Activity: Recommendations for Others


One way to build social capital in your relationships is to publicly value a person for the difference they have made with their talent, knowledge and character. It’s more than simple gratitude; it’s letting others know about the value of a person. There is much evidence that we respond strongly and easily to the ‘social proof’ from a trusted source about the quality of another person and their offering.

Putting your thoughts into tangible words also makes visible the quality of the relationships in your network or professional village.


The What and How

Digital networking tools like LinkedIn make it easy for you to publish a recommendation. The common hurdle is knowing what to write and how to write it. Here’s advice to get you over that hurdle.


1. Decide on a focus or theme

If you have the opportunity, ask the person you are writing about to indicate to you what focus they would most value in a recommendation. For example, they may be a great Project Manager and that’s what you thought you would focus on; however, they would most value a Recommendation about their Leadership capability.

You are not asking them to tell you want to write, you are seeking the general areas in which you might comment.

When you start thinking of the the things you might say about a person, you can end up with a lot – so having this focus, can help you decide what to keep and what to let go.

Also find out (or imagine) what context the recommendation might be shared or published. Who will be the audience and where might they read this? This may indicate what tone or word length is most appropriate.


2. Gather the raw material for the recommendation

This step is to collect a wide range of potential content for the recommendation. Don’t censor yourself.

Write answers to the following questions:

A. What was the situation in which I experienced/engaged with PERSON-X? (context, relationship)
B. What did PERSON-X do to make a real difference? (activities, responsiblities)
C. What was the result of what PERSON-X did? (What did I gain? What difference was made?)
D. What do I really like about PERSON-X? (style/approach, character, etc. Let your emotions flow!)
E. What would be my reason to recommend PERSON-X to others?

Write things down as you think of them, in the exact words that you thought of. This gives you natural language to work with.


3. Turn the raw material into prose

Look at the raw material you have collated and translate this into a paragraph of prose.

Sort through the ‘bits’ you have, and decide what to keep – that importantly connects to the focus or theme in 1. above. It’s okay to let bits go.

When you have a useful subset, start writing sentences. Here’s some advice.

a. Keep it short and smart
For the whole Recommendation (defined as a very short piece of text) aim for a maximum of 4-5 sentences; 80-100 words, that can be inserted into other documents. It is not a Reference Letter. It is succinct, targeted and typically covers a some aspect of a person – not all aspects of the person. A quality recommendation has depth rather than breadth.

Also keep your sentences short and smart. Don’t write more than 20 words a sentence. This isn’t a novel. People tend to scan-read recommendations, so long sentences are not helpful to this style of reading.

b. Writing the prose in a natural flow

The questions above do provide an indicative order or flow – but don’t limit yourself to this. Be playful. Treat your sentences as blocks to move around and see what can work in a natural or surprising way.

For good advice about the order of what you say (i.e. the value of WHY before WHAT) listen to Simon Sinek talk about Golden Circles in his presentation at TEDx.

c. Make the sentences powerful and meaningful. Include adverbs and adjectives.
Here’s some samples:

WEAK = He gave good advice about what to do.
STRONG = He gave practical advice we could easily implement.

WEAK = She facilitated a workshop about X.
STRONG = She masterfully facilitated an enlightening workshop that shifted our thinking about X.

WEAK = He mentored me and now I see things differently.
STRONG = He mentored me sharing his expert knowledge and asking me challenging questions so I looked at things with a new perspective.

WEAK = She worked with our staff in many situations.
STRONG = She sensitively worked with different groups of staff adapting her communication style to best fit the situation.

WEAK = He always did good work.
STRONG = His work product was consistently of a high quality and his work style was professional.

d. Have a Thesaurus on hand; it helps to avoid reusing the same descriptive words

e. Make a great ending

Close the recommendation with a statement that leaves a great lasting impression. Avoid writing “I highly recommend X because.”  You can do better than that! This sentence could be a summary or highligh of what you’ve already said, written in fresh words (use the Thesaurus).


4. Share the recommendation

Recommendations don’t have to be published in places like LinkedIn; consider other ways they might be used.

You might send the recommendation directly to the person with your permission for them to use the exact words (or a subset) in a cover letter, resume or selection criteria table, or in other promotional material.

You might send the recommendation in a message to a specific individual as part of making an introduction between two of your contacts.


Doing it for real

Here’s a real example, following Steps 2 and 3 above.

The Questions & Answers
A. What was the situation in which I engaged with Emma?
Taking portrait photos for business use

B. What did Emma do to make a real difference?
Listened to what we wanted and integrated that in her suggestions
Gave practical advice to prepare for the photos about location, timing of day, colours of clothes
Made us feel at ease during the shoot
Experimented with different poses

C. What was the result of what Emma did?
High quality photos that we are proud to show
Ready-to-use images that have a relaxed professional vibe

D. What do I really like about Emma? (could be about style/approach, character, value, etc.)
Her relaxed nature in taking the shots
Her interesting ideas for different looks/poses

E. What would be my reason to recommend Emma to others?
She provided an enjoyable experience to get great product
Great value for price

The prose
“Emma artfully gave us an enjoyable experience as she took portrait photos for our business use. We are very proud to use the classy photos with a relaxed professional vibe. Such great photos are the result of a partnership with Emma in choosing location, time of day and poses plus her relaxed nature which put us at ease during the photo shoot. It was an excellent investment to utilise Emma’s talent to get beautiful images.”
~ Helen Palmer, Director, RHX Group

Note: There are phrases in the prose that weren’t in the answers to the questions above. That’s a good thing! When writing the prose, you can get additional inspiration about what to say.


Get going

  • Don’t wait to be asked. Do it because you can.
  • Schedule one hour in the coming week to identify someone worthy and write them a recommendation.


Creative Commons License

This content is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence so it can be freely shared with attribution to the creator (Questo); it cannot be used for commercial purposes; and it cannot be modified.