Playing with Fire: Asking the Wrong People for LinkedIn Recommendations

This morning, I opened up my email to find a LinkedIn recommendation request waiting for me.  However, nothing was ringing a bell about the person who requested it – I flat-out didn’t know who they were! I puzzled over their name… wondering if I was having a momentary lapse in memory as to why I couldn’t recall them.  This individual definitely wasn’t in my immediate network.  Then I checked their name against my client list.  Zip.

Finally, I clicked on the person’s profile, struggling to recall how I knew them.  Only after I got onto their page did I realize that I had met this person only once previously at a conference where we were discussing resumes.  The conference set-up included a computer work station, and fuzzy details in my memory helped me recall that I had encouraged that individual to get onto LinkedIn as a way to build their contact base up.

Since connecting on that networking site, I haven’t heard anything from this person.  If they were hoping to build a meaningful relationship, then they failed by not cultivating it to hopefully lead up to a potential recommendation.

The mere fact that they even asked me to write a recommendation tells me two things:

1) They don’t understand the impact of how credibility matters on LinkedIn.
2) They must be floundering around (and completely desperate) to even consider asking a complete stranger to write a recommendation.

My reply back:

Dear [person’s name]:

“I received your LinkedIn reference request this morning, and quite frankly, I don’t feel comfortable writing this, as I barely know you. I believe we met once at [conference name] in [city name] last year, if my memory serves me correctly.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any experience observing your knowledge, work ethic, abilities, or skills, nor do I know you well enough on a personal level to make any kind of judgment call, let alone write a testimonial.

Requests like these are best reserved for colleagues, former or current supervisors, co-workers or people that have more first-hand familiarity of your professional abilities. LinkedIn is all about credibility, and I know you will understand that this is the reason why I will politely decline your request. I simply cannot answer to that, although I am sure you are an accomplished professional.”

The danger in playing with fire in a situation like this is that you should never attempt something so desperate and completely reckless.  In my mind, this inquiry pretty much shot down this requester’s credibility and ethics.

To make another point: There has been a growing practice of ‘swapping’ professional testimonials on LinkedIn, which actually dilutes the power that this networking tool has to offer.  Adopting the ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ approach to rack up testimonials is a sure-fire way to ruin your reputation among industry professionals when requesting unwarranted or baseless recommendations.  Providing patsy trades is ineffective, and most employers parsing through LinkedIn can smell these a mile away, and have learned to steer clear as a result.

I strongly believe in my personal brand, integrity and credibility, as do most professionals.  In the past, yes, I have exchanged a few select recommendations, but only with people that view me in the same esteem that I view them, as we have worked closely with each other and have direct, specific knowledge of each other’s work habits and personal strengths.

For the most part, however, the majority of my LinkedIn testimonials are from clients who feel very comfortable (and enthusiastic) in providing first-hand reports of the quality and integrity of my work.  That alone is the value of having testimonials convince either a prospective client or employer to investigate you further.

Professionals should hold their career credentials, from resume to cover letter to LinkedIn profile, at the same standard of high ethics and transparency.

Your career reputation depends on it.