Jul 29

LinkedIn for Pragmatists: Why I Stopped Recommending

“What did people do before Google and LinkedIn?  This is like cheating.” – Conversation with a friend earlier today

I happened back to LinkedIn today for the first time in a couple months to 40+ recommendation requests.

Requests for LinkedIn recommendations are a pretty frequent occurrence.  I do explain to people who ask me for them why I won’t be recommending them, but that ends up not happening more often than it does.

I genuinely do like most of the people that I’ve worked with in the past, and would work with many of them again.  Whether it’s with me or not, the vast majority have a realistic position out there they’d be a perfect fit for.  Nothing would make me happier than to see them find their perfect job.

To those with whom I haven’t had this conversation: In my mind, I’m actually doing you a favor.  I wrote a few recommendations in the past, and I did mean every word that I typed.  Then I realized how I was making use of the site after mapping hires (of both mine and others) to their recommendations - LinkedIn turned into a filter of which pieces of information to discard instead of what to take seriously, especially after seeing how many recommendations were mutual.

Skill at the social game that is LinkedIn does not map to utility in the workplace.

This is doubly so when there’s a mutual recommendation in place.  A LinkedIn recommendation swap doesn’t have any value - It’s two people agreeing to say nice things about each other, true or not, to increase an artifical count.  Whether intended or not, that’s what the system has turned into.

Make no mistake - LinkedIn is an online, social game.  The domain just happens to be people and their careers instead of avatars with swords, sorcery, or spaceships.

As a hiring manager/team builder I have a simple rule about LinkedIn recommendations:  If you give me a reference who is also recommending you there, I’m not going to call them.  I’m going to look for someone else who might say something that I can’t already read in public.  Someone you’ve worked for or someone who’s worked for you, or ideally both.  The fact that the games industry is as connected as it is tends to make this a fairly trivial exercise.  This is the backchannel reference.

If I’m the one doing the evaluating (assuming you’re not still employed, since I would never knowingly break someone’s “cover” - confidence remains crucially important), I know that those are infinitely more useful in making sure that we’re a good match than what someone is willing to scream from the hilltops about you.

That’s the real goal here - Ensuring that any relationship that occurs from here forward is genuinely mutually beneficial.  If we aren’t going to be, in skill set or personality, it’s best if we both know that ahead of time so no one ends up with a disappointing career step as a result.

If you’re applying with me, I might just know someone else who has something you’d be perfect for — I’m always happy to make connections for people that way as well.

I have to assume that other hiring managers are as smart as me, or moreso.

Given that, by not putting up a public recommendation I’m increasing the chances that a smart potential hiring manager (the kind you probably want to work for in the first place) will get in touch with me to hear about you.  Further, I can think of at least half a dozen nice things to say about any given person that I’ve worked with.

So far, this has proven out.  It’s resulted in a number of highly positive, long-term placements with people who are thrilled in their new positions.

It seems like the smart way to play it.

If we worked together in the past, you’re trying to get a job somewhere, and want me to say the nicest things that I can - Let’s talk.  Let me know.  We can talk positives and negatives, and use me as a reference.

Or let me know where you’re aiming to go.  As quite a few people can attest to, I’m happy to make phone calls and say genuinely nice things ahead of time for people who’ve done well in the past.

In terms of not recommending you — If I like you, I still believe I’m doing you a favor by abstaining from the game.  Please don’t take it as an insult.

Instead, let’s talk.

17 Comments so far »


    Drew said

    July 29 2009 @ 10:14 pm

    I’ve long thought if LinkedIn as the “Professional” Facebook. Do I really need another social network? How many of these things do I have to belong to? I’m actually irritated everytime I see another invitation to that damned site. But maybe that’s just me.


    Linda Carlson said

    July 29 2009 @ 10:29 pm

    I agree one hundred percent. What’s more, a public recommendation can rarely be taken seriously. I have read, with some amusement, a glowing endorsement made by someone for an acquaintance whose skills and personality they have repeatedly disparaged.

    I have written very few recommendations, and mean them.
    Very, very few.

    If I don’t have enough information to offer an opinion, I don’t. Meeting someone at two trade shows does not qualify my to assess anyone’s skill set.

    I was going to do a comic about this very issue. Darn you, now I have to give you credit for writing about it first. Would you like me to write you a recommendation?



    Brian 'Psychochild' Green said

    July 29 2009 @ 10:46 pm

    Skill at the social game that is LinkedIn does not map to utility in the workplace.

    Depends on what you mean by “utility”. Someone who is adept at social agreements may be able to better fit into a team’s chemistry than a brilliant but less socially adept individual. Do you need a superstar person in that position, or do you need someone who will work with the group you already have?

    In general, though, I agree. I’ve done a few recommendations and asked for a few. But, whenever I see mutual recommendations, especially ones that happen at the same time. The exception is when there’s an obvious imbalance between two people. For example, Jessica Mulligan and I recommended each other. Jessica hardly needs my friendly word to survive in the industry, she has her own reputation to rely on. So, I’d hope people who see that consider that she didn’t just recommend me because I recommended her.


    Brian 'Psychochild' Green said

    July 29 2009 @ 10:47 pm

    Editing mistake in my comment there. When I said “But, whenever I see mutual recommendations, especially ones that happen at the same time.” I meant to add that I get suspicious of the motivations.


    Moorgard said

    July 30 2009 @ 5:27 am

    This whole article is just an elaborate ruse to obfuscate the fact that you won’t write a LinkedIn recommendation for me. :(


    Loredena said

    July 30 2009 @ 7:26 am

    I suspect the game industry is a bit of a unique case - I can assure you that the more general IS industry is not nearly so insular, though some specialties within it can be, which means I cannot just look at someone’s resume and know who to call to ask questions.

    One thing though — mutual recommendations are rarely a case of ‘hey, I’ll write one for you if you write one for me’. It’s much more subtle than that, though the result is the same. What’s really happening is the social covenant of polite reciprocity — if someone leaves a glowing recommendation for you, you will then feel obliged to respond in kind. That social imperative is strong enough in fact, that I recall one person I know stating that he never let a recommendation for him display until he had written a corresponding one.


    Naladini said

    July 30 2009 @ 9:46 am

    This is a pretty decent road to take.

    The situations you’re describing are not unique to gaming in the least, its actually quite rare that I see a linkedin recommendation that wasn’t mutual. Whether it be former co-workers beefing things up, friends/business associates writing glowing recommendations just before a relationship gets severed, or just simple reciprocity, the simple concept of due diligence goes a long way.


    Cuppycake said

    July 30 2009 @ 11:54 am

    I hate Linkedin. I’m on there because everyone else is and I don’t like to be late to parties - but I never use it. I’ve never used it professionally. I’ve never cared about the groups there. It’s really just a Pokemon “gotta catch em all” type of site for me.

    So yeah, I have like no recommendations there and I’ve recommended like one person a long time ago. I’m not sad about it.


    links for 2009-07-31 | Chrome Bits said

    July 31 2009 @ 4:07 am

    […] LinkedIn for Pragmatists: Why I Stopped Recommending "Make no mistake – LinkedIn is an online, social game. The domain just happens to be people and their careers instead of avatars with swords, sorcery, or spaceships." (tags: linkedin socialnetworking career mmorpg gaming management) Categories: Linking Tags: Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) Leave a comment Trackback […]


    Babs said

    September 2 2009 @ 12:13 pm

    I happen to like LinkedIn and the potential it has to drill to the essence of someone’s career successes (and failures) but I don’t recommend everyone who asks, either. For some, there are particular anecdotes that warrant a recommendation even if I’m not qualified to speak to their overall career competency. For most, I’d rather make a phone call on their behalf if I believe in them.

    I look for the real clues in their answers on the various boards to which they belong. Recommendations are just a part of what the site offers and I’m hard-pressed to even think about recommending someone who posts blather and pulp in response to industry questions elsewhere on the site.


    Illuminator said

    September 3 2009 @ 6:06 am

    I got another LinkedIn invite yesterday and thought to myself, does this website really need to exist? Or are we all just playing the game in case one day it does?


    Babs said

    September 4 2009 @ 9:42 am

    Interestingly enough it’s a tool for quite a few career recruiters looking to weed out the chaff from the wheat. When I was laid off I updated my LinkedIn site and sent word out that I was looking for something new. I used LinkedIn as the URL for my “website,” which a lot of employers request on applications these days. The number of hits I got from recruiters went through the roof.

    Now I’m not so sure it’s a good thing because the potential exists for summary dismissal based solely on the contents of a social website (as opposed to your resume), but in all honesty it doesn’t work any differently than recruitment sites requiring monthly fees to provide the same (and in some cases much less) service.

    But that’s kind of off-topic so if you want to discuss the benefits of it you can drop me a direct line. Scott’s reluctance to recommend Moorgard still rules the topic (she says, snickering and hiding).


    The Count said

    September 25 2009 @ 12:40 pm

    I guess I’ve just never understood how people have a hard time finding jobs (in programming, at least). Two things:

    - I’ve only interviewed for one job where I didn’t then receive an offer, and that was a money thing.
    - I’ve never gotten a job anywhere that I didn’t already know people who worked there.

    I use LinkedIn to keep track of people I’ve known at different jobs, to see what they’re doing now, etc. and as a handy way to keep my resume up to date and available. That’s pretty much it. I’ll accept that I haven’t exactly run the gamut of employment issues, but am I really that far out there?


    Matt said

    August 26 2010 @ 8:18 am

    I used LinkedIn to get a job once. It was rather short-lived, but I use it as a way to find out what other people in our industry are up to, and as an addendum to my resume. I rather like the recommendation feature as it’s easier to say “here are my recommendations” than trying to look up people I haven’t talked to in a long time and get recommendations from them.

    I agree with Loredena above me, in regard to mutual recommendations. I wouldn’t accept a recommendation from someone I didn’t work with, but if I did then I gave a recommendation in return.

    It could get spammy potentially, but I don’t exactly have people hounding me for recommendations - it pays to be a little guy, sometimes. :D I don’t know how people like David Perry sort through all of that…


    savitha said

    December 1 2010 @ 10:33 pm

    I totally agree with the article. I have made a few recommendations and not made a lot more, based on whether i knew someone enough to talk about their work. I have a couple of issues with linkedin recos

    1. Public recos are usually that -for public consumption - and do not discuss specifics but end up being niceties only. Mutual recos could end up as a ‘being nice to each other’ thing.

    2. This is not to say that there aren’t recommendations that are genuine. Just that it is difficult to make out which is genuine and which are niceties. Therefore their value as a recruitment or reference tool is greatly reduced.

    3. Not everyone can give a specific recommendation of another’s work and skills in an exact way. So most of them end up sounding cliched (even if they mean every word of it).

    4. The phone call or email to a reference before hiring a person is meant to be discreet and help the recruiter get a good assessment in person. A public dashboard may not replace that anytime.


    Paulette andria Hamilton said

    June 28 2011 @ 3:15 pm

    As one of the unemployed trying to find a job out there and being told time and time again it’s all about who you know via networking, then that’s when Linked In and the referal recomendation game comes in. It helps new employees, employers, people new to the work force or new immigrants to the country connect find someone to connect too and as you hiring managers seem to always say gain that canadian experience. It’s more professional then Facebook and the best social tool in town for networking.


    Hu Seyn said

    March 29 2012 @ 12:15 am

    LinkedIn is indeed a social network, but it is giving you the facility of organizing and systemizing recommendations. So why not make use of it? What would differ if my direct manager recommended me on LinkedIn or wrote it on a piece of paper? (He did both actually). In my opinion, there is no harm in publicizing a recommendation.

    What I do object however is having your full CV online. This is what I do not take seriously.

    Finally, I respect your opinion, but comparing LinkedIn members with Avatars and Swords? Come on..

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