How Reliable Are LinkedIn Recommendations?
Last updated Mar 16, 2021
by Krista Bradford

LinkedIn Recommendations: How Reliable Are They?


LinkedIn Recommendations are an unreliable measure of the quality of the endorsed executive. Still, I must confess that whenever I receive a LinkedIn Recommendation, I get a little thrill that someone has recognized my expertise.

But when I click to review the LinkedIn profile of the recommender, 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 or she could possibly vouch for my work when I haven’t ever worked with them. Perhaps they heard good things from mutual colleagues who have worked with me. Perhaps I’m famous out there. As much as I would like to believe that, I suspect it is not the case.

LinkedIn recommenders are not the problem: LinkedIn Recommendations are.

Maybe the reason 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. I suspect they simply want to engage my interest in networking or recruiting purposes.

In other words, the vast majority of my LinkedIn Skill Endorsements have been given by LinkedIn members who have never seen 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.


What Are LinkedIn  Recommendations, Really?

Here is the way LinkedIn Recommendations 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 person’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.

LinkedIn treats recommendations as validations of abilities. From where I sit, it is a false premise since most of the kudos come from people who know little, if anything, about the quality of my work. Those relatively bogus recommendations 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 recommendations rise to the top.

Question: Why does LinkedIn cap the number of recommendations 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


Recommendations Are Designed to Recognize your Work

LinkedIn explains ” a recommendation is a commendation written by a LinkedIn member to recognize your work.” But when they are given by someone who does not know the member, what are they, exactly?. If they are given by a member as a form of flattery, how wise is it to begin a relationship with dishonesty.

Though often my LinkedIn recommender is technically fudging the facts, I do not blame the messenger.

I see the bogus endorsement more like a shout-out from the virtual wilderness as in, “Is anybody out there?” I feel a sense of gratitude that there are people out there who want to give me “put-ups” rather than put me down. So I am not complaining about those who have recommended me. Rather, I am questioning the frame of LinkedIn’s Recommendations themselves.

LinkedIn Recommendations Are Not a Measure of Excellence

Qualitatively, LinkedIn Recommendations 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 LinkedIn Recommendations. You have LinkedIn members out there spreading goodwill 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.

Flattery May Not Be The Best Way to Get Acquainted

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

Recommendations may be great: But Shared Secrets Are Better

So if you want to befriend me on LinkedIn, you can recommend 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 the research code-named Project Aristotle, Google studied what makes top-performing teams.  For the longest time, Google couldn’t quite figure it out because the best teams all seemed so very different. Then finally, 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 LinkedIn Recommendations 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 to get to know them, and then I formulate an approach. Commenting on 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. For that method to work, you have to be sincere. That is something of an art in a virtual environment where truthiness in LinkedIn Recommendations is an accepted practice.

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