Kathy sent me this question:
I wrote about this in September 2012: LinkedIn Endorsements.
Here’s a much more favorable writeup I did in March of 2012: LinkedIn Skills: One Year Old (more or less)
My overall take? LinkedIn Skills is poo poo. I only write it this way because I’m trying to be nice.
I believe that LinkedIn created Skills and Endorsements to get more traffic to LinkedIn, so they could tell their investors: “Look! We have more people coming to our site! Aren’t we great?” Here’s how this works: You get an email that says “John Doe has just endorsed you for this skill!” At first, it wouldn’t say who endorsed you, so you had to click on a link, which brought traffic to LinkedIn. Then you would spend a few minutes trying to figure out what the heck it was, what it meant, and if you should care. But hey, you were now a visitor, and you spent “a few minutes” on the site! Score one for LinkedIn, who now increased their traffic and “time on site” without increasing the value to anyone. Investors like metrics.
Skills are, well, skills. Like programming, training, speaking, dog walking. It’s just a list of things you are supposedly good at.
Endorsements are a count of how many times people say “Yep, she’s a good dog walker!”
You can add Skills to your own Profile. But others can add skills to your Profile, too. I have a bunch of skills that people have added that are inaccurate, meaningless, or not aligned with my personal brand. For example, others have added these skills to my profile, which I would have never added myself: Human Resources, Publishing, Time Management (ha! That is laughable), Lead Generation, Business Process Improvement, Search… and more. Of course, I’ve dabbled here and there in many of these areas, but I would not say I’m skilled at, or expert in, any of them. I’m not even moderately interested in some of them. I’d rather find an expert to help me with those things.
So, a problem with Skills and Endorsements is that people can add things to my Profile that are irrelevant and even misleading. What qualifies them to know that I’m expert in, interested in, or want to showcase one of those skills? Maybe I am a master dog walker, but really, that’s not something I care to have on my Profile. Why does someone else have the power to add a new skill to my Profile? (Yes, I know I can accept, reject, and reorder, but who has time for that? I just ignore this section.)
I used to not be super hot on Recommendations, which is the paragraph that you would write about someone saying how great they were. People said that they would skim those, but they were all flowery and positive, which kind of took away the overall impact. But once LinkedIn polluted the Profile with Skills, Recommendations seemed to be a lot more substantive.
I don’t think that LinkedIn cares much about skills, as far as adding value to the users. Why? Because I can’t find an easy way to search for skills. There is not a skills box in the advanced search options (not even in the advanced search, but I think the recruiter account can search for skills). I used to be able to easily find a skills page, which talked about what a skill was, and showed people in my network who had that. This link has an image of what it used to look like, but it looks like they retired it – none of the skills links work anymore.
In order to look for people with certain skills, you can try this hack that almost works good. First, go to someone’s Profile, then scroll to their Skills section. Then, click on a skill… this brings up a search of that skill. Unfortunately, it’s not a true search of users with that skill… it’s a more general search. But you can replace what you clicked on with what you want to look for… which is the section in yellow, below. It’s a hack that I’d say will work well 25% of the time. That is code for don’t even waste your time trying to search on skills.
My recommendation with Skills has been to drag the section as far down to the bottom of your Profile as you can. It’s a waste of space. It’s useless. Worse, it tends to distract you from doing what you should really be doing to get value out of LinkedIn. Don’t spend another second on it.
Ask me how I really feel
I could go on and on, but this is really enough time spent on this topic. I will share just one final thought, that could negate everything I’ve written about here: when there is proof that the skills you have, and the number of endorsements you have, impact how you show up in search results, then skills will be a game-changer. It will be time to game the system, which is what thousands of people will do, to show up higher in search results. It will make this mess even messier. I really hope LinkedIn doesn’t muddy up the integrity of their system by doing that, but I wouldn’t put it past them.
Back when this came out I emailed a few of my favorite recruiters for their opinions, and meant to write a blog post with their reactions. I can’t find those emails right now, but the general reaction was that they could see right through skills. Recruiters aren’t dumb… they’ve seen enough Profiles and resumes to know what is high value and real, and what is meaningless. No recruiter I talked to was impressed.