Separating Fact from Friction in a Capitalist Recruiting System

That’s not a typo. If you’re job hunting, watch out for money-motivated deceptions that create unnecessary barriers against you.

The first time I tried to connect with someone on LinkedIn and I got this message, I was taken aback:

Screenshot from LinkedIn that reads: [Blanked out] prefers to be followed. Follow [Blanked out] to see their posts or send a message instead. We encourage you to only connect with people you know.

I didn’t know this person, but I wanted to. I mean, isn’t that what LinkedIn is for? It says right on their “About” page, their mission is to “connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”


2.	Screenshot from LinkedIn website about page that reads: “About LinkedIn. Welcome to LinkedIn, the world's largest professional network with 810 million members in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide. Vision: Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. Mission: The mission of LinkedIn is simple: connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”
Source: https://about.linkedin.com/, accessed March 13, 2022.

But as LinkedIn has gotten bigger (810 million members per the screenshot), I feel like they’re more about making money than connecting professionals. Have you tried sending a connection request to someone you haven’t met yet? I have, and here’s what I experienced:


First, you actually have to find the connect button to send a request. It’s buried under the “more” button if you’re looking at someone’s portfolio.


Screenshot of LinkedIn menu option from an anonymous user's profile page. Red arrow pointing to the "More" button. Under the "More" button, red arrow pointing down, with "Connect" option circled in red, as the 4th option listed.

Second, as shown at the beginning of this post, LinkedIn tells you the person you aren’t connected with yet, doesn’t want to connect with you. They “prefer” that you follow them.


Third, if you’re so persistent that you ignore this warning message and click "connect" anyway – of course, you should add an introductory message to explain why you want to connect. But when you click on “Add a note” to do that, you get this message from LinkedIn:

4.	Screenshot from LI with text that reads: Invite [Name blanked out] to connect. Build a quality network by connecting only with people you know.  Message (optional)  Ex: We know each other from… Please limit personal note to 300 characters. Don’t know [Name blanked out]? Send an InMail with Premium to introduce yourself. More people reply to an InMail than a connection request.  Try Free for 1 Month.

And if you’ve ever tried to send a LinkedIn message to someone when you’re not already a (paying) LI Premium member, you get this message:



From a JEDI perspective, I have many issues with these shenanigans by LinkedIn. Here are a few:


My first and biggest issue is that LinkedIn has no right to speak for me. I never told them I prefer to be followed, and I never gave them permission to tell everyone that’s how I feel. I don’t “prefer to be followed” by everyone who tries to connect with me. Which means LinkedIn isn’t just speaking out of turn; they’re downright lying.


Yes, there are definitely people I won’t want to connect with, and also people I won’t want to even follow me. But that’s my decision. LinkedIn is taking away my voice and my choice when they presume to put words in my mouth and tell people I may very well want to connect with, that I don’t want to know them. This is wrong, unfair, and pisses me off.


Second – think about how that message, “Rosie prefers to be followed”, is received. Who are the people who would be deterred by that message? People who are afraid to network and ask to connect. Who are the people who will persist? Sales people, spammers, and people who feel secure enough to reach out anyway.


I’ve received unwanted connection requests from recruiters, entrepreneurs marketing their services, and men hitting on me. None of them were deterred by the “Rosie prefers to be followed” warning.


LinkedIn, how about writing “Rosie doesn’t want spam connection requests or creepy pick up moves” as a warning, instead of "Rosie prefers to be followed?"

Third – why do you think LinkedIn is going through all this effort to deter connection requests? Is it to protect me from unscrupulous people? (In which case they fail – see my second issue above). Is it because, as they say, they only want “quality networks” on their networking platform? In which case – shouldn’t I have the right to decide what makes my network “quality” or not? Think how small our networks would be if we only connected on LinkedIn with people we’ve already met. And frankly, I want my followers to be “quality” as well. I don’t want creepy stalkers and sexual harassers following me. So why doesn't LI want me to have quality followers as well as connections?


Let’s be real. The only incentive I see for LinkedIn to deter people from connecting, is money.

LinkedIn doesn’t make money from us connecting with each other. They make money when we post job ads, or subscribe to LI Premium. If I send you a connection request, I can include a message for free – but only up to 300 characters. And once we’re connected, we can send each other messages for free. If we’re not connected, I can only send you messages if I pay for LI Premium. So the more people LI convinces not to connect, the higher likelihood they'll gain a Premium subscriber.

Cartoon graphic of Disney character Scrooge McDuck holding a bag of money and a cane.
Scrooge McDuck. Source: https://scrooge-mcduck.fandom.com/wiki/Scrooge_McDuck (accessed March 13, 2022)

LinkedIn isn’t the only hypocrite when it comes to recruiting and networking. When looking for work, racialized job seekers come up against all sorts of damaging myths.


The myth that you didn’t get that job because you weren’t as qualified as the person who did.


The myth that you didn’t get that interview because your resume wasn’t as good as the person who did.


And now – the myth that LinkedIn is an open platform where people can freely connect and interact.


One of the biggest dangers of LI’s deterrent messaging, is the “hidden” systemic inequity it creates. I can already hear the justification and counterarguments from LI. “We don’t stop anyone from connecting”, they might say. “Everyone is free to connect within a few clicks. It’s not a requirement to purchase LinkedIn Premium. We have data and stats to prove our claims that InMail messages are 2.6x more effective. We’re actually helping people to network, not deterring them.”


Except…

  • When you’ve been conditioned to obey the rules or face dire consequences;

  • When you’re afraid to speak up, ask for help, or talk to people “higher up” than you because of intergenerational oppression and marginalization;

  • When you’re constantly rejected, told no, and believe you won’t succeed;

...it's not so easy to break through the false barriers of “Rosie prefers to be followed” and “More people reply to InMail”.


How are you supposed to find the courage to ask for what you want, if you’ve never been taught how to advocate for yourself? Or even that you’re WORTH advocating for?

When you have career privilege, you know how these things work. You know you can ignore these messages. You know LI is just saying that to make money. You know you won’t get in trouble by clicking “connect” anyway.


When you don’t have career privilege, you’re intimidated. Connecting with that CEO, author or speaker may feel out of reach. Or maybe you’ve lost your job, and you’re in desperate need for a contact in that company you’re dying to work in. So you’ll spend money you don't have for InMail, believing LinkedIn’s propaganda that InMail will get you a response. (Which, by the way, I don't believe. I don't like spam messages from InMail any more than through a connection request.)


 

These types of “reasonable” business strategies create systemic inequities and discrimination. Meanwhile, companies justify their actions because they are reasonable business strategies, if your goal is only to maximize profit.


I’m sure LI would never say (or believe) these seemingly innocent messages lead to bias and marginalization. I’m sure that wasn’t their intention when they built this into their app.


And that’s exactly the problem. If companies truly mean what they say in their diversity, equity and inclusion statements, they need to look beyond “obvious” racism like the KKK, and look internally at the unintentional barriers they erect against people who don't have the advantages and access to get around them.