Many college students are slowly entering adulthood, a terrifying yet equally exciting journey ahead of us. A gigantic part of this voyage is self-validation and networking, not only in our private lives but also professionally. With this in mind, LinkedIn has unequivocally become the stamp of professionalism and success. Users on this platform recruit or seek employment by showcasing their accomplishments to their connected “peers.” However, is scrolling through the feed of others’ successes and showing off yours the best booster to your self-confidence, especially during a pandemic where opportunities are scarce, and when motivation is at an all-time low?
What Really is LinkedIn, Anyway?
Founded in 2003, LinkedIn had a humble beginning as an “alternative to job-listing databases,” filled with established industry professionals and institutions that you “connected” with. It was strictly business. Not until 2010 did the platform adopt a “friendlier” and more social media-like outlook by introducing functions for sharing news and life updates. LinkedIn reaches its peak after being purchased by Microsoft in 2016 with its dual identity: a job-seeking and recruiting networking site with user profiles formatted as digital public CVs and a social media platform powered by the users’ links and posts.
LinkedIn today has evolved into a Facebook lookalike with its reaction buttons and comments, carrying the mission of connecting the world’s professionals and making them more “productive and successful.” So what’s the appeal for a platform that is made purely functional? The company boasts that each new connection will expand the reach of your network by 400 people, 100 companies, and more than 500 jobs on average. An enticing deal for young professionals #opentowork. While many view the platform as unstimulating, the reality is rather the opposite, both in content and revenue. According to The New York Times, the company reported that its 645 million users generate over 2 million posts, videos, and articles every day, contributing $5.3 billion in revenue to Microsoft in 2018.
For a platform that places a hefty focus on connectivity, is LinkedIn really connecting people? Well, it isn’t. Since its earlier days, the platform was never meant for any personal relationship or authentic interactions. Everything on LinkedIn is carefully formulated and masterfully crafted, and refined to impress, at least on the practical and professional level. LinkedIn’s Editor-in-chief Dan Roth understands this nature more than anyone and asserts that “You talk on LinkedIn the same way you talk in the office.” Unlike many social media, the platform bears specific boundaries of what is acceptable and appropriate because it is “as close to your permanent record as you can get,” disincentivizing users to share anything too personal. Therefore, the connections in your network may as well consist of people you only barely hear of, recognize or know. While the platform also circulates content about its users’ struggles and failures, it still lacks the humanism inherent in other typical social media.
LinkedIn as an Ego Amplifier: Is Success Overrated?
As the platform brands itself as a space for young professionals to market themselves, each user profile is loaded with the individual’s achievements. From education, endorsements to skills, working, and volunteer experiences, your accomplishments are neatly organized and curated into a clean-cut digital, interactive CV. While many of us often feel under-accomplished considering our age and life experiences, seeing our attainments stacked in one place indeed brings a sense of satisfaction and comfort, knowing we at least have done something meaningful or productive with our lives.
Furthermore, not only do users showcase their achievements in a list, but they can also post about them. While we also share our success stories on other platforms, LinkedIn is specifically designed for such acts. However, the tone in which we narrate these stories often deviates from our usual selves, where we morph into this reserved and restrained alter-ego. Because no one gets candid on LinkedIn. At the end of the day, do our achievements reflect who we are as unique individuals with flaws and imperfections? Or has the platform transformed us into a self-centered, career-centric, and unemotional version of ourselves, where authenticity is often disregarded and bragging is celebrated?
The Ego Pitfall
I admit, the notion of “staying humble” is sometimes glorified. After all, what’s wrong with bragging about one’s successes, especially if they are earned from the consistent effort and hard work? However, the larger issue, from my perspective, lies in how one’s confidence can be shaken by the constant exposure of others’ attainment and the lack of their own. From my experiences of randomly stalking hotshots and overachievers on LinkedIn, the struggle of only looking at your peers’ achievements bundled together in a news feed can be quite tantalizing. As envy is one deadly sin, it can be ridiculously easy to fall into the spiral of feeling insecure and inadequate when it comes to comparing ourselves with others.
The “more-is-better” mentality sometimes fails to help us excel and rather sinks us into self-doubt.
In our fast-paced and cutthroat reality, young individuals are frequently expected or expect themselves to get ahead and lead the game of life, the earlier and quicker, the better. Therefore, we often ask or even force ourselves to push forward, do more, catch up, and, most importantly, not fall behind. However, the “more-is-better” mentality sometimes fails to help us excel and rather sinks us into self-doubt, especially in an uncertain time where we hardly know where our future is heading.
While others’ accomplishments can urge and motivate you to take action, they can also make you feel incomplete and incompetent, seriously damaging one’s self-esteem both professionally and privately.
LinkedIn or LinkedOut?
You might be wondering, “why make a big deal out of a harmless website that is almost irrelevant to youth culture? I’m not even using it.” Well, since most of my college peers have a LinkedIn profile, I suppose it is about time we have a candid conversation about the platform. At the core of it, LinkedIn is obviously not the most authentic place on the Internet to make lifelong friends, simply because it is created to serve practical needs. However, as the platform crosses over to a more narrative-based system, it honestly bears almost no genuine sentiment. While the easy solution is to log out of the platform, LinkedIn has nevertheless become an integral part of professional work. Also, a benchmark for adulthood for many, regardless of whether they are regular users or not. Therefore, it is important to remind ourselves that our LinkedIn profiles do not represent or define our identities and success, like any other social media, and even less so.
Cover: Connor Heckert via NPR
Edited by: Melike Alpay