Why Your LinkedIn Recommendations Are Virtually Worthless.

Andy Foote | Advice, Endorsements, Recommendations, Recruiters, Skills
16 Aug 2012
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I doubt that the somewhat provocative statement, that LinkedIn Recommendations are worthless, will come as news to you. Admit it, you always had a sneaking suspicion that something was not quite right with this less than transparent and apparently reciprocally geared rating system. I want to emphasize ‘Virtually’ in the header, you see this part is key to the point I wish to make. Virtual is often a poor substitute for actual. An actual reference from a trusted or respected source will always have more credibility than a virtual recommendation, procured from a random connection.

 

When we apply for a job, we are usually asked to give 3 references. On LinkedIn it is common to see 10+ recommendations on a Profile. We inherently distrust and discount Profiles with 20+ recommendations, we regard this as gilding the Lilly and more than likely fake. Social media platforms invite tremendous scrutiny and our tribal outlook makes us very wary of strangers bringing gifts. The same suspicion is leveled at so-called ‘LIONs” (LinkedIn Open Networkers) who boast of having thousands of Connections. How real are those connections? How many people can you remain authentically engaged with? Quality over quantity, is the preferred modus operandi.

 

Most people know how easy it is to come by recommendations on LinkedIn. It’s a simple matter of requesting them from your Connections and you can even choose not to publish them on your Profile, if they are not glowing enough. What normally happens is that the person requesting the recommendation, suggests appropriate wording. Therefore, all recommendations are effusive and positive. Don’t bother reading them to look for teachable moments or lapses in judgement. Sometimes, mutual back scratching provides recommendations for each conspirator. Because of this, they lack credibility and carry no weight. It is a fact that LinkedIn recommendations have no bearing on someone’s ability to do a job. Recommendations have become mere window dressing and just like window dressing: nobody is buying it. Badges on braces – bling that can be bought. Recruiters have better tools to size up an applicant. They can run background checks, go deep into your work history and build a comprehensive candidate profile using a huge variety of trusted resources. In essence, they search for and find, verified, objective data.

 

It would be a different proposition if LinkedIn recommendations were anchored to a specific project, assignment or aspect of a job. Much as eBay feedback is linked to a transaction. For this to work, LinkedIn would have to provide a system which identified reciprocal recommendations and highlighted these. People would then be able to decide whether they were merit or favor based. It would also need specific rating criteria, to avoid the fluffy and non-precise endorsements. For example, linking Skills with Recommendations, if implemented well, could transform a worthless score into something with some currency and use. Think of it as a virtual 360 evaluation provided by your colleagues, clients and contacts. Hope you’re listening, LinkedIn!

 

[UPDATE: October 5th 2012]
It would seem that LinkedIn are indeed listening! A little over a week ago, a brand new feature was revealed: ‘Endorsements’ have been introduced to allow anyone you are connected with (your 1st degree contacts) the option of giving you a thumbs up in respect to a particular skill. I think this is an important step in the right direction and shows that LinkedIn understands that Recommendations are failing to add value on the LinkedIn platform. Of course, Endorsements are just as prone to reciprocity and solicitation as Recommendations but at least everyone understands and takes Endorsements for what they are: public stamps of approval. Recommendations are stronger and more affirmative in nature and ought to be given by Referees, directly to the person requesting them. Listing multiple Recommendations on a public profile diminishes their neutrality and therefore, their effectiveness. I’d like to see a maximum of 3 Recommendations listed per Profile or better still, 3 people that can be asked for references. When 47 people recommend you, I can’t see the wood from the trees. I think you are a Recommendation whore and I worry about the lack of awareness exhibited by this choice. Endorsements are a clever addition to Skills, crowdsourcing ‘talent’ in this way is going to be useful for anyone who needs to find category leaders in a particular skill or field. Over time, as more people add their votes, this granular analysis of professional ability ought to become more accurate and useful. Getting people to ‘like’ anything about you does wonders for engagement, as we’ve all observed on other social community platforms.

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18 Comments

  1. Jane Murphy says:

    You’ve made a strong case against. Why are we including them in our profiles? “It is a fact that linkedin recommendations have no bearing on the ability to do a job”? It would seem to me that they give a prospective employer some information with respect to ability to do a job. Surely the linkedin recommendations are more revealing than “yes he/she worked here from December 2003 until March of 2005 and our policy is that I share no more than that with you”, which is what HR people have to offer these days.

    I’m not convinced although I do agree that more than 3 makes no sense.

  2. Andy Foote says:

    Thanks Jane. I think the information they provide an employer is ticking the box variety of ‘can present well on a Social Media site’. Not revealing in the slightest, since they are pre-approved and solicited. It would be like having your Mom sat next to you at interview, comforting but not that helpful.

  3. J.P. Brown says:

    I would say that LinkedIn recommendations only have value if the prospective employer already knows and trusts the person providing the recommendation. In those instances, a recommendation can be helpful.

    If the employer does not know the person providing the recommendation, then the latter is, for all intents and purposes, a nobody, and their opinion will not likely receive serious weight.

  4. Linda Cooper says:

    I look to see the dates on the recommendations first to see are these “forced” (sent out to many people just to look good) or are they genuine from people who actually have something great to say about the person. Forced or coerced recommendations tend to have dates that are close together.

    As for using them to evaluate for a job, I still want a reference list to call and speak to directly, as well as past employers to email for the standard “yes, they worked here and were satisfactory” form letters. Many employers are unable to give anything but a standard form for reference due to legal concerns.

  5. Rod Burkert says:

    Interesting article. I am self-employed (have been since 2000 and hope to always be). I do not “do” reciprocal recommendations. The recommendations I have are for work done for past clients (not past employers). I am pleased to be able to tell prospective clients that I have these recommendations and that they should feel free to contact any of the parties making the recommendations.

  6. Leonid S. Knyshov says:

    For a consultant, LinkedIn provides a very nice way to collect customer recommendations in one place.

    When I ask my customers to write a recommendation for me, they often ask me to write them what I want them to say.

    In that spirit, a solicited endorsement on LinkedIn is valid. After all, you can click through to see that the person who is recommending me is not fake. The endorsement can also be revoked, which is important to me.

    I love the individual skill endorsements that were rolled out recently.

    I also love that LinkedIn now lets you re-position sections to put skills front and center at the top. My recommendations are at the top and so are my skills. My employment history is less important.

    You should write about that. ;)

    • Andy Foote says:

      Why don’t you just write the Recommendation for yourself Leonid? I predict that Recommendations will be removed by LinkedIn, they lack credibility and are simply not useful. Many recruiter friends agree.

      • Leonid S. Knyshov says:

        From the perspective of a jobseeker, you may be right. I would discount recommendations from people outside the organization unless the jobseeker was actively involved with multiple clients.

        If their direct manager is saying nice things and does not revoke those words after the jobseeker leaves the company, that is not a bad thing.

        Obviously, no one will let negative feedback appear on their professional profile. We have Yelp for that. :)

        From the perspective of a service provider, I would trust a LinkedIn Recommendation that is linked to a real person who approves what the consultant said. The alternative is a block of text on a website that carries zero accountability.

        Most of my recommendations were written by my customers in their own words unsolicited. A couple were written by me and then approved by the customer because the customer said “Well, I don’t know how to describe what exactly you did for us, so please write it and I will post it for you.” Writing a recommendation is a form of marketing and not everyone is good at it.

        I try to get my customers to talk about the things I did for them on video, but I also ask them to write me a recommendation on LinkedIn for the purposes of keeping everything in one place.

        I have, as of this writing, 13 factual recommendations from 12 people on my profile and they will stay there for a long time.

        When this feature is used correctly, it is very far from worthless. I personally think that it is the best way to manage a service provider’s references with full accountability.

        • Andy Foote says:

          Thanks Leonid, I think the main problem with Recommendations is that unlike private responses from Referees, any public supportive statement (including Endorsements) lacks neutrality and perhaps authenticity. One of my HR friends says: As a hiring manager, I view endorsements from managers as positive, reviews from peers as neutral, and reviews from employees as negative. If I was looking to hire you I would be seeking your other customers out and getting their views direct.

  7. Leonid S. Knyshov says:

    True. I don’t think they were ever designed to be neutral. I would argue that most are authentic. After all, the person endorsing you is permanently linked to that endorsement. I wouldn’t write an endorsement that is not true for someone because that would damage my own credibility.

    It’s marketing copy.

    I see them as the same thing as me posting a testimonial from a customer on my website. In fact, I’ve done just that and retained the click-through link to the original profile.

    Normal text-based testimonials on websites carry little accountability. “Steve is great. He installed Windows XP on 20 desktops and setup a great antivirus that can be managed from a server.” – John T. What are the odds that “John T.” actually exists?

    If you are doing due diligence on a potential candidate, then you will dig deeper and seek out references from people who did not write a public endorsement.

    You might want to also write about how people can optimize LinkedIn profile through re-arranging the section. It’s a relatively new feature that most people don’t know about.

  8. Hi Just came accross this blog.Amazing marketing tips from people here. Definitely worth coming back for sure..Keep up the good stuff!

  9. [...] by people who may not be in a position to endorse someone’s skill. I already mentioned that I’m no fan of Recommendations but Endorsements are not much of an improvement, yes they bring more specificity to the [...]

  10. Burkey says:

    Hi..thanks for the article. I didn’t realize “endorsements” was just a thumbs up thing that you don’t write. That seems even easier to gather than rec’s, so it’s funny you feel like it’s a step in the right direction..seems like more of the same to me.

    I’ve got a really nice recommendation that I cannot “Unhide.” I have tried and tried. I never hid it to begin with. Now I can’t unhide it. LinkedIn gives me the option, I click it, and it takes me to my email box and does not put the rec back on my profile.
    I will go now and try to figure out, where to see the thumbs ups. Because I’ve gotten notifications on these “endorsements’ through email, but cannot see them anywhere on my profile. I added the skills, but still see nothing. Even cleared cache and cookies.

    • rezzrovv says:

      I totally agree with you here. The “endorsements” are far worse than recommendations. I have so many stupid, crap endorsements from people that don’t have the first clue as to the nature of what they are actually endorsing it makes the whole thing worse than simply pointless. It creates noise. With the written recommendations, you at least people can show they know what the hell they are talking about or not and not just clicking a button. Linkdin is become a farce.

  11. When reading LinkedIn rules, we can see that 3 recommendations are needed to have a 100% complete profil. 100% completed profiles are welcome by LinkedIn’s algorithm and they better come up in results than incomplete profiles.
    Someone from Linkedin told me that 100% complete profiles are 12 times seen or visible than incomplete profiles.

    http://www.linkedin.com/in/cyrilbladier

    • Andy Foote says:

      Thanks Cyril – you’re clearly one of the few people in this world to deserve the label “LinkedIn Expert”. I appreciate your contribution and interest in the blog.

  12. Makeyourdaddyproud says:

    This article just confirms what i’ve believed in all along: time wasting stock market webmasters with their eyes filled with dollar signs of fake money, offering no value for your time on the site. Guess what? If you want to be taken seriously, you actually have to work hard at it, use real people, get real people to spend time advocating you, get real people to share your past work. Anything on the web is becoming digital hot CO2 gas … Worthless.

    Dump that laptop and work hard at manual references and they will rise above the digital CO2.

    Sites like LI and FB are simply vehicles to avoid properly earned and respected relationships. The sooner you get your head out of the sand, the better person you will be.

    • Iain says:

      I’m a contract IT Project/Programme manager and have several recommendations from clients that I’ve delivered projects too. Mainly IT Directors or Senior Business Managers.
      For me it backs up my CV with comments from people who have no vested interest in me other than confirming I delivered projects for them and they were happy with my work.
      As a career contractor I believe its a vehicle to demonstrate delivery of work not just a CV account of the work.

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