Has LinkedIn affected your career?

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman

Around a month ago, I shared ideas on maximalist careers. As we have better tools, better connectivity, more people will follow their curiosity, and build up an array of skills which might be not be highly correlated. These people will care less about jobs, and more about teams and projects. For them, careers will be flat and linear, like playgrounds, and not ladders, and not even jungle gyms.

But there is no social network connecting them which I know of. No interface which lets them express themselves, and find people like them.

Which brings me to LinkedIn.

Yesterday, discussing this idea with a friend gave a scary realization. Have we changed our career paths because of LinkedIn? Have we optimized our careers because of LinkedIn? If LinkedIn or something like it did not exist, would our careers look different? Would we take more risks?

Some of us pay more attention to the looks of our food, because of instagram and some give more attention to the look of our vacations. Most of us pay attention to how do we look on social media in general. After all, expressing ourselves is a core human need.

So it follows that if we know that people (recruiters!) are looking at our LinkedIn profiles, we might have (consciously or otherwise), designed our careers for this audience.

LinkedIn
Linear, Logo driven Ladder of LinkedIn

LinkedIn is designed to show career movement step by step, linear. Across more or less clearly defined stages. This resembles our school system, where we pass along grades one year at a time. And while many of us know our school system is not ideal, we do not bother so much when it comes to showing our working life through LinkedIn.

Apart from being quite linear, LinkedIn is also a bit logo driven. You want to put big brands in there, because everyone is looking at those pictures. Most resumes do not have logos of companies, just names. I wonder if this visual cue has led people to be apprehensive of joining companies which are small or less well-known even if they are making very good products.

Similarly, LinkedIn leaves lesser room to showcase passion projects, or hobbies, like sports or sketching. Do they matter for professional recruitment in large companies? Probably no. But do they matter for small teams, cohesion, and curiosity? Probably yes. We work with people, not profiles.

What could an alternative look like? Let’s speculate. I will take my own career as an example. I have degrees in Engineering, Business and Design, and have worked in startups, agencies, and a few big companies. I have also worked in at least 12 cities in 3 countries. It’s quite messy when mentioned this way, and not very helpful in the LinkedIn format either.

We could organize it differently. According to the author Richard Saul Wurman, you can organize information in five ways – Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, or Hierarchy.

LinkedIn organizes information on ‘Experience’ and ‘Education’ section according to Time. What if they were organized according to category? For example, my design education, clubbed with design jobs would be grouped together? And maybe even the recommendations for my work on design? And maybe I could attach a portfolio and a design blog link to it, with some of my favorite articles on design?

Similarly, I could outline my work on, say, sales and marketing. I would club the relevant education, experience and side projects in these areas. Maybe I could add the books I have read on these topics, and maybe book reviews I have written (from Goodreads) in the same section? And of course, the recommendations, if any.  Maybe even ‘Test Scores’, because most salespeople like hard numbers. And if someone is a sports enthusiast, maybe that could go here, too.

Let’s go a step further. What if I, the user, had the choice to organize my own information? What if I could organize my working life by category, or location, or even time if I wanted? Currently LinkedIn cannot give me such flexibility.

And even one more step further. What if these categories could be highlighted, mixed and matched, according to the viewer’s own profile? After all, that’s what e-commerce and user generated content platforms do. With machine learning algorithms, they show content to the viewer according to the viewer’s profile and past behavior. What if I could show one set of skills for one kind of a viewer and another for another kind of a viewer? One profile to a technology recruiter and another to a peer?

After all, people do this in real-life. They prepare different sets of resumes (and cover letters) for different job roles. And of course we highlight different parts of ourselves in conversations with different people. Why can’t machine learning algorithms do this for us, according to each person’s profile, who visits ours?

And back to the big picture. How would our careers and lives change, if we had such a social network? Would we do more exciting and risky projects? Would we find more interesting people? Would we feel more free and fulfilled in our work life?

I think so.

(PS. I know this would be a significant design and technology challenge to build such a platform, but this would be valuable. Think of all the better decisions we could make!)

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