Mr. Pumpkin and Mr. Apple Creative Commons License photo credit: Orin Zebest

Used properly, LinkedIn is an incredible tool for finding new opportunities and connecting with potential employers. As your network grows over time and people move on to bigger and better things, the connections you make in the early days can easily be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in terms of salary and other business opportunities.

LinkedIn has three things going for it:

  1. A thorough resume builder that is intuitive and begs to be completed

  2. An easy way to find and connect to professional colleagues

  3. Peer recommendations - this is what makes LinkedIn valuable

People who compare LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook are missing the point. Users of each network are seeking different experiences, and LinkedIn serves an excellent purpose when used “properly” as a networking tool.

Beyond giving a plain resume (which is, by its very nature, more detailed and relevant than most of the bad paper resumes I see day-to-day), LinkedIn’s user recommendations option gives potential employers a more organic view into what it would be like working with you, as seen by your colleagues.

There are a lot of elements that go into a good recommendation, but the goal should be to strike a balance between supervisor, co-worker and subordinate recommendations. For example, your direct boss may say you’re an excellent manager, but what about the people reporting to you? A vote of confidence from all levels gives a much clearer picture than a potentially biased recommendation from a single source.

The beauty of recommendations is that you must receive them from people connected to you, which means requesting them in some way. If you don’t have any recommendations already, how do you start?

The easiest way to get someone to write a recommendation for you is by writing one for them. Yes, you can nudge the person, officially request a recommendation, bug them in person, etc but the ego-boost someone will receive by getting a recommendation from you is, in many cases, enough incentive for them to respond in kind.

Don’t get upset if someone does not return your recommendation. The system only “works” when recommendations are given freely and honestly - so if you don’t truly recommend working with someone, don’t give them a review on LinkedIn. There is really no downside to this.