I’ve been having some very mixed feelings about LinkedIn recently – sometimes I think it is a strong asset to my (admittedly non-existent, see “graduate student”) professional career, and sometimes I think it’s another wannabe-Facebook, vying for time and energy that I don’t have. Sometimes I get recruiters sending me messages asking if I would be interested in discussing openings that are highly relevant to my research interests; other times, they spam me with garbage that makes me shake my head in disbelief. I’m obviously not the first person to write about this – others have extolled LinkedIn’s virtues and multiple issues, but like any optimistic and naïve graduate student, I wanted to write down my own experiences, because they’ll add a unique perspective. Hopefully. I think. Well, at least a quick Google search seems to indicate nobody else has my exact same sentiments. Anyways, here we go!
Let’s start with the positive side of things. LinkedIn is a social network for professionals, designed to showcase a person’s skills and accomplishments in addition to facilitating networking between professionals with mutual interests. They have a thriving network of 300 million professionals (according to Wikipedia), waiting eagerly to discuss the issues and connect one another to open positions. Sounds great, right? It can be – sometimes. There are recruiters out there who do a great job of utilizing what LinkedIn provides (professional bio, skills, what positions I’m seeking) to specifically target me with opportunities that I would jump at the chance to take. Here’s an example of a message I received that shows LinkedIn at its best (I removed identifying information, sorry for the onerous editing):
Amazing, somebody actually used LinkedIn appropriately! They saw my research interests (systems/parallel computing), saw that I was mid-way through a Ph.D. program (post-Masters, internship opportunity) and messaged me with an interesting and relevant open position. Too many times, I’ve gotten a wide-net e-mail from career services, where company X is hiring and since you have “computer” in the name of your major, you’re qualified! Sadly I had to turn down any further inquiry from this message because I’d already accepted an internship elsewhere, but otherwise I would definitely have explored this opportunity further. I’m not going to lie – when I saw that message in my inbox, I got a happy adrenaline jolt. This LinkedIn thing can be fun!
Here’s another example of LinkedIn getting something right – I get e-mails periodically where LinkedIn is doing the recruiting (although I’m sure that service isn’t free):
LinkedIn is scraping my profile, matching it with companies who have relevant open positions, and notifying me of relevant matches? Why would I ever go to any other site! Full disclosure #1 – I’ve never actually followed through these links and thrown my hat into the ring for these jobs, so I’m not sure if companies actually use this mechanism to find candidates for hiring. However, I’m at least getting notified of companies that are currently hiring. My job application may disappear into the void, but at least LinkedIn is working for me!
Okay, so LinkedIn is facilitating the networking between me and companies that have a need for people with my research interests. Let’s take a look at my LinkedIn profile and see what it’s showcasing:
Stop shaking your heads LinkedIn pros, I know it’s a small number of endorsements. But getting past that fact, what’s wrong with the picture? Nothing, right? As a recruiter, you’d look at my profile and say, “he must be pretty good at embedded systems and Java!” Wrong. Well, I have experience in those areas, but I would consider myself much more proficient in other skills. My research involves writing C for operating systems and compilers (in support of heterogeneous processor architectures) on desktop and server-class systems. The top 5 endorsements are maybe tangentially related, but this is directly leading recruiters away from my research interests. In fact, I haven’t touched Java for several years and would require a good bit of time to get back into the groove with the language. How in the heck did this happen?
Full disclosure #2 – I was in a fraternity in undergrad, and as the token computer engineer of the 80+ member organization, I helped a lot of other people get through their programming classes. Guess what languages were used in a lot of their programming assignments? You nailed it, savvy reader – Java and C++! A lot my connections on LinkedIn are friends from the fraternity, meaning they endorse me for the skills they saw me use the most. I could go through and un-connect from them, but you never know where the next opportunity might come from. There may also be a way to curate the list of skills, but I don’t want to spend the time and energy to investigate. Maybe people with more well-connected professional careers and more carefully designed profiles don’t have this problem, but I know that I’ll probably not get too many relevant job offers stemming from recruiters perusing this list.
So my skills list may be leading recruiters in the wrong direction, but that’s not horrible. I’ve got other information on my profile which competent recruiters can use to get a sense of what I’m actually doing for my research. At least LinkedIn isn’t constantly sending me useless information, right?
Ugh. Here’s that wannabe-Facebook syndrome in its full and ugly glory. Adding new skills is important in maintaining your profile – you want people to know what skills you bring to the table. But come on, LinkedIn. I don’t need to know that another person in my network added “time management” or “research” as a skill. Also, cut the motivational posters. As a side rant, don’t the people who post these motivational posters have jobs to do? Why are they spending time posting links and pictures on LinkedIn? Anyway, I get enough of this “content” on Facebook.
Well, okay, they spam me with some “news” I consider worthless. At least they aren’t Buzzfeed or Huffington Post, shoving click-bait nonsense in my face.
Wait, what the hell? What’s next, some tabloid gossip garbage?
What happened? Did everybody at LinkedIn have a brain aneurysm simultaneously? What’s next, insulting your users, normal everyday people just trying to get to their jobs?
Are you kidding me? Stop making jokes Rob, they’re using them as ideas for content!
In all seriousness, I got this pile of shit in my inbox on a dark, cold winter day, and it made my blood boil. What a complete waste of time, screen space, network bandwidth, inbox storage, bits…shame on you LinkedIn. The professional social network? Don’t make me laugh. A click-bait article about drinking is literally the most un-professional thing I could think of for LinkedIn to consider a “must-read for Rob”. I guess Kim Kardashian is highly successful but…well, I’ll be politically correct and just say that I don’t want to see or hear about anything she says or does, ever. Finally, I’m not ever going to be interested in reading an article that has “fat bitches” in the title. This is downright insulting, and now I need to go take a walk to cool down. I was really hoping my first blog post would be happier.
Okay, taking a step back from that train-wreck of an e-mail, LinkedIn does provide some tangible benefits. I have successfully networked through the website, and it seems to be at least somewhat popular with recruiters. It does give me an easy way to reference my professional bio and current goings-on, albeit with some broken mechanisms. And perhaps most importantly, once it’s setup I don’t really have to mess with it too much – it exists on the internet for people to peruse at their pleasure. I guess I could transform myself into an active LinkedIn member, subscribe to their premium service and utilize the site’s networking abilities (something that I’ll probably do once I’m ready to start searching for a job). But for now, I’ll let it sit as it is – you know, that whole time and energy thing. It’s not causing too much trouble, save for the occasional blood-boiling.