Can a Recommendation Turn Against the Person you Recommend?

We all recommend or have been recommended at some point in our professional lives, but have you ever thought about the hidden consequences a recommendation can have on the person you recommend?

There are some pitfalls you should avoid when recommending people (e.g., make sure you know the person well, do not exaggerate their qualities etc.) and in order to illustrate this, I did the following experiment: I took recommendations from LinkedIn and used Wordle to build the word cloud below, which shows the words most often used (I used dozens of recommendations with a total of almost 4,000 words).


Before I discuss the pitfalls, here is what I first thought when I saw this cloud: people are very polite and tend to exaggerate a little when giving recommendations (hence the use of words like “pleasure”, “great”, “always”, etc.), but many also used words that you can find in job ads (e.g., “professional”, “communication”, “skills”, etc.). Additionally, “leadership”, “experience”, and “expertise” do not seem to have a high importance when people recommend others—not to mention “ethic” and “knowledge”—which are hardly visible in the picture. How Not to Recommend Someone

1. Do not recommend people you don’t know well: Even though you’re trying to help, the end result might be the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t know the person you are recommending, you will either be vague—which does not help, or you will improvise—which can be dangerous because you might assume things that are not true.

2. Do not exaggerate: We all do our best to say nice things about others, but when you tell someone that a person is “ideal” for the job or “amazing”, recruiters really expect the person to be that way. A candidate who’s described as being “great” will have to demonstrate this during the interview—and quite frankly, you’re not doing that person a favor by exaggerating his or her qualities or skills.

3. Do not provide irrelevant information: Make sure you know exactly why a person needs a recommendation. This will help you provide relevant information about the candidate, which will help for the specific position he or she applies for. It is always better not to give a recommendation than to give a vague, general one.

4. Do not use buzz words: What does “professional” or “great asset” mean? It’s like saying during an interview that you’re communicative and a team player—we all are, but in different ways. Try to illustrate what you mean by giving examples: When did the person you recommended prove to be professional and how?

5. Do not ignore spelling errors and typos: When recruiters read resumes, a typo or negligent formatting can be costly for the candidate. The same happens with recommendations—by providing recommendations with errors; you show that you don’t care much about the person you recommend since you did not take the time to review your text.

What do you think?

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