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.
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.
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.
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.