LinkedIn is a social networking service that was founded in 2003. It aims to connect individuals with employers to allow prospective employees to share their professional history and career objectives whilst simultaneously allowing organisations to find these individuals and fill vacancies.
As of 2017, it claims to host approximately 400 million profiles (Coverdill and Finlay 2017).
LinkedIn stats have this number at 562 million today.
Similarly, it aims to connect professionals in like-minded circles in order to facilitate professional collaboration. The site ‘employs a ‘gated-access approach’, meaning that connecting with others requires a pre-existing relationship or the intervention of a mutual contact’ (Papacharissi 2009: 204).
LinkedIn has been transformative in modern society in how individuals and organisations seek and obtain employment opportunities, as well as operate more generally within the professional sphere.
This particular social networking site (henceforth SNS) has drastically altered the performance of the self by changing the nature of public and private spaces (Papacharissi 2009: 206).
Meyrowitz 1986, cited in Papacharissi 2009: 206-207, describes how the Internet but SNS more specifically have blurred the line between secure and open environments which dramatically alters individual and collective behaviour.
As social beings, humans rely on the context of an environment to modify their behaviour, and the lack of definition SNS provide results in a need for learning on how to operate in these new spaces. (Papcharissi 2009: 207).
In order to understand the changes sites like LinkedIn have brought, an understanding of underlying social behaviour is necessary.
Establishing an identity is a common human desire which SNS would appear to facilitate. More specifically, it would appear they broaden the reach of satisfying this desire (Donath 2007: 232).
However, it is important to note that online spaces create a space wherein reliability is difficult to determine and thus a ‘fluid and nuanced’ identity is difficult to create (Donath 2007: 233).
The challenge with regards to LinkedIn relates to what Donath deems signaling theory, which is the performance of actions intended to create a perception of the true qualities one possesses since they are not ‘directly observable’ (Donath 2007: 233).
SNS provide the opportunity to create an identity that may be entirely different from the reality of the real world. As Donath explains, the barriers to creating fake signals are low and since the inception of these networks, technologies have appeared that cement an individual’s claim to be someone that, in fact, they are not (Donath 2007: 235).
The design of SNS impacts the reliability of the claims users make. The higher cost the user pays for staking a claim, the more reliability it provides to the individual accessing said information (Donath 2007: 236). LinkedIn’s design is such that, as discussed above, the need for a pre-existing connection between users makes the information on a profile possess more credibility.
This increased reliability is, perhaps, why LinkedIn has been such a successful service for recruiters and job-seekers alike.
The service provides visibility for job-seekers and employers on a mass scale at a lower cost to both parties (Caers and Castelyns 2011: 438). The inbuilt design features of the site help the user to feel confident that the information they are accessing is reliable.
In short, at its base LinkedIn has created a service that has transformed the performance of the individual both seeking and filling a job vacancy as well as the manner in which organisations begin their search for potential applicants (Caers and Castelyns 2011: 438).
To further narrow the transformative effects of LinkedIn, the effects on the recruitment and selection process will be further explored below.
Effects on Recruitment and Selection Process
The rise of SNS in the recruitment sector has created transformative effects for both job-seekers as well as recruitment professionals and the organisations they act on behalf of. The impacts that can be observed provide both opportunities as well as challenges for both parties.
Below, these transformative effects will be broken down both from the recruiters as well as the job seekers perspective. Important to retain is the social transformations that have just been discussed above regarding the impact on human behaviour.
SNS for Recruiters
The Internet, and more recently SNS in particular, have provided a new tool for recruiters in the process of weeding out applicants and finding suitable candidates to interview.
However, the value of this tool is contentious as arguments emerge over whether decisions will be subject to biases that have long existed in the recruitment sector (Caers and Castelyns 2011: 439).
Common biases of interviewers include factors such as ‘age, gender, sexual orientation, race, facial attractiveness, facial maturity, obesity, handicap, and applicant name’ (Caers and Castelyns 2011: 439).
The problem SNS present is these factors are available prior to engagement with a candidate and thus unfairly impact an applicant’s chance of being called back for an interview (Caers and Castelyns 2011: 439).
These factors being available poses a challenge for recruiters as well as legislators in that anti-discrimination laws need to be well-designed to ensure unlawful biases are easy to detect and prosecute. On the other hand, recruiters need to ensure they have worked to base decisions on lawful discrimination and not can easily demonstrate the path they followed in the course of their decision.
Furthermore, the fact that internet access is not universal may exclude certain groups from being represented and thus further entrench social inequality based on demographics (Hargittai 2007 in Cabers and Castelyns 2011).
It is also pertinent to note that the visibility afforded by SNS such as LinkedIn are not necessarily always beneficial for the organisation. In fact, it puts strain on the organisation to maintain employee morale in a way that didn’t exist before.
Opportunities for other jobs are more readily available and thus users can more readily seek out new employment prospects. Similarly, it is easier for other organisations to contact candidates and steal them away (Caers and Catelyns 2011: 439).
Looking at web page design, the challenges that recruiters face have been significantly increased by the introduction of SNS like LinkedIn.
To attract applicants to a position, research has demonstrated creating a strong, recognisable brand increases chances of capturing potential talent (Gatewood, Gowan & Lautenschlager 1993 in Braddy, Foster Thompson, Wuensch and Grossnickle 2003).
The most important elements in web page design have been identified as:
- A simple design
- Ease of navigation
- Simple language written in the active voice
- Important information highlighted in bold or italic text
- Bullet points rather than chunks of text
- Pictures so long as they are relevant to the position being advertised(Metz & Junion-Metz 1996 in Braddy et. al 2003)
Results from the studies performed, as discussed in Brady et. Al’s article, couldn’t categorically confirm or reject the propositions that the above factors turned potential applicants away from jobs if they didn’t like the results. However, their findings suggested there was truth to these claims.
SNS like LinkedIn help to ease the challenges organisations and individual recruiters face with regard to web page design in that there is a streamlined design, the tool is easy to learn and use, and one they are members, users are familiar with what to expect when visiting the site.
This helps to ease the workload for recruiters in that they don’t necessarily need to dedicate time to the design of a webpage whilst reaping the benefits online recruitment provides in the modern economy.
In summary, the opportunities online recruitment tools such as SNS like LinkedIn provide have been truly transformative in the workplace economy. However, as explored above, there are numerous challenges these transformations pose and an organisation and/or individual recruiter must work hard to ensure they meet said challenges.
SNS for Job-seekers
Several of the factors discussed above can also be interpreted from the job-seekers perspective and have transformed the way they interact in the modern workplace economy.
Similarly to recruiters, the impact of increased visibility is an opportunity for job-seekers to make themselves known to potential employers. However, it can be to their own detriment.
Whilst the focus of this essay is on the transformative effects of LinkedIn, it would be imprudent to ignore how SNS have implications on job-seekers prospects. 12.1% of recruiters admitted to searching Facebook for information about applicants prior to the interview process (Caers and Catelyns 2011: 442).
If individuals aren’t careful with their privacy controls, this could lead to recruiters having a host of information about them that is undesirable to their candidature. While this is irrelevant information to the job and thus shouldn’t be considered, it invariably will impact a recruiters decision.
This highlights the need for individuals to have a sophisticated understanding of privacy controls online.
The results of Caers and Catelyns’ study showed that all the benefits LinkedIn users purported to receive via the service i.e. self-promotion and career advancement were conversely challenged by other social media platforms like Facebook, that have cost some jobs.
Focusing in on privacy controls, it is widely known that digital platforms are constantly collecting information about users. These technologies have become smart enough that they develop, at the very least, an inference of personal intimate information (Goggin, Vromen, Weatherall, Martin, Webb, Sunman, Bailo 2017).
The collection of this personal information has been, in some cases, demonstrated to have an impact on potential job opportunities (Goggin et. al 2017).
User research indicates most people feel they have a sophisticated enough understanding to protect their privacy, however many do believe some factors are out of their control (Goggin et. Al 2017).
Employers having access to service like LinkedIn which, with a simple name search, could lead them onto potential applicants personal social media profiles, raises questions not only around service design and privacy controls but also ethics, of whether this information should be assessable in regards to employment decision-making.
To conclude, it can be seen above that LinkedIn has been transformative in our society in one of the main sectors that affects everyday life: employment.
Overwhelmingly, it appears that the impact has been positive since it lowers the costs for employers and job-seekers alike to operate within the professional sphere.
However, only the surface of the implications of such technologies has been explored in this essay. The potential for the manipulation of these technologies to negative ends, particularly with regards to entrenching social inequality as well as invading privacy are contentious and continuously debated in society.
LinkedIn: a saving technology or one that leads to our downfall? The ultimate answer remains unknown, but it has certainly transformed the employment market as we knew it only a decade ago.
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