LinkedIn Skill Endorsements: Fatuous or Fiction?

LinkedIn Skill Endorsements: Fatuous or Fiction?

LinkedIn Skill Endorsements

Whenever I receive a LinkedIn Skill Endorsement, I get a little thrill that someone has recognized my expertise. But when click to review the LinkedIn profile of the endorser, I am puzzled. Clearly, the person is in my network as a 1st-degree connection, so I likely met that person at a conference or other event. However, I wonder how he could possibly vouch for my work when I don’t believe I have ever worked with that individual.  Perhaps the endorser heard good things from mutual colleagues who have worked with me. Perhaps I”m flippin’ famous out there. However, as much as I would like to believe that, I suspect it is not the case. Maybe the reason that near strangers endorse my skills is to set up an implied quid pro quo as in I’ll endorse your skills if you endorse mine. But I also don’t think that is what is happening here. When you get right down to it, I suspect that the endorser simply wants to engage my interest for networking or recruiting purposes. In other words, the vast majority of my LinkedIn Skill Endorsements have been given by LinkedIn members who have never witnessed my work or any of the skills they have chosen to endorse. Of course, I could be an outlier. So please let me know what you have observed.

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The Purpose of Skills Endorsements

Here is the way LinkedIn Skill Endorsements are supposed to work. First, a LinkedIn user lists up to 50 skills on their profile. Next, a 1st-degree connection of that user endorses one of that persn’s skills. When that happens, LinkedIn contends the skill is “validated”, which reinforces their “weighting” of what skill endorsements rise to the top of the user’s list of skills.

Skills endorsements are treated by LinkedIn as validations of the abilities they endorse. From where I sit, it is a false premise since most of the endorsements come from people who know little, if anything, about the quality of my work. Those relatively bogus endorsements are then used algorithmically to tell LinkedIn members which of my skills are the strongest. From what I’m able to gather, skills with the most endorsements rise to the top. Like the ingredients list on a food label, the skills are sorted from the most to the least.

Question: why does LinkedIn cap the number of endorsements at 99+? Is it that I’ve received too many to seem legit? (I honestly don’t know the answer. Let me know if you do.

LinkedIn Skill Endorsements


LinkedIn explains that the purpose of LinkedIn Skill Endorsements is to help “recognize and discover your 1st-degree connections’ skills with one click, They’re also a simple and effective way of building your professional brand and engaging your network.” True, they are simple. But because they are, for the most part, untrue, are they the most effective way? Do you really want to begin a relationship by demonstrating you are comfortable being dishonest?

Skill endorsers are not the problem . . .

Though often my LinkedIn skill endorser is technically fudging the facts, I do not blame the messenger. I see the bogus endorsement more as a shout out from the virtual wilderness as in, “Is anybody out there?” And with so much online that is incredibly destructive and bullying, I feel a sense of gratitude that there are people out there that want to give me “put ups” rather than putting me down. So I am not complaining about those who have endorsed my skills. Not in the least. Rather, I am questioning the frame, the LinkedIn Skill Endorsements themselves.

 . . . endorsements are.

Qualitatively, skill endorsements would not hold up under the least bit of scrutiny. They are not a reliable indicator or measure of excellence. They are more a nicety designed to help us make friends on LinkedIn. I get that. Besides, what would we do instead?  A “Can we please be friends?” button would come off as a little too needy. A “Let’s network” button might do the trick, but it demands a reply. I guess that’s the beauty of Skill Endorsements. You have LinkedIn members out there spreading good will as an entré to forging a real relationship. Let me do you a favor by saying you’re really great at something though  I don’t really know you and haven’t a clue whether you’re really great at that something.

However, as quantum information theorist Ivana Kurecix pointed on in a recent blog post, flattery is not the best way to make friends: sharing secrets is. She cites the study, Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings (A. Aron et al.; 1997). For those who do not wish to wade through all the data, she summarized the findings thusly:

Friendship Diagram

Endorse Me If You Wish: But Shared Secrets Are Better

So if you want to befriend me on LinkedIn, you can endorse me as a kind of shorthand that you are a good person who does good things. However, I find it far more interesting to cut the B.S. and have heart-to-hearts with people I trust who share similar passions and interests. At the end of the day, what we really want in this world, even at work, is a safe place to be our authentic selves.  In fact, you can “Google” it, with a capital “G”.  In research code named Project Aristotle, Google studied what makes top performing teams. Yet for the longest time, Google couldn’t quite figure it out because the best teams all seemed so very different. Then finally, one day, the secret revealed itself. The leader of one group spontaneously shared with his team that he was battling stage 4 cancer. With that, other team members shared their struggles. Eventually, their discussion returned to work and by then, the team dynamic had shifted, enabling it to excel. Google realized that “the behaviors that create psychological safety — conversational turn-taking and empathy — are part of the same unwritten rules we often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond.”

What To Do Instead

So what’s a LinkedIn member to do if Skill Endorsements are not the best way to network? I’ve written about how to polish your LinkedIn profile to optimize networking on LinkedIn. That is essential. Without a polished profile, everything else you do on LinkedIn will fall short. That’s because the moment you say or do something interesting, members will check out your profile. So, while you can spend time endorsing the skills of virtual strangers, I’d recommend taking a more direct route. Focus on a handful of people you’d like to get to know. Do them a solid. Share a meaningful insight. Find a way to break through this virtual medium to get real. It isn’t easy, but it will yield greater results. I often follow people I want to get to know here and on Twitter. I read their blogs. I do that to get to know them. I then formulate an approach. Commenting on a someone’s blog often is a great way to open the door if what you say is halfway intelligent. People write with the intent of being read. Your comment fulfills that basic human desire and forges an instant bond over a shared interest. But for that method to work, you have to be real. That is something of an art in a virtual environment where truthiness in LInkedIn Skills Endorsements is accepted practice.

What if Retained Search Could Be Better? | Video

Executive Search Video

Our latest executive search video asks a question that inspired us to found The Good Search in New York City more than a decade ago. We are a next-generation retained executive search practice dedicated to the proposition that there has to be a better way — it is a passion that begins with a simple question,”What if . . . ?”

“What if there were a better way?”

We are an executive search firm with some very big ideas that started with the same question has inspired entrepreneurs the world over to found startups and venture capitalists to invest and risk vast sums of money. The National Venture Capital Association reports that that 25% to 30% of venture-backed businesses fail. A story in the Wall Street Journal says the startup failure rate is more like three out of every four. Still, dreaming “what if” is how the Founder of Reddit identified a genuine need and set out of fill it. Daring to believe that there must be a better way than the way everyone else is doing it takes courage and a soupçon of crazy.  Daring actually to do something about it requires full-on Kevin-Kostner Fields of Dreams crazy as in If you build it, he will come.

Nearly a dozen years ago, I came to the conclusion that the retained executive search model was upside down. Traditional search firms emphasized sales and worried too little about execution. At the time, 40% of retained executive searches failed to complete, a figure that was shockingly high and persists to this day. When nearly one-in-two executive searches results in failure, executive search buyers start longing for something better and they too start to wonder,“What if there were a better way?” It is why large corporations are standing up internal executive search teams, bringing executive search in-house. It is why LinkedIn is thriving. It is why The Good Search has seen a dramatic increase in our retained executive search business.


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Top 20 Things Headhunters Want to See in LinkedIn Profiles

Top 20 Things Headhunters Want to See in LinkedIn Profiles

Listed below is a Top 20 “hot list” of the things I look for in the LinkedIn profiles of senior executives and technologists that I recruit. And I am not alone. Over more than a decade of recruiting for the most powerful companies in technology and media, colleagues in retained search and in corporate recruiting have told me they look for many of the same details. In fact, one Fortune 100 client counted among the “Best Companies to Work for” uses the same criteria as a hard filter to separate the contenders from those who are not.

The Quest for Top Talent

While every industry has its high-profile VIPs, the best and brightest are not so easy to find. Often, the usual suspects turn out to be empty suits or executives that have lost their mojo.  That’s where I come in. A former investigative-journalist-turned-investigative-recruiter, I look for clues to locate and calibrate top talent. In doing so, I seek off-radar luminaries and up-and-coming stars who may not be as adept at self-promotion. Frequently, gifted technologists become so engrossed in inventing the Next Big Thing that they operate in perpetual stealth mode.

However, common sense would suggest if you want to get ahead, it shouldn’t require detective work to discover you. If you have worked hard to become the best, it makes little sense to undermine your own success with a neglected and outdated LinkedIn profile.  Worse, you can do real harm to your chances of advancement with a LinkedIn profile that is so haphazardly slapped together that it is riddled with typographical errors and topped off with a photo that more resembles a Nick Nolte mug shot.

Conversely, even if your LinkedIn profile is pretty polished and complete, you should double-check to make sure you haven’t left out something important.  For instance, you may not think your high GPA and academic honors are worth mentioning on LinkedIn — in fact, you may find it a tad obnoxious to overtly tout achievements in so public a place.  However, your ideal next employer may quietly exclude you from consideration if you fail to list those very

achievements in on LinkedIn.

Krista Bradford Photo Medium

Three Kinds of Critical Information to Include

Our Top  20 Things into three main categories of LinkedIn data:

  1. Easy ways to find you and reach you
  2. Sufficient and current career detail
  3. Evidence that suggests you are a top performer

So grab a cup of coffee, pull up your LinkedIn profile, and then step through the punch list below to see if there is anything you’ve overlooked and then, if needed, pop in a detail or two.. It takes but a  minute, but  the effect is lasting. It functions as your virtual publicist and agent round-the-clock. Moreover, the benefit extends beyond impressing executive search consultants and prospective employers. It raises your profile and stature in your current role — so that good things come your way.

Top 20 Things Headhunters Want to See in Your LinkedIn Profile

  1. A public profile so we can find you
  2. A polished profile photo
  3. Evidence you like to network: OpenLink Network or 100+ connections
  4. Ways to reach you: shared phone, email, social links with 1st connections
  5. Summary that includes corporate biography and specialties
  6. Up-to-date  title, employer, and location.
  7. Previous jobs since graduation with full job titles
  8. Month and year for job start and end dates
  9. Descriptions detailing job responsibilities and accomplishments
  10. Accurate industry
  11. Education detail of college and degree obtained
  12. Evidence of academic achievement, such as high GPA or graduating with honors
  13. Extracurricular leadership roles, such as intramural sports, fraternity, or sorority
  14. Video, such as a keynote address, that give us a sense of how you “present”
  15. Honors and awards that set you apart as a top performer
  16. Patents that created valuable intellectual property for your employer
  17. Volunteer work or other giving back that speaks to your character
  18. A consistent track record of success with pattern of increasingly senior titles and greater responsibility with each successive job
  19. Recommendations from former direct superiors that speak to the quality of your work
  20. A network filled with respected colleagues, luminaries, and VIPs


A question for the reader: What would and would not be on your top 20 list of must-haves for LinkedIn profiles?

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