6 Reasons I Hate the LinkedIn “Recommendation” Feature

6 Reasons I Hate the LinkedIn “Recommendation” Feature

by Kerry Scott on 19 January 2009

  1. It’s public. Some things just aren’t meant to be done in front of the whole world.  When I’m checking references and the person I’m talking to cannot think of a single constructive thing to say about the candidate…well, that’s just not credible.  Because the reviews you read on LinkedIn are public, though, they tend to be devoid of anything that really tells you who this person really is or how he’ll fit into the organization.  “Fit” is a key reason that reference-checking is important, and universally glowing reviews don’t help at all in that regard.  When recommendations are given in some sort of live, interactive format, the questions and answers can be more honest.  In the long run, everyone is better served when the candidate gets only the right job.
  2. It dilutes your reference pool. Most people only have a few colleagues they use as references.  There are only so many people who know and like you well enough to be entrusted with a task like this.  Most companies, though, will want to talk to people other than those who have already written letters of recommendation in some form or another.  If you’ve used your best references for your LinkedIn profile, you’re going to have to scramble to get someone to give the real references when the time comes.
  3. It doesn’t allow for cross-examination.  When I conduct a reference check, I ask the person exactly how they know the candidate.  Sometimes, I find that this person who is all set to tell me about how Jane is great at her job has never actually worked with her.  When I’m reading an online reference, I can’t determine exactly how these folks are connected, and that dilutes the reference-giver’s credibility.  In fact, I’ve recently seen some references on LinkedIn written by people I know, for a mutual acquaintance.  I know for a fact that these people not only don’t work together, but they’ve never met in person, although the references are written in such a way that they strongly imply that these people are co-workers.  Actually, they’re friends from an online message board.  Now, those are great relationships, but it’s not cool to lead people to believe that you have seen someone’s work firsthand when you haven’t.
  4. It’s easily forged. I know of another someone who actually created fake profiles of people who didn’t exist, and then posted recommendations for himself under those fake profiles (incidentally, this same person “bought” stuff from himself on eBay so he could give himself good feedback–he’s apparently a real piece of work).  Really, how would you know that Jane Doe is a real person, that she really worked with Joe Blow, and that she thinks he’s a rock star accountant?  Ever hear about the author who got caught reviewing his own books on Amazon or the Whole Foods executive who gave himself rave reviews on the investor message board?  It’s just too easy to game the system.  That can be done by phone or email too, but it’s at least a bit more difficult (and that’s why I call or email references at work and verify that they at least work at the company they say they do).
  5. It’s sometimes cheap and spammy. I’ve seen some recommendations where, if you look carefully, you can see that the person doing the recommending essentially copied-and-pasted the same recommendation for multiple people.  That might be okay for, say, providing feedback on eBay auctions, but that is not how intelligent professionals provide thoughtful feedback on a colleague’s strengths.  Tacky.
  6. It leads to drama. I admit it:  I’m stingy with references.  I won’t stick my neck out and give someone my personal recommendation unless I think they were pretty fabulous.  That means that the number of people I’m connected to on LinkedIn vastly exceeds the number of people I would personally endorse.  While I’m not connected to anyone who has a “DO NOT HIRE” mark in my mind, there are people I haven’t worked with in years, or people whose work I didn’t know firsthand, or people who I think might be right for some organizations, but not others.  That’s part of the problem with mixing recommendations with networking—the size of those two pools is quite different and that’s how it should be.  If I start publicly endorsing some of the people I really would recommend to everyone, without reservation, I’m going to have hurt feelings among those whose work I just don’t know well enough to do the same.  You wouldn’t stand up at a party or in a meeting and say, “Hey, everyone, these are the five people I like best in this room.”  Why do that online?

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Ginny Marie January 19, 2009 at 7:31 am

Your list makes so much sense! I’ve been used as a reference a couple of times, and often the answers I gave to the employer over the phone led to other questions. That personal interaction is really important to see if someone is the right fit for a prospective job.

Ginny Marie’s last blog post..Price List: Ooh, Ahh, Pizza!

Carla January 21, 2009 at 6:25 pm

I never even though about using LinkedIn references. I have one reference but its biased since he is my fiancée (though I worked with him in the past)- and I would never use him as a “real” reference.

Carla’s last blog post..Green + Chic Product Review: Golden Earth

Kerry January 21, 2009 at 7:25 pm

You’d be amazed. I once had someone who listed three references–mom, dad, and grandma…and the the guy had to be at least 35 years old.

Laurie Ruettimann January 28, 2009 at 4:22 pm

I’m with you. I recently solicited some references to see how the process works. First of all, it’s tough to decline without hurting the recipient’s feelings. Second of all, it’s a passive/aggressive way of having a conversation about past performance.

You want a recommedation? Call me!

Laurie Ruettimann’s last blog post..Punk Rock HR Secrets: Job Loss

Marketing Actuary April 1, 2009 at 5:28 pm

I find the Recommendations feature valuable as a starting point. Getting/giving a reference does take time. You can gauge what’s written and who wrote it. You can ask for more details the way you normally would without LinkedIn.

How reliable are references anyway? You pick who’s going to refer you. So you pick people who will say nice things and have a bias towards you getting the position. Hirer-er beware!

Marketing Actuary’s last blog post..Lessons from "Networking with Millionaires" by Thomas J Stanley

JWatts April 22, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Does this mean you think of LinkedIn recommendations entirely in a negative light? I only have one, from a former manager, but would it be a good idea to take it down? If only to be able to use her as a reference later?

How much does an HR professional take LinkedIn into account? Some people are absolutely in love with the service. I personally think of it as about the same as a Facebook profile, just narrowed down to work information. I wouldn’t hire someone based off their LinkedIn “resume,” just as much as I wouldn’t choose who my best friends were based on their Facebook profiles. It seems like a seriously poor proxy for a real applicant.

Kerry Sandberg Scott April 23, 2009 at 1:22 pm

No, JWatts, I don’t think of them all in a negative light. Most are legit, from people who really liked the person’s work. It’s just that the fact that they’re posted in such a public place introduces a whole host of unnecessary issues.

I definitely wouldn’t take down the one you have; you’ll likely offend your manager, who was nice enough to sit down and write it for you. Plus, I don’t think that having them is harmful; I just think they’re unnecessary. I also know some people who WOULD still call her as a reference, especially if she was a direct supervisor. In short, it’s not hurting you to have it.

The degree to which HR people use and like LinkedIn varies widely. Nearly all of the HR people I know online love it. Nearly all of the HR people I know in real life are either not using it at all or are only dimly aware of its value. You definitely have to use it in order to be sure you’re exploring every opportunity, but it shouldn’t be anyone’s only networking tool. There’s really no such thing as too many networking tools, in my view.

I hope and expect that no one is hiring anyone of their LinkedIn profiles. It’s a great way to find candidates, but you still have to do the old-fashioned work of getting to know them and determining if they’re a fit for the job. They haven’t invented a website (yet) that does that part.

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