There is no denying the power of LinkedIn. I still believe it is the most important social networking platform for consultants. A majority of LinkedIn’s functions are incredibly useful when applied correctly.
Recommendations can tell us so much about a person. If you see a cluster of recommendations authored around the same time you can infer when a person was job hunting. The job titles of the people authoring the recommendations can offer big clues as to whether a person’s resume is embellished. An absence of recommendation is a more tricky situation because there are so many reasons that can happen.Ultimately my point is that their is real value in recommendations.
Consistencies in the language of a recommendation speak to the true strengths of the person. If you are looking to interview a person, reading their recommendations a can allow you pre-qualify those skills and ask better questions than “What are your strengths?”.
As an individual and a candidate, your recommendations can help you be better aware of where your strengths lie. In my own profile, the word ‘conscientious’ is used by a number of people. I had never thought of myself that way but ultimately that is a critical skill for project delivery. The self-awareness driven by those recommendations help me better sell my strengths. Because of this, I make it a point to recommend people regularly.
Some experts advise transnational recommendations (i.e. trading one person a recommendation for them to author one for you) when looking for a job. Others advise pre-packaging recommendations (i.e. writing them for the person and asking them to submit them). I think the first suggestion is sound but has a tendency to create more ambiguous or generic recommendations all around rather than real substantive contributions. The other big drawback is that more astute reviewers will wonder why your boss at the summer internship is talking about your mentoring and leadership skills.
The second suggestion is a great one when done correctly. Handing some one a “canned” recommendation for yourself is counterproductive. It might help you land a job you are seeking but skews your own perspective of your career development. The better approach is to suggest topics relevant to your goals at the time. Tell them the job you are seeking, perhaps even send them the description so they can say this is what you can bring to the position.
And then there are endorsements
Endorsements from an SEO standpoint make perfect sense, they are the hashtags of the LinkedIn world, guiding keyword searches and crawls. The fact that people can directly endorse you for specific skills seems to be a great idea. If you look at the photo above, my top two endorsements are “Process Improvement” and “Cross-Functional Team Leadership”. That seems to be an ideal skillset for a consulting project manager. When a recruiter is looking for a project manager role, my job title along with those endorsement scores are going to put me on the top of their searches almost every time.
The problem is that we hopefully don’t spend a majority of our time job hunting. This makes metadata less important to the general user. In my case, LinkedIn is a way for me to hedge professional contacts with personal contacts. In other words, my friends are on other networks and professional contacts are on LinkedIn. Naturally, there is some overlap but this “line in the sand” means I spend less time managing perception in both aspects of my life.
With that in mind, I think people need to cut it out with endorsements on LinkedIn. I have two particular problems with the endorsements I receive:
1. A majority of them are unfounded.
When I say unfounded, I mean the people who have endorsed me for them cannot possibly speak with any authority about those skills. For example, I have been endorsed by 3 people for a particular skill (I don’t want to say it and offend anyone). Of those three people, only one can speak with authority about my abilities because they do that particular thing for a living. The other two endorsers actually are incredibly bad at this skill so unless this endorsement is based on comparison (which they should never be) they shouldn’t even be thinking about this skill.
A better example is “Process Improvement”. I mentioned earlier that this is an important skill for my job. I can actually split these 16 endorsers down the middle, eight of them can’t have any idea how good I am or am not at process improvement. However, eight of them can speak to my skills and more importantly three of those eight people have spoke to those skills through recommendations. Therein lies my point, carefully choose endorsements based on your whether or not you can speak to those skills. Otherwise, it just looks like a lazy tit-for-tat solicitation.
2. Ambiguity of terms
Further to my first point, if you cannot speak to a particular skill, why are you in a position to endorse someone for it? One of my favorites is “retail”, yes I worked for a huge retail company for the better part of my adult life but I worked in Operations Management in logistics. I honestly don’t believe I know much about retail, I am not a salesman, I have never done any merchandising and other than a stint working at a movie theater in my teens, I have very little customer service experience. LinkedIn networkers need to be more selective in their terms.
However, the users are not entirely to blame. The way that this process has been automated on the site really sets people up to endorse people aimlessly. In writing this post, I visited a long-time friend’s profile and was presented with the following option immediately:
The button to go ahead and endorse for these skills is much more noticeable than any other part of it and so it is easy to slip and submit. The same sort of option box comes up when accepting. Not being a particularly ‘fun’ social network, users have a tendency to hastily move through profiles which makes the problem even worse. Even though LinkedIn’s developers have set things up this way, I think we all need to slow down and do things right.
Treat LinkedIn like any other professional interaction. For most of us, with our use of LinkedIn we are not working against a deadline. Thus, we have the luxury of being methodical and should seek quality over quantity. Happy networking.