LinkedIn at Middlebury: A Glorified Facebook?

By Hye-Jin Kim

According to Middlebury’s CCI website, LinkedIn is the key to controlling our professional online identity. “LinkedIn profiles rise to the top of search results from sites such as Google, letting you control that first impression.”
So having a LinkedIn profile forces potential employers to troll a little longer to find that embarrassing drunk photo or Facebook post, but what about its value as a professional networking tool? Does a friend endorsing your “Microsoft Excel” skills really mean much to job recruiters?
Of the 121 students we surveyed on their LinkedIn experience, 18% of respondents said that they found job opportunities through the site. Only 6% of respondents actually got the job. With these kinds of results, it is perhaps of no surprise that for some Middlebury students, “Let’s connect on LinkedIn” often comes off as an ironic joke rather than a genuine interest in professional networking. This week, The Campus investigates the value of LinkedIn for the Middlebury student. Is LinkedIn’s popularity all hype and peer pressure or are these student skeptics neglecting the true benefits of the site?

LinkedIn’s Rapid Global Growth
LinkedIn was launched in 2003 by Reid Hoffman, an American entrepreneur who had previously been on Paypal’s board of directors. In 2004, it attracted an impressive 120,000 members. By 2014, it had grown into a global network amassing over 332,000,000 members. As society becomes increasingly connected through technology, rather than face-to-face interaction, it seems only natural that professional networks move online as well.
Despite this societal trend and those impressive membership figures, creating and maintaining a LinkedIn profile can often seem fruitless in terms of actual job offers. The numbers don’t lie; the network is huge, but is it active?
“I’m connected to more than 1,000 people on LinkedIn, but a quick trip to my LinkedIn home page suggests that on any given day, there are probably fewer than 25 people – or 2.5% – that are actively engaged,” wrote Dave Kurlan, author of the Top Sales and Marketing Blog of 2011-2014, “to me, the phone is looking better and better every day.”
Garrett Griffin ’16 is a computer science and Chinese double major was recently recruited by both Google and the CIA via LinkedIn. Even he is still not sold on the site’s usefulness in professional networking.
“I’m jaded about a lot of technology. A lot of it is excessive and unnecessary and I thought LinkedIn just fell into that category. Like Facebook, it appeared as a social media space that doesn’t offer you much more than being a somewhat more formal way of interacting with people that isn’t email,” said Griffin. Initially skeptical, his mom ended up creating his profile last summer so he could keep in touch with the co-workers he had met on his internship with Amazon in Seattle.
Though he now admits his LinkedIn membership ended up being a “pretty good thing”, Griffin still hesitates to recommend the site to his friends, especially those who are not interested in working for internet savvy companies that actively recruit on LinkedIn. “I wouldn’t recommend it to my friends who are looking for say, jobs in art galleries,” he said.
Further, some students tend to shy away from LinkedIn because they are unsure who they want to connect with. For English major Julia Haas ’17, “LinkedIn seems like [a site for] someone who’s looking for a very specific career, and as someone who has no concept of what my major could lead to, I don’t think it’d worthwhile for me. It just seems a connection maker, and I have no idea what kind of connections I’m trying to make.”

LinkedIn Beyond Networking: A Powerful Research Tool?
In response to this skepticism, CCI career advisor Tracy Himmel Isham insists LinkedIn is much more than just a professional network. For students not yet interested in networking, it has the potential to be an efficient way to research companies and careers.
“Say you want to know a little more about social impact consulting, there’s over a 100,000 companies that have put profiles in here.” The company profile features a short mission statement, how they self-identify, their website as a live link, and their specialties listed in keywords.
“It’s all about algorithms, it’s all about keywords,” she said. “LinkedIn is phenomenal for research. Just to give you an idea, I went through and kept clicking through company profiles [based on the “People Also Viewed” feature] on social impact consulting,” she said. Using these profiles, she wrote short company summaries. This document spanned 22 pages. “There’s so much information you can trove out of this. For me, that’s the most exciting part,” she said.
Isham described the Student Jobs section of the website, featuring only entry-level and internship positions, as a personalized MiddNet [alumni database] and MOJO [Middlebury Online Job Opportunities site], combined. Through the use of Advanced Search, members can search keywords, such as Middlebury College and a company name, to see if any alumni work there. They can also filter alumni based on the industry they work in, their skills, and the city where they work. Say, you were interested in working in the San Francisco Bay area in the renewables sector and wanted to connect with relevant Middlebury alumnae. The advanced search feature allows you to do that.
“What’s cool about this [search feature on LinkedIn] is it’s not just a list of names,” she said as she clicked on an alumni’s profile in the Renewables sector. “Now I can go in and see what their trajectory has been. I can see that he’s risen through the company and where he worked before, his major, his class year and where he got his graduate degree,” Isham said.

Making (Valuable) Connections
As MiddNet becomes somewhat obsolete, LinkedIn could become more helpful to current students looking for a familiar hand up into a competitive industry. “I think the younger generation of alums are on LinkedIn more often than MiddNet,” Isham said, “MiddNet is a great source; there’s a ton of alumni on it. But LinkedIn is where I try to make [student-alum] connections happen.”
Though Isham believes LinkedIn can be a useful career tool for all students, she does not recommend students upgrade to a premium account. “I think there’s a ton you can do [without Premium],” she said. This is one reason why she advises students to avoid joining multiple groups where one has no personal affiliation, i.e. interest groups that can over-broaden their search results. Without the Premium filter, it can be near impossible to sort out which people are within a connection’s reach.
In addition to joining groups selectively, Isham suggested being careful with who students connect with and how they connect with them. Although the number of LinkedIn connections is boldly displayed on every profile, she insists it is more important to have high quality connections, rather than a large quantity.
“[In an invitation], my advice is tell people why you want to connect, because then it becomes personal. For me, if I get people who want to connect and they’re just a part of some green group I’m also a part of, and they send me the boiler plate invitation, I ignore them,” she said. Instead of directly sending strangers an invitation to connect, Isham suggests students try to find a mutual connection to introduce them.
“What’s cool about LinkedIn is if someone you know is asking you to connect, your chances are going to be 50% higher,” she said. “The more connections you have, the deeper you can go. If you connect to me, you have a way to connect to all of my connections,” she said.
She recalled connecting a student interested in the sustainable food industry who wanted to work in the new Provisions department for Patagonia. “I know someone [at Patagonia] who is a sustainability person, an alum who I used to work with on climate stuff,” she said. “I introduced them and they kept me in the conversation for the first couple back-and-forths. It was brilliant. They totally connected.”