If you’re on LinkedIn, the social networking site that’s a powerful resource for job hunters, you’ve likely been getting a flurry of emails from the site saying that someone has endorsed you for a skill or expertise. Or when you’ve seen a connection’s LinkedIn profile, you’ve noticed the bold banner asking you to endorse him or her. What to do?
What Are LinkedIn Endorsements?
First, a brief explanation: LinkedIn introduced “endorsements” last September, as a kind of time-starved (or lazy?) professional’s version of LinkedIn “recommendations.”
To endorse someone on LinkedIn, all you need to do is click a box and you’re done. No thinking involved. (Todd Wasserman, marketing editor for the popular digital newsblog Mashable, calls endorsements a Facebook “Like” for business skills.) But with a LinkedIn recommendation, you need to take the time to write a comment.
The no-brainer aspect of endorsements might explain why more than half a billion have already shown up on LinkedIn profiles; users are sending more than 10 million endorsements a day. Every time you accept an endorsement from someone, LinkedIn prompts you to endorse up to four more people.
They Can Be Helpful – and Irritating
LinkedIn endorsements can be a means for discovering how others view you, managing your personal brand online and even starting a conversation. It's possible they could even make you a stronger job candidate than a competitor.
But they can also be irritants, because each time you log on to LinkedIn or visit a connection’s profile, you may be bombarded with a banner asking you to make an endorsement, with the question: “Does Mary know about X?” And since any of your “first tier” LinkedIn connections can endorse you without adding any explanation, the kudos can become meaningless.
How to Use – and Not to Use – Endorsements
As a career coach who advises clients to get the most out of LinkedIn, I’d like to tell you how to use — and not to use — endorsements:
Don’t automatically accept every endorsement. That’s especially true when you’re endorsed for "skills and expertise" that aren’t on your LinkedIn profile or ones you may not be interested in developing on your next job.
The assets highlighted on LinkedIn should reflect the things you want to do more of, not necessarily the things you are competent at.
Think of your LinkedIn profile, including your endorsements, as a billboard to promote your best work today — the stuff that brings you alive — rather than work you can do handily, but with little enthusiasm.
For example, say someone endorses you for project management, something you’ve done for the last 10 years. But you really don’t want to do it any more, which is why you didn’t list that skill in your LinkedIn profile. In that case, you can choose not to accept the endorsement.
You can also hide an endorsement. (LinkedIn won't let you delete endorsements.) Here’s how to hide an endorsement: Go to the “Manage Endorsements” link in the Skills and Expertise section of your LinkedIn profile, find the “Project Management” skill and uncheck the box next to the person(s) whose endorsement you want to hide.
Improve your LinkedIn profile by looking for patterns of endorsements that speak to your personal brand. Over time, you’ll notice some of your skills and expertise are receiving a lot of endorsements while others aren’t. This is great market research about your personal brand.
Are people endorsing you for the types of things you want to do and be known for? If not, take the time to promote those abilities.
You can add up to 50 skills to your LinkedIn profile, but I don't recommend citing more than a dozen. Beyond that number, your skill set becomes a laundry list with little meaning.
Your skills with the most endorsements are listed first; skills without endorsements show up based on how recently they were added.
To add or remove skills, scroll down to the Skills and Expertise section of your profile, click the blue pencil icon, type the name of a skill and select it from the dropdown list. If you don’t see a skill you want to show, type it in. Then click “Add.” (To remove a skill, click the X next to it.)
You may find that you’re being endorsed for a lot of strengths that you’re proud of, but haven’t clearly articulated in your LinkedIn profile. If so, tweak your profile so those talents appear prominently. Your goal is to align your skills and expertise with the wording that resonates with your audience.
Don’t endorse someone for expertise you can’t vouch for. I’ve received endorsements from people with no first-hand knowledge of the skills they say I have. For example, I’ve been endorsed for coaching by people who have never been coached by me.
(MORE: The Six Deadly Excuses of Job Hunters)
Forbes’ deputy leadership editor, Susan Adams, recently wrote that she has been endorsed for skills she didn’t even know she had, like “food writing” and “celebrity.”
Endorsements don’t mean a lot to begin with and they have even less meaning when you can’t speak from experience.
Do go beyond the quid pro quo. The natural inclination with LinkedIn endorsements is to reciprocate when someone endorses you. But when you endorse someone purely from an “I’ll slap your back, if you slap mine” standpoint, you’re just adding noise, not value.
If the person is truly outstanding in an area and this is a relationship you want to deepen, consider writing a meaningful LinkedIn recommendation instead.
Or add value after reciprocating an endorsement by also sending a LinkedIn message with a link to a great article, a book you know the person will enjoy or an invite for coffee.
Use an endorsement as an opportunity to rekindle a relationship. People who’ve endorsed you may be colleagues you haven’t had contact with in years. So send a short LinkedIn message to say thank you and “How are things in your world?” Or, if you prefer, send a longer message with an update on your life.
Using this approach, I have had wonderful, unexpected online conversations with people from my past. Now that’s something I can truly endorse.