Media & Entertainment

LinkedIn’s degree problem

Comment

Image Credits: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Stringer / Getty Images

A couple of years ago, the co-founder and CEO of a blood-testing company was publicly taken to task for implying in articles and professional profiles that he has a PhD, when, in reality, he’d left a prestigious graduate group three years after enrolling, without a degree.

The CEO is hardly alone in intentionally or otherwise sowing confusion around his credentials, however. Over the years, we’ve mistakenly believed that a number of founders have obtained specific college degrees based on their LinkedIn bio, only to learn offline that they enrolled for some period of time in a particular program that they didn’t complete.

It happened most recently with the co-founder of a startup who one might surmise has a master’s degree from Harvard based on his LinkedIn profile, but does not. We also misunderstood the CEO of a robotics company to have a PhD based on her LinkedIn. It was our fault; it mentioned under the credit that she’d left to start a company. But anyone scanning the site might have come to the same wrong conclusion. (We pointed this out to her team, and mention of the PhD was deleted.)

In a higher-profile case, James Damore, the fired Google engineer who authored that infamous memo about the company’s diversity practices and whose LinkedIn page cited a PhD in systems biology, removed mention of the degree after Wired confirmed with Harvard that he was enrolled in the program but didn’t complete the doctorate.

Damore tried to defend his own LinkedIn profile, tweeting at the time, “I never told anyone I have a PhD. LinkedIn can’t distinguish between being in the PhD program and having a PhD (I forgot to update it).”

Though few on Twitter found him credible, he wasn’t mistaken on this front. In creating a profile on LinkedIn, the choices one is given are to a) list a completed degree and leave off anything partially completed, no matter how much time was invested in a program or how minuscule its acceptance rate or b) list an incomplete degree without a clear way of explaining that it’s no longer being pursued or whether it will ever be obtained.

Screen Shot 2019 10 23 at 4.43.53 PM

LinkedIn doesn’t view the issue as its fault. Asked whether LinkedIn members might be posting incomplete degrees because of the company’s user interface, a spokesperson emailed us today, writing that LinkedIn’s user agreement and “professional community policy” guidelines are “clear that members should provide factual information about themselves on LinkedIn.”

Added this person: “People should definitely add their education details to their LinkedIn profile. The education section includes ‘Start Year’ and ‘End Year (or expected)’ fields. If a member has a partial degree, we recommend they clearly state the status of their degree within the ‘Degree’ and/or ‘Description’ fields.”

Still, that “description” field isn’t easy to find. And why LinkedIn — which has more than 600 million users — hasn’t added fields for partially completed degrees is a bit of a mystery, particularly given that so many people drop out.

A cynic might note that LinkedIn makes a lot of its revenue off recruitment services. Before it was acquired by Microsoft, and the companies’ financials were consolidated, 65% of LinkedIn’s revenue came from recruitment services. And often the more distinguished the degree, the more people will pay to associate themselves with the ostensible degree holder. (LinkedIn itself strongly encourages loading up one’s profile with education-related details, saying these attract “11x” more profile views.)

Yet Jeffrey Pfeffer, a renowned professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business who has written extensively about organization theory, suggests that human nature is just as big a factor in the problem.

Asked if he has reason to think more students are listing incomplete degrees on LinkedIn, he points us to research published in 2001 by the payroll and benefits company ADP. What it shows is that of 2.6 million background checks that ADP performed that year, 44% of applicants were discovered to have lied about their work histories, 41% lied about their education and 23% falsified credentials or licenses.

“People lie about everything all the time,” says Pfeffer. “I’m not sure that it’s any worse now than it was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago.”

It’s something recruiters even anticipate, he says, recalling a conversation with a top executive from the search giant Heidrick & Struggles, who Pfeffer had interviewed for one of the many books he has authored. “He said to me, ‘So many people make up credentials that we no longer use fudged credentials as a reason to disqualify a candidate.’ He said recruiters will correct what they find wrong with someone’s resume. But he said if recruiters used exaggerated — even made-up — credentials as a reason to disqualify people, they would never have enough candidates.”

Indeed, while LinkedIn’s limited menu may give more cover to people, Pfeffer cautions not to assign the company too much blame. It’s a little like shooting the messenger, he suggests.

“Sure, LinkedIn could play some role. But they could change the way they operate tomorrow, and people would still find a way to make themselves look more accomplished than they are.”

Maybe so. Given its reach, we’d prefer to see some changes and find out.

More TechCrunch

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

19 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

21 hours ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise

X, formerly Twitter, turned TweetDeck into X Pro and pushed it behind a paywall. But there is a new column-based social media tool in town, and it’s from Instagram Threads.…

Meta Threads is testing pinned columns on the web, similar to the old TweetDeck

As part of 2024’s Accessibility Awareness Day, Google is showing off some updates to Android that should be useful to folks with mobility or vision impairments. Project Gameface allows gamers…

Google expands hands-free and eyes-free interfaces on Android