Can you trust anything online these days?
According to Bing Liu, a data mining and “opinion spam” expert from the University of Chicago, “about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake“. The New York Times revealed that book reviewers-for-hire will write favorable reviews of your work on Amazon.com for a fee without even reading it. And don’t get me started on fake Twitter followers (about 34% of Lady Gaga’s 28-million followers are fake).
If it is so easy to fool people with fake endorsements, then why do LinkedIn Recommendations even matter?
Employers Will Not Hire Applicants With Less Than 10 LinkedIn Recommendations
Despite all we know about the credibility of online reviews they still matter.
According to The Undercover Recruiter blog, many employers will not even consider you for a job unless you have more than 10 LinkedIn Recommendations on your profile. Some members are so desperate to beef up their recommendation count that they ask friends and family to write them or “trade” recommendations with other members whom they have not done business with (“I’ll write one for you if you write one for me”).
These practices are not recommended (pardon the pun).
So what drives the need for recommendations even though statically online endorsements are not trustworthy?
The Psychology Behind Online Reviews: Cognitive Biases
Cognitive biases are like subconscious shortcuts the brain takes to help a person act more effectively in given situations or make faster decisions when necessary. Influenced by evolution and experience, cognitive biases are beneficial when they result in good choices.
Whether or not a persons’ biases are leading them to “good choices” can be determined by objective standards of comparison, usually from people outside the situation suspected of causing poor judgement or verifiable facts.
Decision making through the use of reviews, ratings and recommendations is an example of cognitive biases applied. For example, I will not purchase any app on the Apple App Store unless it has at least 20 reviews averaging above 3.5 stars. Something in my brain tells me this should be the standard for evaluating my potential purchase, despite the fact that I have bought 5-star apps that sucked (Batman Dark Knight Returns, I’m talking to you).
Just like my bias for 5-star reviews on the App Store determines my purchase motivation, a collection of LinkedIn Recommendations on an applicants’ profile are likely to affect an employers’ hiring decisions. There are two characteristics of cognitive bias at play here: the Bandwagon Effect and the Illusion of Validity.
The Bandwagon Effect: LinkedIn Recommendations
The Bandwagon Effect is a general rule that says “if other people believe something to be true then it is more likely to be true.”
According to online entrepreneur Jesper Amstrom:
- 70% of online users trust consumer opinions posted online (Nielsen Report)
- 97% of customers believe online reviews to be accurate (comScore, The Kelsey Group)
- 79% of UK retailers see a positive effect on conversion rates as a result of adding ratings and reviews (eMarketer)
People are influenced by the Bandwagon Effect when they see online reviews and recommendations. Their brain tells them that since others have voiced their preference for the object of the review, it is good for them too.
When you receive Recommendations on your LinkedIn profile it increases the probability of being seen as a viable candidate. This increases as the number of reviews increase, and more people are likely to “jump on the bandwagon” in believing you are a viable candidate.
For some reason, per the Undercover Recruiter, 10 Recommendations validates your profile as trustworthy (note: his post did not link to any data or studies proving this conclusion so I am assuming this is based on anecdotal and experiential evidence). It also helps you in getting Recommendations in the future as people are more likely to give you an endorsement if they see others have done so as well.
The Illusion of Validity: LinkedIn Recommendations
The Illusion of Validity is a term coined by Daniel Kahneman, which says that when presented with consistent evidence people will continue making similar predictions even after the predictive value of the this evidence has been discredited.
It happens all the time. Look at horoscopes, draft picks in professional sports and even medical treatment. How many times have we heard the story about the patient written off because of their condition only to live many years beyond that prediction?
When it comes to hiring from LinkedIn, an employer will likely believe in the validity of your Recommendations and use them to predict your potential future performance, even though statistically those reviews may not be good indicators of it. In doing so, the Recommendation becomes a prime vehicle to moving you forward in the hiring process.
6-Steps to Get LinkedIn Recommendations
Getting LinkedIn Recommendations is an important part of your LinkedIn experience, but you don’t want to just pepper your profile with any old piece of praise.
Remember, LinkedIn is an online network: the employer evaluating your Recommendation is likely to click on the person who gave it to you, so make sure that you avoid the following:
- Do not ask for Recommendations from family, friends or strangers
- Do not buy Recommendations from sites like Fivrr (yes, you can actually do this; for a measly $5 a stranger will write glowing praise about you)
- Do not solicit praise that is untrue, inaccurate, or inappropriate b/c the person being asked has no knowledge or experience working with you in that context (ex/ don’t ask them to praise your SEO skills if you never did SEO work for them)
There are six basic steps to getting good Linkedin Recommendations that will truly reflect who you are.
Step 1: List Your Potential Recommendation Sources
One of the biggest mistakes people make in seeking Recommendations is to think too narrowly.
The inclination most LinkedIn members have is to approach all of their old bosses and ask them to endorse their work. But not all Recommendations will be directly tied to jobs you have held. You may have been a volunteer for an organization or worked on an independent project for someone who can sing sincerely your praises.
Here are some areas to consider when listing your Recommendation Potential:
- Positions Held. These are jobs that you have worked in and the likely person to contact will be your old boss or supervisor. Do not rule out the possibility of also asking the hiring partner, HR contact or recruiter who helped put you in the position – they may be willing to do this if you have kept up any kind of relationship with them.
- Projects Worked On. You may have a pet project, work related or not, that you helped bring to fruition. The people involved may not be your boss, but they can speak to your abilities and work ethic. Think about asking co-workers, project leads or the beneficiary of the project for an endorsement.
- Customer Relationships Built. Customers can be a huge source of support. You may have given someone special attention while working in a job (I hope you do this for ALL of your customers!) or made an impression on a key client. In many cases it will be appropriate for you to reach out and ask that customer for a Recommendation. As a best practice you should be using LinkedIn to connect to your customers and expand your network.
- Classes Taken. Whether this refers to university, professional courses or even just workshops consider going back to the instructor and asking for a recommendation of your work. You can also ask classmates that have seen you in action, but be careful here because it can come off as a thumbs up from a friend rather than a trustworthy endorsement.
- Volunteer Work Performed. Volunteering can be a great source of experience and a perfect vehicle to Recommendations. Consider asking the head of the organization (if they know you) or your direct supervisor on the volunteer project.
This list is not exclusive, and I’m sure there are other sources that you can come up with. The point is to not limit yourself to seeking out Recommendations only from former bosses.
Step 2: Identify Warm Leads
The list of potential sources of Recommendations in Step 1 casts a WIDE NET to capture ALL of the potential places you can go to get praise for your abilities. Step 2 then narrows that list down to “the low hanging fruit”.
Who are the people likely to remember you well and speak highly of your work?
You may already know off the top of your head the top ten people to contact. That’s good. Write them down on the Warm Leads List and be happy you’ve got a head start.
Then you want to consider anyone else who falls into the following criteria:
- Ongoing relationship with contact in the last 2-years
- Older relationship that parted cleanly (no burning bridges!)
- Anyone whose a** your really saved in the past (this may be anyone you “did a solid” for which they will remember)
After you get your warm lead list, you should put a line across it and write down all of the other people from Step 1. These are your “Under the Line Leads” and can be approached later once you’ve gotten some Recommendations under your belt. Doing it this way takes full advantage of the Band Wagon Effect discussed above and will yield better results.
Also, for Under the Line Leads, list conversation starters next to each name that would help them remember you to create a more effective approach. I strongly suggest sending an initial message with this tidbit to “prime the pump” before asking them for something. This will provide you with a context for the request and likely produce a better result.
Step 3: Recommendation Request Templates
LinkedIn provides a template when you hit the “Request Recommendation” button.
You should NEVER send this cookie cutter template. It shows a lack of care and an impersonal approach that you do not want to use when asking someone for something. Rather a better approach is to create your own contextual templates.
For example, people from your work history are Template 1, customers Template 2, volunteer organizations Template 3, etc.
The number of templates you develop will depend on your list, but the key here is to give you a relevant starting point for each request that can be tailored to each individual person you are asking. When doing 25 or more Recommendation requests, having the templates will make your life easier and help you avoid resistance in sitting down to do the requests.
Here is an example of a template I have used for asking people from my work history for a Recommendation:
It has been a while since we last spoke and I trust you are well. When we worked together at [COMPANY] it always impressed me how you [INSERT SINCERE COMPLIMENT ABOUT THEM]. Our work together made a real impression on me and I hope that you feel the same way about my work. Can you possibly write a LinkedIn Recommendation talking about some of the things you remember best? I am grateful for anything you can do here, and I look forward to reading your feedback.
This template may or may not be right for you, but one thing it does is follow a timeless three-fold approach to making requests:
- Praise the recipient of your request
- Make the request
- Thank the recipient for whatever they can do
Religiously minded people may recognize this formula as the structure of the Jewish prayer Shemona Esrai (The 18 Blessings), which is made three times each day by Torah observant Jews. If it works with G-d then it will likely work with your LinkedIn network.
The most important thing about using ANY template for LinkedIn is that it must be PERSONALIZED.
Step 4. Gentle Reminders
As someone who purposely checks email at set periods each day (once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once before bed) it is easy for me to miss a notification from LinkedIn. I’m sure this is true for other people as well: work piles up, you’ve got things to finish, an important email from the boss, etc. and priority projects take precedence.
That’s where “the Gentle Reminder” comes in.
I’ve got to credit one of my students with this one. She had written an eBook for a class project and asked me to review it. As one of the first to complete the assignment I put it off for about a week.
Then I received an email with this subject line: “A Gentle Reminder: Please Give Me Feedback on the eBook”. I don’t know what is was about those words “Gentle Reminder” but I opened her eBook and started writing feedback.
About 2 to 3-weeks after you send your initial Recommendation request, if you still have not heard back from the person, try sending them a “Gentle Reminder”. You can do this through LinkedIn itself or directly to their email address if you have it.
Note, the direct email approach may be better because some people do not check their LinkedIn Inbox and they may or may not have on email notifications that send a notice to their email address of new activity.
Step 5. Display the LinkedIn Recommendation
Once you have received a recommendation, read it over to see if it needs revision. Usually you want to revise for inaccurate information, misspellings or praise that is too over the top.
At that point you can either hit “Display Recommendation on My Profile” or “Request a Revision”. LinkedIn will not show the Recommendation until you tell it to put it on your profile.
If you are going to ask for revisions be specific, kind and grateful. Tell the person what needs fixing and thank them so much for taking the time to help you out.
Step 6: Thank You
This one is simple yet overlooked.
When someone endorses your work on LinkedIn say “thank you”.
Return the Favor: Writing LinkedIn Recommendations
Chances are that when you start requesting LinkedIn recommendations you are going to be asked for them as well. You should not feel obligated to return the favor, but it is good manners to do so if you can give honest feedback on what they are asking you to recommend them for.
Just note, that if you a writing glowing, non-specific feedback about every person who gives you a Recommendation, it may look like opinion spam. Recruiters and employers can see when you have recommended people and they will check to see if this is what you are doing. Needless to say this will not have a good effect.
The credibility of the Recommendations on your profile and the ones you make for others will depend on being specific, sincere and selective about what you say.
Follow these formulas and you are sure to avoid Recommendation Pitfalls.
Check Out These Other LinkedIn Resources.
I hope this post has helped you understand how to get more Recommendations on your LinkedIn profile. If you are interested in more resources on LinkedIn, then check out these posts:
- How to Draft the Perfect LinkedIn Summary
- How to Choose The Best LinkedIn Profile Photo
- How to Use LinkedIn as a Customer Relationship Management Tool
- How to Use LinkedIn Groups Successfully
Also, I am giving a workshop on Sept 10, 2012 in Jerusalem Israel on LinkedIn best practices. You can learn more by clicking: How to Generate Leads and Job Offers With Your LinkedIn Profile.