Professional networking website LinkedIn has become one of the most popular sites for connecting with colleagues and displaying job histories, and as the site has evolved, newer tools and features have been added.

One feature becoming more prominent is LinkedIn’s “endorsement” tool used for recognizing a first-degree connection’s skills and expertise. With one click, users can validate skills on a connection’s LinkedIn profile. For example, users can be endorsed for skills like, “project management,” “IT strategy” and “cloud computing,” and can also request that others endorse them for listed skills.

But should government employees question the value of LinkedIn endorsements?

According to LinkedIn, the tool was intended to help users build their professional network and brand. However, users self-select the skills that are and are not displayed on their profile. This honor system approach makes it challenging to prove whether a user actually possesses the skills for which he or she has been endorsed.

Dan Schwabel, the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm, attaches more importance to LinkedIn endorsements, saying they can "make or break your career." According to a blog post by Schwabel, the more endorsements you have for a particular skill, the higher your profile will be ranked for that skill.

“For instance, if you have one hundred professionals endorsing you for your ‘social media’ skills, then when a recruiter is looking for someone with those skills, you will appear higher than others,” Schwabel wrote.

Although not all job recruiters look at LinkedIn information for potential hires, some do use the site as a tool for scouting talent.

Thom Rubel, vice president of research at IDC Government Insights, said government employees should exercise caution when using LinkedIn endorsements. He feels they don’t hold much credibility.

“I don’t think [government employees] should be more cautious just for the sake of being cautious. I think they should use common sense and know their environment,” Rubel said. “And the government environment is slightly different and they should be sensitive to those kinds of things that might be considered red flags.”

Wake County, N.C., CIO Bill Greeves has been a longtime social media user in the government space and utilizes LinkedIn for networking with peers and vendors. Greeves considers himself a somewhat "liberal" LinkedIn user since he’ll connect with anyone whom he feels is relevant to his line of work.

Greeves said often people, himself included, will get endorsements from people they don’t know well or don’t know at all, so the endorsement doesn’t hold much weight. Brenda Cooper, CIO of Kirkland, Wash., said she’s a LinkedIn user but has been endorsed for skills by people who can’t make proper judgment of her job skills.

She said since the endorsements aren’t vetted by anyone and since the categories for skills are so broad, she personally doesn’t think they matter for networking purposes.

“I do use LinkedIn but I have never counted on, looked at, or used the endorsements for anything,” Cooper said in an email.  

When it comes to LinkedIn endorsements, some feel government employees and other LinkedIn users shouldn’t be too nonchalant about accepting LinkedIn endorsements, particularly if it’s for a skill you can’t technically do or in which you are not well versed.

Mark Rogers, Cisco’s global government marketing manager, said that when LinkedIn users accept an endorsement for a skill they don’t technically have, it should be considered a breach of ethics since posting skills on your page that you don’t possess would be misleading to others viewing your profile. He said anyone looking at someone’s LinkedIn profiles and endorsements for the purpose of potential job recruitment should do additional research about a person to validate their skills.

“So I think there needs to be, not skepticism, but there needs to be follow-through on the investigation side,” Rogers said. “And I say investigations because obviously I think someone is looking to possibly hire this person.”

Rogers said a good rule of thumb is to only accept endorsements from people you know well, but only if the person who endorsed you has also written a recommendation for you for your LinkedIn profile.

Greeves said LinkedIn endorsements aren’t much of a factor when determining if an individual is qualified for a specific government job. In his experience looking for a new position, endorsements weren’t a top priority to have on his LinkedIn profile.

“I don’t take much stock in it for my own profile,” Greeves said. “I certainly didn’t use it when I was doing job-seeking for my other job and I certainly wouldn’t use it as a person trying to hire someone.”

Photo from Shutterstock.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.