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LinkedIn, the Microsoft-owned social network for the working world with over 500 million users, has put a lot of effort into new areas of business like content, education and bringing on new users in emerging markets; but today it’s embarking on the roll out of a new service that plays squarely into the bread and butter of its business: looking for work.
Today, the company is debuting a new service that identifies potential mentors and people who might be looking for mentorship in a specific area, and then helps match them to each other. The service (which started with a small test last month) is free and will be available first to users in San Francisco and Australia, Hari Srinivasan, Head of Identity Products at LinkedIn, tells me.
Initially, LinkedIn has tapped a hand-selected list of potential mentors, who will come up as a list, Tinder-style, to people who indicate that they are interested in getting some mentoring, so that a match might get made. Mentors are given options about who they would prefer to mentor, be it people in their first- and second-degree networks, in their region or their former school. Over time, Srinivasan said that the option to become a mentor will be open to everyone, which makes sense: we call could stand to learn something from everyone.
On the mentee side, after you indicate that you are interested in getting some advice or feedback on a particular topic, LinkedIn then gives you your own potential parameters to narrow down your search (again, initially these are whether you want people near you, or from your alma mater), or if you potentially want a list of potential mentors that is as wide as LinkedIn’s user base.
Once you match, you can then message each other, and either side can terminate the communication at any point.
LinkedIn is hoping to tap into what appears to be a gap in the market: career mentoring is a simple enough thing to have when you happen to have chanced upon someone in the same field as you are, either by working with that person or knowing him or her through other channels. It’s a lot harder if you haven’t found that person, or if you are thinking of something less linear, like a career change.
There are career coaching services — for example, the venture-backed startups BetterUp and Everwise — but these can be more formal and come at a price. Out of Office Hours, which was created out of a ‘give something back’ effort over a holiday period, currently focuses on tech careers in Silicon Valley. Notably, LinkedIn’s service (for now) is free, and has the potential to cover as many jobs as there are people registered on the platform.
There are some obvious benefits to LinkedIn with a launch of a service like this. It will give the company one more service to spur engagement on its platform, and this time the new engagement effort directly relates to how most people tend to use LinkedIn already.
It’s also a potential segue into using other services on LinkedIn, including additional training (via Lynda.com or LinkedIn Learning); job searches; and potentially paying for a more tradition career coach that you might just find through ProFinder, LinkedIn’s freelancer marketplace, where LinkedIn tells me career coaching is “one of the most sought after categories on the platform.”
That highlights what might be some of the benefits but also potential pitfalls of this new career matching service. It’s free; generally great that there could be people at the other end of a message who are willing to lend you a helping hand; and it is a cool use of LinkedIn’s network effect to offer a route for those who want to contribute some time to mentors to be able to do so. LinkedIn’s Srinivasan said that this idea wasn’t pulled out of thin air.
“We have done research and found that among the senior ranks of our user base, nine out of 10 people have said they want to give back,” he said. “Paying it forward is a powerful force. All of them received help on the way up and now want to find a way to give that help back to others.”
But on the other hand, there are potential snagging points here, too: how much help is too much to be asking of people who are offering their services for free; and how does LinkedIn make sure that it has enough mentors (or for that matter people wanting to reach out to mentors) across different fields? Will LinkedIn have to eventually introduce other elements to the platform to encourage more usage, like payments or credits for premium features? Keeping the service free and limited in its initial roll out as LinkedIn figures more answers out is one way of holding too many demands of it at bay.