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Come a little closer. I have a confession to make. At my age, in this age, you can’t admit that there is any aspect of technology you don’t understand or embrace. Not if you want to avoid becoming a permanent exhibit in the Museum of the Chronically Unemployed.

So, here’s my confession — I don’t understand Linked-In.

I understand how to use it, of course. I’m actually a Linked-In member, and have, at last count, a very impressive number of connections. (Don’t be jealous, but my current list of intimate business associates now numbers six, and two of them are people I actually know.)

While I diligently built my “public profile,” and assiduously checked off the many groups in which I am a member, including the Loyal Order of Muskrats, Lodge 666, and the Back Street Boys Fan Club, it was difficult for me to believe that all the bytes and pixels I was using up in this social networking extravaganza would ever do me any good.

After all, if I wanted to see how ancient and decrepit my friends had become I had Facebook. And if I wanted my closest associates to know that I was camped out on a bar stool at The Kit Kat Klub at 3:37 PM, I had Twitter. But how would LinkedIn — the premier social networking application for business people — serve to promote my career? I really had no idea.

It was at this point that I came across a column by Elizabeth Garone titled “Using LinkedIn for Job References” in The Wall Street Journal. The impetus for the article was a question from an anonymous “manager of a major aerospace company” who wanted to use LinkedIn as a replacement for the personal references his firm refused to provide.

This is a common corporate policy. In order to destroy any chance that you could quit and get a better job, the HR department will only confirm the fact that you exist and that you once were employed. You can imagine the wink-wink-nudge-nudge attitude of your HR person as they describe your tenure — “Yes, she worked here, if you call that working.”

According to the experts, a recommendation on LinkedIn can indeed take the place of the references your current employer will not provide.  As reporter Garone reports, “In a June, 2009 survey, found that 45% of companies were using social-networking sites to screen potential employees, up from 22% in 2008. Another 11% said that they plan on starting to use the sites.”

That additional 11%, one can assume, is simply waiting until they get electricity.

The advantage of using LinkedIn for HR professionals is obvious.  Employers and recruiters are searching on LinkedIn and Google to “make their resume piles smaller” according to author Dan Schawbel.  And an uncluttered desk, as we all know, leaves more room for their collections of teeny-tiny ceramic gnomes. There is also a benefit to the job hunter in that you must approve LinkedIn recommendations before they are posted. If you object to a former supervising pointing out your minor deficits, like your charming habit of showing up to work in your bathrobe and your scuffies, you can put the kibosh on the reference with a click of your mouse.

But why bother to ask your managers and your co-workers to write you references on LinkedIn when it’s so much more efficient to write your own! Some might consider this dishonest, but that is a myopic point of view. After all, who knows you better than you?

Gathering bogus references is not the only use of LinkedIn. According to Garone, Kate Ruddon, vice president of talent acquisition for Activision, uses sites like LinkedIn “early in the recruiting process…to obtain background on a candidate’s work experience, area of expertise and education.”

Once again the fundamental laziness of the HR person dovetails neatly with fundamental lack of honesty that has made you a success. Who do you think fills in all the data concerning your education and your accomplishments? So what if you got your AA in needlepoint from West Dingo State? You could have earned an MBA from Harvard Business School if you weren’t so committed to preserving the noble art of tatting.

Put it all together and I think we all now see the fundamental utility of LinkedIn — it’s the one place where you can demonstrate how honest, decent and accomplished you are even if you have to lie and cheat to do it.


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