Since its launch in September last year, more than 1 billion skill endorsements have been given out on social networking site LinkedIn.
It’s a big number but the question is, do peer endorsements on LinkedIn and other social networking sites really work?
At one end of the spectrum, critics have labelled such endorsements worthless, a kind of “written reference-lite” that has morphed into a popularity contest of no real substance.
But there are plenty of people who can see value in the concept. As might be expected, LinkedIn is championing its product, quoting the statistic that “if you have been endorsed for a skill, you are four times more likely to be viewed on LinkedIn.”
The reason? It tends to have more to do with search engine optimisation than the skills people are endorsed for.
The importance of your profile
The more detailed a person’s profile – and endorsements add detail by highlighting skills – the greater the chance they will bubble to the top of internet and LinkedIn searches.
“It is about how you can make sure you show up in a search of big data when somebody is looking for a particular skillset,” says Steve Shepherd, group director of recruitment and HR services specialists at recruiter Randstad.
Is it skewing views?
Shepherd says that, in themselves, when being viewed by a potential employer, online recommendations have about the same worth as old-style written references. They are skewed from the outset.
“A candidate coming through is not going to give me a piece of paper with a letter from their former boss telling me how bad they were,” he says.
Despite his scepticism, when Shepherd is viewing candidate’s online profiles, he does take note of their endorsements as it gives him a sense of how “other people see that person and their experience”.
LinkedIn not a replacement for references
Susan Drew, regional director of recruiter Hays, says skill endorsements on social media sites such as LinkedIn are great for showing the skills you are best known for but are not a substitute for the role references play.
Peter Acheson, chief executive of Peoplebank, Australia’s largest IT and specialist recruiter, believes that nothing beats a verbal recommendation.
A skilled interviewer talking to referees can get “a very, very good view of the individuals and their skills and capabilities”, Acheson says.
But LinkedIn spokeswoman Julie Inouye argues that online endorsements could be just as valuable as a list of referees a candidate provides on their résumé.
“It’s not by surprise or happenstance that we have pictures and names of the people associated with the actual endorsement,” says Inouye.
“It really allows you to dig in deeper and see who the people are that endorsed them … and immediately reach out to them.”
“Inconsistency creates doubt in the minds of employers. That is the key message. At the end of the day an employment decision is a risk- based decision in that I am going to hire this candidate as I have done a detailed assessment of their capability and I think they’ll fit in well with the culture of this company. Anything that increases the risk in the profile of a candidate is a bad thing,” says Acheson.
An advantage of endorsements is that, correctly managed, they can give greater depth to a person’s profile as connections are able to suggest skills that an individual may not have added.
In a perfect world, endorsements should highlight tasks people perform well, and also accentuate those they may have overspruiked – inadvertently or otherwise.
“Everybody can say that they have a certain skill. Now you can actually attribute this to real people, who are saying that you have this skill,” says Inouye.
“Chances are pretty high with someone who is being endorsed 100 times for media relations, that they are probably pretty good at media relations.”
Likewise, if a person is not being endorsed for a skill at all, that could show they are not actually proficient at it, regardless of their own claims.