In addition to keeping you connected to previous–and possibly future–coworkers and employers and providing a one-stop shop for recruiters interested in learning more about your career path, social media networking giant LinkedIn is also an important place to amass recommendations from those who have firsthand knowledge of your work–or for giving glowing reviews of those you’ve worked with.
But when a former coworker, manager or direct report approaches you for a recommendation and you were less than enthusiastic about their work performance, it can feel like a sticky situation.
“LinkedIn recommendations add credibility to your LinkedIn profile. They are important because those who view your profile are able to read these recommendations to get a better feel of your work style and overall performance,” says Amy Cooper Hakim, PhD, an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert. “Since your name and profile are associated with that recommendation, you should make sure that you truly know the individual and can vouch for his/her work product. After all, someone may hire that person based on your recommendation.”
Here’s how to know when it’s the right move to politely and professionally decline the invite to recommend someone–and how to excuse yourself without causing offense.
If You Don’t Remember Their Name, Say No
When you first started your career, do you remember the IT manager who set up your laptop and your workspace for you? Or when you made the move to a larger company, what about the assistant to the assistant of your executive manager? While it’s true that all roles are important parts that keep the company oiled and running, it’s tough to give an accurate assessment on someone’s ability to perform a job if you don’t recall working with him or her.
You might be tempted to completely ignore the ask, but Hakim says this is a situation when being direct and clear will be best. You don’t want to create a back-and-forth conversation where they’re filling up your inbox with repeated requests for a review, but you do want to encourage them to seek out another colleague or boss who can help them out.
“To get out of giving a recommendation for this reason, say something like, ‘Thanks for asking me to write a recommendation! I remember working together a few years back, but I think that someone who worked with you more recently is better suited to provide feedback on your performance. Sorry I can’t be of more help,'” says Hakim.
If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All
The words of wisdom your grandmother (and her grandmother) may have bestowed upon you as a child transcend generations for a reason. Though granny likely aimed to keep you out of the tangled circle of gossip in social groups that never leads to anything positive, the same rule of thumb applies when considering recommending someone you currently work with, or used to work with.
Since it’s support they’re seeking and not critique, a public-facing Linkedin post that’ll live on their profile isn’t the place for negativity. You can use this as an opportunity to explain in a private message why you won’t be writing them your sanction of approval, but make sure to finish on a somewhat encouraging note, since it might be tough for them to digest if they were expecting your blessing. Hakim suggesting ending with, “I’m probably not the best choice here as I’m not comfortable writing a recommendation. Best of luck, and sorry that I can’t be of more help!”
Remember, It Isn’t Required, Even If You Laid Someone Off
We all have those could-have-been-great stories about our careers. Maybe an applicant impressed you during their interview process, only to quickly fall short of your expectations once they were hired. Or you came into a new team to manage, and while you enjoyed their personalities, their professional skills weren’t up to the level you needed to meet your goals, and you had to make tough decisions. When layoffs or firings happen, it’s tempting to throw in the “I’m happy to recommend you!” line to soften the blow. But think about whether you’d actually have something to say for that person that’s truthful, honest, or helpful.
“It is not your obligation to write anyone a recommendation, whether on LinkedIn or elsewhere,” Hakim says. Even if you feel guilty or uneasy about having to part ways and leave someone unemployed, in the long run, your ability to explain what isn’t working will motivate them to work harder and differently for their next employer.
Don’t Give In To Peer Pressure
One of the main issues you probably have with resisting the urge to give a recommendation you don’t want to give is due to pressure. The request is there, in your inbox, urging you to take “just a moment” to help a pal out. But if there’s any reason you don’t want to list out accomplishments for a person you can’t vouch for, it’s better to decline than to simply write for the sake of not looking rude.
“Say something polite yet direct and to the point like, ‘I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to help you with that. Best of luck with your search! Sorry that I can’t be of more help,'” Hakim suggests. “Know that some may feel offended if you do not accept their request to write a recommendation. But you have that choice, and should never feel pressured to do so.”