Get LinkedIn recommendations instead of endorsements

Joseph Liu is a career consultant, keynote speaker, columnist, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast. He helps professionals relaunch their careers by more powerfully marketing their personal brands. His work is informed by 10 years of global, client-side marketing experience in the US & UK managing brands including Glad, Liquid-Plumr, Gü Puds, and Häagen-Dazs, his involvement with four major brand relaunches, and 500+ hours of professional career coaching. He now applies principles used to build & relaunch consumer brands to help professionals and business owners build & relaunch their personal brands. He's been a speaker at TEDx and MarketingWeek Live, and served as a judge for The Drum’s Social Buzz Awards.

With LinkedIn passing the 15 million member mark in the UK in early March, the online platform is now undoubtedly one of the most important social networks on which every single marketer, not to mention every professional, should be.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently released a study revealing revealed that 40 per cent of employers look at candidates’ online activity or profiles to inform recruitment decisions. With this in mind, having a robust and effective profile is more critical than ever, because a LinkedIn profile is often the first place a prospective employer, a potential business partner, or hiring manager will go to learn more about you, your professional history, and your accomplishments.

In my work as a career consultant, the topic of LinkedIn often comes up, including which sections matter and which do not, especially when you’re is trying to make a positive impression with prospective employers. Many of my clients have recently been asking me if LinkedIn Skill Endorsements are useful to display on their profiles. To put it bluntly, no. As background, LinkedIn rolled out the 1-click skill endorsements feature in late 2012, where your Connections can quickly select from a suggested tick-list of your “skills” when you pop-up at the top of their profile. People can also do this directly in your profile. Endorsements then get tallied and listed in rank order on your profile, based on how many people have vouched for you having that skill.

While I have heard arguments from people about why endorsements are useful, including how it supposedly serves as a proxy indicator for your top skills, in the context of a hiring decision, I’ve never encountered a situation where endorsements made one bit of tangible difference. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Endorsements are not objective- The actual mechanic of the LinkedIn endorsement feature immediately skews the objectivity of the scoring process because it prompts you with a list of suggested “skills” associated with an individual. This is a bit like leading the witness, and one could imagine that people are simply clicking on the options offered up because in that split second, it’s actually easier to just click on what appears instead of really thinking about whether this person possesses that skill.
  2. Endorsements are not necessarily credible- A fundamental flaw exists in the LinkedIn endorsement process. It seems any Connection can “vote” on what skill you have—even people who have never worked with you, never witnessed your work, and never seen you in a professional context. Therefore, there’s absolutely no quality control of that endorsement or the strength of the connection between the endorser and you. Some connections may not even know anything about what your specific marketing skills entail, but nothing stops them from endorsing you. This is a bit like a boxing referee serving as a judge for a figure skating competition.
  3. Endorsements tell me nothing about quality- Many of us have multiple skills. For example, off the top of my head, my professional skills include marketing strategy, brand development, and career management. I can also swim and draw. However, if you asked anyone who knows me, I absolutely stink at swimming and drawing. The point is that even though someone may be endorsing one of your “skills,” that endorsement tells me absolutely nothing about how adept, effective, or accomplished you are at exercising that skill.

If you’re a fan of having someone provide you with a meaningful stamp of approval on LinkedIn, there is a better way. Recommendations. Focus on getting recommendations from people who have worked directly with you, especially managers, close colleagues, and business partners. Recommendations are much more meaningful signal to hiring managers and potential business partners about the quality of your work, because they’re based on empirical knowledge of your actual work and concrete accomplishments from colleagues who have experienced your skills first hand. Also, as a former hiring manager, when I saw relevant recommendations on a candidate’s profile, that signalled to me that someone felt strongly enough about this individual’s effectiveness to take the time to commend this person publicly. A genuine recommendation beats out a tick-list of unverified skill endorsements any day.

My suggestion is that you try to secure at least 1 recommendation for every role you’ve had in your career, ideally from your direct manager. Some managers don’t prefer to recommend publicly on LinkedIn, but you can also get a private offline recommendation, which you then share independently whenever necessary. A good time to ask for recommendations is when you’re finishing up in a role, when your performance and accomplishments are still fresh in the minds of the person recommending you.

Visit LinkedIn’s “Requesting a Recommendation” help topic for a step-by-step guide on how to ask your connections to recommend your work.

Do you agree that Endorsements are unhelpful? Have they served you in some way? I’d welcome your opinions, additional perspectives, and candid views on this topic.

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With over eight years of client-side brand management & marketing experience at Fortune 500 FMCG and start-up companies in the US & UK, managing brands that include Glad, Liquid-Plumr, Gü Puds, and Häagen-Dazs, Joseph Liu helps professionals & small business owners relaunch their careers with resources to help them navigate career change and more powerfully market their personal brands at josephpliu.com. He's also the host of the Career Relaunch podcast, featuring inspiring stories of career change.

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