To succeed as product managers, we need to demonstrate that we’re effective cross-functional collaborators. One of the best ways to demonstrate that is to obtain a recommendation for your LinkedIn profile.
But, before we can receive LinkedIn recommendations, we need to first find people who are willing to give them to us. When it comes to recommendations, deciding who should recommend you is one of the most important decisions you’ll make.
Identifying your recommender
Use the following two criteria to determine who you should ask for a recommendation:
- Do I trust them?
- Can they highlight specifics of my work?
The answers to both of these questions need to be an overwhelming “yes.” Why is that?
First, you need to find someone who you trust, because they’ll be representing your professional work in public. They’re carrying the torch of your personal brand.
You don’t want a recommender who will condemn you with faint praise. It’s crucial that the recommendation you receive is actually a true recommendation.
Why do I make this point? It’s because not all recommendations are made equal. Having 10 lukewarm recommendations is far worse than having a single enthusiastic recommendation. It’s not solely a numbers game - you have to account for quality, too.
Second, you need someone who can speak to the tangible specifics of your work. Too often, I see recommendations from “work friends” who don’t have a deep understanding of the candidate’s professional impact.
These recommendations aren’t helpful for you, because they don’t answer the key question that the hiring organization has.
What’s the key question? Every hiring manager and every recruiter is trying to answer this question: “Will this candidate solve my pain?”
A generalized, non-specific recommendation will never be able to address that question. Here’s an example of one: “Anna is a smart person. She’s a great person. I see her doing big things in the future. I recommend hiring her.”
While that’s flattering, it doesn’t actually discuss the kind of professional impact that Anna can deliver.
Let’s pretend that a hiring organization is trying to decide whether to ask Anna to interview with them. This hiring organization is facing the following pains:
- Their current product isn’t gaining enough traction as a standalone product; it needs to be integrated with other ecosystem players, and they need a person who knows how to build integrations
- While they have a decent grasp on the small business market segment, they’re struggling to break into the enterprise market segment
If a recruiter from this hiring organization read the recommendation above, they’d have no idea whether Anna solves their pain or not.
A much better recommendation would therefore be something like this: “I’ve worked alongside Anna in building out multiple 3rd party integrations. I’ve always been impressed with how quickly Anna establishes rapport with partners, and her attention to detail has ensured that we shipped every integration on time, with high quality. On top of that, Anna defined a crisp integrations strategy that enabled us to break into the enterprise market segment while delivering delightful end user experiences.”
With this recommendation, it’s instantly clear to the recruiter that they should consider interviewing Anna - she knows how to tackle the pains that they’re facing right now.
But the thing is, for Anna to get a recommendation as targeted as the one above, she needs to ask someone who’s worked with her on those exact specifics!
That’s why it’s crucial for you to identify a recommender who has specific context on the work that you’ve done, and the impact that it’s created for your company. If you just ask a work friend who hasn’t worked closely with you before, you won’t be able to surface that level of specificity that a recruiter is looking for.
Don’t rush the process of selecting a recommender. It’s one of the key decisions you’re making.
Providing the context for the recommendation
Now that you’ve decided on a recommender, identify the context that you’d like them to focus on. Provide a couple of points that you’d like them to focus on within the recommendation.
It’s your job to reduce the mental overhead for your recommender. After all, thoughtful recommendations take time and effort. By reducing the burden that you place on others, you make it far more likely for others to accept your ask.
On top of that, recommendations need to be short and sweet.
First, recruiters don’t have the time to read a full-blown essay. They’re pressed for time, and they need to quickly identify which candidates to pursue and which candidates to drop. You should expect recruiters to skip over long, unfocused recommendations.
Second, your recommender doesn’t have infinite time. They’re busy people who have their own careers and objectives to tend to.
So, make it clear to the recommender on where they should focus. Identify one or two key initiatives that you’d like them to focus on, and ask them to flesh out specific traits that you want covered.
It’s your job to establish your product / market fit. You need to identify which market segments you want to attract. That should never be the job of your recommender. Once you’ve identified the segment that you want to attract, you should know what traits you want to highlight about yourself. Focus your recommender on those traits.
Now that we know how to help focus the context of the recommendation, let’s dive into what an example ask for a recommendation might look like.
Templates for asking for product manager LinkedIn recommendations
Here’s a template for making a multi-step ask for a LinkedIn recommendation.
The opening ask might look something like this:
“Hi Joanna, I had a favor to ask of you - would you mind writing me a recommendation on LinkedIn? I’ve truly enjoyed working closely with you, and I feel that you’d speak well to my strengths. I’d love to have your recommendation if you’re comfortable doing so.”
If they agree, then you can follow up with more specifics this way:
“Thank you so much, I really appreciate it! Since I’m interested in starting a career in industry YYY, I’d love it if you could highlight my skills in XYZ and ABC as part of our time working together on ZZZ initiative.”
Once you’ve received it, thank them for their time. Here’s an example of a thank you note:
“Thank you for such a thoughtful recommendation, it means so much to me! Let me know if there’s any way I can help support your career as well. I’m always happy to write you a recommendation if you’d find that valuable.”
When to ask for LinkedIn recommendations
Let’s be clear - you shouldn’t be constantly begging for recommendations. As a product manager, you need to be strategic with the asks that you make on other people.
As I mentioned in our product manager LinkedIn profile best practices article, there are a couple of key break points you need to be aware of:
- Moving from 0 recommendations to 1 recommendation
- Moving from 1 recommendation to 4 recommendations
So, you shouldn’t try to flood others with asks, and you shouldn’t try to shotgun your asks.
After all, LinkedIn logs the dates on when the recommendation was given. If you have multiple recommendations all coming in the same month, the recommendations will seem phony to the recruiter. It’s better for your recommendations to be stretched out over time.
So, if we need to stretch out our recommendations over time, what are the best times to ask for recommendations?
One key touch point is when you complete a large initiative with someone that you’d love to recommend you.
At that point, your experiences working together are still fresh in their memory. So, that’s a natural time to ask for a LinkedIn recommendation.
Another key touch point is when your desired recommender is leaving your organization.
You want to make sure that they crystallize their positive interactions with you into a recommendation, before time wears away their memories after they start their new role.
One last thing to keep in mind - in most cases, your recommender would love a recommendation from you as well.
So, don’t hesitate to give them a recommendation if you’re asking for one from them. And, conversely, if someone is asking you for a recommendation, don’t hesitate to ask for one in return.
To be clear, LinkedIn recommendations should not be “quid pro quo.” There’s no obligation for you to write a recommendation for someone who gave you one, and there’s no obligation for someone to write you one if you wrote them one.
Recommendations should only be written if the recommender truly believes that the candidate is solid.
But the thing is, our professional relationships with work colleagues tend to be filled with mutual respect and admiration. Since it’s a two-way street, there’s no ethical problem with you recommending your recommender, as long as you genuinely do think that their work accomplishments are fantastic.
We now know how to identify a solid recommender and how to ask for a LinkedIn profile recommendation. By securing an outstanding LinkedIn recommendation, your profile as a product manager will start to stand out.
Want to learn more about how to ask for a LinkedIn recommendation? Chat with other product managers around the world in our PMHQ Community!
Clement Kao is Co-Founder of Product Manager HQ. He was previously a Principal Product Manager at Blend, an enterprise technology company that is inventing a simpler and more transparent consumer lending experience while ensuring broader access for all types of borrowers.