I’m writing this to settle a debate. In the limited amount of time since I’ve started planning for my career, my parents have ceaselessly insisted that I must have a LinkedIn profile. They have instilled in me that LinkedIn is an indisputable need when it comes to establishing my professional reputation and making myself visible to recruiters — to not have a profile would be self-sabotage. In that case, call me a saboteur, because I’m going to die on this hill: LinkedIn is a caucus of fart-sniffers, a hellscape disguised as a necessary resource for young professionals. Allow me to explain.
There is nothing in this world that negates the satisfaction of a hard-earned accomplishment quite like the humblebrag. It’s all too familiar — the kid in class who gets a 95% on a difficult test and reveals their score with disappointment, drawing attention to their ostensibly modest superiority. In high school, my peers staunchly equated academic success with self-worth — there was a set of unspoken rules to being a “smart” or “impressive” student. Beyond academic perfection, you also had to be well-rounded and distribute your attention to a variety of extracurricular activities — only then would you beat the invisible allegations of inadequacy. Conversations about college applications were echo chambers of both reassurance and one-upmanship, anxious exchanges of both self-deprecation and self-aggrandizing humble brags.
When I came to the University of Michigan, I expected a break from having to endure the competitive high school atmosphere. Instead, I found that it has been reimagined through the all-important LinkedIn. It’s in the overzealous sharing of #inspirational and #careerdefining moments, the faux-optimism behind every buzzword, the performative framing of every minute experience as a resume embellishment. For my generation, the increasingly cutthroat gauntlet of college admissions was just a warm-up for the job industry — on Linkedin, one-upmanship is a boon, and the toxicity of comparing yourself with others is extrapolated into a professional context. People use the website because they believe that it’s conducive to success; reach out to these people and you will get a job, don’t and you’re setting yourself up for failure. Just like applying for college, this is the path, and you must follow it.
On the surface, LinkedIn is an essential vehicle for online networking. It’s a no-brainer — a platform that connects people across companies, alumni networks and organizations should easily secure its position of importance and credibility on the internet. Unlike other social media giants, LinkedIn is exclusive to professionals; it’s for people with cars and business-casual clothing. On Facebook, you have “friends,” but on LinkedIn, they are “connections.” The personal profile is equated to a resume, where users fill out their work experience, accomplishments, education and anything else they want to share. The “Jobs” tab is a comprehensive search engine for any and all job postings on the site. Users can reach out to companies of interest, boast their professional accolades and apply for jobs, all on the same website. Given the digitization of the modern workplace, LinkedIn is the quintessence of networking, crucial for pimping yourself out to companies.
Admittedly, Linkedin is useful in that it places career professionals and beginners like myself on the same platform, but real progress can’t be made without putting in a lot of work. A Forbes piece discusses the elusive “hidden job market” that consists of unposted open positions, and how to use Linkedin as an access point to opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable. The article encourages users to connect with anyone and everyone they know, contact recruiters on the site, join industry-specific groups, follow companies and curate a strong profile in order to fully utilize the website’s benefits. LinkedIn rewards the intentional and specific use of its features — in a sense, there is an implicated “right” way to use the website that yields access to more exclusive jobs and other opportunities.
But at its core, LinkedIn is inundated with the same toxicity of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram; it’s a social network hampered by too much self-importance. LinkedIn’s featured homepage, the “newsfeed,” is a reflection of the website’s self-serving nature. Creating a profile, posting content, placing your self-described achievements in a sleek, sans-serif shadow box, are acts of pageantry. You can’t write a profile from scratch without comparing yourself to others — I’ve tried. “I’m fluent in 15 programming languages” sounds too close to “I got a 780 on math and a 740 on reading” for comfort.
In the best-case scenario, the most dedicated LinkedIn user is forming connections within their industry of interest, applying for job postings and reaching out to potential employers in order to find jobs and make career progress. However, making the most of LinkedIn requires spending a lot of time making connections with people you don’t know and crossing your fingers. With every new connection that dead-ends, the newsfeed starts to look more like spam.
People who actually care about networking have to know that nobody gives two craps about an ex-friend’s cousin’s start-up or that someone you went to high school with got an internship. The integration of shareable content on the platform mucks up the water — is this a space for professionals to connect and interact on a personal level or a devastatingly boring Facebook-ified scroll of multi-level-marketing schemes and business conferences in Iowa?
Something about the seemingly collective belief that LinkedIn matters is so irreverent. My parents see a gleaming bounty of internships and employment opportunities, while I see a penis-measuring contest.
And, by the way, if you find my LinkedIn profile, keep it to yourself.
Daily Arts Writer Laine Brotherton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.