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.