LinkedIn Recommendations: The Pros And Cons Of Referring Business Contacts
One of the key talking points to emerge from an insightful and engaging workshop in Cork (Ireland) delivered by LinkedIn expert and evangelist Derek Reilly, in association with Junior Chamber International (JCI) Cork, was the usefulness, or otherwise, of writing and receiving profile recommendations on the word’s most well-known business network LinkedIn.
For those not in the know, recommendations are:
- Like their ‘old school’ paper counterparts — essentially publicly view-able references which users can post to their LinkedIn profiles, or write about others.
- frequently touted as one of the key functions of LinkedIn, and one of the profile features which, if neglected, will prevent you from reaching that magical 100% profile completeness score indicating that your LinkedIn profile is now as ‘full’ as it should be.
Derek Reilly, the workshop’s facilitator, was clearly a fan: his own profile sports no less than one hundred such recommendations, spanning kind words from business colleagues and friends to thumbs-ups from passing acquaintances who’ve attended one of his workshops, but others, such as a headhunter in the room as well as this writer, are not so easily convinced of the usefulness of posting glowing appraisals of yourself or your company for all and sundry to see.
By the time the question had been opened to the floor, and participants were free to discuss the merits, or otherwise, of the referring system amongst themselves, a somewhat more divided picture had emerged of whether or not recommendation-harvesting was in fact beneficial for your ‘online CV’ or whether it was in fact likely to damage the sincerity and credibility of the image of yourself you were seeking to project.
An example of a consensus reached between myself and Mike McGrath of Supply.ie, my seating neighbour for the one hour event, was that references to company pages were likely to read more credibly than those written to your personal profile, but one didn’t have to travel very far down the room to find users, both newbies and LinkedIn veterans alike, who shared Reilly’s heartfelt fervour for collecting as many references onto your profile as possible.
The cut and thrust of the arguments advanced for and against recommendations could perhaps be summarized something like this.
Being a natural skeptic when it comes to all things technical and job-seeking — particularly when it comes to combining the two — let me offer my reason for choosing to conduct all my reference-displaying via the private confines of email rather than on my public LinkedIn or Xing profiles; it was the same reason offered by many against the notion of ratcheting up your recommendation count as quickly as possible.
In one word: credibility.
There are many reasons why a profile recommendation on LinkedIn invites more natural skepticism than its paper analogue, the humble letter-headed recommendation of yesteryear, but chief among them is the fact that it’s simply too easy and tempting to write glowing recommendations for others with little care as to what their real-world performance is actually like.
LinkedIn recommendations are a dime a dozen, and can be written by anybody with only the faintest idea of what it is that you actually do — and are supposed to do capably well.
- In fact often a person’s LinkedIn profile is all the creative impetus that is needed to conjure up the most lavishly effusive ‘recommendation’ of that person’s role within a particular organization, or even their own — yet this doesn’t necessarily equate with the kind of sterling belief in that person’s abilities that the system was originally designed to be reserved for.
- The ever-changing lexicon of LinkedIn recommendation jargon also provides ample phrases and buzz-words to match with brief nuggets of information about that person’s job, such that matching the two together is often all that is needed to create truly impressive soundbites about that individual’s professional work without ever coming near the goal of reference writing which is to express honest-held beliefs about that person’s positive potential to do a job within a business organization.
- The prevalence of wholly unfounded recommendations is also, of course, a problem inherent in the traditional reference system as well, but the added ease and convenience of technology makes the decision that much easier when the reference writing is being conducted through digital means rather than on paper.
- But while the relative ease with which generic-sounding recommendations can be written may be an advantage for those wishing to populate their profile with them fast, the flip side is that the more recommendations that are written for the same pool of job applicants, and the more prominent and public those recommendations become, the less value those recommendations have for each person writing or receiving them.
Another opinion expressed by a colleague at the workshop, and one which I also share, is that any recommendations authored by users that could conceivably be within the boundaries of your immediate social circle are likely to automatically raise suspicions as to their veracity.
Thus recommendations written by classmates could conceivably be dismissed as helping hands from drinking friends; referrals from current colleagues carry with them a similar obvious bias of friendship and requested assistance; and two-way references — whereby a reference from one user is met in turn with another — are unlikely to be seen as anything other than digital barter, necessitated reciprocation, or a pre-mediated decision to scratch each other’s backs.
Yet notwithstanding the points above, and the comparatively greater space afforded to them, even the recommendation-skeptics in the room were willing to admit that embellishing your profile with a few words of approbation from business colleagues and the like does have some kind of lasting value for the job applicant or position-seeking LinkedIn user.
The reason advanced by Reilly was that they add a third party seal of approval to what you’ve already set out in the body of your profile, and — depending on the prominence of the referee
- can also add greatly to your ‘standing’ if the person writing the reference is a well-known or influential figure within the industry you’re seeking to establish or further yourself in.
- And as the same headhunter mentioned earlier in this post was also quick to add: recruiters, headhunters, and hiring decision-makers do in fact read them.
Perhaps the answer to the recommendations dilemma is to take a somewhat more nuanced view than either the rejectionist view of “recommendations = implausability”, or the “more the merrier” methodology of unquestioningly piling up of dozens of recommendations onto your page.
Perhaps recommendations can really be valuable, but if so, maybe the skeptics’ suggested ground-rules, such as not accepting recommendations from your close friends, those who you’ve recommended, etc, would be of use in deciding which words of commendation should feature on your job-seeking ‘window shop’ and which should not. Maybe than what recommendations you have will add value, without detracting from the overall impression which your profile gives.
But if only one thing’s for certain, it’s that whether or not to accept recommendations, and how many of them if so, is an open debate, but one worth thinking about before deciding to embark on either course of action. What do you think?
Image: Linkedin/Adam Parker