Every time I log in to LinkedIn, I’m assaulted with bogus endorsement notifications. 

 

You know the ones:
“Joe Shmoe has endorsed you for Business Planning!”
or “Jane Doe has endorsed you for financial management!”

Every time it happens, I roll my eyes and think “What the what? I’ve never worked with Joe on business planning. And I had a 10 minutes conversation with Jane at a networking event.” I’m surprised I haven’t sprained something because seriously – there’s been a lot of eye rolling going on lately folks. Endorsements roll in from Joes and Janes and people I’ve never even met in real life. I’ve even noticed a clear pattern: the more a stranger endorses me, the more likely they are to send me requests begging me to endorse them back.
It’s gotten so bad that I don’t even bother adding LinkedIn endorsements to my profile any more, and I’ve stopped giving them – even to people I’ve actually worked with and highly recommend. And every time someone I don’t know endorses me, they ruin my opinion of their ethics and integrity.
As soon as the endorsement feature was announced, social media experts predicted this would happen. Pam Moore from The Marketing Nut outlined everything that was wrong with endorsements way back in 2012. Everyone I talk to about it says they’re experiencing the same thing. I did a quick survey of some friends’ profiles, and discovered than more than half of their endorsements came from family and friends they’d never worked with – and very few came from actual coworkers. One admitted than 90% of her endorsements came from people she’d never even met, who’d just randomly sent her connection requests. Ms. Moore’s post was downright prophetic. This isn’t an isolated incident, folks.
Those bogus endorsements – even the well-meaning ones – are doing very real damage to businesses owners. See, I’ve run into several cases recently where business owners hired or contracted with someone who had lots of LinkedIn endorsements – sometimes BECAUSE they had a lot of endorsements. These business owners KNEW that their own LinkedIn endorsements were mostly bogus. But for some reason, they didn’t apply that knowledge to others’ profiles. They automatically assumed that the majority of their contractors’ endorsements were legit.
And those business owners are paying for their mistakes.

The new local marketing firm whose owners had dozens of endorsements for Business Planning and Marketing? They were being sued for fraud and had repeatedly used fake customer testimonials and quotes on websites.  The majority of their endorsements were from college buddies and acquaintances. They put the unsuspecting client at risk of being heavily fined by the FTC.

The graphic designer with 17 endorsements for Project Management?  Turns out he had NEVER delivered a project on time or under budget for a real client. His endorsements were mostly from friends and family – and even his wife! The company he said he owned didn’t even exist – he’d never registered or licensed it. His incompetence put a client’s project an entire year behind schedule and scared away investors.

The executive coach and business planner with at least 20 endorsements in 7 different categories? Most of her endorsements were from her college roommates, friends from church, and people she recruited to sell Mary Kay – none of whom had ever made more than $500/month. She had no real experience working with executives, and her client paid her a lot of money before realizing that her advice was unethical and periodically illegal. Oh – and she neglected to mention that she is currently being sued by her business partners for spending corporate funds on personal trips, luxury hotel suites, furniture, and rent.

Are you seeing a pattern here? And these are just in my local area, just in the last few months.
LinkedIn is an important tool for controlling your personal brand – but you have to remember that it’s also an easily manipulated one. It’s easy – oh so very easy – for someone with no experience and a dodgy past to appear well-established and credible when  an endorsement from a stranger is indistinguishable from a colleague’s endorsement.

Here are 5 Ways to Spot Bogus Endorsements & Padded Resumes:

1) Don’t assume anything.

Don’t assume having a lot of endorsements on LinkedIn means someone is credible, and don’t assume that a lack indicates inexperience. Recognize LinkedIn endorsements for what they are – someone you know nothing about trying to help someone else look good. Many serial offenders endorse with an agenda, trying to pressure others into reciprocating. And without fail, the strangers who endorse me the most are the same ones who send me the most endorsement requests.

2) Name check endorsements and their job titles.

Check the list of people who endorsed someone, and look for patterns. Are the endorsements from individuals in the same industry, with established credentials and expertise, who could reasonably have used the person’s services? Or are they from a modge podge of industries, locations, and levels of establishment? Do any of the people have the same last name as the person they’re recommending? A bartender recommending a colleague for Restaurant Management seems perfectly logical. But you should be skeptical  if that same bartender is recommending someone for Executive Coaching or Forensic Accounting. Arik Hanson of Communications Conversations wrote this spot-on piece last year about spotting fake endorsements and sneaky lies on LinkedIn. It’s the best breakdown of LinkedIn endorsements I’ve read yet, and worth 5 minutes of your time to read.

3) Ask questions about LinkedIn endorsements.

Pick the names of six endorsers and ask the person about them.
How do they know them? How long have they known each other? How much of that time was spent formally working together? What projects did they work on together?  What were the results of those projects?

4) Do some actual research.

In many cases where my clients are struggling with unethical, incompetent, or problematic contractors, I discover that the contractor has no business license and/or has been sued before. So many crises could be prevented easily by spending 10 minutes searching free state databases.  Check state databases to verify that an individual is legitimate. If they run their own company, do they have a valid business license?  Hit up your state’s online court records and see if they or their companies have any past or current litigation against them. Spend an hour on Google and see what comes up.

5) Do some good, old fashioned reference checking.

If someone is over the age of 24 and has a dozen LinkedIn endorsements, they should be able to give you contact information for at least 4 people they’ve successfully and repeatedly worked with in a professional setting.  Ask for those references and call them. Check their stories.
Remember:  LinkedIn is an easy way to promote your name and credentials, but it’s just as easy for others to promote a fictional version of their credentials. And more often than not, it’s only a snapshot of how popular someone is with a self-selected online clique of connections. It should never be a replacement for vetting employees or contractors. 

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A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.