The other day I received a notification from LinkedIn that made me actually laugh out loud. My friend and colleague Lauren Orsini had endorsed me for “murder” and “arson.”
It was a joke referencing my Twitter bot and law-breaking alter ego, @SelenaEbooks; I’m not actually all that skilled in either murder or arson. But LinkedIn asked me if I wanted to include the new endorsements on my LinkedIn page. I accepted “murder” because I wanted to see if LinkedIn would actually take it—and it did. (I did turn down “arson,” though.)
The experience made me realize how easy it is to show off false endorsements on LinkedIn. And how unfortunate those could end up being for someone’s career should the wrong hiring manager or recruiter see them.
It’s not just joke endorsements that could potentially jeopardize a potential job prospect or tarnish online reputations. Whether they’re purposely to get a rise out of a friend, colleague or stranger, or because people legitimately don’t understand how to use the service, there are a few key things people should stop doing on LinkedIn.
Provide False Endorsements
Endorsements are there to showcase your skills and expertise as determined by your colleagues. You can set your own, and have people add to them, or, like my friend Lauren did, you can endorse something that isn’t listed on your profile.
It’s impossible to endorse people for random things—murder and arson happen to be actual skills law enforcement officers proudly display on their profiles. LinkedIn can’t tell whether such endorsements make you look like a skilled investigator or a criminal.
— Selena Larson (@selenalarson) June 30, 2014
False endorsements can be silly, but they also can be disreputable. If you’re applying for a new job and have 20 endorsements for a skill that makes you look like you’re angling for a position on the Most Wanted list—or even, more prosaically, that you merely lack—it might crimp your prospects..
Flirt With Connections
No, you should never flirt with people via LinkedIn. Just don’t.
As Elana Carlson at the Daily Dot points out, even asking someone out for drinks or coffee via LinkedIn can put people—women especially—in an awkward position. Is this person asking me to meet professionally, or personally? If you are asking for someone’s time offline, make sure to make your intentions very clear, and if you do try flirting, don’t be surprised if people block you. (Which they can now do, finally.)
Make Your Avatar A Cartoon Character
It might be cute, but there’s no reason for you to have an animated character as your LinkedIn profile photo. Unless, of course, you’re an animator.
Photos are one of the most crucial parts of your LinkedIn profile. It’s what people look at first, and can help people recognize you when meeting at networking events or job interviews.
Try not to use the same photos as you would, say, on Facebook. That means no group photos (which one are you?), no snapshots from the club (those are never very flattering), and no photos of you in a bathing suit (because self-explanatory.)
The best photo you can choose is a flattering headshot with great lighting in order to create a great first impression on connections and potential hiring managers.
Constantly Refresh “How You Rank,” Expecting It To Change
Yes, people really do this. How You Rank is one of the most popular features on LinkedIn, because it shows people how they stack up against their colleagues (or competitors, or frenemies).
According to LinkedIn, many people refresh this page over and over in the hopes that it magically improves. That’s like staring at your bank balance expecting it to go up.
Instead, you could check out other people’s profiles to see why they’re the top dog. LinkedIn recommends finding keywords or skills that stand out, and comparing your experience and summary sections to see where you may be falling short. If it’s just a matter of adding in some details you might have overlooked, you might eventually notice your ranking has improved—though not, we should stress, within the next few minutes.
Connect With Your Connections’ Connections
LinkedIn isn’t Twitter. It might be stealthily rolling out a “follow” button that will make it easier for strangers to read each other’s updates, but LinkedIn is still no place to connect with people you don’t know personally. Because they might take it personally—and not in a good way.
Look for contacts you with whom you have some common ground with and know already, and reach out to them in a professional way. If there’s no reason for you to be connecting with someone other than “well, my friend did,” then don’t connect with them at all.
Spam Your Contacts
Yes, LinkedIn provides an email service. No, you shouldn’t use it to email all your contacts about your latest business proposal. Stay classy and scram with the spam.
Instead, treat LinkedIn’s inMail very cautiously. Before sending anyone an inMail, make sure you know what they do and have a good idea why they would care about what you have to tell them. Copy-pasting emails to connections might be an easy way to send out a lot of information at once, but it could also prune your network, possibly drastically.
Publish A Personal Blog
LinkedIn now lets over 15 million people publish articles on its platform; eventually, everyone will be able to use it. The trick is to use it well.
LinkedIn is a great place for you to publish knowledgeable professional advice, share your career expertise, and describe projects or services you’ve helped build or manage. But you don’t want to get too personal.
Think about the conversations you have with your coworkers. Do you regale your cube-mates with tales from your sister’s bachelorette party, or your neighbor’s baby’s birthday? No? Okay then. Avoid these subjects on LinkedIn, too.
Neglect Non-Virtual Networking
Remember when people would go to events and happy hours to meet up with like-minded professionals? You know, before all our social interactions were controlled by our smartphones? The good news is, these events still exist, and just because LinkedIn has made it easy to virtually meet people, that doesn’t mean you should rely on it entirely. There’s no real replacement for interacting with a person in real life.
When you connect with someone on LinkedIn, it’s easy to be forgotten. You’re much more memorable if you meet someone you have something in common with in person. LinkedIn is a facilitator of these interpersonal interactions—but it’s not the only way, or even the best way, to grow your professional network.
If you are relying on LinkedIn to meet other professionals, be a person people want to connect with, and exchange ideas and resources. Tools like LinkedIn publishing or SlideShare can help you expand your network, and the company’s suite of six mobile applications make LinkedIn easily accessible on your smartphone—that is, if you’re willing to give up mobile real estate to manage an ever-expanding network.
Lead image by smi23le