Your former teammate was "smart." Your adjectives are "kinda lazy."

It's not enough to say that your colleague is a "good worker" or a "great person." You need to be specific if you want to make their profile stand out.

This is why it's so important to talk to your connection before you start writing. Armed with specifics about what they hope to show hiring managers, you'll be able to write a recommendation that really calls out what they can do for a potential employer. It might be the first step toward getting hired at the job of their dreams.

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