To follow up on our look at using testimonials in your resume, let’s flip the script. Maybe one of your colleagues is looking for consulting work, or perhaps a young person whom you have mentored is setting off on a new career path. A recommendation from you could help that person land a position. How do you write an effective testimonial?
In a future column, we’ll discuss strategies for writing a formal letter of recommendation. First, though, let’s take a look at a more casual endorsement: a LinkedIn recommendation.
LinkedIn and other networking sites can be fantastic resources for professionals looking to switch careers or simply climb the ladder. These sites take the cliché “The key to success is often not what you know, but who you know” and run with it. They leverage the power of personal connections to help users approach people who can help them in their careers, people who may be strangers but are “a friend of a friend.”
One popular aspect of LinkedIn is its recommendation feature, which allows users to write testimonials for other users to whom they are directly connected, such as colleagues, contractors, or subordinates, so they can endorse their performance. Users may request recommendations, but you are free to recommend anyone you know without being asked. It’s flattering to receive recommendations, of course, but it can be just as satisfying to praise a colleague for a job well done.
The Fine Art of Saying Something Nice
When writing a recommendation, keep in mind Franklin D. Roosevelt’s three rules of public speaking: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.” You’ll have to supply the sincerity yourself, but we’ve got some tips to help you keep it brief. More important, these will help you pack plenty of punch into a handful of words. (Although LinkedIn does not limit the length of recommendations, entries of more than 200 words risk losing the reader’s attention; it’s best to shoot for 50–100.)
Know Whom You’re Dealing With
Recruiters won’t be looking at a single recommendation but at all the feedback for a given candidate. Before adding your opinion, look at the recommendations that other users have left for your subject. Try to identify common themes. Decide whether you want to reemphasize points already made by others or explore a topic no one has yet tackled.
Explain the Relationship
Begin your recommendation with a brief sentence—around ten words—that sums up how you know the subject’s work. Be direct and specific without unnecessary detail.
The Rule of Vowels
When discussing a subject’s accomplishments and character, it can be hard to know which details are most relevant. A formula we’ll call the rule of vowels—A, E, I, O, U—will help you narrow your focus.
Action. Begin with the action your subject has performed, the specific task or feat that impressed you.
Sometimes (as in the case of Hank, above) the action will be included when you explain the relationship. Action is a must-have for your recommendation.
Now, to complete the process, choose two or three of the following aspects to explore in greater detail.
Excellence. Explain briefly what your subject does better than anyone else: Carl’s easy manner and intimate product knowledge make him a favorite with our customers.
Impact. Show the benefit this person’s work has had for you or your company, quantifiably, if possible: With Susan’s help, we have grown our business to twelve locations across the tri-state area.
Originality. Describe something unique that this person brings to the job: Hank has a full command of heirloom cabinetry techniques; his designs blend seamlessly with the historical architecture of our home.
The Unexpected. Tell something that surprised you about your subject: Lakshmi began programming this project while she was still a student.
Using this formula, you can write a succinct recommendation that packs a wallop.
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