Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

My Thumbs are Mixed on Linkedin's New Skill Endorsements

By Dennis D. McDonald

Click or tap image to download a .pdf of this article.I have mixed feelings about Linkedin’s new one-click skill endorsements. The new feature provides the ability for people in your Linkedin network to be somewhat granular in how they endorse you. For example, if you have skills both in BULLFIGHTING and ROPE-SKIPPING but your connection has only seen you in the ring, she can endorse you for one and not the other. That makes sense. 

On the other hand, what if she has  only heard that you are good at bullfighting but has never actually seen you at work? You ask her to endorse your skills. She does so. What, then, is the value of her endorsement?

What if she saw you do some incredibly fancy rope-skipping tricks many years ago during your college days, tricks that you can’t do any more due to an injury but which you feel qualified to teach others about. If she endorses your rope skipping skills thinking you still have the ability, how should people looking for a rope-skipper evaluate her endorsement?

The issue is one of validity. For example, I have years of project management experience and write about project management on my web site. Some of my Linkedin connections have personal knowledge of my project management work. Others only know about this through my writing. Will endorsements of my project management skills mean the same coming from these two groups? Will someone researching project managers be able to tell the difference? Will someone interested in advertising project management tools via Linkedin even care about the difference?

Also, how can the reader of my Linkedin profile know if the endorsement has been offered spontaneously or has been provided in response to a generic request like, “Please endorse my project management skill on Linkedin and I’ll endorse you.”

This latter situation points out a traditional weakness in the Linkedin system. Some people take Linkedin networking quite seriously and limit their connections and endorsements only to people they know personally. Others go for the “numbers” and create as many connections and endorsements as possible.

This is the traditional “quantity versus quality” question about Linkedin which will never be resolved. Both groups find value  in their approach and Linkedin tries to appeal to both groups.

  • It has features that appeal to more traditional resume-oriented folks who value personal relationships and endorsements.
  • It also, through features such as the new skill endorsements, provides a more targeted — and quick — way of profiling skills and reputations in a database format that can be easily “sliced and diced” by employers, employees, and advertisers. 

So, I give Linkedin a “thumbs up” for going beyond a single “like button” approach to professional endorsements. It’s a good start. I’ve been impressed with the automatic generation of lists of skills that have been generated for me by the Linkedin system that I can easily modify.

But I’m under no illusion of the ultimate validity of the process, for the reasons I’ve listed above. The system is still attempting to quantify what are, in many cases, complex concepts. The ability to game the system is still there, just as the ability to game the written endorsement process is still there. Once people see the sorting implications of the number of endorsements they have for individual skills, for example, pressure to inflate the numbers might very well increase.

Bottom line: you still can’t beat a heartfelt and knowledgeable endorsement by a trusted colleague, but I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that Linkedin will ever replace that.

For another perspective on this new Linkedin feature, see Eric Wittlake’s Oh No: LinkedIn Just Went Klout On Us.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Dennis is a Washington DC area consultant specializing in collaborative project management and new technology adoption. His clients have included the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the US Environmental Protection Agency, Jive Software, the National Library of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, Social Media Today and Oracle, and the World Bank Group. Contact Dennis via email at ddmcd@yahoo.com or by phone at 703-402-7382.

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