- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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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