Why LinkedIn “Skills” Are Useless – and What LinkedIn Can Do About It

LinkedIn makes it very easy to add new skills to your professional profile – and this is what makes this section of the site irrelevant.

As of today, I have 11 skills for which colleagues have endorsed me. By clicking “Add to Profile,” these words will quickly appear on my profile and position me as an expert in Facebook, WordPress, Teaching, Research and more.

Facebook? Yes, I’m a pro. WordPress? Yes, I’m very good at that too. Teaching?  Well, I’ve run some good workshops and I enjoy mentoring, but I dislike most forms of “teaching” and wouldn’t use that word to describe my skills. Research?  Hmm, I like to learn and I Google a heck of a lot of stuff every day. Does that make me skilled at research?

When I surf over to colleagues profiles, I see that they’ve enjoyed these word games as well. However, I shake my head when professionals put a skill on their LinkedIn profile when they’ve only had a fleeting interest or peripheral contact with the skill, not with substantive work experience or training.

I would never put Research on my skill list because I know some very good Directors of Institutional Research, historians, and genealogists. To say I have (personal) research skills would diminish their (professional) skills.

In the digital space, I see colleagues playing fast and loose with social media and the latest jargon. For example, just because you personally use Pinterest doesn’t mean you’ve used it in a professional capacity, for example, tracking links, creating ads, evaluating analytics, A/B testing, etc.

Here are my two litmus tests:

  • I don’t put a skill on my LinkedIn profile if it wasn’t in a job description for a position I’ve held. If you’re referencing a volunteer position or role, ask yourself if the skill would have been listed, interviewed for, and evaluated annually had it been a paid job.
  • I don’t put a skill on my LinkedIn profile unless I also feel comfortable putting it on my real resume and citing an employer, position and supervisor to corroborate.

I don’t mean to exclude those who are learning outside of the traditional (school and work) context. There’s plenty of room for people who devote their time to learning and practicing a new skill.

But if LinkedIn continues to allow anyone to add any skill, this section will become a watered-down fraud of professional service. Here are 5 ways they can prevent that:

  • When a user adds a skill to their profile, require them to attribute the skill to a specific job or project.
  • When a colleague endorses someone for a skill, require the same.
  • When adding a skill, require LinkedIn users to rate their skill level, ranging from Just Learning or Hobby to Advanced or Expert.
  • Pin a drop down menu for months and years of experience to the skill
  • Require a brief statement for each new skill added. This will allow experienced professionals to shine and others can explain why they feel it’s a skill of theirs.

Work – in my opinion – is a craft. I’ve devoted my professional years to learning how to be a skilled professional, colleague, worker and learner. I feel the same about other people and their jobs: regardless of how well I think you do your job (or don’t), I assume it’s a skilled craft for which you are qualified.

It’s about respect, professionalism and craft. If LinkedIn continues to let anyone add – or endorse – any skill, the skill list will become useless and, possibly, silly.

Go ahead: take a look at my LinkedIn profile.  See a skill on there you wonder about?  I’ll take the challenge and site the job or role at which I learned it, as well as months and/or years of experience…or else I’ll remove it from the profile.


Photo credit: Nan Palmero