July 22, 2013

LinkedIn Payola: Selling out employers and job hunters

Filed under: Job Search, Q&A, Readers' Forum, Recruiting, Resumes, Stuff I worry about, Stupid HR Tricks


You’re an employer. You pay LinkedIn to search its profiles when you’re recruiting. Do you care that the job applicants who rise to the top of your search results paid for their positioning?

linkedin-top-of-listIn a sweeping 1950s music industry scandal, radio deejays were exposed for taking money — payola — from record promoters to play their record labels’ songs, regardless of popular tastes. Certain songs went up the charts because record labels paid for positioning.

Today, payola seems to be the name of the game on LinkedIn, where job hunters can pay $29.95 per month to “move to the top of the applicant list” when employers search LinkedIn profiles for recruiting.

In the radio scandal, the payments were secret. LinkedIn sells top position in recruiting search results shamelessly.

In the July 23, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says LinkedIn is behaving immorally and unethically:

I received an e-mail from LinkedIn, with a vertical list of five or six firms and logos, suggesting that I could be interested in these jobs. One of them caught my attention and I applied. I simply clicked on the “View job” link, uploaded a copy of my resume, and clicked the submit button. Immediately, a very questionable pop-up appeared. For $29.95 per month, LinkedIn has offered to sell me an “upgrade” that will put me at the top of the results this employer will see when it searches the LinkedIn database for job applicants. I find this to be unethical and immoral. How about you?

Nick’s Reply

When Ask The Headhunter subscriber Richard Tomkins brought this to my attention (he graciously gave me permission to print his name), I had to see it for myself.

linkedin-pitch-nickSo yesterday I applied for a job listed in a LinkedIn e-mail about “Jobs you may be interested in.” The pop-up that appeared on my screen is on the right.

(Tomkins got the exact same pop-up six months ago, listing the same #2 and #3 profiles beneath his own. He notes they are in the “San Francisco Bay Area,” thousands of miles from his own location. You’d think LinkedIn would gin up a pitch that at least delivers “results” that include “candidates” from the same geographic area!)

More suckers

I couldn’t believe that LinkedIn was going to sucker an employer — who paid to search LinkedIn profiles — by putting me at the top of the search results just because I paid for it.

“Move your job application to the top of the recruiter’s list!” in exchange for payola of $29.95, LinkedIn said to me.

While the employer is paying thousands to LinkedIn to search for applicants???

So I contacted LinkedIn, thinking that Tomkins and I had somehow gotten this wrong. Could LinkedIn be taking money from job seekers and fleecing employers with fake rankings?

A customer service representative, LaToya (no last name given), explained that the advantage, if I pay the $29.95, “is that your [sic] at the top of the list rather than listed toward the bottom as a Basic applicant.”

So it’s true. LinkedIn sells positioning to job hunters while it sells database searches to employers. Talk about getting paid on both ends of a deal! Meanwhile, the “Basic” applicants (those other suckers, who ride free) are relegated to the bottom of the list.

I wrote back to LaToya: “Don’t the employers get upset when they see someone ‘paid’ to get bumped to the top?”

That was taken care of, explained LaToya: Employers “have the option to turn on and off the setting.”

So I buy top positioning in recruiting results for $29.95 per month, and the employer has the option to render my payment a total waste. The only winner is LinkedIn — higher revenues, higher stock price, higher corporate valuation, and more suckers paying. This is the leading website for recruiting and job hunting?

The Lance Armstrong league

But it seems there’s another loser in this game: LinkedIn, whose reputation just sank to the bottom of the job board swill pot. (Well, not the very bottom. That’s the sole purview of TheLadders.)

Another job board, CareerBuilder, used to offer top position in search results for $150. (CareerBuilder’s New Ad Campaign: What’s a sucker worth?) LinkedIn may call itself a business network, but now it’s just another job board.

LinkedIn recently awarded Tomkins a “blue ribbon” because his LinkedIn page is “in the top 10% of the most viewed entries.”


But he is not happy:

“If I am in the top 10%, it’s not translating into more interviews, let alone a job. 20 million people got this award? That’s the size of big city or a small country. Should I laugh or cry? What significance does this really have to me? I was okay with their business model, up to the point when they became a job board. If your name is at the top of the list only because you paid for it, that puts you in the same league as Lance Armstrong.”

Tomkins guesses at how the professional network’s business model is likely to evolve next:

“What if three different applicants — all with premium accounts — apply for the same job? Who gets to be on top? Maybe they have another pop-up stacked up, one that offers the user a premium-plus-plus, extra-premium account for $300.”

Is a sucker endorsed every minute?

LinkedIn has turned the business of new product development into Project: Anything Goes.

LinkedIn used to be a credible business network that became the business network online — and potentially the standard-bearer for professional identity integrity. Since it started selling recruiting and “job seeker” services, it has slid down the slippery slope of inconsistent, slimy “offers” and business practices. A generous explanation is that one hand (LinkedIn marketing?) doesn’t know what the other (LinkedIn product management?) is doing.

(This is not LinkedIn’s first dumb move, or its last. Fast on the heels of LinkedIn’s New Button: Instantly dumber job hunting & hiring came the more ridiculous and gratuitous “endorsements,” which serve no purpose but to drive up traffic stats.)

But the question is, why are employers (who pay to access the database) and job seekers (who pay for database positioning) going along while LinkedIn sells them both out with this game of payola?

And where does it leave LinkedIn users who just want to meet one another to do business?

“Sheesh. I’m still pissed off,” says Tomkins. “I used to think of Linked In as a respectable website, but I have less respect for them now than Facebook.”

Have you paid LinkedIn for search-results position and “premium” standing? Does it pay off? If you’re an employer, how do you feel about paying to view search results that job applicants bought? Is this immoral, unethical, or the new standard of business?

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81 Comments on “LinkedIn Payola: Selling out employers and job hunters”
By Nick (not linked to the headhunter either)
August 5, 2013 at 9:36 am

An interesting article on the company:


By aboutcallcard.com Ask The Headhunter: Is LinkedIn Cheating Employers and Job Seekers Alike?
August 13, 2013 at 11:40 am

[…] Since I first wrote about this, LinkedIn has confirmed that you can pay to move your application to the top of the […]

By Ask The Headhunter: Is LinkedIn Cheating Employers and Job Seekers Alike? – PBS | Phase In Out
August 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm

[…] Since I first wrote about this, LinkedIn has confirmed that you can pay to move your application to the top of the […]

By Ask The Headhunter: Is LinkedIn Cheating Employers and Job Seekers Alike?
August 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm

[…] Since we first wrote about this, LinkedIn has confirmed that we can compensate to pierce your focus to a tip of a recruiter’s […]

By Ask The Headhunter: Is LinkedIn Cheating Employers and Job Seekers Alike? – PBS NewsHour | Phase In Out
August 14, 2013 at 5:03 pm

[…] Since I first wrote about this, LinkedIn has confirmed that you can pay to move your application to the top of the […]

By Ask The Headhunter: Is LinkedIn Cheating Employers and Job Seekers Alike?
August 14, 2013 at 9:57 pm

[…] Since I first wrote about this, LinkedIn has confirmed that you can pay to move your application to the top of the […]

By Suzanne Levison
August 18, 2013 at 11:27 am

What an eye opener! As an experienced recruiter/executive search consultant, I see the strategy in this money grabbing scheme, but not effective results.

By Scott Sullivan
August 25, 2013 at 1:16 pm

And how is this different from execunet? You slammed The Ladders pretty readily. Maybe job hunters should stand up and push back.

By Jarret Minkler
September 2, 2013 at 10:51 pm

There is another scandal going on … People keep recommending me for “Ruby on Rails” – I do not have this listed in my profile. It happens over and over, and can’t be stopped in some cases.

Seems linkedin it trying to provoke other people into promoting you for skills similar to your skill set. If you have them or not.

By V. Snow
September 10, 2013 at 9:40 am

Wasn’t it in the early 80’s that the Dept. of Labor made it illegal for job agencies, and the like, to charge any fees from candidates? How is this sheep in wolves clothing any different? I don’t pay fees/payola, nor will I. Unfortunately, I’m still job hunting and can’t afford fees even if I wanted to.

By Lauren
September 12, 2013 at 3:00 am

I’m sorry if this has already been mentioned (I’m not reading through all of the comments!), but the whole thing is a bit pointless. If a company advertises a role on LinkedIn, the application is generally just transfered directly to the company’s Applicant Tracking System. This means that the $29.95 the candidate just paid is rendered useless, as this ranking system does not carry across to the ATS. Good on LinkedIn for trying to make more money – they are a company whose goal is to make money (like any company, am I right?). If candidates are willing to pay the (completely unnecessary) $29.95, why not?

By Michaelgav
September 12, 2013 at 7:50 am

@Lauren: You said, “If candidates are willing to pay the (completely unnecessary) $29.95, why not?”

Maybe because LinkedIn isn’t disclosing how it works, or explaining that the 30 bucks they just extracted from someone who may well be unemployed at the moment won’t do what they told them it will.

You’re right that the goal of any company is to make money. There are ethical ways to do it, and there are other, sketchier ways. LinkedIn has made its choice. You’ve chosen to applaud them for it. I don’t think it’s pointless for people who feel differently to call them on it.

By Nick Corcodilos
September 12, 2013 at 12:54 pm

@Michaelgav: Thanks for the answer I’d have delivered to Lauren. Since when is it good business practice to sucker people just because they behave like suckers? Not taking advantage of people may not always be covered in the law, but that’s why we talk about business ethics.

By Lauren
September 12, 2013 at 7:05 pm

@Michaelgav & @Nick: I’m certainly not saying that LinkedIn should treat candidates like suckers – they should definitely be more upfront about what paying the $29.95 involves. However candidates also need to take a bit more responsibility and do some research into it themselves, rather than relying on companies (ie. LinkedIn) to be forthcoming about what they’re getting for their money. I’d encourage anyone, whether they’re a candidate or not, to be an informed consumer. LinkedIn aren’t charging candidates to apply for jobs, they’re just giving them the option to ‘highlight’ their application.

By Nick Corcodilos
September 12, 2013 at 9:47 pm

@Lauren: Sorry, but it’s quite clear that LinkedIn is charging users to apply for jobs. But because people can get that on Monster, too, LinkedIn is sweetening the pitch with positioning that doesn’t really work. It’s a sham. Consumers need to be more informed and smart, and that’s the purpose of this column: To help them see what LinkedIn is selling and what they really get for their money.

But I agree with you on one point (which I think you’re making – maybe I’m wrong): People need to go find jobs directly, not through some goofy database trick.

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Executive Search: Don’t pay lazy headhunters
September 16, 2013 at 9:59 pm

[…] discussed TheLadders, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, and other job boards that charge fees to job seekers — and then charge employers. (You […]

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – LinkedIn For Kids: The biggest lead-gen pimp on the Internet
September 23, 2013 at 8:58 pm

[…] a hot IPO behind it, LinkedIn’s management team rushed head-long into silly commercialization, betting that its public relations campaigns could keep its reputation afloat — while the […]

By Kurt
January 13, 2014 at 6:51 pm

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By Thalia
February 25, 2014 at 1:35 am

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By Jonathan Whiffin
March 2, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Well I am so happy not to be the only one who thinks Skankedin is a rip off and almost like a cult.

As for it being any good as a job board – well there are a couple of decent(ish) jobs hereabouts which have received 2 applicants and are flagged up as “hidden gems”.

Why was Skankedin hiding them when the listing had been paid for and SK is meant to be the #1 job hunters choice here in the UK?

Answers anyone?

Great blog by the way

By Nick Corcodilos
March 3, 2014 at 5:44 pm

@Jonathan: When we toasted TheLadders stateside for its behavior, lots of UK readers reported similar stories about TheLadders in the UK. So it’s no surprise our friends over there share our concerns about LinkedIn. I don’t think there are any answers you’d want to hear. “Higher profits, anyone?”

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Help! I’m a floundering headhunter!
August 4, 2014 at 11:04 pm

[…] LinkedIn is little more than a fancy phone book. Everyone is in it, but consulting it isn’t recruiting. As you can see, a list of 14 million people and their data is useless in itself. And the job boards deliver swill by the bucket. The reason a company uses a headhunter like you is that this takes hard work and there are no shortcuts. That’s where the huge headhunter fees originated – for all the hard work. Those professional “sourcers” you mentioned — they actually identify appropriate candidates in very challenging industries, and that’s more than half the work of headhunting. Of course they want half your fee! The online shortcuts just don’t do it. […]

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – LinkedIn: Busted for U.S. wage law violations, sued for “injury” to users
August 6, 2014 at 5:11 pm

[…] LinkedIn has taken a lot of heat from its users for its practice of cleverly scraping addresses from their private e-mail directories, and then spamming their contacts repeatedly with solicitations to “connect” on LinkedIn. LinkedIn has also been accused of conflict of interest because it charges employers to search its database for the best job candidates — while LinkedIn also charges members for “premium” positioning in those search results. (See LinkedIn Payola: Selling out employers and job hunters.) […]

By Is It Possible For A Social Network To Age Gracefully? - Nissan GT-R Nismo... The Evolution Begins
January 18, 2015 at 9:43 pm

[…] week, Nick Corcodilos, a writer and headhunter, unleashed a blog post of 1,000-plus words accusing LinkedIn of “selling out employers and job hunters.” In the post […]

By Is It Possible For A Social Network To Age Gracefully? | Darnmeme
January 21, 2015 at 1:40 pm

[…] week, Nick Corcodilos, a writer and headhunter, unleashed a blog post of 1,000-plus words accusing LinkedIn of “selling out employers and job hunters.” In the post […]

By Is It Possible For A Social Network To Age Gracefully? | Super Sexy SEO
February 24, 2015 at 6:26 pm

[…] week, Nick Corcodilos, a writer and headhunter, unleashed a blog post of 1,000-plus words accusing LinkedIn of “selling out employers and job hunters.” In the post […]

By commentator
April 10, 2015 at 9:10 am

If you want to get leads then you definitely should funnel individuals
that click your link to a squeeze page where you can get their
e-mail and other info you may need. There has been estimations that most customers in the UK will watch their utility bills increase
by almost one-hundred and fifty pounds a year. It allows you to
increase traffic to your You – Tube channel and your website.

By Richard Tomkins
October 20, 2015 at 6:00 pm

Stephen Ermann said, he likes the premium version of Linked In because,

– the ability to see who viewed my profile provides interesting information about successful my contact actions are;

Hah, hah, hah, really? Who says they looked at your profile, Linkedin?

By Richard Tomkins
October 20, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Since completely DELETING my Linkedin profile, I have not seen any adverse effects.

By Nick Corcodilos
October 20, 2015 at 7:27 pm

@Richard: I love how you give Linked the benefit of the doubt :-)

Just keep an eye out for any of your pets. I hear they disappear when people cancel LinkedIn. Something about “payback”.

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Career Scams Update: TheLadders, LinkedIn, Lee Hecht Harrison & More
October 21, 2015 at 1:13 pm

[…] Told members to pay so their profiles would float to the top of employers’ search lists. […]

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