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LinkedIn References

One of the interesting features of LinkedIn is the ability to post a reference about a connection. If you think of LI as your online presence/pseudo resume, having some ‘reference letters’ to go with it makes some sense. In the real world few people have reference letters, and most hiring processes don’t seem to include them very well when they do exist. Getting a manager to write a letter is hard because; they aren’t good at writing fluff, they don’t have a lot of time to spare for someone that is moving on, and they may not consider someone to be worthy of a recommendation. Online it seems to be somewhat easier because it takes less writing (a paragraph suffices) and no headache of finding company letterhead, printing, signing, all of that.

I can’t say I have a ton of experience with the LI references. I’ve written one for a former co-worker and requested none so far from former managers or anyone else. Yet.

There are a couple things that bother me about doing this online. One is that I think that it becomes too easy. I’m not sure every employee deserves a reference and the truth is no bad ones get written, at best you try to decipher anything less than pure glowing as ‘he/she is ok and I had to write this to be polite’. The other is that recommendations from co-workers and friends tends to hold a lot less value for me as someone trying to decide. Not zero value, but less value.

Think about submitting a resume for a job. How many references would you submit? All of them? Fair to say you’d exclude the ones that aren’t great, nothing wrong with that. Would you really submit 17 references from former colleagues? Maybe that isn’t a dumb idea.

Actually I see another concern, and that is reference swapping. If you subscribe to the feed that shows changes to your network, a common theme is to see an entry for “Person A Recommends Person B” and immediately after that “Person B Recommends Person A”! That’s not necessarily evil, but – to me – it just looks like a swap, can I really consider either of those to be worth consideration? If I have to start checking for this when I look at LI does it become less useful? Useless?

I’m not sure what the protocol should be either. I have no problem with someone asking, nothing ventured as they say. But to maintain my own credibility, I’ll only write references for those that I can support with fairly deep experience working with them, and politely decline any that do not fit that criteria. Not fun to say no, but sometimes the right thing to do.

Equally, if I decide to request a few references (having some does seem to be a positive), who should I approach? Here I think I apply as best I can my own criteria, I’d want to pick someone that I worked for or with on a serious project or for a good duration of time, someone that if asked would have personal experience working with me and would be able to – without straining – be able to write something good about me.

Too hard a line? There’s definitely some gray, but think about it before you add references and come up with a starter plan at least.


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Anonymous on 3 August 2009

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Posted by Anonymous on 3 August 2009

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Posted by Tim Mitchell on 3 August 2009

I don't think you're being too conservative in your willingness to provide references on LinkedIn.  In fact, if everyone took that attitude, the references would bear more weight because they would be fewer and more well thought out.  

It's certainly not a perfect system, but it's good that they do make an attempt (a pretty decent one, in my opinion) to set up a system for validating one's work and interpersonal skills.

Posted by Steve Jones on 3 August 2009

I'm not sure about this either, but there might be some value. You'd have to take it with a decent grain of salt, and perhaps look to see what qualifications and relationship the other person has.

I've rarely looked at letters when I've hired someone since I have no way to verify that it's valid.

Posted by Hugo Shebbeare on 4 August 2009

Good topic, thank you for the points!  Provokes good though:)  I approached this subject in April and will update it again thanks to yours - www.sqlservercentral.com/.../linkedin-as-your-stepping-stone-for-opportunities-with-internationally-oriented-organisations.aspx

A link swap is quite a natural thing - you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours: as long as they are done honestly, then it's perfectly natural that people group together to attain influence. Not useless, natural.

Abuse case scenario (as everything is subject to..) - if the person has only one reference, or that reference is pretty suspect (political alliance), or very few references for that matter, then you should be weary, and take the necessary precautions by checking up over the phone.  

Best case scenario would be that the person has soooo many references, let's say over ten for example, that you can be pretty sure a few would be suspect, but not that(!) many.

Thanks Again,


Posted by Jack Corbett on 4 August 2009

I don't have any references on LinkedIn.  There are only a couple people in my LinkedIn network that I'd even consider asking because those are the only people I've worked with or for.  

I'd agree with your reluctance to provide references although there are several people that I would provide references for if asked, but they would have to be more personal references because I haven't worked with many of them.  I could talk about their technical knowledge based on forums/blogs/articles/presentations, but I couldn't tell you if they are a good employee or not.  

The last few places I interviewed at, and 1 was offered the position, never asked for references.  They may have called former employers, but I'm not aware of it.

Posted by Alex Rosa on 6 August 2009

I agree that this is one of the interesting features, but it’s not included in my TOP 10 features.

About reference swap: “Person A Recommends Person B” and immediately after that “Person B Recommends Person A”, in this case my vote going to the person that started the process.

It’s almost impossible to know if the recommendations are totally valid, but the person who started the process has initiative that can be considered.

Posted by Andy Warren on 6 August 2009

Alex, that's interesting and has some merit - definitely something to be said for someone who gets in the game and tries. Does that penalize someone like me who takes references more seriously? Or does it somehow get sorted out in the interview process? Do I look bad for not having references...not playing the game?

Thinking on that, I think it does make sense that I should see about adding a few key references, better to have a couple than none.

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