How often do you find yourself on the verge of purchasing a new product or service, and you head over to the reviews section to read about other people’s experience first? When you’re in that consideration window of figuring out whether to pull the trigger and buy the thing or engage with the service, reviews are a crucial cosign on its value, whether it’s worth the time, money, and/or attention. For people, it’s not all that different.
As you set up your online presence, whether it’s on your own personal site, a portfolio page, or on social media, having reviews for yourself can be an extra vote of confidence to others who want to work with you or even just know more about your experience. Instead of a five star rating, you can think about asking people who’ve worked with you for a testimonial.
In this article, we’ll outline what a testimonial is and four tips to keep in mind as you start to gather these reviews about yourself.
What is a Testimonial?
Think of a testimonial as a review about you. It’s a statement – or testimony – to your skills, experience, character, or otherwise. Testimonials can vary in length from a short phrase (“easy to work with”) to an essay.
A great testimonial conveys something that the reader couldn’t otherwise see in your resume, and adds color to who you are.
As you’re thinking about testimonials for your website or portfolio, take note of what you want people to know about you – and be mindful of your reader’s attention span. A great testimonial conveys something that the reader couldn’t otherwise see in your resume, and adds color to who you are. If you’re looking to put testimonials on your website, cover letter, or resume, the length should be one factor to monitor. The more you can pack into a smaller space, the better! Few people will want to read two paragraphs about how great you are to work with, but most people would have no problem reading two sentences.
A single testimonial can shed light on one person’s experience working or interacting with you, but many people like to take the approach of gathering a few testimonials for a few reasons:
1) You can show more sides of yourself
One colleague’s experience is going to be different than another’s. Think about how one colleague might know you as the super efficient worker who produces great quality at pace. Another colleague might know you for your strategic superpower, and can speak to the high-level thinking you brought to a project.
2) You can highlight career progression
Colleagues will know you at various points in your career, so someone might be able to speak to your independent contributor experience, whereas another might know you as a manager. All of this can be achieved if you source more than one testimonial.
3) You can show off your network
Your connections matter, and having a few people lend their voices from big name companies or prestige places to work can instantly add some gravitas to your online presence.
4) You benefit from the compounding effect
The more people you have that will vouch for you – particularly if they are respected people from well-known or highly regarded companies – the more credible you will seem to others who haven’t had the fortune of working with you yet.
Tips for Asking for a Testimonial
Now that you’re sold on getting a testimonial – or multiple testimonials – for your website, how do you start collecting them? Here are a few tips for getting started.
1) Make a short list of who you want to ask
Take into consideration the above points on aggregating more than one testimonial, and start to make a list of people you’d like to ask. A general rule of thumb is to vary your list. If you’re seeking full-time employment, think about asking a previous manager, a former teammate, and someone you managed, or perhaps someone you worked closely with on another team. You could also list multiple managers if you’re more junior in your career.
If you’re a freelancer, think about casting your net as wide as you can with your clients – whether it’s in the services they contract you for or your type of businesses. Alternatively, if you’re a freelancer within a specific field and you want to acquire more work within that field, you may want to really limit the scope of companies to the most prestige within that constraint (i.e., if you’re a fintech writer and you’ve written for Betterment and Carta, but also Airbnb, getting a testimonial from your Airbnb contact might be less relevant than the previous two).
2) Think about the reader of the testimonial when you’re pulling together this list
That reader may not know you, or you may be one of 100 applicants. What they may know is the name of some of the companies you’ve worked with. While it’s not mandatory, the buzzier company names can have a higher impact in terms of immediate recognition and resonance with the reader. If you have worked for or with a well-known company in the past, you may want to put that contact at the top of your testimonial outreach list.
While the quality of the company certainly matters, the substance of the testimonial will ultimately hold a lot of value as well. If you worked closely with a boss at a small company that others may not know of, but they can meaningfully speak to how well you work, that’s just as important as the buzzy names.
As you draft up this list, one thing to remember is that people are busy. Not everyone is going to respond or respond in a timely manner to you asking them to do something. We’ll have more tips on this a bit later, but don’t take it personally if you receive radio silence in return. That’s why you’ve complied a list! So head onto the next option and try again.
Determine your method of outreach
The goal of asking for testimonials is getting testimonials in return, so you want to optimize your outreach for getting the most responses. There are a few ways you can go about this, and each way should take into consideration what you know about the person you are asking. Are they better on the phone? Do you have a more focused interaction in person? Here are just a few options to consider:
1) Make a Google Form or Typeform
This will be the easiest method for you, but likely not intuitive for your testimonial writer. You can set the form with a few leading questions, aggregate the responses, and publish to your website. You can circulate the form any way you want – text message, email, WhatsApp, social media DM, but it runs the risk of feeling a little impersonal.
2) Hop on a call and take notes (or record the call and transcribe later)
Make it that much more personal by getting face time with the person you want a testimonial from. That said, if they are busy, this might be a hindrance to getting a response quickly.
3) Treat them for a coffee and ask your questions there
The busy note applies to this method as well, but they get a free coffee out of it so may be more inclined to make the time.
4) Send a personalized email (and send a thank you after)
While this is slightly higher touch than a form email, this option is likely the easiest for your testimonial writer and for yourself. Ensure your ask for the writer is clear, and let them know why it’s meaningful that it comes from them. Avoid sounding templated (like you’re copy and pasting the same email to many people on your list), and pepper in details you may want them to include in the testimonial (“remember that time we worked together on project X, and we really figured out how to solve this problem. I was thinking about that just yesterday and it made me realize you were the perfect person to reach out to for this.”).
5) Tailor your questions for the response you want
Not everyone you ask will be a writer, so think about the answers you want, and construct the questions around those. For some, it may be easier to do an exercise of writing out the perfect testimonial. From there, you can dissect exactly what questions would get you to receiving those responses. Keep in mind, if you ask a few questions, you may end up needing to Frankenstein together the testimonial from what they write (and then run it by them for approval before publishing anywhere). Let’s take an example:
“Alison was an ideal colleague, and really helped shape our marketing strategy in 2022. Not only was she a smart and leading voice in the room, but she was also just a pleasure to work with.”
Some questions you could consider asking to get you to this result:
That is just one example with a fairly generic result (sorry, Alison), but you get the idea. Start at the end and work back.
6) Make it easy for the testimonial writer
Again, remember that your testimonial writer is likely a busy person – after all, you worked together once! With that in mind, your modus operandi should be to make it as easy as possible for them, because you’re asking them a favor.
Sometimes this can come in the form of simply writing something you think they would say and getting their edit or approval on that. It’s a bit of a grey area in terms of an original testimonial, but particularly for executives or more senior colleagues, they may not have the time to draft something from scratch. You can always approach this with curiosity and kindness, and ask, “would you like me to draft something based on our experience working together for you to edit from there? I always find it much easier if I’m editing something rather than having to draft from scratch.” This gives them the option to accept the easy offer or to do the harder work of coming up with a new blurb about you, but either way, will show that you’re being mindful of there time.
If you’re looking for where to house those testimonials and all of the work, projects, and collaborations you’ve done, check out the Polywork showcase for examples of testimonials in practice.