A reader admits there’s fake stuff in LinkedIn Recommendations and asks whether these “networking” tools really work, in the November 10, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question

LinkedIn recommendationsHow important are LinkedIn “recommendations?” Some are true, some are made up and a person feels an obligation to lay it on. How can you improve them?

My issue is that I have been out of the job market for four years, my recommendations are old, and I don’t have many current recommendations that are relevant. I also wonder about “endorsements” and why a request to “connect” through a mutual contact rarely goes anywhere. Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

Let’s start with the basics: Your LinkedIn profile is your calling card. You should absolutely have one. But your profile doesn’t “market” or “sell” you. All it does is confirm you exist when someone looks you up.

LinkedIn recommendations

“Recommendations” are the section on a LinkedIn profile where people post nice things about you.

I pay no attention at all to LinkedIn recommendations and I don’t know anyone that does, except perhaps some wishful job seekers and naive recruiters. It doesn’t hurt to have recommendations. If you want to game this silly system, ask folks who posted the old ones to copy/delete/repost under new date. But I would not put much time into any of this.

What do LinkedIn recommendations mean?

Here’s the test for a recommendation posted on your LinkedIn profile: Would the person be willing to call an employer to provide a detailed reference for you on the phone and to answer questions about you?

My guess is that most won’t. That makes LinkedIn recommendations nice but not very meaningful. They’re window dressing. No employer is going to hire you because someone larded your profile with praise. They’re going to want to talk with your references.

The same is true about your list of “connections.” Should an employer be impressed if you have 5,000 contacts? I’m not. LinkedIn links are free. The ease with which LinkedIn allows us to portray “connections” makes them questionable at best. Then we have “endorsements” — I call this “credibility with a click.” It’s meaningless.

LinkedIn’s value to you

What would be more useful is to ask those same people (your fans who post recommendations) if they’d be willing to (a) serve as actual references and (b) make personal introductions via e-mail or phone. My guess is most cannot because they don’t know you or your work well enough.

The main value of LinkedIn to you is that it’s a huge digital directory you can use to check up on people you’re dealing with or want to meet. However, we all know that messaging your Connection A via LinkedIn to get introduced to their Connection B is not likely to get you anywhere. Times I’ve tried this, I get this reply: “Sorry, I’m connected to B but I don’t know her at all.”

That’s because connections are free, so most are worthless. You might as well search a phonebook to get an introduction! The best way to get introduced to a person is to actually talk with someone that knows them. Use the phone! (See Networking For Introverts: How to say it.)

LinkedIn’s value to employers

The main value of LinkedIn to employers is to to “check you out” after they’ve used other, better means to get interested in you. The problem is if they can’t find you there. So by all means, have a good, simple LinkedIn profile that “proves” you exist!

But don’t count on it doing much more. Contrary to what LinkedIn “profile writers” might tell you, your LinkedIn profile does not “market” you. At best, your profile is your resume — and it’s passive. Sure, loads of recruiters search LinkedIn for keywords to find candidates on LinkedIn. But all they find are keywords — not your value.

LinkedIn is not a professional network

At its inception, LinkedIn was founded as an exclusive professional network in which members “connected” only with people they knew or did business with. That’s where its integrity and value were to reside.

But the day LinkedIn turned into just another job board, selling “seats” to recruiters and “top positioning” to job seekers, the network turned into a souped-up digital phonebook. Founders Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner cashed out — and sold out a promising, powerful system of business relationships.

While LinkedIn offers millions of nodes in its network (that’s you — a node), the value of connections between nodes is negligible. LinkedIn makes money by selling access to its nodes, or members, to employers. It has abandoned the integrity of the links between people. That’s why connections are free. That’s why a node (a LinkedIn member) is not likely to introduce you to another.

The best way to meet people who can help you is through other people that actually have shared professional experiences with you. People that have gotten to know you. People who will speak up for you and who will engineer an introduction or referral to an employer that trusts them. LinkedIn simply does not facilitate that.

Invest in strong personal links

Most people on LinkedIn who don’t know you aren’t going to introduce you to their contacts – I won’t! So, limit your use of LinkedIn to looking people up — but only after someone has already made a trusted, personal introduction that includes an endorsement and a recommendation. There’s your truly valuable connection between nodes!

This means talking with people and developing relationships. LinkedIn messaging has become just another channel of junk mail that people ignore. Junk mail is anything from someone you don’t know who clearly doesn’t know you.

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s who you really know that matters, and who really knows you. If you and your endorsers really know one another, what are you doing using LinkedIn to get introduced to “connections”? Make a phone call! And make it personal!

How do you use LinkedIn? Is it really an effective “professional network” or just a dumpster of all resumes? What could be done to make LinkedIn better? Most important, how do you really connect with people to advance your career?

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21 Comments
  1. LinkedIn is quickly becoming worse and worse and not just because of the ease with which we can all make worthless “connections.” It’s turning into Facebook.

    I’m seeing more and more political posts. It’s one thing to, say, discuss a proposed government regulation/budget/etc. and how it could affect your specific industry. Nothing wrong with that. But people are posting outright political things.

    For example, I just checked it, and the first two posts were about the election…..and they weren’t exactly links to news articles or insightful analyses about the economy or pandemic or foreign affairs. Straight up partisan posts.

    I don’t know why people are doing this. You want to argue political stuff on Facebook/Twitter/etc., fine. That’s kinda what they’re there for. LinkedIn is supposed to be for business, which means you should conduct yourself in a professional manner.

    But it’ll probably just get worse. As pointed out in Nick’s thoughts above, it’s best just for maintaining a presence so that someone can “verify” you actually exist……and nothing more.

    • @Chris: I’ve noticed the same thing regarding all of the political rants. Like you, I wouldn’t mind, and would even welcome a political discussion about a new law or regulation, or the repeal of one provided that it is tangential to workplace issues and employment and business (or how a government agency will now function or not). Only yesterday I got a message on LI that was such a nasty political rant filled with obscenities that I was surprised it got past whoever is supposed to be monitoring posts. I’m going to try to figure out a way to block that particular person, so his political rants won’t even show up in my inbox.

      I joined LI more than 10 years ago, when it was still a way for people to connect with others professionally. I thought of LI as the 21st century version of the Rolodex. I’m still on it, but I only connect to those I know. I get requests to connect from people I don’t know, and I ignore them.

      I wish they had stuck with their original format, and not become what they are today. I don’t find it helpful.

      And yes, I agree, that being on LI is good only for the purpose of letting employers verify that you exist, but that’s really about it. And even that is silly–if you’re an employer and the way you verify whether a candidate is real or not is to search for him/her on LI, what do they do if someone isn’t on LI? Not everyone is. Or what if someone is playing with them, and creates a fake LI persona? The employer will find the fake persona on LI, and won’t know the difference.

  2. Nick:

    I am a big fan and I find great value in your advice. However, I disagree with today’s post.

    If used as it was originally intended – and I was one of the first to sign on in the early 2000s – the platform provides value. Speaker Thom Singer coined the “Coffee, Beer, or Meal” rule, which suggests essentially what you stated above – only connect with people you already know because you’ve spent quality time with them.

    During the pandemic, and because I am looking for work, I’ve proactively used LinkedIn to find my way “into” certainl job prospect organizations, engaged decision makers, and landed some interviews because of it.

    I also updated my recommendations – all of whom WOULD serve as a “real” phone reference if I needed them to be.

    Like EVERYTHING else, it comes down to integrity – of the strength and REAL knowledge of the people in your LinkedIn network, and how people use it to engage others intelligently, who in the old days wouldn’t necessarily pick up a call from you.

    If used as it was intended, which I can control for myself, LinkedIn enhances credibility and establishes access..

    • So how many people in your Linked In network actually possess the integrity or real knowledge you speak of? I’d submit it’s small. If Linked In, or pajama blogging, works for some (and I’d further wager few), to land interviews, well and good. But I’ve never seen, nor heard of anyone in my world, who’s ever landed a job, let alone an interview, from Linked In.

    • @Michael: I’m glad you’re making Linked work for you and I agree, it’s all in how you use it. I was an early adopter, too, but I never signed up for premium. A good LinkedIn primer was written by Jason Alba (there’s a CD, too) that goes into the ins and outs. But I think that LinkedIn has strayed so far from that original mission that users today rely on Linked’s main service — as a job board. I’ll let them speak for themselves on this thread. Thanks for the counterpoint!

  3. I’m constantly flooded with Linked In requests from people I’ve never heard of, nor am interested in making nice with. I’m not on FB or Linked In, nor do I have any intentions of ever being on them, nor using them, yet I still get this garbage on my business email.
    Chris is spot on right. It’s been nothing but political opinions, or scams to try and sell me something dopey (Viagra, some obscure recruiter or headhunter, political activists on the left side of the aisle, etc.).

    • TO ALL:

      I have deleted a series of posts on this thread that were inappropriately political and partisan.

      I know emotions are running high about American politics and government, and those issues affect people’s careers. But Ask The Headhunter is not the forum for it. I know sometimes we all get triggered to go off track. It happens to me, too.

      My intent is not to stifle your comments. It’s to avoid letting this forum turn into a free-for-all that attracts visitors only because of heated political talk. We all know what those websites turn into. We have one topic here: our careers. And I brag about the incredibly high standard of discourse on Ask The Headhunter. That’s due to you.

      The posts I removed were from people who contribute good, relevant opinions, advice and information on this forum about careers — I don’t want you to stop posting. Please keep it on topic, and much as politics might affect career issues, please keep partisan politics out of the forum.

      Thanks for your understanding and cooperation.

      Best,
      Nick Corcodilos
      Ask The Headhunter

  4. Groups, if properly managed, have value and deliver more upon the original premise of LinkedIn before it yielded to what Chris and Antonio discussed.

    I have managed an Italian to English translators group for the last 10 years. It is private, a good place to exchange ideas, ask questions, and find opportunities. As the moderator, I approve each application, do not allow any non-translation/language learning posts, and also ensure that recruiters follow our rules.

    As Michael noted, integrity is integral. My group has over 1300 serious and highly qualified members who joined to discuss work-related topics and help those new to the translation industry.

  5. While I largely agree with Nick, I have found it useful in my very niche job category. Through LinkedIn I have heard from recruiters about both of the job opening in my field in the last decade. (One was interesting, but was not offered.) So, if you are in a small job market, LinkedIn will be useful, but if the job category is large enough to have recruiters specialize in, no.

  6. While I agree that LinkedIn is basically a glorified resume, it has been a useful way to keep in contact with former coworkers and professional acquaintances. Kevin and I got along very well, but he changed jobs recently. I saw he landed somewhere new, so I reached out and it was wonderful to reconnect.

    It also warms conversations with new people. I have a call with someone, look them up on LinkedIn, and see we went to the same college. Nice! Or they worked somewhere and I can say, “oh, did you know Jane?” Given so many virtual interactions these days, it’s nice to know where they are located so my “how’s the weather” icebreaker can be a bit more intelligent.

    I believe it’s under-used as a referral source. I’m happy to ask someone if they’d like an introduction to “Joe” – even if I don’t really know them. As long as you aren’t misleading, most people respond favorably and I respect them if they say no. I frequently encourage job seekers to see if I’m connected with someone they want to meet. I’m more picky about knowing the person asking for the referral.

    Where LinkedIn drives me crazy is the poorly constructed and poorly researched inbound sales pitches. That’s not LinkedIn’s fault, though – I blame salespeople who don’t understand the value of building real relationships. “Hey, you exist, so therefore you must want to give me money for my product!”

  7. LinkedIn is the world’s largest annotated phone book. That’s all that it is. In today’s world, people look you up before they call you. Your profile needs to be well done with a professional picture. Nick is correct in saying that connections on LinkedIn are as close to worthless as anything gets.

  8. Linkedin is filled with posts overwhelmingly filled with meaningless business jargon used as a substitute for thinking critically and clearly about any specific quality or direction. My eyes glaze over when I read the same jargon used in countless combinations such as “Scalable,” “Ecosystem,” “Vertical,” “Empower,” “Reach Out,” “Robust,” “Take it to the next level,” “Best Practices,” “Ninja,” “Core Competency,” and so on. Other posts are people expressing their gratitude for getting a job at Company A (flattery will get you nowhere,) motivational posts that depict people overcoming increasingly bizarre disabilities, and people selling motivational junk for the gullible, then self-anointed gurus who seem to know how everyone should live their lives. All of these cover 99.9% of the crap on Linkedin. Then Linkedin spews out tons of email for suggesting jobs that have no relevance (sorry AI.)

  9. I would like to add fuel based on my experience since the founders of LinkedIn Sold-Out to Microsoft!

    I was a Victim of Fraud (Attempted Romance & Bitcoin) by 2 eventually revealed Fake Profiles. After reporting this incident to proper authorities worldwide, I considered legal action after I did not receive a decent human response from LinkedIn customer service (I only received an ‘AI bot’ response.

    Lesson Learned: Carve time for due diligence on the name of the person and profile picture on two search engines. Include their names in Romance Scams. Write a personal note to that individual who asked to follow or join your group.

    Be Aware of whom you allow on all social media platforms.

    • Yes, unfortunately LI is also used for fraud. I was once invited to contact with a profile, which claimed to have worked in a distinct role with my current employer since 2010.

      Never mind that the company was founded in 2012 and has never had such roles. And, the whole company is less than 20 people, including the board and all, so we know who is who.

    • This is exactly the reason why I stay off social media, including LI. I do not FB, Tweet, Gram, or Tok. An attempt at swiping my identity in 2016 was enough reason for me not to indulge. I’ve done just fine without any of it and using ATH’s advice. A “personal” network has always served me best so far. LI and other similar boards asking you to post your resume is like cracking the door open for crafty ID thieves these days.

      • @Alie: It’s a sad commentary that one of the greatest inventions in our society has been so perverted. More sad that it isn’t the first time. Phone lines have turned into sewer pipes of spam. U.S. mail is a fire hose of garbage mail. Radio, TV and the Internet are garbage trucks delivering moronic sales pitches. (My favorite is Big Pharma, which has stepped right in to take over for the tobacco industry. Think about it: Big Pharma is probably the most frequent advertiser on TV, whether broadcast or streaming. What do they try to entice you to buy? Controlled substances: pharmaceuticals that only a doctor can prescribe! WTF?? Clearly, this pays off or they wouldn’t do it.)

        I admit, I’m not helping when I let GoogleAds appear on this website to help cover the costs of maintaining it. The irony is, GoogleAd revenue to sites like this one has dropped incredibly. Most of the cost comes out of my pocket now. Can we wean ourselves off all of this stuff? Can we use it more selectively?

        • Read Lost Connections by Johann Hari; or watch his Ted talk (4M+ views.)

  10. I like Linkedin for business contacts…people that I do not necessarily want on my personal social media.

    My rules are simple. If I get a Friend request, it has to be more than the canned “add me to your network” (exceptions: 1) someone I know, like a relative 2) we are standing there talking and they pull out their phone and send a request) and there has to be a story…even it is “I met them at a networking event.” Unless someone I know is actually a public person, I refuse Friend requests from people with thousands of followers.

    Times Linkedin has been useful:
    Asking about a hire that is two or three levels removed.
    Asking about a workplace or employer from former employees.
    Getting introductions through someone I know.
    Giving introductions to people I know.
    Following up with people I have met at various professional events to talk shop and exchange advice.
    I know someone who found a [legitimate] job in another city.
    Making fun of some of the truly What The Hell??? profile pictures.

    I agree with the comment that Linkedin is a glorified phone book/Rolodex. I see the best use as a networking tool. Just like at professional events, sometimes you have to get past the “financial planners” and insurance salesmen to talk shop with others, there can be noise on Linkedin. But it is useful for what it is.

  11. Linked In is Facebook for my career. I pick and choose who I connect with and who I ignore.
    If you are some dude from India with no photo trying to recruit me for a position that isn’t even CLOSE to what I do, you get bozofiltered.

  12. I’m on LinkedIn, & like some, was an early adopter. As others have pointed out, it was especially useful in it’s early years when it was perceived, and perceived itself as a business network.

    I joined before I was into recruiting. My reason was aligned to what I’ll call “network development & management” The downside of networking is it takes tender loving care..If it’s totally memory based you don’t have one. So I envisioned that if you linked to people you know and want to keep in view, if everyone checked in frequently, everyone was kept informed, could follow up if desired, and your network was stored in a defacto data base. That sort of worked well enough. And in the early days you were informed if someone checked you out. Which was a useful network development aid.
    (a pet peeve is other than some teasers, that feature was moved to Premium which I find a cheap bait & switch trick)

    Part of making it useful was what you can call data base management. As noted don’t clog up your links with people trolling for #’s, Facebooking to just connect to connect. Stick to people you know and/or people who make a good case for mutual benefit to linking.

    As a recruiter I found it to be a useful source for leads. Still can be. As long as you manage expectations. I found good leads on it especially before other recruiter started using it as a source.

    Recommendations. I read cover letters, So I read recommendations. Mining for insights..prepare me better for interviews, and as Nick said, possible references. I’ve given recommendations to, & I’ve been recommended by people I know. That’s the value test. As far as I’m concerned these recommendations that have value because they/I knew we were in a position to make them. that is we worked closely enough to give accurate/valid insights.

    But I’ve also received them from people who could not possibly back up what they’re saying. They were not close enough to have an opinion.

    Endorsements. Ditto, but worse. People click on them to be nice and they come from strangers who can’t have a clue.

    Jobs: An info source at best. Just another job board. But they can provide info to guide a real search on your own.

    In sum. To me LinkedIn is a tool from which you choose functions that provide recruiting/job hunting information and better to help manage a network. But it’s getting cluttered, & job boardish. and a trigger for the delete key.

    • @Don: Like you, my original policy was clear but I changed it and explained why in an article:

      My profile used to say: “Don’t ask me to join your LinkedIn network if we don’t know one another or if we haven’t done business together.”

      That was a lofty standard, and one I maintain in the real world.

      If you don’t get it, think about it this way. If I get a call from an employer (or any business person) that wants to check your references, I need to know what I’m talking about, right? If I don’t know you well enough to give you references, why would I accept you as a LinkedIn connection? We’d both look like idiots.

      But that was then, and this is now. Welcome to the new world of LinkedIn b.s. connections, where phony relationships are the coin of the realm and everyone can pretend to know one another.

      The rest of the story is here:

      https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/6896/join-my-linkedin-gang-bang

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