Work & Purpose

Memo to LinkedIn: Please Fix Endorsements

The skill-vouching feature is drawing loads of complaints

Have you endorsed me for "koala training" yet? That's right, in the last month I’ve been endorsed on LinkedIn for the following skills: journalism, blogging and, yes, koala training.  
I don't know how to train a koala, or any marsupial for that matter. But I added it, and parallel parking, to my LinkedIn profile to see how far I could push the bounds of the professional social network with the help of friends.

Turns out pretty far.

To prospective employers: I’m kidding! (though I am pretty good at parallel parking).

LinkedIn Basics
LinkedIn, for the uninitated, is a professional networking site where members share information about their work experience, look for employment and participate in professional groups and discussions. In the 11 years since its founding, LinkedIn has transformed the way people search for jobs and develop their careers. (Next Avenue has published several articles on how to use the service and identified some pitfalls to avoid.)

(MORE: How I Landed a Great Job in 5 Months After Age 50)

Endorsements and Recommendations
LinkedIn offers two ways to vouch for other members’ abilities.

The first is a recommendation, a custom note on your LinkedIn profile that's written by a colleague or employer extolling your professional virtues. It's a valuable asset in establishing your credentials and work habits.    

The second method, an endorsement, is less personal. It takes a former colleague, employer or your mother less than a second to endorse you by clicking on your name and the pre-populated skill. Look at the profile of someone with endorsements and you’ll see her skills ranked according to the number of people who have vouched for each along with tiny, linked photos of the endorsers.

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When you access the profile of a first-level contact on LinkedIn, you may be prompted to endorse him for a set of skills. If you take the bait, you will then be asked to endorse more of your first-level contacts. Those you endorse will receive an email saying that you have endorsed them for a particular skill.  

Endorsing Endorsements

LinkedIn added endorsements in September 2012 and since then, more than 3 billion have been added to profiles, according to LinkedIn spokesperson Crystal Braswell. “Three billion endorsements to date speaks volumes about how members feel about the feature,” says Braswell.

(MORE: How to Make the Most of LinkedIn Endorsements)

Some LinkedIn members say endorsements give people viewing your profile a baseline for competence and the veracity of your resumé. “Having people attest to the fact that you are more or less who you say you are would seem to function at least as a ‘first line of defense’ in weeding out the people who post skills they merely wish or imagine they had,” wrote TV producer Dave Sica on a LinkedIn message board discussing the pros and cons of endorsements.

Why Endorsements Don't Always Ring True

But since endorsements take so little effort and don't require the endorser to have any familiarity with your actual skills, some critics think they're less valuable than recommendations, maybe even useless. Undoubtedly, some in LinkedIn's 277 million-member network can’t help themselves when offered the chance to make one-click endorsements; they get mesmerized, clicking and clicking the boxes that show up, endorsing everyone they know for skills they are pretty sure they have.

Now, I'd be the first to say how nice it is to get an email saying that someone you looked up to at work thought you were good at your job. But while most endorsements are legit (if not always based on deep knowledge), some are pranks.

Endorsement Bombing

A feature that lets members customize their skills is open to abuse allowing them, or their contacts, to add false skills — like koala training — to profiles and to choose some decidedly unprofessional-sounding talents.    

If you are so inclined, you can tweak the endorsements of your first-level contacts by making up skills for them, such as sleep deprivation or other off-beat talents. A BuzzFeed post calls this "endorsement bombing."  Members receive an email when they have been pranked in this way letting them know a contact has endorsed them for an unusual skill.  They may ignore the message or add it to their profile.

Even without making up skills, you can choose from some pretty odd, unprofessional-sounding skills that are pre-populated in the service. Mashable has pointed out a number of these weird skills, including "Fruity Loops," "Tractor," "Awesomeness" and "Footprint," among others.    

Braswell says she can’t account for all of the quirky skills in the social network's database, but says those that seem odd out-of-context may actually be job-related. Fruity Loops, for instance, is a software program, she says.  

To Endorse or Not to Endorse?
Some critics find LinkedIn endorsements annoying and downright unprofessional. Technology consultant Mark Schubin was so irritated that he started the LinkedIn group "Stop Endorsements," which has attracted 535 members.
Schubin was a fan of the site until “I started getting endorsed for things I didn’t do. People started endorsing me for voice-over, and I’ve never done a voice-over in my life.” Fed up, in his LinkedIn group, Schubin tells members: “I hereby reject all of my endorsements. I urge you to do the same. Maybe LinkedIn will take notice.”

According to Braswell, a skill that you do not have may be suggested for an endorsement based on LinkedIn’s algorithm. It adds probable skills based on your LinkedIn profile, your profession and skills of others in your industry, among other things. In Schubin’s case, the voice-over endorsement may have come from his work in television,  but who knows.

Schubin has done everything in his power to minimize endorsements on his profile. He’s made them invisible, added the maximum 50 skills so no one can add any more and sent notes to contacts asking them not to endorse him.

The topic of endorsements is also hot in the LinkedIn Help Center, where many members have complained about them..  

“LinkedIn randomly prompts your connections to ask them to endorse you for some random skill based on keywords LinkedIn mines from your profile,” Brian Boschen wrote. “It makes it appear that you are soliciting the endorsement. Like several of the LinkedIn features, it is completely unprofessional and tacky. Make it stop!”
How to Manage Your Endorsements
To manage your endorsements as Schubin did, go to your LinkedIn profile and select the “edit profile”  button next to your photo. Then select “edit” next to “Skills and Endorsements." From there, you can add skills, remove endorsements, show select endorsements or hide them altogether.
Frustrated that the service is still soliciting endorsements from his contacts, Schubin figured out how to join the network of LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner and sent him a direct complaint. He hasn't heard back.

Changes on the Way
While Schubin may not be having lunch with the LinkedIn CEO anytime soon, he may be happy to know that his concerns have been heard. Braswell says LinkedIn is aware of complaints about endorsements and will soon roll out improvements to the service to address some of the concerns. “It will give our members more ways to manage how to engage with endorsements across LinkedIn,” she says.
After this article was published, LinkedIn made the first of its new changes to endorsements, a way for members to reorder the skills on their profile.  Previously, skills were ordered according to the number of  times members were endorsed for each skill. 
We’ll wait to see what further changes LinkedIn has in store for endorsements. In the meantime, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my LinkedIn profile to remove “koala training” before any headhunter sees it.

Liza Kaufman Hogan
By Liza Kaufman Hogan
Liza Kaufman Hogan is a freelance writer.@lizakhogan

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