Have you taken the initiative lately to make a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn?

A couple of weeks ago, I received an update on everyone who had either changed jobs or titles in 2010. I was surprised at the number of job transitions, roughly 30% of my contacts.

As I was verifying the new information to my database, I took particular note of someone who joined LinkedIn last year.

Bob has been a consultant for a long time. He continuously gives back to the community and we have worked on a few programs together. It was a great opportunity to share my opinion of his work and dedication to others through the LinkedIn recommendations.

This got me thinking. When is it appropriate to write or ask for a recommendation and when does it not make much sense?

When I have been a recipient of a recommendation, LinkedIn prompts you to return the favor and write one for the other person. There have been times when that request makes me feel uncomfortable. How about you?

When to write a recommendation

  • If you have a colleague that you have worked with and you have firsthand knowledge of their performance, skills or other accomplishments – this is the time to write a recommendation. You might be their peer, boss or subordinate.
  • Write a recommendation when someone is not expecting it. That’s right, we all like to open our email and find that someone likes what we do! He or she will feel more appreciated if your glowing comments come unsolicited.
  • For a business owner or a consultant, your recommendation can make a difference in how potential clients or customers view their services or approach. If they provided value, make the endorsement today. It is one of the best ways to show your appreciation.
  • If someone has given their time or services for free for your benefit, it is time to reciprocate by lettings others know how they helped you.  Hint- leave out the “free” part.

When not to write a recommendation

  • Receiving a LinkedIn request from someone who you do not know well or are not comfortable in responding, just take a pass.
  • Friends should not write recommendations for friends without having direct experience as a colleague, client or customer.
  • The obvious – you did not like their work.

When to ask for a recommendation

  • Ask for recommendations over a period of time. It will look better if your recommendations are spaced out, otherwise you may create the wrong impression – that you are desperate or your networking is one-sided.
  • Sometimes we have to nudge people that you may have helped with a project or task. Last year I helped someone to refine her first presentation to a group of CEOs as a courtesy.
  • Ask for recommendations from people you work with currently or from previous companies, clients and customers or from groups and community initiatives where you have demonstrated a leadership role.
  • Personalize your request to someone you contact for a recommendation. Let them know what prompted you to write them. If cannot think of something, then it is probably best you don’t ask for a recommendation from them.

When not to ask for a recommendation

  • If you make a presentation, do not ask everyone in the room to write a recommendation for you. It is tacky and people will discount all the comments from a large group of people from one event.
  • Avoid using the mass email option LinkedIn provides you to ask all of your contacts for a recommendation at one time. I received one of these a year or so ago from a consultant who I had met 10 years ago. I had no direct knowledge of her work.
  • Do not ask for a recommendation from someone simply because you gave them one. Some recommendations go only “one way” because the service or advice was provided in one direction.

How to handle inappropriate requests

You receive an automated LinkedIn request from someone and the message was sent to their mass distribution list. You wonder why you received it. The easiest thing to do is ignore it.

Is that the right approach? Not necessarily. Contact the person directly and let them know you are able to write a recommendation for them.

People who make requests that are not appropriate should not be surprised to receive some push back. They may not have realized their request went to a large group and will thank you for letting them know what happened. If they do not appreciate your response, it might be time to rethink why you are connected to them.