guest blogI always advocate that you remind the recommender in your recommendation request what you want him or her to say. This frames the recommendation that comes back to you in a way that reflects a skill or attribute you want to stress to the reader.

But I never thought about what the right (and wrong) words in that recommendation would tell the reader. This was contributed by today’s guest blogger Judy Lindenberger and it really opened my eyes. Thank you Judy!

LinkedIn Lessons: Ways to Stand Out and Level the Playing Field

Contributed by Judy Lindenberger

I love LinkedIn. It’s one of the best networking tools out there to help you expand your reach. It’s “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” for the business world. But it can be a big, foreign maze. One of the best ways to stand out from the crowd is to ask those who know your work best to write you a recommendation.

Keep in mind that the words people choose to describe you could hurt your chances. Here’s why.

Researchers from Rice University recently analyzed over 600 letters of recommendation. The letters of recommendation for both women and men used positive words; however, communal words such as helpful, kind, sympathetic, tactful and agreeable, and behaviors such as taking direction well and maintaining relationships were more often used to describe women, while agentic words such as confident, ambitious, forceful, independent, and intellectual, and behaviors such as speaking assertively and influencing others were more often used for men. There was no difference in the gender of the letter writer – both men and women used more communal words when describing women than they did for men.

Here is the interesting part. When men and women reviewers were asked to rate the strength of the letters, the researchers found that letters with communal words were ranked lower than letters with agentic words.

After learning this, I went to my LinkedIn profile and scanned the words on my recommendations. Phrases that I thought were great before, like “very accommodating” and “excellent listener,” suddenly sounded quite different to me. Instead, I wished to be described as decisive, smart, and a leader. Let’s level the playing field for men and women by carefully choosing the words you use to recommend others.


Judy Lindenberger is the President of The Lindenberger Group, an award-winning human resources consulting firm, located near Princeton, NJ. You can learn more about her at and on twitter @LindenbergerLLC.