This New LinkedIn Feature Is A GODSEND If Asking For Referrals Stresses You Out

I am so deeply socially anxious that asking strangers questions or for directions sends me into a stomach-turning panic (which, come to think of it, is not a great quality for a journalist). For me, even making a dinner reservation is a struggle, and one of the reasons I've never bothered trying to apply to graduate school is that asking my old professors and/or bosses for a reference letter is harrowing, to say the least. But LinkedIn's new referral system is a godsend for people like me: it'll let you ask for referrals with just one click, so you don't have to send off a "Hi, don't know if you remember me, but..." email into the ether ever again.

As reported by Mashable, LinkedIn is rolling out a new "Ask for a Referral" feature, which will send your selected LinkedIn connections a referral request. Basically, when you see a job posting on LinkedIn, the website will show you which of your connections works at the company that posted the listing. That's already available systemwide, but with the new feature, an "Ask for a Referral" button will pop up next to the connection's profile, and if you click it, a pre-written request for a referral will generate. Press send, et voila — you've asked for a reference.

Note that it's a good idea to personalize the message a little, so the person you're asking to stick their neck out for you doesn't think they're doing a favor for a bot. But the referral feature does take some of the sting out of having to dig up someone's email and beg them to tell their boss nice things about you, plus it's an easy way to see who works at what company, so you know who to reach out to in the first place.

Of course, even if you are freaked out about asking someone for help with your job search, know that it's a totally accepted and welcome practice. People who work at jobs they love are always looking to add cool new coworkers who'll help brighten up the workplace and get thinkings working smoothly, and if you're taking the initiative to ask someone for a referral, or to reach out and ask off-the-record questions about the job/company culture, etc., you're already showing people you're excited and serious enough about the available gig.

It's also important to note that it's possible someone won't want to be your reference, but it's not personal if they reject you. When I was new at a job a few years ago, my company put out a hiring call and a few people I didn't know too well asked if I could recommend them. Since I had only just been hired myself, and wasn't totally familiar with the company's hiring practices or the people asking me for the referral, I gave the inquisitors some tips and names of people to contact, but told them I'd prefer they leave my name out, lest my bosses thought the new girl was overstepping her bounds. Later, when I was more comfortable at the company, I was much more liberal with my referrals.

Also, while the LinkedIn feature is super useful, you should still get in the practice of sending real emails and not LinkedIn messages. A lot of people don't check LinkedIn regularly, especially if they're not hiring managers or in the market for a new job. More importantly, an email does show that you've made the effort to look someone up and reach out, and the more personal a touch you make, the more likely someone will make the equal effort to reach back out. A job search is a symbiotic relationship, after all.