THE ONLY BLACK GUY IN THE OFFICE

My Love-Hate Relationship With LinkedIn

For every pro on the career-focused social networking platform, there’s a con

Illustration: Michael Kennedy

If your “new year, new me” plan for 2021 is to level up professionally, part of that process likely includes getting active on LinkedIn. At least that’s assuming you were sleeping on the professional social networking site, which would be understandable; if Twitter has lunch-table energy and Instagram gives off happy-hour vibes, LinkedIn has always felt more like a stuffy office breakroom. But while it may not be as sexy as Clubhouse, the latest social media time suck, it’s a real, tangible vehicle for career growth.

I’ve been on the internet long enough to remember when most of my connections on the platform didn’t have a profile photo, let alone a professional headshot. But LinkedIn has changed a lot since its nascent days, and today, it’s become an essential part of my career. Hell, it’s how I got my current job.

Once a friend passed me some credits to join LinkedIn Premium, I homed in on making my profile more presentable. I wasn’t about to pay for a professional headshot, but I also knew that the photo of me at my best friend’s wedding wasn’t going to cut it — so I took a smizing selfie in front of my living room wall, lightly edited it on my phone, and posted it up. If I was going to be a premium LinkedIn member, I needed to have a premium-looking profile. I even wrote a bio that my mother could actually be proud of and outlined my career history to accurately reflect my professional accomplishments.

Within days, three different recruiters slid into my inbox. (That’s what the DMs of LinkedIn are called. See what I mean about the stuffy corporate vibe?) I couldn’t believe it. For months, I’d been applying to jobs through company website career pages and getting absolutely nowhere. The premium membership made me more visible to recruiters, but getting on people’s radars isn’t enough; I had to stand out. Thankfully, I had an advantage: It’s a pretty good time to be Black on LinkedIn.

Seeing that a recruiter has been snooping around on my profile gets my nerves worked up like none other — especially when there’s no follow-through. Now I’m on my side of the screen wondering what they wanted and why they never reached out.

The recruiters who reached out never said it, but there was something about their fawning over my “cool experience” that let me know they weren’t used to seeing someone like me whose professional background has a healthy mix of innovative startups and Fortune 500 experience based in Seattle’s melanin-deficient market. And with more companies than ever being open to remote work, I can compete with peers in other major cities. These factors, along with a boost from LinkedIn’s algorithm gods, had your boy out here getting hit up like a five-star high school quarterback in Texas.

But like all social media networks, LinkedIn has its drawbacks and, if used too much, can become a source of anxiety. I log onto the platform several times a week, tweaking away at my profile, steady on the hunt for an opportunity to level up. Being contacted by recruiters feels like getting retweeted by a verified user on Twitter, but that inbox message is a different type of gas because you know it’s very likely regarding an opportunity that could be the next rung on your career climb.

Except when it isn’t. You’ll occasionally have to sift through messages from one of these new-age life coaches or résumé gurus offering their services to optimize your profile. Then there are the agency recruiters. Some are legit and have real opportunities; others are just looking to establish themselves. Yes, LinkedIn has clout chasers. (And don’t get me started on the folks who concoct fake-deep, or just fake, motivational parables for their status updates. Ugh.) Then there are those who ask you to check out their SoundCloud accounts or, worse, try to pull you into currency trading — crypto or otherwise.

Ironically, one of LinkedIn Premium’s biggest perks can also be its most anxiety-inducing features: seeing who’s visited your profile. Holy shit. Now I truly understand why the big three (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) don’t have this functionality. Seeing that a recruiter has been snooping around on my profile gets my nerves worked up like none other — especially when there’s no follow-through. Now I’m on my side of the screen wondering what they wanted and why they never reached out. And if said person works at a company I’m interested in, then I get in my feelings like Will Smith in Fresh Prince, wondering why they don’t want me, man.

Some people may say I’m making too much out of LinkedIn. But I take it seriously because I take my career seriously. Sure, I can get a job without it, but as I’ve learned, it’d probably be more difficult. Considering how many companies have recruiters on the platform looking for talent, having a strong LinkedIn profile and presence is like shooting your shot every single day. And these days, I’m feeling like Steph Curry.

Do you know him? Is it you? The trials and tribulations of a Black man navigating corporate life.

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