‘LinkedIn, the world’s largest platform for professionals to interact and connect with 830 million members across 200 countries’ – or something synonymous with this, we first read when we sign up on LinkedIn for the first time. LinkedIn is our bible as university students in the professional world, an integral tool for our eventual future careers. It is somewhat exhilarating because, for the first time, we as students come face to face with all the opportunities that are waiting to be grabbed by us.
But, what happens once we join and officially become a member of the 830 million professional individuals? Are we accepted as inexperienced students, or are we just behind everyone?
Competition and Comparison
University students nowadays often face pressure to plan their future ahead of time. From choosing a major in high school to doing summer internships in the first year of university or even planning their whole career path. If these decisions are not planned strategically in advance, it is easy to feel like we are behind the rest of the world, where the entire idea of hustle culture is normalised. LinkedIn further encourages this culture by continually filling our daily feed consisting of various achievements accomplished by our connections, which we must either celebrate or congratulate. While this can encourage healthy competition, it can also lead to self-deprecating comparison causing more burden on students trying to reach similar goals, which imposes a toxic mentality of competition on students. Studies conducted by Facundes and Ludermir (2005), Stallman (2010), Gaspersz et al. (2012) and Ibrahim et al. (2013) highlight how university students already are considered to be a high-risk population for mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Such culture further amplifies such hostile feelings.
Spending hours stalking peers and colleagues working or studying in similar fields who seem to have achieved much more than us within a shorter period often creates self-doubt and can adversely affect our mental health. It is so easy just to get stuck comparing ourselves with other people because blaming ourselves for not getting a headstart comes naturally. The whole concept of FOMO, or the sense that we just have not done enough, increases the chances of a toxic mentality towards our ideas of success and failure. We believe that our list of achievements somehow falls short in front of another individual’s list of accomplishments, which creates more pressure and anxiety. Soon enough a vicious cycle emerges while trying to achieve the unrealistic set of goals that we have set for ourselves, based wholly on not having done enough. If we tend to fail or cannot execute them, we believe that we have failed repeatedly when that is not the case.
Additionally, the recent inclusion of LinkedIn Premium highlights the subtle disparity between students coming from different backgrounds. Not every student would have the means to buy into the premium account bid, but students who can do so tend to have an unfair advantage over the rest of their peers. In a way, it seems as though by not being able to purchase LinkedIn Premium, students are disadvantaged and are instead cut off from a broader scope of interaction between individuals who might be beneficial for their professional future, i.e. potential recruiters. By creating these disparities, LinkedIn indirectly increases the pressure on students with fewer means.
Conflict of Ideals
Although LinkedIn promotes unrealistic expectations and toxic competition between peers, at the same time, students are provided with an environment where they do not feel lonely and can mingle and interact with future potential recruiters in the professional world. More than often, it generates positive content by providing a safe space for students who are able to share their accomplishments like the news of them graduating, which is encouraging. It also proves to be a handy tool for students. LinkedIn is a wonderful place where individuals can connect with professionals or role models in the industry that they are interested in working. Additionally, LinkedIn provides university students and recent graduates opportunities to apply for internships or starter-level jobs.
More than just job applications, LinkedIn offers features like specialised courses and indicates technical skills that you might brush up on for a particular interview. Each individual is endorsed for their soft skills by their peers or former colleagues. It helps students stay connected with various companies and organisations that they might want to build a future in or genuinely have an active interest in understanding. It offers recommendations of newsletters and journals that are thematically akin to what you are studying or what they believe you may be interested in. Not just that, but LinkedIn is also an excellent way for students to be updated with what is relevant in the world today and often feeds you the right kind of motivation that you might need.
Beyond the ‘Experiences and Education’
Frequently we forget the individual behind these profiles that we stalk and instead try to adapt and work towards more of the experiences they have achieved. We often fail to recognise that we observe is just the tip of the iceberg and that these individuals may have also faced similar feelings of self-doubt, anxiety and social pressure to perform beyond their limits. Experiences and tribulations an individual may have encountered are often not displayed on their profiles, but what stands out are which university they went to or which company hired them right after graduating from college.
With the advancement of social media, LinkedIn has evolved into our own professional social media network in contrast to LinkedIn’s founding vision to ‘create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce’. Social media has multiple detriments, and by treating LinkedIn the same way, we have created this hostile feeling of toxicity which often comes out through psychological diagnoses like anxiety and burn-out leading us to believe that we have not done enough by an unfair comparison to our peers.
All LinkedIn does is paint a picture of the most refined version of ourselves on our profiles and assist in reaching probable steps in our future, and our interaction with the platform should be limited to just that. By comparing and building pressure on ourselves, we tend to forget what is essential – that while having a career path to follow is motivating, we should not lose ourselves and our identity in the whole process. Students must understand that there is a world beyond where they have studied, the grades they have accomplished or even their first job. Instead, it is imperative to remind ourselves that we are just students trying to fit in this fast-paced world, and LinkedIn is just one mode of transportation in reaching our goals.