My friend Jack is looking for new career opportunities. Jack noticed his friend Larry had endorsed Moe, a senior leader at a company he’s trying to get into. Jack asked Larry to tell him about Moe, figuring if he knew him well enough to endorse him, he’d know him well enough to offer a warm intro.
“Who’s Moe?” Larry replied.
“You endorsed him on LinkedIn!” said Jack.
“Oh. Him. I don’t know really know him.” Larry said. “And I just clicked that stuff to get rid of it on the screen.”
This is a true story. While the names have been changed out of respect for my still-employed-friend, it also sums up the core problem everyone seems to have with LinkedIn Endorsements. They take zero effort. They’re a hit-and-run social interaction. While it’s easy to blame LinkedIn for making this feature too easy to use, as my friend Tim Burrows says so well, “A social platform is no better or worse than the people that use it. And more importantly, how they use it.”
The real issue I see is that improper use of this feature creates more noise than value. That said, I believe there are six ways we can all improve LinkedIn Endorsements so they’re more authentic and real for everyone.
According to LinkedIn, Endorsements are a good way to enhance your professional identity. They enhance your LinkedIn profile with skills you and your LinkedIn network believe you have. The more people that endorse you, theoretically the better at that skill you are. And while it’s clear that people are using the feature (over 1 billion endorsements given as of March 2013) I wonder how many of those endorsements are legit. And by legit, I mean accurate.
Why the heck was I endorsed for THAT?
When you endorse someone, two things happen. One, the recipient gets notified that you’ve endorsed them for an existing or new skill. The second thing that happens almost instantly is the recipient quickly reflects on why you endorsed them. According to some quick-and-dirty research* I recently performed, 80% of respondents indicated that they’ve received a LinkedIn endorsement from someone and questioned why.
In Tim’s case, when he receives a shiny-new endorsement for “Hostage Negotiations” and “SWAT” (two skills he doesn’t actually possess), these endorsements say far more about the endorser than it does about him. It means the person endorsing him really has no idea what he does professionally. So while the endorsement was probably given with the best of intentions, it does more harm than good. As a savvy social media pro, Tim declines the endorsement – and develops a less-than-favorable impression of the endorser.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out these “skills” we’re all endorsing are filling LinkedIn’s coffers with information to be leveraged, sold and repackaged at some point. And good for them. They’re running a business, and they’ve found a way to grow their core asset – personal data. Personally, if I worked at LinkedIn, I’d be concerned about how accurate any of this data is.
How we will all make LinkedIn Endorsements better
I do like LinkedIn Endorsements. I like giving them, and I really like getting them. I’m often humbled that people take the time to give me props in a public way. I’d just like to see folks use them more effectively so our collective impression of the tool was better. And now that skills and endorsements are available on mobile apps, (LinkedIn just dropped an iOS app update adding this feature) I suspect they’ll be used even more broadly.
Accordingly, here are six tips I’ve found helpful when using the feature. Hopefully they’ll also make Endorsements more authentic and real for everyone.
3 tips for giving LinkedIn Endorsements
- Only endorse people you’ve worked with. While this might seem limiting, the reality is how can you really know how effectively someone can use a skill? Here’s my own litmus test. I always make sure that if someone asks me why I endorsed them, I can describe in detail how I’ve seen or experienced that skill in action.
- Limit the number of endorsements to 2-3 skills. There’s nothing less authentic (to me) about Endorsements than seeing the same person endorsing someone for every skill they’ve got listed. Seriously.
- If you’re endorsing for a new skill, explain why. Send an email or LinkedIn message to your connection explaining why you think they should add it. This will allow your connection to make an informed decision about including it. Especially if you feel strongly they have the skill.
3 tips for getting LinkedIn Endorsements
- Focus on quality versus quality. This will be tricky. Avoid accepting every endorsement/new skill you’re given. Does your kid’s soccer coach really know about your ability to manage a sales pipeline? Probably not.
- Don’t feel obliged to return an endorsement. While LinkedIn positions Endorsements as a quid-pro-quo feature, I think this forces people into uncomfortable territory. My advice: only return an endorsement when you feel someone deserves it. Not when LinkedIn thinks so.
- Make a habit of trimming and tuning the skills you have. It’s a good practice to constantly review the skills and endorsements you have – and also reviewing who’s provided the endorsement. For example, if your boss from 10 years and 4 jobs ago endorsed you for negotiation, and you haven’t actually negotiated anything since then, is it really a relevant and current skill? And if you’re so inclined, explain to someone why you’ve removed it. A little courtesy still goes a long way.
Want to get noticed? Focus on LinkedIn Recommendations instead
I know whenever I’m about to pull the trigger on a new hire, I check out a candidates profile and skim their skills section. But I always read any recommendations others have written about them. A candidate’s endorsements have never informed a hiring decision I’ve made, and it seems I’m not alone. In the same research, 93% of hiring managers indicated endorsements have never played a role in a hiring decision. And perhaps unsurprisingly, 98% of hiring managers value recommendations more than endorsements.
Here’s another nugget of wisdom from my friend Sulemaan Ahmed about LinkedIn Recommendations. Consider them an smart investment in your SEO future. Particularly their impact on your personal search results. While LinkedIn recommendations are currently not available via Google, it’s almost a foregone conclusion they will be at some point. And when they do, your story – and the value you provide – will be told in someone else’s voice. So make sure the story people read is one that you want told.
Spend your reputation currency wisely
So here’s my challenge to you. The next time you’re inclined to endorse someone, ask yourself: can I offer a real, tangible example of that skill? If you can’t, don’t endorse them. And the next time someone endorses you, ask yourself: Do I really have this skill? Should I add it? Or would my profile be better off without it?
Your LinkedIn network (and your personal brand) will thank you.