Jul 13, 2006

Recruiters' Fake Profiles Damage Social Networks

Hi folks, as part of the recruiting blogswap, we have GG's post on GG's blog ! Er, I mean Glenn's post on my blog !

About Glenn
Glenn Gutmacher is a Recruiting Researcher for Microsoft Corporation and creator of one of the world's first online sourcing courses in 1997. His blog was voted the #2 recruiting research blog for 2005 in Recruiting.com's annual competition, which answers Internet sourcing questions submitted by real recruiters and researchers like you. Visit Glenn's blog at: http://recruiting-online.spaces.msn.com to read the Q&A or submit your question.

This is part of the Recruiting.com Blog Swap

A couple of weeks ago, Gautam commented on the damage to employment brands from outspoken commenters on the social networks . I'd like to look at another way damage is occurring: how rebel users of the social networks are gaming the system to damage the brand of the social networks themselves.

Lately, I have been receiving an increasing number of network connection invitations on LinkedIn from users who are clearly lying on their profiles. Though I will not cite specific profiles (the accused are innocent until proven guilty), it is clear they are breaking the rules of the network they agreed to follow. For example, one who claims to be a software engineer has listed over a dozen employers who are all direct competitors, for all of which the person is supposedly "currently" working. On another profile, it's again over 10 direct competitors, and the employment dates on each are 1900 - present. This last person is particular brazen - she lists her current employer, that she is a recruiter, and lists the same email address under each employer description for you to contact for career opportunities. Most of these rule-breakers are anonymous: they list an obviously fake name or just their initials. Sometimes their email address (the one you see in the initial invitation) corresponds to a corporate entity, but doesn't correspond to any of the employers on their profile!

As anyone who's visited my website or blog knows, I am all for creative online sourcing techniques. But this kind of gaming of the system is inappropriate for a few reasons:

1) it reduces the trust factor that people have about LinkedIn, and social networks generally, which may contribute to an eventual implosion of the social network phenomenon;

2) more immediately and personally, it makes me feel suspect about the intentions of the user, because I don't know anything about them. And I don't know how they could help me (though it's clear they only want me to help them in terms of building up their network reach when they search for names on LinkedIn). This approach is especially troubling, since it was a generic LinkedIn template invitation (I'm fine with people using template invitation messages as a time-saver, but at least they should be YOUR templates and be targeted at least to the category of the user you're inviting), which shows no forethought about who they're contacting.

3) if I were to accept that connection request, then sure, my network grows a bit thanks to their connection, but it's trivial and a net loss compared to the message I'd really be sending: implicitly encouraging their behavior. Then they will grow their networks, have more searching success, and tell their friends to do likewise. Before you know it, the network will be filled with meaningless profiles and no one will know what to make of the "people" in their search results.

I have reported a number of these individuals for abuse to LinkedIn -- only when it's very clear they're abusers (I merely decline the invitations of those who are questionable but seemingly not outright liars and gamers). Use the privacy {at} linkedin {dot} com address, and include the URL to the profile in question. LinkedIn's outgoing business development manager, Mrinal Desai, assures me that all these inquiries will be investigated and appropriate punishments meted out. I'm all for building one's network large, and keeping stronger relations with a smaller inner circle of your highly-trusted connections, but it's time to clamp down on this particular type of excessive behavior, and I hope you'll join me.