I am big fan of LinkedIn, just don't call it networking.
When looking to fill a position or make a referral to one, I first look to my contacts (those on LinkedIn and those that are not), and then to their contacts. Before talking to a candidate, or a potential vendor, I always do a search on LinkedIn.
Even though I like LinkedIn, as a general rule, I am not a fan of LinkedIn recommendations. Here are two reasons why.
First, most LinkedIn recommendations are too general. Just as your resume needs to be custom, an effective recommendation is tailored to the specific job for which you are applying.
My biggest criticism, however, is that they are, nearly by design, reciprocal. The "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine" diminishes their value even further. I come across reciprocal recommendations all the time. A quick search on LinkedIn today found this real pair of recommendations. I changed the names and specifics slightly to keep their identities confidential.
Suzanne Queue was well respected in the company for her dedication. She is a strong believer in no excuses and results... Suzanne is an asset to any company. - William Roberts, February 3
I've had the pleasure of working with William Roberts for many years at Acme Company. William is always professional and has a strong work ethic... William is an asset to any company. - Suzanne Queue, February 5
When I am hiring someone, I want the person to be an asset to my company, specifically for the position I am filling. I don't care that a former co-worker thinks someone would be an asset to any company. What if Suzie is an accountant, and I'm looking for a school bus driver?
There are exceptions.
LinkedIn recommendations do work well for independent service providers. The more narrow the work, the more valuable the recommendation can be. If you want to write a recommendation for the web-designer that built your website, feel free to do so. But be very specific and include actual results.
What should you do if someone writes an unsolicited recommendation?
Do not approve the recommendation. Send a gracious e-mail, thanking them for the recommendation. Ask if you can count on them being a phone reference in the future.
What should you do if a recruiter says you need more LinkedIn recommendations?
Kindly tell your recruiter that you would love to provide a list of references and letters of recommendation.
What should you do if someone asks you to recommend them on LinkedIn?
If it is someone you would be willing to recommend, offer to write a job-specific letter of recommendation, or provide a good old-fashioned reference over the phone. Explain that it is likely better if you know more about the job for which they are applying and can answer specific questions.