What I Learned About LinkedIn Profiles From Reaching Out To 2000 Connections

(skip the first paragraph if you have read any of the other three articles I have written about my 2000 connection research).

Background

A couple of years ago I had 1500 LinkedIn Connections. Then I started using LinkedIn Publisher and writing articles about using LinkedIn every week. And I started receiving connection invitations. Lots of them. Even accepting well less than half of them, I was adding fifty connections a week. Last year I realized that my connection network was made up of a lot of people I had connected with but didn’t know aside from reading their profiles. So I started a program of reaching out to my connections, sending individual personalized messages one at a time (I refuse to use that automated mass messaging crap) and inviting them to a 15 minute phone or Skype call to find out more about each other.  Over time I sent these messages to 2000 of my connections and wound up having several hundred conversations.

This is what I learned about job hunting and LinkedIn profiles

A lot of profiles are too thin

There are many LinkedIn profiles with no Summary and with Experience sections that consist solely of the title, company worked for, and years worked there. This didn’t surprise me though I don’t understand why anyone using LinkedIn wouldn’t want to add some detail about what they do in their job (are they ashamed?). But they are certainly not in some tiny minority in not fleshing out their experience sections.

A lot of people have way too many specialties

What I never realized and what did surprise me was the number of people who have profiles that are overrun with specialties.  In these LinkedIn profiles, the writer is paranoid about missing something so they list everything they “specialize” in. You know the ones I am talking about. The person who specializes in twenty different areas. Or thirty. And I am not talking about endorse-able skills, I am talking about discrete specialties in one long list, usually in the summary. They seem to be under the impression that they may lose out if they don’t list everything. Their profile becomes a catch all. And as an old advertising adage goes, “when you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing.” A LinkedIn profile is a place to talk about what you are uniquely good at doing. And that’s because – whether it’s a new hire or a new supplier – companies want someone who specializes in something they don’t have already.

Here’s an example: you decide to start blogging. One LinkedIn profile says “Specialties: Publishing, Videos, Podcasts, Blogging, Slide decks, Webinars, Livestreaming, E-Books, Testimonials, Case Studies and Semaphore.” Another LinkedIn profile lists their specialty as: “Blogging, Just blogging.” All other things being equal, who would you call first?   

The idea here is that when you list a pile of specialties, people don’t think, “wow, he can do it all”. Instead they think “There isn’t anything special about this guy.”

I was surprised at how many people are quietly looking for better work

The passive job market is huge. There are a lot more people that would jump than you think. They are just waiting for the right offer. LinkedIn has this right. I was shocked (but I still reserve the right to despise the term “dream job”).

Regardless of how fabulous a LinkedIn profile is, it only tells 10% of the story

This was one of the biggest things I found from actually talking to people. When you talk to someone you find out what their real specialties are, and what they are really passionate about. What’s in their LinkedIn Profile is the tip of the iceberg. A lot of profiles list the things someone does on their job. A conversation tells you the things that really matter to that person. What fascinates them. The parts of their jobs that they really look forward to doing.

Someone will be a “content specialist” and on their profile they list all their tools and capabilities. Then when I talk to them they casually mention that what they are really good at and enjoy doing is writing for healthcare providers and medical device companies. They have some relevant background in this area that makes them particularly comfortable with the lingo and the way content needs to be written for that industry. And there was nothing about this on their profile. Not a hint. But after my conversation with them, I now  have a go-to content writer for healthcare and medical that I didn’t have before.   

So here’s your thought for today: if you haven’t talked to one of your connections in months, invite them to have a 15 minute call with you. When you get them on the phone, ask them what’s hot in their specialty area lately and how it is affecting them. Offer to help them. Offer to introduce them to someone in your network. They may not need your help right now. But you will know them better, they will know you better, and they will remember that you offered to help them.

And almost no one on LinkedIn does it.  

Coming Changes To LinkedIn Skills & Endorsements On The Desktop User Interface


LinkedIn wrote about changes to Skills and Endorsements back in October. They  started rolling out these changes to the mobile app in late October. They will be enabled on the new User Interface that desktop users are starting to see too. Here’s what’s different and what it may mean.

1) Endorsements are now personalized to each person who visits your profile

For example, skills endorsed by mutual connections, colleagues and people  LinkedIn figures are experts at that skill will be highlighted.   

It looks like LinkedIn has a found a sneaky way to fight “endorsement stockpiling.” You may have 99 endorsements for strategy, but LinkedIn may only show the 13 of them that LinkedIn thinks are relevant to that viewer.

2) LinkedIn will use algos to find close connections who can validate your skills.

In their October 26 announcement, LinkedIn says they they will “improve targeting for suggesting endorsements so that the connections who know your work best can validate your skills.”

Previously, LinkedIn suggested people to endorse in a seemingly random manner with a generic “what does Fred know about <skill>” type message. It now appears LinkedIn is going to look for people you are close to, and suggest you endorse those people for their skills.  

In theory, this makes sense, as I am more likely to endorse someone I actually do know really well versus one of my more speculative connections.

On the other hand, LinkedIn may figure out “connections who know your work best” by using something like the Connection Strength Score, which has not been very helpful for Notifications.

3) There is a definite link between skills / endorsements and LinkedIn search results.

While this has been implied in the past, this is the first concrete proof I have seen  that Skills are taken into consideration in search results. As LinkedIn says in the announcement, “Endorsements help ensure you are more likely to be discovered through search.”

Note that “more likely to be discovered” means you will be included in the search results. It does not necessarily mean you will rank near the top in the search results.

4) LinkedIn will now suggest skills you should add “based on your profile”

This may be based on seeing you use a keyword like “Strategy” in your Summary and then suggesting you list “Strategy” as a skill. Or this may just be a sneaky way for LinkedIn to advertise LinkedIn Learning courses which would teach you that skill you should add.

5) Endorsements are still used primarily by recruiters and HR people

This come through in the wording in LinkedIn’s announcements – things like “more than a third of hiring managers spend more than 60 seconds browsing your skills and endorsements” – you can see that Endorsements are still thought of by LinkedIn as a tool for hiring.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t use them for our own purposes. In particular, I have found that Skills and Endorsements are a great place for STEM people to list things like programming languages and technologies they are conversant with.

So what does this all mean? It looks like Skills and Endorsements are here to stay. I think if LinkedIn really was interested in helping us users, they would be putting the same effort into Recommendations. But while Skills and Endorsements help LinkedIn users somewhat, they sure seem to help LinkedIn more, providing “hooks” for Sales Navigator and Recruiting people to use, and possibly helping to sell Learning courses.  

Of course, the actual appearance of all this new Skills and Endorsements  functionality is dependent upon the new desktop user interface rollout, which at present, doesn’t seem to be rolling very quickly.

 

LinkedIn Endorsements Have Become Important. There’s A Lesson Here

wine glassesSometimes what LinkedIn does now doesn’t make sense till later

Way back when Skills and Endorsements were introduced (yes, they were announced in late September, 2012), I did it myself. I wrote about the Facebook-ization of LinkedIn. Endorsements were frivolous. Recommendations were for serious LinkedIn users and Endorsements were just fluff, confetti to be tossed around and easily gamed. I was one of many people that dismissed it as a poorly thought out attempt to increase engagement on the LinkedIn platform.

Fast forward to the present: LinkedIn released the new version of their Recruiter platform in Q1 2016. This is LinkedIn’s flagship product, responsible for more revenue than any other, and maybe more revenue than ALL of LinkedIn’s other products put together. You have to think that the product managers at LinkedIn invest a lot of time and effort in figuring out how to improve this product for their most important customers. The new version of Recruiter has filters where users  can look for LinkedIn Profiles with specific skills – those same skills we laughed at three years ago.

If you are a job hunter, either actively looking or passively open to receiving  offers, Skills and Endorsements just became an important part of your LinkedIn profile.

Now, maybe Skills and Endorsements was a happy mistake, something that could be incorporated into the Recruiter product, so it was. But I think the more likely scenario is that it was an experiment, specifically with integration into the recruiter product somewhere down the line in mind.

Endorsements was a feature whose importance and whole reason for being wasn’t recognized for a long time.

Here’s another feature that a lot of people still don’t understand the reason for:  anonymous profile views. For a long time no one understood why users were allowed to be anonymous when they viewed profiles, and LinkedIn wasn’t saying.

Anonymous profile views anger a lot of LinkedIn users, but they make a lot of people happy. Recruiters – remember those people who use that most important product LinkedIn has? – use the anonymous feature and it makes them happy. They pay LinkedIn lots of money for the privilege. People who complain don’t make this  connection or feel that their free accounts matter more to LinkedIn than the anonymous dude’s paid account (yeah, good luck with that).

Another example is all the changes in LinkedIn Groups which almost no one likes. There is something there, a reason for all these changes, we just can’t see it yet.  We will, but on LinkedIn’s schedule, not ours.

I think there is a lesson here: LinkedIn has a roadmap. We are privy to it in only the broadest sense through what LinkedIn says at conferences or earnings calls. From time to time new features pop up that seemingly make no sense, or features and capabilities disappear or are modified – but all these things serve a higher purpose, one that we will discover somewhere down the line.

So when LinkedIn introduces something that seems frivolous, like an Endorsement feature, don’t roll your eyes and laugh at it. Instead ask yourself where this could lead. That type of thinking has me looking differently at a couple of other things LinkedIn has done lately. It has me thinking about where LinkedIn could be going, which is a lot better use of my time than complaining about a feature that looks odd on face value.