As the hot August nights transition to cool September ones, I am beginning to feel the anticipatory panic of professional recruitment. For those unaware of this particular nightmare, professional recruitment is like being on “The Bachelorette,” except instead of having a horde of hot guys fighting over you, you’re trying — and failing — to impress them all, but none of them will tell you how you could possibly gain their favor. It’s very stressful, and anyone who’s been through it will happily commiserate. However, looming over the upcoming recruiting cycle is the intense pressure of LinkedIn.
Despite all of my own personal stress, I am fortunate. I was born into a family in which both my parents work in corporate environments. I am able to lean on my parents for guidance on where, when and how to apply. Conversely, people whose parents can’t help them navigate the corporate world are left floundering. That’s where LinkedIn swoops in to play the knight in shining armor.
The self-described “largest professional network on the internet” plays an outsized role in the lives of college students looking for their first full-time job or internship. It serves as a way for students to contact recruiters, connect with executives in their field, engage with thought leaders and, most importantly, see what kinds of jobs their peers are accepting. Though in many ways it can be helpful to see the scope of potential jobs available, LinkedIn proves to be an exhausting way to feel a constant sense of career mediocrity.
For soon-to-be college graduates, the natural progression of life dictates that a successful, fulfilling career comes soon after college, as the “life cycle” perpetuated by our white-collar forebears goes. Capitalizing on this mentality, the professional recruiting process is designed to match up high-achieving students with prestigious corporations through a series of networking events, online skills tests and interviews. All in all, it should hypothetically be a relatively private process, with information staying primarily between you, those who you network with inside the company and the recruiter.
However, for the 46 million college students who use LinkedIn for career purposes, seeing someone else’s excited post about getting a position you wanted serves only to provide a direct comparison between the person who got the job and the one who didn’t. And while you may want to be happy for them, no annoyingly out-of-touch motivational post can help the sinking feeling that maybe you just aren’t good enough.
This career anxiety is only amplified for this current generation of students entering the job market in the wake of a global pandemic and subsequent economic fluctuation. Gen Z students, who must seek growth and learn from their employers, are left feeling defeated and exhausted by the constant competition for the most high-paying and prestigious jobs. This intense environment is not only terrible for their mental health, but weakens the corporation at large.
LinkedIn has become the epitome of everything the corporate world wants their applicants to be: never too loud, only outspoken in the right way and always perfectly professional. It leaves no room for imperfections, preferring instead to showcase a fictionalized highlight reel of corporate life, where the sexist coworker always gets their comeuppance and failures are eternally inspiring rather than demotivating. This is far from the reality of corporate life in which imposter syndrome and discrimination often run rampant through the beige-colored halls.
I know it won’t always feel like my career is the most important thing in the world, but it does right now. And honestly, I don’t delude myself into believing that I’ll change all that much by writing this. I can’t (and won’t) tell you not to use LinkedIn, and I can’t stop companies from looking at profiles, much like how I can’t stop myself from feeling the familiar sinking disappointment in myself when I see a friend getting a job or internship that I desperately wanted.
The only thing I can do is make a promise to myself that my career, while important, will never be the only thing that defines me. I can be kinder with myself about my own failures and let my self-confidence weather the recruiting storm until I come out the other side with a little less stress and a lot more perspective.
If this critique has resonated with you, remember there is a community of people just like you feeling the stress that you feel … even if they’ll never say it out loud.
Mrinalini Iyer is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.