Experts agree: To be an effective networker, don’t think about what other people can do for you. Instead, focus on how you can provide value to them. You’ll build stronger relationships, which will make your connections genuinely eager to do you favors—which means, in the end, you’ll come out ahead.
Here’s the problem. If you’re young, relatively inexperienced, in a new industry, or without many connections, you don’t have a ton of obvious opportunities to help others out.
Luckily, I recently hit on an awesome way to give people a boost that’s perfect for any professional without much networking currency (or any professional, really.)
I’ve been writing LinkedIn recommendations—not for the people who work for me, but for the people above me.
Usually our superiors write us recommendations, not the other way around.
But recommendations on LinkedIn are different than the ones you might send in with a job application. On LinkedIn, it’s completely acceptable to have someone lower in the ranks recommending a higher-up. It’s actually very helpful for the person being recommended, because it creates a holistic view of his or her work ethic, leadership style, skills, and so forth.
Writing a recommendation for your boss also gives you a chance to thank him or her. We don’t usually get the opportunity to give spontaneous thank-yous to our higher-ups, and this is the perfect non-awkward way to show your appreciation.
Lastly, it increases your visibility. Suppose someone in your industry is browsing your manager’s page. He reads your (well-written) recommendation and ends up clicking on your profile. Now you’re on his radar, too.
Whomever you directly report to is an obvious choice. However, you can also recommend your boss’s boss, the head of your department, the head of a different department—even the CEO. As long as you’ve worked closely enough with this person to give an accurate and detailed portrayal of his or her strengths, qualifications, and standards, you’re qualified to give a recommendation.
Suppose you’re wondering whether you should recommend Adam, who’s several rungs above you on the company ladder. If your interactions are limited to a couple emails, conversation at office parties, and mutual attendance of some meetings, you’re probably not close enough. However, if you’re worked under him for a project, received training from him, or helped him put together a report, he’d be a great choice.
I want all my recommendations to be honest, thoughtful, and detailed, so before I ever sit down to draft one, I’ll take a week’s worth of notes. Basically, instead of just thinking, “Oh, that was nice,” when my boss (or whomever I’m recommending) does something that makes me grateful, I’ll write it down. After seven days is up, I’ll review my notes. (If it’s someone I work with less frequently, I’ll extend this process to two weeks or even a month.)
Here’s a sample list:
- Monday: Offered to teach me how to use new software.
- Tuesday: Thanked me for my hard work; answered all my emails quickly.
- Wednesday: Helped me set up a meeting so I could learn more about other departments.
- Thursday: Was understanding when I was late to our check-in and even stayed later so she could finish explaining something.
- Friday: Asked me if I still wanted to learn how to use new software.
By doing this, some trends usually leap out. Based on this list, I’d characterize my boss as supportive, invested in my success, and good at communicating. Plus, now I have both specific traits to highlight and examples to back up my claims. For example, I could write:
Dylan is clearly interested in helping me grow as an employee. When our company started using a new leads-tracking software, she asked me if I’d like her to show me how to use it (on her own time!) because she knew I wanted to learn more about the sales side of the company. She also offered to arrange a meeting with some of the key members of the sales and marketing teams so I could get more insight into their structure and goals.
Whenever I have questions or concerns, Dylan responds right away—and even follows up later in the week or month to make sure my issues have been resolved. Her patience and willingness to help have made me motivated to do the best job I can.
This is also a great opportunity to subtly reinforce someone’s best traits. If you praise your manager’s excellent listening qualities, chances are, he’s going to be super attentive next time you come in with a project idea. If you thank the CEO of the company for her commitment to transparency, those all-staff meetings aren’t going away any time soon. Just make sure you’re being honest—you don’t want to write anything that will make the person think, “What? I don’t do that.”
(For more tips, check out our five-minute guide to writing amazing recommendations—we’ve even included some sample lines.)
After I’ve crafted a really solid paragraph or two, I’m usually eager to put it up on LinkedIn. However, I always check with the recommendee first. Some people are pretty picky about what goes on their page, and you don’t want your nice gesture to become a faux pas.
Here’s how I ask for the green light:
I really enjoy working with you, and I want to show my appreciation with a LinkedIn recommendation. My first draft is below. Is there anything I should take out or add? I’m happy to make any changes you’d like.
Also, please don’t feel obligated to accept this recommendation—I’d understand if you were trying to limit what goes on your profile!
In any case, thank you for being such a great supervisor.
It may seem funny to request permission to give a recommendation, but doing so gives people the option of tailoring your recommendation to fit their personal brand—and an easy out if they don’t want your recommendation at all. (It’s never happened to me, but people always say they appreciate being asked.)
Once you’ve gotten the go-ahead or some edits, you’re ready to upload!
I’ve used this technique to do something useful for people with much more power, responsibility, and visibility than me. Will you try it? Let me know on Twitter!