One of the key advantages of LinkedIn over the traditional resume is that the LinkedIn profile has an in-built deterrent to its members embellishing their profile, that being the profile is public and therefore subject to public scrutiny by employers or colleagues, who could easily expose a lie.
While it is a powerful deterrent to profile embellishment, this fear of public exposure is not a complete deterrent and recruiters should exercise some caution. According to a study by ICM group (reported in PersonnelToday) 9 percent of those who claimed to have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile said that they had ‘embellished their career achievements on their profiles.’
LinkedIn is still more trustworthy than a resume
But, while this is a concerning issue which suggests that recruiters should continue to be wary about the integrity of the data in a LinkedIn profile, LinkedIn profiles appear to be much more trustworthy than resume data based on the results of an AOL Job survey, which found that 25 percent of people say they have lied or embellished the data on their resume.
So, to answer the question of whether a recruiter can rely on a LinkedIn profile, it seems that while they are not perfect, they can be relied upon much more than a resume
Is the LinkedIn profile data current?
The ICM research showed that approximately one third of profiles were up to date with the remainder being out of date or not used. So, the survey suggests, that despite LinkedIn’s great efforts to encourage users to update their online profiles, recruiters should not have an expectation that LinkedIn profiles are up to date – as most will be out of date. This means that recruiters will need to check with the candidates or ask them to update it or provide them with an up-to-date resume, before acting on it.
How much should recruiters trust LinkedIn recommendations?
The integrity of recommendations was also called into question by the survey results as they found that 10 percent of LinkedIn users asked someone to recommend them on the basis that it would be reciprocated, e.g. not because they might ordinarily recommend them. This serves to devalue the recommendations somewhat. What they also found was that 7 percent of those surveyed had written ‘flattering or exaggerated recommendations as a favor to a connection’.
So, I think that recruiters should take a critical view when considering recommendations, which goes beyond simply counting the number of recommendations and the number of mentions of the word excellent or driven (I am sure none of you would ever dream of doing this). I suggest that recruiters take a look at the quality of the referee and put more faith in references from superiors rather than colleagues who may be less willing to do favors for subordinates. Also, put your faith in recommendations that talk about specific projects, dates and outcomes within a specific context rather than those that offer no context to the recommendation.
Can you trust the size of the network?
The survey also found that 30 percent of users were happy to accept a connection request from someone they didn’t know and 16 percent send connections to people they have not met. This is not a problem in itself, (if done within the rules of LinkedIn), as you may be looking to make a connection in the legitimate pursuit of an opportunity.
But it does mean that the size of the network may not bear any relation to the quality of the connections, e.g. how actionable is that network, e.g. a member with 200 well selected connections may have a more powerful and actionable network than a member with 1,000 very shallow connections.
So, in jobs where connections may matter, e.g. sales jobs, recruiters might want to examine an individual’s network with a fine toothed comb to look for relevance and quality of connections. Ideally, a majority of the contacts that you see should have professional relevance to the profile member your are assessing. Another clue is to check their updates and see how many connections they have picked up that day. If you find that they have made 50 connections that day you might question what the actual quality of those connections, e.g. are these really strong sales leads or prospects? (Note, there is nothing wrong with making 50 connections a day, but I think this kind of connection building is more relevant to those wishing to build an audience for regular, light touch news updates and maybe not for consultative business relationships.)
I am in no way questioning the importance and centrality of the LinkedIn Profile to the recruitment process, (I rely on LinkedIn) because it is a very powerful recruitment tool, but like resumes that came before it, it is not a flawless screening tool, and recruiters should be suitably vigilant and cautious when using it.