The last 50 years has seen the world rapidly transform as has the job market. 50 years ago, people shopped for jobs through newspaper and magazine ads, interpersonal connections and handing in their resumes. Today, sites like LinkedIn and Indeed exist to help you job search- easily accessible, and ripe with career advice.
I often joke that if there is one demographic I will always be prepared to make fun of, it is the frequent LinkedIn poster. When I say this I do not mean the people that post about their milestones or their achievements – I mean the corporate and cardinal “if you were not working towards capitalist salvation fresh out of the womb then you are lazy and selfish” demographic. There are too many of them. “At 22 weeks gestation I had already completed a summer internship at a Big Four company and by 2 months old I had earnt my first million….”.
Although I joke about this now, I do not understand why the plethora of LinkedInfluencers (compared to “influencers” on any other social app) are seen as just inspiring and not depressing. When it comes to other social apps we are quick to jump into discussions about how facades are dangerous, and how adverse they are for our mental health. Why not with LinkedIn too?
Surely this meant that I was incapable of anything and that no job would ever hire me?
I was always told that Instagram and TikTok would crush my self-esteem. LinkedIn did what years of TikTok and Instagram usage did not do, and in mere months.
I have been getting better at using LinkedIn over the past year. I was convinced that I needed to have an internship over the summer of my second year (despite having no idea what I actually wanted to do), which is why I started using the app. Within months I found myself spiralling, because a girl I met during freshers week and never again somehow had three internships, twenty extracurriculars and about 14 years of relevant experience and nothing I would do or had done would match up to it. Surely this meant that I was incapable of anything and that no job would ever hire me? I had no choice but to turn off the app notifications and only look at it when I absolutely had to.
I still do not think that I have regained my self-worth. Although comparison is a terrible thing to do to yourself, I cannot shake the feeling that I will never be good enough for any job because “I’m not doing as much as I should be”. Realistically, there are limits to how much you can do before it burns you out. How do you stop listening to the corporate hustlers on LinkedIn that repeatedly tell you that you are not enough? How do you tell yourself that you are enough when everyone around you is doing better than you, and the CEO of that multimillion company agrees?
Some fellow students were kind enough to discuss their own experiences with me. One student (who wished to remain anonymous) said that they started using LinkedIn during their final year of high school when it was introduced to them through a career event. However, LinkedIn usage only began to impact them adversely about halfway through their second year, when they made a post that received a large amount of reactions. “It doubled up my connection requests. Being in my penultimate year made the pressure greater. With the widening connections that I experienced, it definitely made my LinkedIn space a lot less about the good opportunities I could obtain but instead it elevates the insecurities I have with my own achievements by seeing others. But at the same time I also think that I’m contributing to the creation of that same feeling for others”. The student said that they were so overwhelmed that they had to delete the app, only occasionally checking it in their browser.
I learnt that comparison is the thief of joy
Ellie, a second year Modern Languages and Linguistics student
Sophie, a Liberal Arts student, told me that she started using LinkedIn in first year as it had been recommended by the employment officer in her department, also believing that it was something she “had to do”. “At the beginning it was fun, I was able to connect with people I hadn’t spoken to in ages or old teachers from my school, but it started becoming an issue when everybody was posting about their summer internships when I didn’t have one. I also began to go on people’s profiles and check their past experience and despite what the truth may have been, I felt like everyone had more past experience than me”. Sophie also mentioned that having a very career focused friend group did impact her, but going on LinkedIn and feeling as though it wasn’t just her friends, but “everyone” – that affected her self esteem. She says she stopped using LinkedIn as much, but it was “hard to stop completely, especially when you are genuinely interested in your connections’ life updates. But I can rarely spend more than a few minutes on there before I start to feel bad about myself”.
Similarly, Ellie, who is a second year Modern Languages and Linguistics student, said that when she started using LinkedIn in 2021, prior to joining University, “very quickly I found that it was affecting my mental health, I guess around a month or so after creating an account. I felt a lot of pressure. So many other people had a lot more experience and achievements than me and I guess I just felt inferior and as though I wasn’t as good as them. It made me feel that my achievements were worthless, even though I know I’m a good candidate for jobs I apply to”. Ellie says that she worked on her mental health and her relationship with herself, “Eventually I felt proud of myself for what I have achieved. I learnt that comparison is just the thief of joy”.
By no means am I attempting to disparage the platform. It is truly unique and brilliant in its abilities to both advertise jobs as well as professional achievements. I am also not saying that you should stop posting your achievements on LinkedIn. You absolutely should – hard work deserves to be recognised. LinkedIn is incredibly important for a majority of careers, and being active on it can really help with your prospects. However, that does not mean that it cannot have an impact on your mental health, or that you are alone in feeling this way. In this insanely competitive world it is hard to cultivate positivity around yourself, and your achievements.
Social apps have resulted in more competition, more greed and poorer mental health
Parts of looking at this make me wonder where it all went wrong: social apps, no matter to what or to whom they’re oriented should have positive connotations and yet they have resulted in more competition, more greed and poorer mental health. My aim in this article was to verify two things: firstly, was I alone in feeling like LinkedIn has had an adverse impact on my mental health? Secondly, why is LinkedIn so often exempt from social media and mental health conversations? I feel the first has been answered already, so I will move on to the second.
What makes LinkedIn different, and similar, to other social apps such as Instagram and TikTok? I think we can all agree that it is the type of content that we share on each platform. Instagram and Facebook from a personal lens are all about sharing social milestones and achievements, such as weddings and even holidays. Meanwhile, LinkedIn is about sharing professional achievements. In a way, this is also social.
Most people tend to have a timeline for their social goals; for example, wanting to be married by a certain age. Let’s say that this age is 25. What happens if you are still unmarried by 25 but “everyone” your age is? You feel as though you are falling behind, even though that is not the truth. There is no falling behind. The barrage of wedding pictures on Instagram make you feel less than, so you speak about it, in an article, to your friend, in a podcast and there is consensus that there is no set age to complete social goals. The majority of social milestones are historical and predate centuries. Naturally, changing times will result in changing norms. However, social milestones are something that we are societally accustomed to discussing.
Most people have a professional timeline as well. Applying the wedding analogy to the comparative effects of LinkedIn usage, you would think that more people would talk about it, the same way we talk about Instagram and TikTok and how using them can be “bad”. We simply don’t. Is it because there are too many professional and career variables for it to be relatable to a mass audience, or are we just not used to talking about it in lieu of the office-going career being a fairly modern phenomena as well? Otherwise, there is the distinction between social and professional. Because LinkedIn presents itself as a professional platform, we are expected to contain its effects within the workplace, whereas mental health impacts every aspect of your life.
We are quick to warn users about false information on other social platforms. When I use Instagram, Tiktok, or even Youtube, any information that I consume from an “influencer” is done so with the prior knowledge that parts, if not all, of what I am being told is fabricated. Perhaps this is a very nihilistic way to exist on the internet, but it has kept my mental health relatively safe. With LinkedIn, I did the opposite: I assumed that every bit of information was telling the truth. Why would people lie on such a platform? Knowing many of my connections personally added another layer of trust. Realities became blurred.
77.1% responded “I felt as though I, and in turn my achievements, were not enough”
In my quest to learn whether more people felt similarly about LinkedIn, I put out a short questionnaire about it, once again begging anyone that follows me on Instagram to “please fill out the form! It only takes a minute”. A massive 35 people obliged me so that I could back this article with “data”. Luckily for me, all 35 consented to having their answers included in this article.
Most responders had been using LinkedIn for at least six months.
Question 2: “did you ever feel as though using LinkedIn was having an adverse impact on your mental health?”. 68.6% (24) said “Yes”, whilst 22.9% (8) said “No”. The remaining 8.6% (3) said “I’m Unsure”.
Question 2: “If yes, when did you feel that it was impacting your mental health in an adverse way?”. About 22 people of the 24 who chose “Yes” responded. Here are some of the answers- “As soon as I got it”, “When I saw my peers doing so many extracurriculars while I could barely manage my studies”, “The constant emails about everyone doing well and the constant reminders that all your peers are ahead” “I was comparing myself to so many people on my course and I felt so much pressure to apply to all these different internships/placements/extracurricular activities. I had no past experience with LinkedIn or how to use it to my advantage and instead I felt like a failure every time I used it. It was really difficult to apply to internships as well as focusing on my degree and my personal well-being and it felt like I could never secure a job if I’m running against so many incredible people”.
Question 3: “How did it make you feel about yourself/your achievements/prospects?”. The responses were as such:
“I felt as though I, and in turn my achievements, were not enough” 77.1% (27).
“It made me feel better about my achievements and my prospects” 14.3% (5).
“I felt no different” 8.6% (3)
Question 4: “Was there anything in particular that made you feel this way?”.
“Feeling like everyone was doing more than me” 77.1% (27).
“Seeing everyone post about their achievements” 11.4% (4)
“I did not feel as though my mental health was impacted by LinkedIn usage at all” 11.4% (4)
“Using LinkedIn bettered my mental health” was not chosen by any responder.
The fifth question (a follow up) “If you chose either of the first two options, what helped you overcome this?” 27 out of 35 responded. Some of the answers included- “I realised that social media is mostly fake and I do not have to conform to anyone’s timeline on doing things except my own”, “Just deleting it as an app to be honest. I switched off all the gmail notifications except messaging so I periodically forget it exists and that’s been changing my anxiety levels in my favour, but I’m not quite indifferent to it yet”, “Realising that often it wasnt that they were doing more than me but that we wanted different things. Makes no sense to feel insecure about my coursemate’s investment banking internship if I want to go into journalism”.
LinkedIn needs to be a bigger part of the conversation surrounding mental health and professional expectations, especially for those that are just starting their careers- consider it a rather sordid investment into employee wellbeing.