People often use my network to ask me for back-door references about people I know. Sometimes, I can help. Sometimes, I can’t. If I don’t know someone well enough to provide a reference, I don’t. For example, if I consulted at a client for a few days, I don’t know anyone well enough, other than my primary contact, to provide a reference.
But one thing I am happy to do is to provide a recommendation on LinkedIn. I still have to know someone pretty well, or know an aspect of their work well enough to write a recommendation. But a recommendation is not a reference. And, if I need to make it narrow enough to be useful, that’s ok with me.
Don’t ask anyone for a recommendation unless they know your work well. It’s ok if you only know a specific aspect of their work. For people like me, sometimes a recommendation can be narrow enough to talk about our writing or training or speaking or facilitating. That’s fine. But, if you don’t know my consulting capabilities, you can’t give me a recommendation about my consulting. In the same way, if I’ve never seen you manage people or projects, I can’t provide a recommendation about your management.
If you want a recommendation, offer one first. Make sure you are specific enough so that your reader can find the recommendation valuable.
With enough specific recommendations, your profile readers can learn enough about you to ask questions of a real reference. That’s the real value of a recommendation.
When you write a recommendation, you are telling the world, “I saw this person work in this way and I can recommend that.” That increases your networking value.
If you want to network to find candidates and learn about people–including back door references–make sure you offer recommendations. And, then you can ask for recommendations, and references.