Why I’m not endorsed on LinkedIn

“Sam Smith has endorsed you for editing!” says the email subject line.

That’s nice, I think, recalling the time Sam Smith and I shared a cab from the airport to an editing conference. But although we exchanged business cards and connected on LinkedIn a couple of years back, Sam Smith has no idea how good an editor I am. Why would he endorse me, someone he met over three days, for a skill he can’t vouch for?

This is the odd new feature on LinkedIn, the business online networking group, aka Facebook for professionals. Whether you’re looking to develop a client base, looking for a job, or just looking to keep up career connections, LinkedIn is useful without the downsides of other social networks — the pokes and LOLs, the intrusive in-laws, the exes who know too much of your business.

Some people list simply a name, a title, and an employer. Others, including me, have filled out pretty much everything and use LinkedIn as a second resume. I’ve cited several articles published in the past year. I also have a dozen recommendations on there, everyone from previous bosses to a few colleagues who can attest to special skills to a student who was nice enough to volunteer (thanks, Bruce!).

There are two reasons I didn’t jump on the endorsement bandwagon when it showed up last fall: I already have a bunch of thoughtful, thought-out mini-references from people clearly familiar with my work. And they take up a fair amount of space; endorsements would take up even more.

Here’s a third, more nuanced reason. Endorsements are redundant. They’re plastic imitating glass, vinyl imitating leather. They’re for people without the time or inclination to read. They’re the “like” button of LinkedIn. LinkedIn isn’t Facebook, so why is it trying to be?

Facebook has its place; it’s hard to argue with a billion users. But LinkedIn is different, and it should be. Its 200 million users are on there for a different, though sometimes overlapping, purpose. It should follow the same advice given to all those people: Be yourself! Stand out as the individual you are; who wants to hire/recommend/befriend a copy of someone or something else?

By now a bunch of articles recommend collecting endorsements. “Catch the eye of recruiters who are short on time but long on candidates,” one says. Quality over quantity, I say. If a recruiter is picking Sally over Suzy because Sally’s string of little boxes is one longer than Suzy’s rather than scanning skills and experience, that doesn’t speak well for the recruiter.

“Recruiters can get a quick overview of your areas of expertise,” one says. Isn’t that what “summary” is for — or even the tagline at the very top? To see that, the recruiter doesn’t even have to open the whole profile.

So why did Sam Smith, whom I barely remember, endorse me? “When your coworkers and friends log in to LinkedIn, a big blue box at the top of the site will ask them to endorse you and confirm that you possess the skills you claim.” Ah! It’s an arms race, a popularity contest. Is so-and-so good at this or that? If you click yes, maybe so-and-so will return the favor.

But then we’ll all have a string of little boxes on our pages. Eventually, how will that help recruiters? Won’t they have to read something at some point — when it’s that much harder to get past all the little boxes? “This simple way to offer a possible employer a quick overview of your potential value,” says one article, “could give you an edge over candidates who require recruiters to read all 1,000 words of their profile.” Sigh.

Not surprisingly, commenters have been as cynical as the article writers have been enthusiastic: “I’ve never found it useful.” “Closed my LinkedIn account because of this whole thing. So annoying.” “I’m still not convinced. Won’t recruiters realize that endorsements are low-value, low-effort as opposed to recommendations and actual experience?” “I see so many profiles of peeps I know who do NOT have good skills in ‘advertised’ areas! Recommendations mean so much more.” “Endorsements in comparison are worthless, and the idea that it’s up to me to ‘manage’ them is ridiculous.”

Oh, look, another email. “Sam Smith has endorsed you for newsletters!” Okay, we were at an editing conference. That’s why he endorsed me for editing. But Sam has absolutely no idea that I’ve ever worked on a newsletter. That says nothing good about him … and nothing helpful about me.

So I’m siding with the commenters. No endorsements, but thanks to my connections who’ve meant well by them. Maybe endorsements will run their course, and LinkedIn will back off from its experiment. If not, lots of people will have profiles full of little boxes, and mine will stand out for being full of words. That’s fine. After all, I’m in the word business.

Copyright 2013 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

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