Friday, August 27, 2010

Why I don't endorse students on LinkedIn

Over the last couple of years, I've had a number of former students send requests for my endorsement on their LinkedIn profiles.

I'm one of the instructors who's advised them to join the site, and to be active on it and other social media platforms -- which makes it seem odd when I decline their requests. (I must point out off the top that all the students with whom I've had this conversation to date have been very understanding about it.)

LinkedIn: "Facebook for professionals"

I've heard LinkedIn referred to in this way many, many times -- and in some ways it's a fair comparison. LinkedIn provides the platform for online networking between people who call themselves professionals the way Facebook does it between, well, people who may or may not call themselves professionals.

Both sites encourage their members to share information about themselves (whereas most people use Facebook for personal information, most use LinkedIn for professional information), to provide updates and links to things of common interest with the people with whom they're "linked," and to engage in conversations that take place within groups of people on the site with common professional interests.

In addition to those and many other features, LinkedIn also invites its members to provide public recommendations for each other's professional work, called "endorsements." These endorsements become part of the endorsed person's LinkedIn profile, and help to characterize that person's professional aptitudes/skills/advantages for potential employers or clients or partners to see.

It's great, unless you don't necessarily want your endorsements to be available for the world to see.

Hence my problem.

As a college instructor on LinkedIn, I feel like I'm in a bit of a difficult spot when it comes to endorsements.

In the Creative Communications program at Red River College, we work with a great many outstanding students, who we know will be outstanding professional communicators; accordingly, I have written a significant number of glowing reference letters for graduates and for continuing students looking for summer work.

As any student for whom I've written one of these letters will tell you, I personalize each letter to the student and the position being sought -- I spend time on them, because I know how important they can be. I take a great number of reference calls for students, and prepare for them the same way. So the problem isn't that I'm unwilling to take the time.

Issue #1: Hurt feelings (maybe)

We all have strengths and weaknesses. Some students are stars, some are excellent, some capable, some solid... and not all in the same areas of what we teach. Any meaningful endorsement will speak to that student's particular strengths, and will use descriptive language appropriate to how the endorser (in this case, I) saw the student's work and potential. But while that makes it a meaningful endorsement... it also makes it a potential feelings-trampler.

Put simply: I don't want former and current students to be able to see the endorsements I've given their classmates.

Not every student puts in an excellent effort and produces excellent results, so it follows that not every student will get an excellent reference. It may sound harsh, but it's true, and it's what gives professional references value.

So I don't want classmates reading into what I did say about one person and didn't say about another, or the adjectives used to describe one but not another, or even the fact that I agreed to endorse one but not another. I think that's between me, the student, and the employer, if the student chooses to provide my name as a reference.

Issue #2: Lack of context

I always prefer to recommend based on a candidate's aptitudes for a particular position. I don't want a potential employer who is considering more than one of my former students to compare my short, context-less LinkedIn endorsements and make assumptions about how their performance in college might translate into their workplace. I'd want the opportunity to tailor my recommendation to the position; then, I'd know I'm addressing the attributes that will be most relevant for the employer.

Any student for whom I provide a recommendation can be assured that I will take the time to provide an honest appraisal of their skills as they relate to the type of work they're looking for -- and as some of my former students will tell you, I'll keep re-tailoring letters until they find the job that's right for them.

I just won't be doing so in public, on LinkedIn.

Do I worry about such things too much?

Probably; but that's me.

If you are a former student of mine and are asked by a potential employer why I haven't endorsed you on LinkedIn, and you want them to hear my perspectives on your performance in CreComm, please give them a link to this post... and my email address.


  1. Wow! There's so much about LinkedIn that I didn't know. One should always be careful & take precaution when posting things... They are not always what they appear to be. I would prefer the old-fashion way of making endorsements. Thanks for the post! Very enlightening :)

  2. Personally, I think someone could take the whole LinkedIn concept and make it better than it is- not exactly your topic, but just an opinion I wanted to get out there! IPP? LOL.

  3. Yeah, there are lots of great online resources with features that don't work when you're a teacher - as LinkedIn and Facebook prove.

    The good news is that most employers still just pick up the phone and call you for a reference; just today, I was delighted to give a former student a good reference, and I was happy to hear that he got the job. Yay!

    The number one reference question still remains: Does the person show up regularly and on time?

  4. The lack-of-context issue applies in so many places on the Internet, not just to LinkedIn. As one who has not yet joined the LinkedIn group, your post has me wondering if being part of the community has value? Yes, LinkedIn will show some of my professional connections, but does it show why those connections exist, what I did to earn them and what I do to maintain them? Lots to consider, as always, Melanie. Looking forward to tomorrow and beyond!

  5. I think when it comes to LinkedIn, like most everything else, you get out of it what you put into it. But with that said, having a presence there might just get you on a potential employer's radar -- enough at least to motivate them to contact you and ask some questions (allowing you to provide your own context).

  6. Your reasons make sense to me. I just joined LinkedIn upon graduation. As the only communications person in my organization, I do find it a useful tool for finding others who do the same job in similar places. Beyond that, and finding out where my former classmates are working, I haven't used it much. I'm always a little cautious of the amount of information I put out about myself for the world to see and try to balance that with my networking goals.

  7. I am adopting Melanie's sensible policy. Thanks for explaining it so clearly, Melanie.