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August 20, 2013
 

Has LinkedIn Crossed an Ethical Line?

The social networking site has begun promoting some services for job seekers that are of questionable value

posted by Nancy Collamer, September 3, 2013 More by this author

Person reviewing resumeNancy Collamer, M.S., is a career coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. Her website is MyLifestyleCareer.com; on Twitter she is @NancyCollamer.

 

A recent Ask The Headhunter article by Nick Corcodilos on the PBS NewsHour website had this provocative headline: “Is LinkedIn Cheating Employers and Job Seekers Alike?

As a longtime fan of LinkedIn, the standard bearer for online professional networking, I found Corcordilos’ findings to be troubling. I think you will, too.

Fee to Get a Resumé Seen

Here’s the crux of the issue:

Initially, all of LinkedIn’s services were free to job seekers. But over the past few years, in an effort to generate profits, LinkedIn shifted its business model and started acting more like a job board than a networking site. Along the way, the company began charging employers to post jobs and to gain access to resumés; it also invited job seekers to pay for “premium” services.

What’s so disturbing about that?

Several things. For starters, job boards have proven incredibly ineffective at matching applicants to openings. An analysis by employment industry watchdog firm CareerXroads reveals that during a 10-year period when revenues for job boards exploded, the percentage of hires made through them fell by about 50 percent. In that period, only 2.5 percent of hires by employers came from the gorilla job boards, Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com, combined.

(MORE: The Right (and Wrong) Ways to Use Job Boards)

It’s clear that broad-based job boards make bundles of money while companies waste millions on the postings and people rarely find positions through them.

Now here’s where the story gets really troubling. LinkedIn now sells a $29.95 per month “Job Seeker Premium” membership to people looking for work. Sign up for it and when you apply for jobs on LinkedIn, your application will move to the top of the pile as a “featured applicant,” regardless of your qualifications.

That’s right. As long as you pay $29.95 a month, you’ll get top billing, even when you don’t deserve it. “It seems LinkedIn has slid down the slippery slope of inconsistent, questionable offers and business practices,” Corcodilos wrote.

The Problem With the LinkedIn Fee

This practice discriminates against people who can’t afford to pay for placement.

(MORE7 Keys to a Successful Job Search)

But more to the point, it preys on job seekers’ insecurities by promising a benefit that is really no benefit at all. After all, how impressed is an employer likely to be when it knows you paid for placement?

Incredibly, by placing a premium badge next to your profile, LinkedIn makes it ridiculously easy for employers to know when job seekers have shelled out cash to get their resumés seen.

What LinkedIn Says About Its Fee

LinkedIn calls this transparency.

Responding to a BuzzFeed article on the Corcodilos piece, a LinkedIn spokesperson said: “We clearly highlight – via a yellow outline and Job Seeker Premium badge – that the candidate is atop the list because they’re a Job Seeker Premium subscriber (members with the badge are twice as likely to be contacted by recruiters). By doing this, we’re being transparent with recruiters and increasing the likelihood a Job Seeker Premium subscriber’s profile is being read.”

In fairness, LinkedIn is not the only job board charging for increased visibility.

You can buy premium positioning on CareerBuilder.com, too. But the fact that other job boards are doing it doesn’t make it ethical.

(MORE: 15 Career Pros Boomers Should Follow on Twitter)

My View About the Policy

Call me naïve, but I expected more from LinkedIn.

The company has proven to be an innovator. It has an incredible site and unparalleled networking capabilities for people in the working world. Its content is timely, interesting and valuable.

In short, LinkedIn does many things right. But when it comes to charging job seekers for premium memberships, the people there have got it all wrong.

I’m not opposed to LinkedIn charging job seekers for its services. Clearly LinkedIn is in business to make money and needs to generate profits to grow. That’s how capitalism works.

But there must be a way the company can structure its offerings to provide better value to job seekers and employers.

3 LinkedIn Tips for Job-Seekers

My hope is that LinkedIn will listen to the growing criticism about its Premium practice and amend its offerings. But until then, here are my three recommendations for making the most of LinkedIn as it exists today:

1. Don’t overpay for your LinkedIn membership. In addition to its basic, free membership, LinkedIn offers several paid plans for job seekers that range from $19.95 a month to a deluxe $49.95-a-month Job Seeker Plus plan. You can find details about the alternatives on LinkedIn.

A few readers commenting on Corcodilos’ article said they thought some of the upgrades were worth the money. One wrote that the ability to see who viewed his LinkedIn profile helped reveal how successful his contact actions are and that the ability to send “InMail” messages to anyone on LinkedIn was useful.

My view is that if you’re in the throes of a job search, go for the least expensive membership package that gives you the features you need. In the vast majority of cases, you can probably use LinkedIn effectively without spending a dime.

2. Limit your use of LinkedIn’s job boards (as well as other, similarly broad-based boards). As job boards go, LinkedIn’s is one of the better ones out there because of some nifty features, including a page that alerts you to openings at companies matching your profile. But as I’ve said above and in an earlier Next Avenue post, very few people find their jobs through job boards.

The best way to find a new job is by networking and getting referred to hiring managers. So go gangbusters using LinkedIn to network. But don’t spend more than 20 percent of your job-searching hours trolling for postings on LinkedIn or any other general job board.

3. Take a cue from LinkedIn and invest $29.95 per month in your career. I think LinkedIn is onto something by suggesting that you shell out about 30 bucks a month to keep your career healthy. Just don’t do it to make your resumé float to the top of a recruiter’s list.

I know that spending money can be rough when you’re out of work. But consider it an investment that will pay dividends down the road.

There are infinite ways you can put that $29.95 to good use: take a continuing education class at a community college to improve your skills; buy a former colleague lunch to suss out job openings; meet a contact over coffee for an informational interview; pay for a subscription to a trade journal or put the money toward the cost of attending an industry conference.

By networking and making yourself a better candidate, you’ll get to the top of the pile the old-fashioned way – no premium membership or special badges required.

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