Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

The illusion of LinkedIn

As LinkedIn continues to exacerbate job anxiety amongst college students, it is important to reassess our engagement with the platform.

Networking Graphic.jpg

Beneath this enticing veneer of professionalism lies a web of issues that demands scrutiny.

In an age marked by job market challenges and heightened student anxiety about internships and future career prospects, the familiar glow of LinkedIn pervades every corner of the university campus and the mind of every college student. The distracted kid in class, the kid bored from studying in Tisch Library and the one casually chilling at The Sink all have one thing in common: They all have LinkedIn open on their laptops. The pressure to have 500+ connections compels students to anxiously send connections to every person recommended to them and creates the idea that without LinkedIn, you will be jobless.

Certainly, the wide array of features LinkedIn offers, from personalized messaging to sharing posts to commenting, all make LinkedIn a valuable platform for networking and professional outreach. However, beneath this enticing veneer of professionalism lies a web of issues that demands scrutiny. Understanding the true nature of LinkedIn will allow us to best use LinkedIn to our advantage.

First, the seemingly transparent nature of LinkedIn often pressures students to present an idealized version of themselves, which could result in exaggerating achievements and inaccurate portrayals of one’s skills. While it is important to present our best selves when engaging with potential employers, we must also be aware of the danger of inaccurately portraying our work experience to make ourselves seem more credible.

When we create LinkedIn profiles, our target audiences are often not our peers, but rather potential employers. Naturally, LinkedIn users will create profiles that align more with career advancement rather than profiles that genuinely reflect the full spectrum of their experiences.  It's not uncommon for people to solely emphasize the aspects of their responsibilities that are related to professional development regardless of whether they encompass the entirety of their work experience. Similarly, the difference in the subtext created by the phrase “providing individualized academic support” versus simply writing “tutoring” is a prime example of how strategic word choices can create a huge disparity between one’s perceived and real abilities. Against this backdrop shaped by a strong desire to acquire jobs, it is essential for us to resist succumbing to peer pressure and especially the temptation to compare profiles with others.

The tendency to appear professional in the absence of the exact qualifications is even emphasized in periodic internet posts that make fun of LinkedIn. For instance, I have seen posts featuring a profile listing Harvard University as their education, with the description being “60 minute campus tour,” as well as a user showcasing their experience at Goldman Sachs as a “Participant of Goldman Sachs Coffee Chats.” While these may be fake profiles created for the sole purpose of satire, the underlying criticism of the platform is clear: Many people will do anything to amplify the impact of their achievements, in turn distorting and inflating their actual abilities. This not only creates an issue of misrepresentation and deception but also fosters a culture of hypercompetitiveness that is built on hollow grounds. This desire to project an utmost professional image on LinkedIn brings to light another concern: The platform perpetuates a culture of hyperperfectionism that can be detrimental to individuals who don’t fit into conventional narratives of professionalism.

The aspects of LinkedIn one must master to fit in include creating a sophisticated profile with a professional headshot, an advanced job title and an extensive network of connections. Such aspects are used only to appeal to an elite audience that emphasizes image over substance, suggesting that a polished appearance alone can guarantee success. Hyperperfectionist expectations like these also create a misleading belief that success is inextricably linked to having an idealized corporate personality, which is not the case for many, especially for those uninterested in seeking a career in the private sector. This curated perfectionism often veils authenticity and obscures an individual’s progress in overcoming challenges faced at work, which both hold immense significance in career development and personal growth.

For college students who have to juggle both academic pressure and job anxiety, a reevaluation of our relationship with LinkedIn is not just beneficial but necessary for understanding how to build a genuine professional identity. We must be able to see beyond the fancy, sophisticated facade of LinkedIn and control how we make use of LinkedIn as opposed to letting LinkedIn’s features control us and make us doubt our own capabilities.