I joined LinkedIn a few years ago after finally realizing it would probably be a wise career move. Unlike the original mass flock of professionals rushing to join the site, initially I had resisted setting up my profile on LinkedIn because I wasn’t searching for a new job, wasn’t too concerned with networking, and just didn’t care to be bothered by it.
As LinkedIn continued to grow in popularity and became the premium career social networking site, I figured I was possibly selling myself short or missing out on career opportunities by continuing to eschew the site. So, finally one day I got around to signing up. The profile creation process was relatively simple and pain free (although it could be more of a hassle if you really take the time to beef up your profile). It wasn’t long before I was making connections and discovering the many career paths that friends and colleagues had taken. The experience was rather enjoyable…at first. As I continued to casually use LinkedIn, I realized the site can really become unhealthy and detrimental to you if you let it. How you ask? Before we get to that, let’s briefly touch on what makes LinkedIn a powerful career tool.
The Benefits of Career Social Networking Sites Like LinkedIn
- Networking – The most obvious and potentially beneficial aspect of LinkedIn is the opportunity to network. Let’s face it, these days your ability to network is just as much of an asset as your education and work experience. Who you know can be the difference maker in landing a new position or, from a hiring perspective, ensuring you find quality people to join your team. LinkedIn makes networking far simpler than in the past (can you imagine having to locate a contact’s number in a rolodex as the only means to reach out?!). Of course, face-to-face networking is still to be held at a premium. In the absence of meeting in person, LinkedIn provides great opportunities to be a networking aficionado.
- Find new employment – Career social networking sites might be able to assist you in finding a new job. First, there are job postings on LinkedIn. More over, the site is a Godsend for recruiters! What easier way for them to locate potential candidates for positions they are trying to fill? So, putting yourself on LinkedIn might lead to opportunities landing your lap. Conversely, you can seek out the recruiters and try to put yourself on their radar.
- Stay in touch – You get to stay abreast of family and friends via Facebook. LinkedIn allows you to keep tabs on your professional circle. It’s a convenient way to get updates on old classmates, colleagues you no longer work with, and sometimes even colleagues with which you actually still do work!
- Learn – LinkedIn lets you follow companies, industries, and educational institutions in order to stay on top of current news. The site also has lots of articles about career and personal development. If you have the time to invest in those resources, you could stand to learn a thing or two.
The Biggest Drawback to Career Social Networking Sites
There are several disadvantages to using LinkedIn. I’m going to focus on only one drawback though and it’s potentially a huge one:
Career social networking sites such as LinkedIn can make you feel like an unworthy, underachieving schmuck.
How? Hmm, well let’s see…Bob Brownnoser just got promoted to senior vice president. Lucy Luck landed a lucrative new position at the company of her dreams. Dave Dimwit is now CFO of a promising new start-up? Sally Slacksalot just got acknowledged for all of her “hard work”!? Frank Freshoutacollage is already a manager???
Ok, I’m done coming up with cheesy fake names 😉 I think you get the gist of where I’m heading. LinkedIn constantly bombards you with news and updates of other people’s amazing career accomplishments. I get an e-mail nearly every other day telling me I should congratulate so and so about whatever awesome thing just happened to them. Even if you turn off or pay no attention to these notifications, it’s still very easy to peruse the site and note how others are rapidly progressing to ever increasing career success.
The site makes it all too convenient to compare yourself to others in a mostly unhealthy way no matter what stage your career is in. If you’re seeking a promotion and struggling to get one, then watching connection after connection advance can be deflating. The same thing can be said if you’ve been suffering from job burnout. Even if you are currently satisfied with where your career is at, seeing person after person “movin’ on up” might cause you to start thinking you’re too complacent.
This phenomenon really is no different than what can happen on other social networking sites like Facebook. On Facebook, envy can arise when seeing pictures of or status updates about people’s exotic vacations, roaring parties, or exquisite dining experiences. With LinkedIn, the impetus to compare yourself is a bit more subtle. After all, the site is intended to help bolster your career. That’s why you’ve got to be careful and not let it chip away at your psyche.
A similar parallel is how beauty or fitness magazines portray unattainable body images. The constant exposure to the “ideal” body shapes can, after a while, get so ingrained in your mind that you have no problems belittling yourself. Now, this example isn’t the most accurate comparison to career social networking because you don’t really have the choice not be exposed to the airbrushed models used in all types of marketing. Conversely, you could abstain from LinkedIn. The similarity of unfairly comparing yourself, often subconsciously, still exists.
And, yes, I must acknowledge the flip side. It’s quite possible to use LinkedIn as a motivational tool to spur your career onward. Also, there is nothing forcing you to negatively compare yourself to the career achievements of others. That’s often easier said than done. Going back to the body image example – when you see a gorgeous model on the cover of a magazine, you could use that for motivation to shed those unwanted pounds and push yourself to get in spectacular shape. But, how many of us actually do that?
So, if you’re a current user of LinkedIn, be mindful of this potential downside. It really can take an emotional toll if you let it. If you’re considering joining the site, but are not yet a member, please be aware of the unhealthy psychological impact it can have.
If you find yourself letting LinkedIn get the best of you, remind yourself that life is not a race. That’s what I try to do during the instances when Bob Badattidude gets a job for which I know he is in no way qualified (sorry, I lied about being done with the cheesy names!!). Either that or you realize climbing the corporate ladder isn’t the real way to become rich.
Do you have a profile on LinkedIn? Do you use the site or get regular updates about your connections’ achievements? How does this effect you? Have you ever found yourself making comparisons or getting discouraged? If yes, how do you deal with those feelings? Would you ever consider removing your LinkedIn profile? Or do the benefits outweigh this and any other drawbacks?
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