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You know the drill: it’s important to have at least two (three’s better) LinkedIn recommendations for each one of your jobs, preferably from a boss, client, or higher-up colleague. These are basically written verifications of your outstanding abilities, and focus on the strengths you’d most like to be known for, by people who have seen your abilities in action. All good.

But recently LinkedIn introduced a feature that many of us are still scratching our heads about – what the heck are Endorsements, what value do they have, and, most importantly, is this something potential employers might be paying attention to?

How Endorsements Work
LinkedIn regularly makes suggestions on people’s home pages as to individuals in their network they may want to “endorse,” and the skills for which they might want to endorse them. If you approve those endorsements from your connections, they’ll show up in your profile between the Experience and Education sections. (Additionally, if you approve someone’s endorsement of your skill[s], LinkedIn will suggest that you endorse them right back for a skill relevant to their profile.)

Influencing What Skills You’re Endorsed For
In order to specify what skills you’re likely to garner endorsements for, it helps to have already selected the key stills or strengths you’d like to be known for. To do this, go to your profile and select the relevant terms under “Skills and Expertise” – this will at least provide a better chance that people are endorsing you for skills you’d actually like to have associated with you. If you don’t do this, LinkedIn will cruise through your profile and choose the skills it thinks apply. You can guess how well that works.

Is It Rude Not to Endorse People Back?
No one can quite figure this out, but my practice has been to only reciprocate an endorsement if the individual is someone who’s work I know well and can genuinely recommend. I don’t return endorsements for people I’ve never worked with, because it feels dishonest to recommend a skill for which I have no genuine knowledge. On the other hand, every time I exercise that moment of ethical choice and don’t endorse someone back I feel like a miserable, ungenerous human being….

What If You Don’t Want Any Endorsements?
Although you can’t stop people from endorsing your skills, it’s easy enough to control whether or not they show up on your profile. Simply click on Profile > Edit Profile and then go to the Skills & Expertise section (between Experience and Education sections). Clicking on the pencil icon will bring up the edit feature, and one of your options will be “Display” – click on the “No” choice, which will keep endorsements from showing up on your profile.

Also, if someone endorses you for a skill that you don’t want to have in your profile, you can choose not to accept the endorsement.

Will Potential Employers Pay Attention to Endorsements?
At this point, the general response seems to be no. Anyone who’s familiar with LinkedIn understands how little value attaches to Endorsements. So focus your efforts on having a dynamite profile, some great Recommendations, a solid and growing network, and engagement with the appropriate groups. These will all provide meaningful information to potential employers, and career opportunities for you.

Signal vs Noise
There’s a great phrase that’s been used in numerous settings recently (including Nate Silver’s excellent The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t), which is “signal versus noise.” It’s now making the rounds in posts about LinkedIn Endorsements.

Basically, the signal is what’s important and meaningful to pay attention to, whereas the noise is all the extraneous and distracting stuff going on around the signal. I would say that LinkedIn Recommendations fall into the signal category, whereas Endorsements are definitely leaning toward the noise side of things. Other, more forceful, opinions have included such descriptors as “stupid,” “worthless,” “pointless,” “time-wasting,” and “what the hell were they thinking?”

Readwrite blogger Matt Asay makes this point in his post LinkedIn Endorsements: Lots of Noise, No Signal, noting “LinkedIn Endorsements have been popular, but that’s not the same as saying they’re useful or liked.”