The Self-Fellating Culture Of LinkedIn
If you go to LinkedIn.com, log into your account, and click on 'Home' – things you've likely not done in a very long time – it might feel kind of familiar.
At the top you have space to share something, either text or a photo. On the right, it tells you what people are talking about now. If you scroll down, it shows you things that people you're connected with have shared, with options to like, comment, and share. At the bottom, it has a pane that shows you your recent messages. Looks a little bit familiar, right?
On the surface, LinkedIn looks like Facebook. It didn't always look like this – at one point it was centered around the concept of a digital resume and a job search engine. No longer would we have to deal with printing out paper resumes that would become outdated within months. Nor would worry about an overzealous recruiter tossing our resume in the trash without so much as a cursory second look, snuffing out that opportunity entirely – now, recruiters could actively seek us out. And with the credentials and jobs all located in one place the application system would be quick and efficient, allowing for a free-market match made in heaven. Job providers and job seekers. But unfortunately, none of this is true.
LinkedIn is trash.
At some point, LinkedIn made a choice to fully embrace the 'social' in social network. With a pivot to content, LinkedIn has chosen to be a media company just like its counterparts Facebook, Twitter, and the rest, while maintaining the façade of a networking platform. It houses and actively promotes content that's so inherently inane, banal, and bootless that your mind chooses to look at the sidebar as you scroll through. You're inexplicably shown things that you've already seen from days and weeks past. There are advertisements and recommendations seemingly every fifth post. For some reason, your headline is included next to your name every time you comment on a post. The content of the post ranges from broad, positive, superficial statements ("In my industry, now more than ever, we need as many people as we can to drive the future of health care and create a better life for the next generation. I can’t think of a better time to be engaged.") to self-congratulatory-but-pretending-to-be-humble remarks ("Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of hosting…") to rambling generalizations about nothing ("Teaching accelerates leadership growth, competency, and casts a positive shadow for your team" or "Simple ideas are easier to understand. Ideas that are easier to understand are repeated. Ideas that are repeated change the world") to links for think-pieces not worth the kilobytes of storage they take up ("Change Is A Muscle"). I followed a few dozen people and companies that I thought were interesting, scrolled down my feed for five solid minutes, and didn't find a single thing that I wanted to click on.
Quick note: Even the targeted advertisements are poor. In my feed today I had *three* ads for MBA programs! Three! Even though LinkedIn knows that I'm an engineer pursuing a Master's in engineering. Other advertisements include a six-week program for artificial intelligence (again, not my thing), trends in 5-axis machining (huh), and for some reason shampoo (okay, I do use shampoo).
The facetious attitude is purposely built into the language of the website. People who are simply 'people' or 'celebrities' in colloquial-speak are suddenly 'influencers' on LinkedIn, which is overtly pretentious but really something that you'd expect from a high school kid applying for an internship. The word 'synergy' is for some reason taken seriously. What are referred to as 'friends' or 'followers' elsewhere are called 'connections' on LinkedIn, intended to be evocative of professionals that you network with. This idea contradicts the fundamental premise of content creation: to reach as many people as possible. Connections should be a more exclusive list than friends – after all, friends can encompass almost anyone you've ever met, whereas connections should logically be those with whom you've worked. Yet in its current setup, connections have lost whatever little meaning they had. I thought that my current number of about 150 was excessive, but I see others around the same age who have upwards of 500. And LinkedIn's claim to 'grow your network' is inherently flawed – how can you grow a network through a website where you never actually work with the people or interact with them? Instead, LinkedIn is simply the social network of last resort, the place where you add someone because you don't feel comfortable enough adding them on Facebook.
While the motivation behind connections was to build a master professional network, it's become yet another popularity contest. Facebook used to be the go-to place for all of the look-how-great-my-life-is posts. While Instagram may have briefly stolen that mantle, LinkedIn is its rightful owner. Because LinkedIn is a place where you can be openly braggadocios under the pretense of building your brand and selling yourself. You can fit in simply by posting things that sound vaguely inspirational, talking about how you attended some conference or how you're off to your next job, all to the tune of hundreds of likes and fellating comments. Here's one example of an update that uses a dozen lines to say absolutely nothing:
What did the comments have to say about this truly ponder-worthy post? They ranged from "omg you're soooooooo right" to "Do or do not there is no try!!" to "Whatever it is speak it into reality" to my absolute favorite: "stop posting pointless, meaningless statements telling people what vocabulary they should use and actually get on with achieving something."
But the feed isn't the only problem. While there is a dearth of any kind of good content, surely LinkedIn can fall back on its base: the digital resumes. However, the lack of moderation or limitation in building these resumes invites the possibility of the absurd.
Everyone has something called a headline (another example of that facetious diction) which is like a title, but kind of different I guess? Users have taken advantage of the malleability of this term to write things like "highly impactful OD practitioner," "highly motivated, detail-oriented multilingual financial analyst," "highly effective executive assistant" (apparently everyone's high), "talent stargazer and aspiring trailblazer" and simply "curious," the professional versions of '#1 dermatologist recommended' on a lotion bottle. Once in a while you'll get people who incite shock value for the sake of sounding catchy, including things like "I like to blow shit up" by someone who looks like she moonlights as Helen Mirren's character from Red. All of that makes me think that my headline of "Nuclear Engineer" – ordinarily a showstopper at dinner parties – is a bit of a downer.
There are also summaries – the evolution of the long-extinct 'objectives' section on a resume – that routinely stretch out to 300 words and are peppered with subjective narcissistic adjectives usually reserved for a thesaurus. Surely the concept of a summary was already captured in the headline, but LinkedIn thoroughly enjoys creating more spaces where users feel pressured to add something, to the point that what they write doesn't contribute anything tangible to their profile. Endorsements – easily LinkedIn's most broken feature – show that apparently everyone in the world is skilled at using Microsoft Word, as they fucking should be. There are some who boast a set of skills that number in the hundreds, even though they only added '3D Modeling' because they lightly dabbled with play-doh when they were three years old (which was subsequently endorsed by one of their preschool playmates).
And that's the problem with the whole idea of branding. Things like cute-sounding taglines are prioritized over actual substance like qualifications and experience. When you spend more time designing your sharp business cards and your shiny website, it means that you're compensating for the content of your work – and I should know, I have both of those. While all of these facets of one's LinkedIn profile may seem like important enhancements, they can all be classified as noise.
LinkedIn would likely claim that it's not trying to be a standard resume. I'd argue that it should be. A resume is the most efficient delivery mechanism for someone's experience and ability. As a recruiter, if your interest is piqued by something on there, you'd naturally contact the candidate to learn more. The primary difference between the traditional resume and LinkedIn is how much space you get, but you don't need that extra bit of information that LinkedIn provides you. After all, you're not an investor that's trying to learn more about the project. As a recruiter, you're trying to see what role the candidate played, which is something the candidate can express to you in an actual conversation. And unfortunately, most users don't just give an 'extra bit', but rather a whole shitstorm of information.
Pretty much every work experience can be appropriately described in a handful of bullet points. If what you describe in that space is uninteresting to a recruiter, it's either because your work is genuinely uninteresting, it doesn't match what the recruiter is looking for, or you did a poor job in summarizing your work. Introducing any more text beyond the bare minimum of what's needed to describe something is by definition an inefficiency. It has two outcomes – either the recruiter wastes time sifting through the fluff for what's important, or the recruiter discards that candidate entirely and risks missing out on someone qualified.
The nature of a resume (and why it's hard to write) is to be brief. There's a reason why most people contain their resume within a single page, even though a maximum length isn't usually specified. It's generally understood that what you can fit in one page is what matters. If something isn't important enough, you leave it off. If you need two lines to describe that one project you did, it comes at the cost of even mentioning another one. For a full one-page resume, you probably have around 30 bullet points to play with. I don't want to hear about the 31st most important thing you did, because I can get a pretty good idea of who you are within the first 30. If the 31st thing was really that important, it wouldn't have been 31st, it would have been high enough to make the cut. Every bullet point from your first on down has diminishing returns, and it's incredibly unlikely that a recruiter has a dramatically different assessment of your bullet points than you do.
Yet, LinkedIn awards an infinitely long curriculum vitae to those who don't have enough to fill half a page on that Word document they're supposedly good at using. If I were to print my current profile (that I've tried to keep as trim as possible), it would still take up five pages. It's telling that most people actually affix their one-page resume to their LinkedIn summary, because it's still the quickest way to evaluate who they are. If LinkedIn didn't set out to be a digital resume, it should sure rethink what it's trying to do.
But I am hardly a sadist. I derive no pleasure from witnessing all the pain that LinkedIn causes. I cannot revel in its demise, because I want it to be great. So I came prepared with fixes. And I'm going to explain them in bullet points, the good old fashioned way.
- Get rid of headlines, summaries, and cover photos. They're all unnecessary.
- Impose a character limit for each section. That'll get rid of the fluff.
- Tie skills to particular jobs. So if I wanted to list 'MS Paint' as a skill, I'd have to go edit one of my job sections where I learned that skill, and add it to that specific job. It shows where and in what context you actually learned that skill. Plus, it'll indicate the number of years you've had that skill for.
- Tie endorsements to recommendations. So if someone worked at the same place as I did (and that place is listed on both our profiles), they could write me a recommendation, and endorse me for any of the skills tied to that job. That'll eliminate the abuse of the feature and make sure it's only used by the people who actually have those skills.
- Turn off endorsement counts and provide a simple yes/no. So if five people endorsed me for MS Paint, it'd look the same as if one person did. The number of people doesn't matter, just that *someone* who's worked with you has witnessed you utilize that skill.
All easy fixes. It trims the fat and realizes the potential of those features that should have been useful this whole time.
Quick Weird Note: Apparently there's a whole dark world of LinkedIn that's used for romantic endeavors, where older men will message younger women to comment on their profile photos and say generally inappropriate things. You can occasionally see this publicly on the feed, when a woman (say, a fresh grad) posts a photo, which draws in a bunch of 'happily married' men who will sometimes even make the effort of pretending to offer some kind of professional opportunity (#Weinstein).
Going on LinkedIn now feels like a chore, where you have to peruse your invitations to connect, modify parts of your profile just to feel productive – 'I guess I did technically start that internship in May, not June' – and delete all those e-mails that have been piling up. It's like maintaining that bike catching dust in the backyard, the one that you tell yourself you're going to use, except for the fact that a bike can actually help you get somewhere in life.
LinkedIn describes itself – through its mission and vision statements – as a platform to "create economic opportunity," "connect the world's professionals," and "make them more productive and successful." Let me offer an alternative interpretation of LinkedIn – I see it as a post-apocalyptic wasteland of quotes from self-help books, overexaggerated and nonexistent skills, and a positive feedback loop of self-congratulation. It's a nice vacation spot to go and get inspired, and not remember anything you read just five minutes later. It's a place you go to celebrate work anniversaries, because everyone has those marked on their calendars. It's awesome if you want to go call yourself the Executive Senior Director Analyst, and even better if you want to call yourself the Executive Senior Director Analyst Who Blows Shit Up. It fails at connecting the world's professionals, because on LinkedIn, everyone is suddenly a professional. It hardly creates economic opportunity, unless it's referring to the mountains of servers required to house all this useless data. And it is directly antithetical to the concepts of productivity and success, because every minute we waste our time on the site makes us less productive with no added chance of success. It could disappear today and we wouldn't care. Hell, LinkedIn could have disappeared three weeks ago and we'd just start looking for the body now.
I'll say it again. LinkedIn is trash. After all, "ideas that are repeated change the world." Whatever the fuck that means.