Using LinkedIn recommendations to support others

Use the LinkedIn recommendation feature to write testimonials for people in your network

Academics are all familiar with writing references, whether it is for our students, our (former) colleagues, or for external tenure and promotion cases. But these long and carefully crafted letters are read only by a small number of people. Why not write a short recommendation on a public platform such as LinkedIn, where everyone can read it? In this post I show how to use LinkedIn's recommendation feature to support other academics in your network.

LinkedIn recommendations are particularly helpful for academics going up for tenure or promotion as they constitute public evidence. They are very useful in evidencing performance in leadership where "objective" metrics are harder to find (See: Academic promotion tips (5) - Evidence your impact in Leadership & Service). However, they can be used for any aspect of an academic career.

Moreover, writing and receiving LinkedIn recommendations allows you practice care in using social media (see also: Social media - caring in a shared-world (1): Self & others) and makes academia a nicer place to be (see also: Changing academic culture: one email at a time...). So please take this small step to support an academic colleague. I am sure they will be pleasantly surprised. I have been sharing these recommendations on social media under the general initiative of #PositiveAcademia and they have been very popular.

As a bonus, you might find that this activity puts you in a positive mood too. It certainly did for me. It also made me realise again how different academics and their strengths can be. This shows how important it is for academic leaders to focus on creating a portfolio of skills at the Department, School, and University level rather than expecting every academic to be good at everything.

How to write an effective recommendation?

Having written some fifty of these recommendations, I have discovered a few do's and don'ts that might be helpful for other writers:

The do's

  1. Ensure your recommendation is genuine. This means you need to focus on what is unique to that person. You might well be able to reuse some phrases; I have occasionally. But the bulk of the recommendation needs to custom-written.
  2. Think about how this recommendation might help someone and how they might use it. Are they going up for promotion soon? Are they looking for a new job? Or is it simply a nice confidence booster for keeping up the great work they are already doing.
  3. Include positive and unique information ("the hook") early on in your recommendation. Although starting out with how long you have known a person and in what capacity might work in academia where "reputation by association" is powerful, please do ensure that positive and unique information is visible without readers having to click on "see more...".

The don'ts

  1. Don't write a recommendation for someone if you are struggling to come up with one. The best recommendations are the result of words flowing naturally when thinking about the person. If they don't, interact with them a bit longer until they do.
  2. Don't aim for comprehensiveness. It is a recommendation, not a reference letter! Although LinkedIn gives you up to 3000 characters, I have rarely used more than a third of this. People don't want a potted career history, they want to know what someone is uniquely good at.
  3. Don't write negative recommendations. This goes without saying doesn't it? Again, it is a recommendation, not a reference letter! You don't have to write one. So if you can't say anything positive about a person, just stay silent.

Who to write recommendations for?

Below I distinguish four groups of academics that you might want to write recommendations for. I have also included links to recommendations I have written for academics that I have worked with in the past five years. Don't feel constrained by these categories though, just write for anyone that could use a positive recommendation or for anyone you think could do with some cheering up. Happy writing!

Colleagues

Academics work independently for much of the time. However, we also interact with our direct colleagues in a myriad of ways: by co-teaching, through mentor/mentee relationships (see next section), by working on collaborative research projects and funding applications, in performing our formal administrative and leadership roles, and last but not least through our informal interactions.

So why not leave a recommendation for a colleague you have worked with closely? To get you inspired check out some of the recommendations I wrote for my colleagues: Shaz Ali, Nic Beech, Sarah Bradshaw, Helen Cai, Anastasia Christou, Mariana Dodourova, Tim Freeman, Mark Gray, Martyna Janowicz-Panjaitan, Brigitte Jörg, Anna Kyprianou, Dox Kyriacou, Suman Lodh, Nico Pizzolato, Nathalie van Meurs, Bianca Stumbitz, Stephen Syrett, Michela Vecchi, and Andrea Werner.

Mentees

As senior academics we are often involved in mentorship relationships, whether formal or informal. These interactions allow us to get to know our mentees quite well. We learn where their strengths lie in terms of the various academic roles, but we also get a sense about personal characteristics such as their level of initiative, resilience, responsiveness, and consideration for others.

So why not document this in a recommendation for your mentees? For inspiration check out the recommendations I wrote for some of my Middlesex mentees: Satkeen Azizzadeh, Athina Dilmperi, Yan Jiang, Atefeh Maghzi, Ericka Rascon, Clarice Santos, Christa Sathish, Salma Soliman, Sian Stephens, and Pinar Tufan, as well as mentees in other institutions: Tatiana Andreeva, Shea Fan, Tingting Li, Huong Nguyen, Ciara O'Higgins, Danielle Taylor, Ling Eleanor Zhang, and Shasha Zhao.

Co-authors

Co-authorship relationships in academia vary dramatically (see: On academic life: collaborations and active engagement). Some can be quite instrumental or hierarchical; others are characterised by inspirational intellectual exchanges. They can also be driven by, or be the initiator of, strong and enduring academic friendships (see: the wonderful blogpost by my colleague Sian Stephens - Friends and co-authors).

Through co-authoring we learn a lot about our academic colleagues: their ability to engage us in enriching intellectual discussions, their responsiveness to emails or new drafts of our co-authored papers, their academic norms and values, their time-management, their willingness to step up without being prompted, and much much more.

So why not leave a recommendation for a co-author you have worked closely with? To get you inspired check out the recommendations I wrote for some of my recent co-authors: María Bastida, Sylwia Ciuk, Heejin Kim, Hyun-Jung Lee, Luísa Helena Pinto, Sebastian Reiche, Martyna SliwaHelene Tenzer, and Katsu Yoshikawa.

Academic service providers

In our profession we interact with many academics beyond our colleagues, mentees, and co-authors. Oftentimes, these interactions are with academics engaged in some form of service to the wider academic community. These service roles can be rewarding; the more significant of them certainly help in building up a good academic CV. However, typically these roles also require an academic to prioritise the needs of others over their own needs.

So why not leave a recommendation for an academic whose service activities you admire? My examples relate to editors (David Collings, Jasper Hotho and Denise Rousseau) the CYGNA network (Argyro Avgoustaki) and female academic leadership (Alice Eagly), and academics generously providing free resources (Ilgaz Arikan with his Frontline IB interviews and Vas Taras with his catalogues of culture instruments and the X-culture project).

However, you could also think about academics taking on roles in professional associations, organizing conferences, managing websites or YouTube channels. Anyone making an effort to transform academia into a better place for all. Just be creative...

Academics authors you admire

In my blogpost Changing academic culture: one email at a time... I mentioned that I regularly send emails to authors about one of their articles that I found particularly interesting, thought-provoking, or simply an enjoyable read. So recently, I have started to pair these emails with LinkedIn recommendations based on those articles. Here are some examples: Carolin Auschra, Julia Bartosch, Sokol Celo, Ella Glickson, Nora Lohmeyer, Matthieu Mandard, Nicole Richter.

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