They are good at creating the illusion of an appealing profile, most likely because they steal photos from successful professionals, make up names that sound dignified, and create credible résumés – cadged from the millions of samples available online. But they are still the same dodgy little spammers and lonely hearts scammers you know and despise from Facebook and other back alleys of the Web.
I didn’t used to understand why companies discouraged LinkedIN use. Now, I get it. I recently saw the (fake) profile of an attractive businesswoman claiming to be an upper-level manager with a large, international company. A number of the real executives at that same company had connected with her, giving her the appearance of legitimacy. You’d connect with a colleague if several of your company’s vice presidents had connected with her, right? The problem is, she doesn’t exist. There is no record of her within that company. Even executives fail to do their due diligence, so don’t beat yourself up too much if you’ve been duped.
I normally ignore requests from people I don’t know. Most of my connections are people I know professionally, family, and friends I’ve met in person. When it comes to connections I’ve only met online, I want to feel I could honestly say something positive about that person to a prospective client or employer – not just “We’ve been chatting about hobbies, sports, and politics on Facebook since 2009!” The bar is not exceedingly high, but it’s not an open gate. In short, I’m not a LinkedIN LION (they say it stands for “LinkedIN Open Networker” but I say it stands for opening lots of doors for scam artists). LinkedIN is rapidly becoming just another social network – for working adults – and we should all be a little less trusting of those connections.
Earlier this week, I got a questionable LinkedIN invitation – I won’t single out any names, because the names and profile photos are generally stolen from nice men and women (or professional models) who have no idea they’ve been so badly used. This one, at least, wasn’t pictured standing in the doorway of his private jet, or drinking cocktails on a yacht, or wearing military fatigues and cuddling puppies and children. No – this guy used a photo of roustabouts working hard in an oil field to go along with the title of “senior drilling engineer.” I suspect that’s meant to be a double-entendre, a little in-joke with his scammer buddies; no wonder some men feel threatened by women smart enough to roll their eyes at the joke.
We had two mutual connections, though – both local, smart, professional women I know. I wrote to both women and asked if I’d be offending a real-life friend of theirs by ignoring (and reporting and blocking) the request. They were appalled and deleted him immediately – one confirmed that he had sent her the usual, “Hello, beautiful…” private message, after she had mistakenly accepted his request.
In my experience, men are even more likely to accept new and unknown-to-them connections on LinkedIN. It’s rarer for women to drop their guard – especially for complete strangers – but at the same time, we don’t like conflict, don’t want to hurt others’ feelings, and are less likely to shout out from the fortress walls, “Halt! Who goes there?” We’ll just ignore you if our spidey senses are tingling.
Well, not all of us. Some of us will question, challenge, report, and block you. Bye-bye, Mr. Senior Drilling Engineer who probably doesn’t work for any oil company on the planet and soon won’t have a LinkedIN account.
You’ve heard the expression, “Trust and verify”? I’d urge you to flip that around, especially on LinkedIN: “Verify, then trust.” Think twice, too, before accepting any connection on social media solely on the strength of the fact that you have “mutual connections” there.
My friend Scott Hartsman wrote a post, back in 2009, that I think has even more value today: LinkedIn for Pragmatists: Why I Stopped Recommending. It’s worth a read; preferably before you click “Endorse” or write a recommendation for a friend or hire someone because they have a million endorsements for the very skill you required in that Help Wanted ad. I treasure the recommendations I have, because I know they are real and they mean a lot to me personally – but I would not expect a hiring manager to take them at face value. The same goes for the handful I’ve written for others, over the years – they are honest and sincere and I back every word wholeheartedly. Scott’s post gives me pause, though. I no longer ask for, or write, public recommendations on LinkedIN, because I’ve seen the truth of what he says, in action.
Endorsements are even worse, in a way – you log in and LinkedIN presents you with a random set of four connections and asks if you’d endorse these people for certain skills. You don’t have to prove that you’ve ever worked with them in that capacity or have any ability, yourself, by which to judge their expertise. Just click a button. Click, click, click. Sure, of course, why not? They’re good and trusted connections… wait, what? I’m pretty sure my old pal John Q. Smith has absolutely no experience in underwater welding…
I’d take LinkedIN endorsements with a whole shaker of salt, if I were hiring. Again, it’s rather sweet to see that my friends have “endorsed” me in writing, communications, blogging, social media – but I’d expect a hiring manager to verify, then trust. It’s easy to click a button. It’s much harder to be asked over the phone and have to stammer out, “Well, I haven’t actually talked to Susie in twenty years, but what I remember was what a hard worker she was. You know, I don’t think Susie ever took more than an hour for lunch. Yeah, I think she did something with computers. I don’t remember what…”
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