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.