How the New Wave of Post-Grad LinkedIn Connections are Missing the Mark
“This is the worst year to be graduating. There are more of you with college degrees than ever before, and fewer jobs available than ever before. Good luck. You’re going to need it.”
These were some of the last words that I heard at my college graduation.
It was 2011. The word “recession” was used as flippantly as the word “literally” was used incorrectly. We had no promise of a future, our first jobs were likely to be unpaid, and “posting to social media” was the only hard skill any of us had.
The LinkedIn messages were insane, the emails were rogue, and the narrative was, dare I say “colorful.” I was alive.
I’ll never forget walking around my college apartment on the phone with my mom right before the end of the semester, saying, “I guess I’ll just move home and like, find myself.” I would spend hours every night on LinkedIn, scouring through pages of professional faces. I’d beg for the magic technological moment when I’d click “Send InMail” and would be transported to a composable message box (even though I didn’t have LinkedIn Premium).
While the circumstances were less than ideal, the lack of opportunities forced me to become inventive in how I wanted to present myself to others – even just to convince someone to meet me for coffee. The LinkedIn messages were insane, the emails were rogue, and the narrative was, dare I say “colorful.” I was alive.
With the stakes so low (acknowledging that the privilege was high), I could take as many risks as possible with finding my professional voice and creating my story. Every connection I made was less about what capital I could get from them or what I could leverage, and more about building a genuine connection with someone who knew a little bit more about life than I did. For me, captivating someone successful gave me momentum through information and visibility rather than securing a job in an uninspired landscape.
I reached out to CEOs, Hollywood execs, people who were far from my major, far from my past experiences, and definitely not close to my age. To my surprise, my inbox became bold with yes’s, no’s, and general advice. As the questions from my counterparts challenged me to build an honest sense of self, I continued to evolve how I connected. My newfound connections had journeys that were long, unique, careful, thoughtful, and patient, which gave me the continued perspective about how much life I had ahead of me (and how little I knew).
However, like anything, with time, Snapchat, and the job inflation within tech, the personal tact that formerly went into networking and connecting has been lost. You can find an Account Coordinator, Brand Marketing Manager, or Community Manager position anywhere, and the great news is you don’t even need to have any hard skills – just a cute social media account and a blazer that fits.
Just in case it wasn’t clear, I’m very into qualitative sociological theories (as a Sociology major). Are my hypotheses proven? No. But they do take up a lot of space when I call my mom after work.
What this has led to is a bunch of young people entering the workforce with little imagination or curiosity about what they want to learn or what kind of journey they want to have. They are all just positioning themselves within the confines of a blue hyperlink on a company’s Jobvite or Greenhouse page.
These messages are not about learning, understanding, or knowing. They are simply just an act of “doing,” where a newly-minted college grad can say, “Today, I sent a message. Today, I did the work. Tomorrow, I’ll get the job.”
Every day, I get an influx of LinkedIn messages from the upcoming grad or recent post-grad, asking to connect. Yet, this prompt is less of a personal presentation and more of a personal request. Something along the lines of, “I want to know how you ended up in marketing, as I am extremely passionate about marketing,” or “Could you forward my resume to the relevant hiring manager at your company?” They want coffees, they want phone calls – all from a copy and pasted note in my inbox.
One might say, “But they’re doing the right thing! They’re trying to reach out, connect, and network! What’s the problem?!” For me, these messages flow in with presumption; yearning for exchange in a Bitcoin-like fashion. These messages are not about learning, understanding, or knowing. They are simply just an act of “doing,” where a newly-minted college grad can say, “Today, I sent a message. Today, I did the work. Tomorrow, I’ll get the job.”
As someone who bounced around from one job to another, and has always looked to the wiser and more experienced to provide nuggets as I hit bumps along the way, I’m frequently shaken by the messages riddled with the assuredness of one’s future (which has only just begun).
My advice? When reaching out to people on LinkedIn, don’t tell them what you’re passionate about. It almost doesn’t matter. Tell them why you’re interesting. Or better yet, why you think you might not be that interesting. Tell them what’s been challenging or what you want to learn. It doesn’t have to be a formula that fits into an interview (you know, the type that asks “what’s your greatest weakness?”). You just have to be human enough to be vulnerable. And I can promise that being human, while trying to connect through technology, works every time.
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