On the day that I made my LinkedIn account, my mum accepted my connection request and started messaging me to ask how university was going. My first thought was that she hadn’t quite understood what LinkedIn was for. After all, this was a professional platform that existed to connect potential employees and employers. I’d have to introduce her to Facebook instead. Two years and several logins later however, I can safely say that our brief exchange of messages before we reverted back to texting remains the only vaguely human interaction I have had on LinkedIn.
The site encapsulates and amplifies the very worst of corporate culture. The bragging is bad. So are the (clearly made up or exaggerated) inspirational stories. So is the unwritten rule that anything on the platform must be phrased in the most patronising way imaginable, which I assume is intended to make every mundane point sound like the author just came up with it. When I logged in today to familiarise myself with the network, LinkedIn informed me its ‘idea of the day’ was that communication requires listening as well as talking. Hardly Plato, really – and an idea my primary school teachers imparted to me at the age of four. But then I suppose there have been a lot of days recently, so ideas are presumably in short supply.
Thankfully though, one can avoid the false pleasantries and omnipresent platitudes by employing the tried and tested tactic of not logging in. And for students pursuing jobs in finance or other commercial industries, LinkedIn certainly has its uses. As an online business card and resume, the site comes into its own and students can take advantage of the web format to list their experiences and interests, as well as providing links to any online examples of work.
An account has doubtless become something of a staple for those applying for internships, and it certainly pays to spend an hour ensuring a professional looking profile, including a picture if possible. In my personal experience, interviewers will occasionally look up candidates on LinkedIn before an encounter. Whilst there is no need to go over the top, and most interviewers will rely on the CV they have been provided with, it is always sensible to make sure details are accurate and up to date.
The network is also pretty useful for following up with interesting people you have met in a professional capacity, and would like to stay connected with. Especially after a networking evening, an insight day or a placement, it is a good way to express thanks and show that your interest was serious.
LinkedIn certainly is not, though, a substitute for talking to people. In an increasingly web-based world, it is tempting to think of the network as an easy fix which can secure career prospects for students and grads in front of a computer screen. Graduates rarely get headhunted however, and the reality of applying for entry-level jobs in the finance sector is a harsh level of competition. A profile with a snappy headline is rarely more memorable than a good conversation and a laugh over a drink.
If anything, I think the rise of platforms like LinkedIn mean that genuine social skills and the ability to talk to actual people are more in demand than ever. The gloss of the online profile is all well and good, but the substance has to be there too. After all, when you come face to face with an interviewer, you can’t enter ‘private mode’ and give your name as ‘someone from the University of Warwick.’