LinkedIn was originally designed to be a professional networking site; a platform where firms can seek out new talent, and where virtual schmoozing can earn you brownie points with potential future employers (“Extremely thought-provoking read, Mark! I love your take on holistic strategies to develop synergies and promoting vertical growth within your Big Bad Corporation!”). Despite not typically being lumped in with sites like Instagram and Facebook, it is undoubtedly a form of social media, and as such a breeding ground for unrealistic expectations and unhealthy comparisons – especially among insecure, 20-something year old recent graduates. Considering today’s glorified hustle culture, it may do more harm than good for those of us who might still be trying to figure things out.
A friend once said to me, “You know you’re getting old when you start stalking people on LinkedIn instead of Facebook”. And indeed, the end of university typically marks the beginning of the LinkedIn era. From now on, one’s online presence is integral to the personal brand you would like to sell to potential future employers. In light of this, Instagram accounts are made private and Facebook names mysteriously change to barely pronounceable, spoonerized jumbles of accented letters (Alex Smith turns into Šåłëx Âmïth etc.). All this is done to remain elusive to nosy HR managers on any form of social media other than your meticulously crafted LinkedIn profile. The boozy festival pictures you were happy to share with the world only a couple of months ago are silently deleted – God forbid your boss ever sifts through the underbelly of your online existence to find evidence of you living your life like a normal person…! As a young graduate you would like to convince your budding professional network that you were always a strapping young corporate lad with a pearly white smile and a squeaky-clean record.
This is where things get dangerous – especially for those with fragile mental health. LinkedIn, just like any other form of social media, invites comparison, which can quickly cause an already insecure graduate to veer off into a downward spiral of self-doubt and anxiety. In the months after graduating, where many find themselves trapped in some sort of limbo-life where they are forced to move back home and bum off their parents, while fruitlessly sending out job applications, it can be incredibly frustrating to have the stellar CVs and job updates from peers at your fingertips. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that, just like Instagram is the highlight reel of one’s personal life, LinkedIn is merely the highlight reel of one’s academic and professional life. Comparing your own successes to the LinkedIn version of someone else is about as pointless as comparing an unflattering bikini shot of yourself after eating a 7-course meal with Kylie Jenner’s most recent professionally orchestrated, nipped, tucked and photoshopped semi-nude Instagram post. There is no way of knowing how many of the coveted internships someone may have listed on their LinkedIn were preceded by rejections, or how many of them were actually sponsored by nepotism over actual talent.
My point is: it is important to remind yourself that the most flattering version of a person is almost never the most honest version. One must only look at the “about me” sections to make this laughably obvious. Here, those openly misogynistic ex-rugby lads with “beer and bitches” in their Facebook bios are suddenly selling themselves as “passionate, self-motivated and results-orientated team player(s) with excellent interpersonal skills”. LinkedIn undeniably invites a complete whitewashing of one’s personality. Most bios are littered with the same top 10 LinkedIn buzzwords – probably copped at a “Business Networking 101” campus workshop – weaved around some vague, vacuous sentence. A smattering of business lingo here, a dash of false confidence there and a whole lot of bullshit. People tend to write the type of things they think employers would want to hear. The type of stuff that will get their metaphorical tails wagging. “Big data…Growth hacking…cutting edge…”. Instant salivation: A variation of the Pavlov effect, if you will. Whether or not the bio actually applies to the person is completely irrelevant.
More important than the mendacious bios, which are admittedly more of a pet peeve of mine, is that LinkedIn perpetuates today’s highly competitive and fast paced hustle culture, which can take a toll on one’s psychological wellbeing. In our society, being constantly busy is equated to being successful. Employers frown upon gaps on the CV. Internships or periods of employment should be back to back, as anything else would imply laziness and a lack of direction or ambition. And so, it is easy to idealise those peers that constantly seem to be “doing stuff”. Yet, no one ever thinks to look beyond an impressive job title, despite the fact that more often than not a lonely, stressed and anxious individual is hiding behind it.
If you take anything away from this, I want it to be not to reduce people to their online presence. Whatever you see on paper is never the full story, so don’t bother comparing yourself. I know LinkedIn can quickly make you feel like everyone else is speeding past you in the fast lane to making millions and finding professional fulfilment, while you are ambling along in a dishevelled Ford with a broken satnav – But this is usually not the case. Most people are clueless and drifting to a degree, they might just be better at hiding it.
By Clara Meyer-Horn
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