Krista Canfield was surprised to receive a call from a former boss when she had applied for a job at LinkedIn, the professional social network. After all, the boss hadn't been one of the three customary references she had given to the hiring manager. It turned out that the former boss had shown up as a mutual connection, so the hiring manager decided to check that reference, too.
When she explains LinkedIn's new "endorsement" feature, Canfield, now the network's senior manager of corporate communications, points to the old advertising adage: It's much more credible to get customers to endorse a product or service than for the company to praise itself. Particularly in this social media era, the line between self-reported achievements and externally verified skills can be tough to discern. That's where endorsements come in.
For some time, users have been able to "recommend" current LinkedIn connections, and the social network recently unveiled another tool, where users can "endorse," or vouch for, skills that their connections self-identify on their profiles. It's a tool that is particularly useful to college students, Canfield says.
Users can't request that their LinkedIn connections "endorse" their skills—as they can do with "recommendations"—but they can "basically nudge" connections whose endorsements they crave, says Canfield. If students endorse their professors' or former employers' skills, for example, those faculty or managers then receive an E-mail from LinkedIn notifying them that they have been endorsed.
"What's the next natural thing to do? Go look at [the student endorser's] profile, ... see what they're up to," she says. "What I would do as a college student is: Look up the people that you admire ... and endorse them." The idea, she adds, is "give something before you get something in return."
[Read more about other LinkedIn features for students.]
Users can add up to 50 skills on their profiles. By doing so, Canfield notes, "You're actually helping people figure out which skills you want to be endorsed for."
That's consistent with what Margaux Finan, a senior at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., has observed. LinkedIn has previously helped her land two internships, she says, as well as informational interviews with potential employers.
Finan, who started using LinkedIn as a junior upon the recommendation of her business professor, recently discovered the endorsement feature, and has been asking her advisers, professors, and coworkers to endorse her skills.
"I think using the endorsement feature will greatly benefit my job search, because these recommendations or endorsements will publicize my skills by a third-party source, and show a more realistic side to [them]," she says. "These aren't just skills that I, personally, feel I have. They're being backed up by real employers and professors."
[Learn how LinkedIn transforms the job search for MBA graduates.]
But not everyone is aboard the LinkedIn bandwagon. Alicia Westberry, a senior at Macon State College in Georgia, hadn't heard of LinkedIn endorsements, and she says she couldn't find the feature after hours of searching the site.
And two coaches who work with high school students downplayed the importance of LinkedIn for college applicants. "I'm not aware of any of my students utilizing LinkedIn in a meaningful way [in] their college apps," says John Bramlette, of Bramlette Consulting in Washington, D.C.
And Bev Taylor, the founder of The Ivy Coach in New York, says prospective students don't need to create LinkedIn profiles.
"In fact, they should not be doing this," she says. "There's no reason for them to share their high school résumé with the world, or even with their peers. It's actually a superfluous move that can work against applicants."
LinkedIn, Taylor says, is designed for the working world, not for high school students, whose experience typically amounts to babysitting and lifeguarding.
"In the highly selective admissions world, Internet endorsements of skills are as meaningless as endorsements from politicians," she says.