Are professional networking sites hazardous to job searches?

The importance of understanding how to use LinkedIn and other professional networking sites, and the risks of overuse, highlighted in research from Emlyon Business School’s Nikos Bozionelos

Professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, have long been hailed as one of the best ways to connect with others in a professional capacity; through online networking with those in the same industry, its online CV platform and its easy-to-use job searching and application features. It’s safe to say the platforms’ main purpose is to connect people for new professional opportunities, and this is exactly what it does. 

In fact, according to LinkedIn, 100 million job applications are submitted through its platform every single month – which makes it seem like the ideal place to seek new job opportunities. This is certainly the case, but only if the platform is used correctly and wisely.

Common beliefs challenged 

In a study conducted at Emlyon Business School, we looked into the effective use of LinkedIn as a job searching platform to determine whether there was any best practice for finding a new role. A key finding was that jobseekers who excessively use professional networking sites (PNS) such as LinkedIn, to search for jobs are less likely to find a job via that route. 

Two common beliefs seem to be that the amount of time you dedicate to looking for job opportunities via PNS is of equal importance to other factors, such as qualifications and experience, and that the more applications you launch, the better your chances of finding a job. These beliefs were challenged by the findings of the aforementioned study, which surveyed 104  employed individuals in France at the end of 2019. The respondents represented all age categories, with a third aged 45 years old and above, for example, and were relatively balanced in terms of gender, with 41% women and 59% men. 

Respondents completed questionnaires that covered: frequency of use of PNS (all of them were using LinkedIn); intensity of interaction when using the platform (i.e. the degree to which they connected with other individuals and organisations); the number of job applications they launched; their desire to change jobs; and the number of job offers they had received. They were also asked for their main reasons for using PNS, and the impact they believe it has had on their careers. This data was supplemented with questionnaire responses from 28 people who were involved in recruitment, and four interviews with hiring managers and HR professionals with more than 85 years of working experience between them, to gain a recruiter’s perspective. 

A cautionary note for candidates in frequency and intensity of use

The results found that 70% of the employed individuals perceived that PNS had increased their opportunities for a career change, including finding a new job and changing their occupation. Indeed, 44% of respondents indicated they had found their current job through PNS. 

There was also a very clear pattern between the length of time they have been using PNS for and the desire to find a new job. The less time people were using PNS for, the greater their desire to find a new job. However, the vast majority of participants did not think that use of PNS increased their desire to change jobs. Therefore, our data suggests that it is the desire to find a new job that may entice people to start using PNS rather than the other way around. 

Yet, arguably the most arresting findings were how frequency of PNS use, intensity of use, amount of job applications launched, and the number of job offers received were related to each other. The relationship between frequency of use and receipt of job offers resembled a U-shape. People who used PNS either very infrequently or frequently had the highest chances of reporting receiving a job offer. Those with intermediate levels of frequency of use were the least likely to report receiving a job offer. 

The pattern with respect to intensity of use – defined as the amount of effort expended to contact others and launch job enquiries – was the reverse. Results here approximated an inverted U-shape, with the chances of receiving a job offer increasing until a point at which the chances then drop dramatically. An increasing intensity of job search via PNS was therefore beneficial to finding a job until a certain point, but too much effort was detrimental to the receipt of job offers. Finally, the amount of job applications launched was negatively related to job offers, the more applications launched the less the chance of them leading to the receipt of a job offer.  

Taken together, these findings suggest that a high number of job applications and a high number of attempts to contact others on PNS do not, in themselves, bring the best outcome. In fact, if viewed in terms of utility (a useful scientific index of benefits divided by effort expenditure) the outcome is close to the worst possible. The most plausible explanation is that PNS users who initiate many contacts and launch job applications with high frequency through PNS may lack selectivity. They may, for example, take all responses as ‘invitations’ to apply and launch job applications regardless of whether the positions fit their skillset, background or experience. 

Launching a great many job applications is also likely to lead to applications not being thoroughly put together. Such applications can often lack sufficient detail, or a persuasive cover letter, which fail to impress recruiters. As a consequence, there is less chance of identifying those jobs that suit them best and they have less time to prepare their application adequately and maximise their chances of success.

Indirect importance of a strong profile

The responses of recruiters and HR professionals were in line with the findings from the main survey. Eight out of 10 recruiters felt that PNS are most useful for expanding one’s professional network and becoming aware of opportunities rather than for directly applying for jobs. Their responses also pointed out the importance of PNS for indirect success in the job market – seven out of 10 noted that they look at applicants’ PNS profile, regardless of the route via which he/she applied for the job. 

It seems that the best approach to using a PNS, such as LinkedIn, to search for jobs is to view the social media platform as a way to network with as many relevant people as possible. Putting a name to a face and having general conversations can increase a person’s chances of being informed about, or applying for, a job that fits their skills, experience and desires. This is more effective than just applying for any job that is loosely related to their desires. 

PNS may also be more beneficial when used as a piece of personal branding, self-promotion and an impression management tool – making it easier for recruiters to see a candidate’s skillset and knowledge and making them more accessible to these same recruiters. 

In the circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic (or other crises of a similar nature), people should ‘keep their nerve’ and hold on to the above approach. The pandemic is far from being over in the ‘western’ world, and firms will continue to be cautious while trying to maximise resource efficiency – hence, they are less likely to hire. When they do hire, they will be very selective to attract, and get, exactly the right person (and they will have the luxury of a larger-than-usual pool of well-qualified candidates). 

An approach that allows PNS users to launch well-thought and well-prepared applications for the jobs into which they fit most will therefore maximise the chances of success in a difficult market. Enhancing one’s personal branding through a PNS profile – at which firms look at – will further enhance the chances of success in a job application. 

Nikos Bozionelos is Professor of International HR Management at Emlyon Business School. His research focuses on careers and career management, employability, individual differences in the workplace, high-performance work systems, and cross-cultural issues in management.

This article originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs (AMBA).

Strategy is not just for organisations

People need to plot their course for the future as much as firms, and using the same processes deployed by organisations can help develop your career strategy, says Saïd Business School’s Kathryn Bishop

Sarah works in the head office of a UK retailer, and has been frantically busy over the last few months, as her employers have moved their business online. They’ve made rapid changes, opening up new distribution and delivery methods and investing heavily in web design and data collection.  This was all new to them – and to Sarah, too. She has had to learn fast to oversee these new developments, and work closely with people in partner organisations whom she has never met and whose work she doesn’t really understand. It’s been a demanding year, and it doesn’t look as if things will ever go ‘back to normal’, or return to the way they were.

As we come out of the pandemic, Sarah is wondering what to do next – and so are her employers.

She has proved to herself that she can adapt and pick up something new quickly – and this could help her to make a transition into completely different role. Could this be the right time for her to pursue her interest in film, maybe by working for a media distribution or streaming business?  Or should she stay where she is? After all, online retail is here to stay and there will be plenty of new developments in the months ahead. 

Sarah needs to plot her course, decide whether to make a move and to time it to best advantage. And that’s precisely what organisations will need to do, as consumer behaviour continues to change.

Defining new strategies

Strategy teams inside organisations are gearing up for the work ahead, researching new market trends and devising possible new operating models. They are also thinking about the right time to implement these plans.

So, as they sharpen their pencils and get to work, there are parallel questions for each of us: what are you going to do next? Where do you want to work in the next few years? Is this the right time to change employers or even to move into self-employment? And if you are forced into making some changes because of post-pandemic pressures, how will you decide what to do?

Applying strategy ideas to yourself

This is the what, when and how of strategy: what to offer the market, and when – and how best to make these changes. There’s a why, too: has the organisation’s purpose, its reason for being, changed in this new context? All those questions apply to Sarah, and to all of us, as we try to manage our working lives for the next few turbulent years.

‘Strategy’ is a word with multiple definitions but here’s one: ‘a set of guiding principles which when communicated and adopted in the organisation generates a desired pattern of decision making.’ Having our own set of guiding principles will make the next few years easier to navigate.

Start with a focus on the present, and then look forward

For individuals, these principles come from your view of both the present and the future: where are you now, and where do we want to be?  To develop your own strategy for you, start where organisations typically start: look at your current skills and resources and see what’s working well now, and what’s not going so well.

Add to that a view of your ideal future – where do you want to be in five or 10 year’s time? – and you will have a much better basis for deciding on your next step. For example, Sarah might conclude that her aim is to be promoted into a much more senior role and that therefore she’d be better off capitalising on her current experience and networks and staying where she is.

It’s easy to ask these questions about your possible future options, but they are often hard to answer. The tried-and-tested strategy processes used by organisations can help you develop your own answers, so that you are ready to make the choices and seize the opportunities which lie ahead for all of us, as we move into our next normal.

Kathryn Bishop is an Associate Fellow at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford and Chair of the Welsh Revenue Authority. She is also the author of Make Your Own Map: Career Success Strategy for Women (Kogan Page) – written for women, but containing ideas that will work for everyone.

BGA members can benefit from a discount on Make Your Own Map, courtesy of the Book Club. Please click here for details.