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The Seeker Part Seven: Identity Crisis

Written By William Reagan | Sep 27, 2016

Nathan was told LinkedIn would help him get jobs. That’s why he’d created his account several years ago–by loading his profile with SEO keywords, he’d enjoy a steady feed of job opportunities customized to his career experience.

He typed a long list of projects and collateral types, connected to past colleagues and high school acquaintances, and at the start, the stream of opportunities seemed like an adequate match, though week after week, nothing concrete materialized.

After a year, he stopped visiting the site, limiting his interaction with LinkedIn to obediently following the instructions in their emails: connect with this stranger in the industry, congratulate a former colleague on a promotion, or accept an endorsement from someone in his network.

He’d still review the weekly jobs email, but over time he noticed that the suggested positions became decreasingly relevant, slowly and steadily drifting away from his core competencies. The most recent list was especially confusing: 12 open positions, none of which had “Copywriter” in the job title. Nathan knew there weren’t that many open copywriting jobs in the city, but HR Specialist for a retirement facility? Office Manager for a tech firm? He clicked each link, looking for clues that would explain why he’d received them. The only thing the jobs seemed to have in common was a single bullet point: write and distribute a regular newsletter. Nathan had only created three newsletters in his life–why would LinkedIn think he’d want these jobs?

Then he remembered his endorsements.

Nathan would’ve felt like a shit if he’d declined anyone’s endorsement. He wasn’t naive–he knew the monster moving the marionette wires was just a complex digital algorithm crowdsourcing questions to begrudgingly willing “members” of his network–but someone had vouched for him, and it seemed rude to reject their kindness. So what if it was an endorsement for a task he rarely did and less frequently enjoyed? Nathan adhered to the “any press is good press” mentality, so when an endorsement arrived in his inbox, he accepted.

It was as if he’d been admiring a lovely snowfall through a window, oblivious to how the accumulating flakes would eventually trap him in the building.

Besides, it continually amused him when someone clicked yes to a question like, “Does Nathan know about Newsletters?” The correct answer was actually a resounding no. Three newsletters hardly qualified him as an expert, yet one by one, people with no first-hand knowledge of his newsletter skills confirmed LinkedIn’s curiosity. It wasn’t a common occurrence, but they trickled in over the years, and because he never visited the site, he never saw how the endorsements were piling up. It was as if he’d been admiring a lovely snowfall through a window, oblivious to how the accumulating flakes would eventually trap him in the building.

He returned to the site, and as he scrolled down through his profile, his worst suspicions were confirmed: a handful of endorsements for the important stuff–marketing, case studies, direct mail, web copy–but an alarming 27 confirmations of his Newsletter skills. The algorithm had been acting like a half-listening career coach, and Nathan realized that for all its so-called intelligence, the code couldn’t tell a gem from a stone. It had simply plucked a noun from his profile and began asking around.

While Nathan chuckled each time some well-meaning connection endorsed his newsletter prowess, the algorithm wasn’t laughing–it was thriving. Fueled by its own success getting responses for Newsletters, it kept asking, and leveraged the erroneous information to guide its recommendations for job opportunities.

Nathan could see that the algorithm had slyly transformed him into someone he wasn’t. Boasting expertise in creating newsletters was the copywriting equivalent of a developer bragging about COBOL–the first thing it revealed was the applicant’s age. He wondered how many prospective employers had scrolled down to see this completely inaccurate representation of his skill set and moved on to their next candidate. He’d joined LinkedIn so he could get more jobs, but now he wondered if the machinations of the site had disqualified him for more positions than it had offered.

He created a quick mental list of the profile edits he’d need to make to correct the issue: delete the 27 endorsements, then delete the word from his profile, then cleanse the entire bio and background of any words that he didn’t want the algorithm asking embarrassing questions about. Then he thought about all of the benefits LinkedIn had delivered during his five-plus years on the site and devised a simpler solution:

He deleted his account.

By day, William Reagan is a mild-mannered marketing copywriter stealthily sneaking clever wordplay into the most corporate of collateral—but at night, he’s a creative mischeivian bent on taking the shortest possible path to profound truths and/or preposterous lies. (Still mild-mannered then, too.)

Read the whole series!

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