Are LinkedIn Recommendations and Endorsements Reliable?

By Roy Maurer September 22, 2015

A job candidate’s LinkedIn connections can endorse him for skills listed on his profile with a single click. Connections can also submit written recommendations. But do these referrals have any real value? Recruiters are trying to put them to use--but not in the way some jobseekers may think.

Rakesh Singh is recruitment marketing manager for IT staffing firm Aditi Staffing, based in Bengaluru, India. Under the subhead “Why LinkedIn Isn’t Good Enough,” Singh wrote in a blog post that the professional networking community’s recommendations and endorsements are redundant, lack credibility and are too general.

Singh pointed out that job seekers can request friends to write recommendations for them and easily return the favor. “This kind of recommendation has no bearing on someone’s capabilities,” he wrote. Sometimes, LinkedIn users are endorsed by people they don’t actually know. He also criticized the unlimited number of recommendations and endorsements that users can accumulate, saying that too many recommendations in a profile can easily mislead and confuse recruiters.

“If certain skill sets are highlighted and recommended by ex-employers or colleagues, then taking them into consideration can help,” he wrote, but “general recommendations that don’t highlight specific skill sets wouldn’t assist you in ensuring the candidate’s skills.”

Steve Lowisz, CEO of Qualigence International, a global recruiting and recruitment research firm, questions the value of references at all.

“Who gives a reference [to someone] who might say something bad about them? Rarely does a reference knock out a candidate since so many of them are prepped before the reference call. I would rather get references that tell me about the good and bad in a candidate. References should be used to help an organization structure the environment, and training the potential candidate needs to be successful,” he said.

While Lowisz finds the LinkedIn endorsements feature to be “relatively useless” and lacking validity, he does find some value in the recommendations feature. While the recommendation itself might not be reliable because it’s been vetted by the candidate, the reference may serve as a good source of information about the candidate, he said.

“If I ask for references from a candidate and they are not the same as the recommendations on LinkedIn, I may pick up the phone and call one of the [LinkedIn] references to try and gather additional information. In this case, the recommendation [itself] is not valuable, however the one making the recommendation may divulge more information.” As a bonus, contacting references is a great way for a recruiter to expand his or her network, he added.

Melissa Llarena, an employee-transition expert and president of career coaching firm Career Outcomes Matter, has a different take. She recommends that recruiters use the features on LinkedIn as a starter list for candidate references.

“Are some recommendations useless? Yes, sometimes recommendations are generic, so I would skip those. Other times they sound as if the candidate herself wrote them, and in that case, recruiters should use their judgment to ignore those, too,” she said.

However, she added that LinkedIn recommendations can give recruiters a different perspective on a candidate.

“Sometimes these recommendations can help recruiters quickly identify a candidate’s unique selling proposition, since recommendations tend to be brief sound bites. Other times these recommendations can simply reinforce a candidate’s skills and experiences. It’s a bit of a check and balance when it comes to seeing if what the candidate thinks she is good at doing is actually what others think she is good at doing. You can also use these data points to ensure that nothing contradicts a candidate’s resume or interview.”

Llarena pointed out that in smaller industries, the recruiter may know the reference and then in those cases, those referrals may hold more weight.

Recruiters can also use the LinkedIn features to get a sense of a candidate’s brand, she said. “They are reliable if a candidate leverages them with high integrity so it’s more a reflection of a candidate than these specific features.” Recruiters or HR can scan a candidate’s endorsements and “leverage the list to give you a sense of those skills that a candidate may have left off of his profile, so it can help you ask more direct questions about someone’s qualifications,” she said.

However, she cautioned that endorsements of a skill are no sure sign that the candidate actually has that skill. “Yet, if they are endorsed by many people for one particular skill, then you should take that skill more seriously and probe a candidate around their expertise level when it comes to that skill,” she said.

Ultimately, “simply considering these features with a grain of salt” is what Llarena would recommend. “These data points are starting points—not the final answer when it comes to a candidate’s competency.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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